Obama’s speech on May 19 has failed to address America’s moral responsibility — and its true national interest — to use its full leadership and skill to become partners with the people of the region embroiled in revolt for freedom and self-governance.
America has invested heavily in the militaries and elites of Egypt ($1.3 billion a year) and other key countries in the region that have repressed and exploited their respective people for a very long time. America, as a consequence, has paid an enormous price for failing to attain its objectives of national interest, security, and leadership in the world. It is long overdue that America changes its direction in favour of the people, not in favour of the vested few.
By promoting “incrementalism” over speedy transformation, and by promoting negotiations with troubled and corrupt governments over rapid and positive political change, America would blunder again. And this is a bad time to blunder, as this is a historic chance for change. Demands for democratic ideals and good governance are coming from the most conservative parts of the Muslim world.
History has tossed Obama into the arena, face to face with the people of the Muslim world. If he can handle it well, he will be picked up as the champion of peace, justice, and progress. If not, he will contribute to enormous turmoil and fall flat on his face. History will hold him responsible for squandering this rare opportunity given to him. The leadership and national character of America — a country that brought democratic ideals into the consciousness of the modern world — is on test now.
There is a way out. The fear that has gripped the Obama administration due to soaring oil prices and possible recessions could be avoided. If the militaries of Egypt and these other countries were placed under control of a civil authority consisting of carefully selected international experts without any conflicts of interests — fresh faces, if possible, with full support from the UN, the world community and the regional people — a transition rivaling the Marshall Plan in scope and positive impact could be launched for the region. A sweeping uprising in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region would require a sweeping reform and not a piece-meal solution.
America has a lot of strings attached to the militaries in the region that could play a vital role in the process of transformation. It should use its full political and economic leverage to help bring about a win-win state of affairs in the oil centre of the world to save the region and the world disasters. This is a rare historic opportunity for America to reclaim its leadership in the world. It appears that America is still in the back seat.
The sad reality is that Arab leaders have the means but no political will and no united front to be effective. The West has both the means and the political will to make a difference, but lacks the legitimacy and the moral voice due to past failures and conflict of interests that they possess. The activists of these growing social movements — the third category — do have the moral voice and the collective will, but they lack the means and expertise.
There must be catalysts that can help to bring these indispensable elements together in order to create chemistry for change that could match or surpass the achievements of the Marshall Plan six decades ago.
One avenue that has not been explored involves Western Muslims and their respective ethnic communities. Western Muslims from these regions could play a pivotal role in spearheading such a transnational movement for democratic governance and national development in our time. They are one of the most critical common denominators between Muslim-majority societies and the West.
To deal with Muslim-majority societies, Western Muslims could work as a smaller group within a larger alliance of civil societies from many countries in the world. These intelligent and ideologically moderate professionals and community leaders — who have no political ambition in the nations of concern — can perform a powerfully effective job if backed up by the world leaders.
Speedy oversight and decision-making would foster constructive implementation of change, as armies would remain in the barracks, doing the jobs they were told to do, until the transitional parties were able to deliver a government that remained true to national and regional integrity and then handed power to representatives elected in free and fair elections. The people of the region would get their power back, civil societies would become stronger, sustainable-accountable governances would serve the region.
America would become a true leader in the world again, and the cost could be a small fraction of the price it has already paid and still failed to achieve these objectives elsewhere. And yes, the world would get a steady supply of oil. It is a win-win situation that is within our reach. Powerful catalysts of this process of peace and progress exist in the world now. Obama only has to seek and reach out to them.