Much like Festivus, American diplomacy in the Middle East usually begins with an airing of grievances. These are not the American grievances over decades of terrorism and acts of violent hatred. These are the grievances that are supposedly infuriating the Arab Street. The list begins with Israel, continues on to the “Arab Dictators” supported by America and concludes with warnings to respect Mohammed by not making any cartoons or movies about him.
During his first term, Obama kept his distance from Israel, locked up a Christian who made a movie about Mohammed and withdrew his support from the Arab Dictators. The street should have been happy, but now it’s angrier than ever. And much of that anger is directed at America.
Mohamed El Baradei, once the administration’s choice to take over Egypt, has refused to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry. Joining him in this boycott is much of Egypt’s liberal opposition.
When Mubarak was in power, the “Arab Street” of Islamists and Egyptian leftists was angry at America for supporting him. Now the “Arab Street” of Egyptian leftists, Mubarak supporters and some Anti-Brotherhood Islamists is angry at America for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
The American foreign policy error was to assume that the political grievances of the Arab Street could be appeased with democracy. They can’t be. The various factions are not truly interested in open elections. What they want is for America to elevate their faction and only their faction to power. When that doesn’t happen, they denounce the government as an American puppet and warn of the great and terrible anger of the Arab Street if America doesn’t make them its puppet instead.
Democracy is no solution, because none of the factions really wanted democracy for its own sake. They wanted it only as a tool to help them win. Now that the tool has failed most of them, they don’t care for it anymore. And the Islamists who benefited from democracy have no enduring commitment to it. Like all the other factions, they see it as a tool. A means, not an end.
While the West views democracy as an end, the East sees it as only a means. The West believes in a system of populist power rotation. The East however is caught between a variety of totalitarian ideologies, including Islamists and local flavors of the left, who have no interest in power rotation except as a temporary strategy for total victory.
There is no actual solution to the Arab Street that will please all sides and keep their hatred of America down to a dull roar. Whichever side the United States of America backs will leave the others full of fury. If the United States doesn’t back a side but maintains good relations with the government, it will still be accused of backing that government.
The only way to disprove that accusation is for the winning side to demonstrate its hostility to the United States. Accordingly even governments that are in theory friendly to the United States must demonstrate their unfriendliness as a defense against accusations that they are puppets of the infidels. And as a result, no matter whom the United States supports, all the factions, including those we support, will continue to engage in ritual displays of hostility against us.
Trying to appease the fictional construct of an Arab Street that has clear and simple demands is a hopeless scenario. It’s a Catch 22 mess where every move is ultimately a losing move, no matter how promising it initially appears to be.
There is no Arab Street. The real Arab Street is the overcrowded cities full of angry men with no jobs and lots of bigotry. Their hostility to the United States has nothing to do with the sordid politics that experts insist on bringing up to prove that the Muslim world hates us with good reason. Even if this history did not exist, the United States would be just as hated. The best evidence of that is that most of the accusations that enjoy popularity on the Arab Street are entirely imaginary.
Demagogues can lead the street from bread riots to toppling governments, but what they cannot do is fix the underlying problems, let alone change the bigotry of people who blame all their problems on the foreigners, rather than on themselves. Each faction promises that the anger will subside and stability will return when it comes to power, but the anger will never go away because it’s too convenient to blame America for everything. As long as America is around, no one in the Muslim world ever has to take responsibility for anything.