Lakhdar Brahimi: When Will the US Learn From Its Mistakes in the Middle East?

US Navy Super Hornets prepare to launch from  USS George H.W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf, to conduct strikes against the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, Sept. 22, 2014. ROBERT BURCK/US NAVY
US Navy Super Hornets prepare to launch from USS George H.W. Bush in the Arabian Gulf to conduct airstrikes against the terrorist group ISIS in Syria, Sept. 22, 2014. ROBERT BURCK/US NAVY

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.

Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.

Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”

Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.

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