Robert Wright has an excellent piece at the Atlantic exploring the “hidden causes” of the protests against the United States across the Muslim world. The violence, which it’s important to emphasize is never excusable, is receiving little serious analysis in the mainstream media.
The American Enterprise Institute’s Ayaan Hirsi Ali — who sympathized with Norwegian anti-Muslim terrorist Anders Breivik back in May — published a cover story in this week’s Newsweek titled, “Muslim Rage & The Last Gasp of Islamic Hate.” She wrote:
The Muslim men and women (and yes, there are plenty of women) who support — whether actively or passively — the idea that blasphemers deserve to suffer punishment are not a fringe group. On the contrary, they represent the mainstream of contemporary Islam.
That type of simplistic analysis, says Wright, fails to ask or answer the real questions about why parts of the Muslim world hold deep-seated resentment towards the US. Wright blogs:
[W]hen a single offensive remark from someone you’ve long disliked can make you go ballistic, the explanation for this explosion goes deeper than the precipitating event. What are the sources of simmering hostility toward America that helped fuel these protests? Here is where you get to answers that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney wants to talk about and that, therefore, hardly anybody else talks about.
Wright goes on to list drone strikes, the US’s unconditional support of Israel (sometimes at the expense of progress in the peace process), and American troops in Muslim countries as some of the explanations for the eruption of anger. “…[W]hen American policies have bad side effects, Americans need to talk about them,” he writes.
Indeed, reflecting on US policies in the Middle East is a verboten topic during the presidential election. Mitt Romney, in comments surreptitiously recorded at a fundraiser and released this morning, quipped:
I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, “There’s just no way.” And so what you do is you say, “You move things along the best way you can.” You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem… All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don’t go to war to try and resolve it imminently.
But the media and Obama and Romney’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge the geopolitical dangers for the US in the Middle East does come at a a very human cost. Back in March 2010, Gen. David Petraeus set off a firestorm when his testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee linked the lack of progress in the peace process with security risks for the US. Petraeus said:
Insufficient progress toward a comprehensive Middle East peace. The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas.
Petraeus’ comments, later echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and CENTCOM commander Gen. James Matthis, were met with denunciations by Israel hawks. The Anti-Defamation League event went so far as to label Petraeus’ views as “dangerous and counterproductive.”
With anger in the Muslim world towards the US erupting over the past week, observers are left with two options: Accept an Islamophobic, if not outright racist, narrative of irrational Arab and Muslim anger towards the US or start asking tough questions about US policy, as well as US strategic interests, in the Middle East.
Some of the US’s most prominent strategic thinkers have already warned about the geopolitical and security dangers facing the US as a result of failed policies in the Middle East. Unfortunately, the TV news cycle and the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney appear to have little bandwidth to openly discuss the challenges facing Americans in the Middle East, even while US diplomats find themselves in harms way.