More than two decades of American naivety or misunderstanding of Arab and other regional societies, astonishingly poor planning and post-conflict miscalculations that undercut claims of success have left a deep mistrust and lack of confidence in the United States in the Middle East, in the view of the United Nations’ most experienced and savvy international envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who worked closely with Americans in Iraq in 2004 and Afghanistan in 2001-2004. He was the UN-Arab League special representative for Syria from 2012 until early this year. The result of fumbled policies may be that the base on which the new US-led coalition against the ruthless fighters of the Islamic State is not a very solid one.
To add to the skepticism, despair and alienation across the region, Brahimi said in an interview this month from his home in Paris, there is the corrosive, unconditional American support of Israel despite its unending land grabs and military assaults on Palestinians, most recently in the attacks on Gaza this summer. It was outrageous, he said, that reactions in US Congress and from President Obama to the most recent carnage and death were prefaced with the time-worn expression “Israel has the right to defend itself,” Brahimi added, saying that the lack of sensitivity to the hugely imbalanced casualty figures — more than 2,000 Palestinians killed in Gaza compared with 68 Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, according to UN figures — seemed to imply that “Gazans are not human.”
“I generally don’t like to speak about countries,” said Brahimi, usually a consummate diplomat who was Algeria’s foreign minister in 1991-1993, “but [Obama] is not the president of the United States only. He’s a kind of president of the world.” Brahimi recalls the optimism that greeted the arrival of Obama with his outreach to the region’s Muslims in a speech he made at Cairo University in 2009. “I still remember his Cairo speech,” Brahimi said. “That was an inspired and inspiring speech. So looking back at that speech, definitely we are disappointed.”
For the full interview, first published by The Nation, click here.