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22 Apr, 2012

Chinese Commentary: Arabs Should Reduce Dependence on the U.S.

Qin Tian (People's Daily) Edited and Translated by People's Daily Online

Beijing, April 21, 2012 – It is a general impression of the world that the Arab people do not like the United States. At the country level, it could be said that Arab countries both “hate” and “like” the United States.

Their interests are not completely in common.

People usually believe that the United States has five major interests in the Middle East region: first, guaranteeing the safety of Israel; second, making sure the oil supply and price is stable; third, cracking down on terrorism; fourth, preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and turning into a regional hegemony; and fifth, spreading values of democracy and human rights in the region.

Generally speaking, Arab countries’ largest interest is to have a peaceful and steady external environment and realize their economic development and the revival of the Arab nation. Sometimes, Arab countries and the United States have common interests. For example, in order to guarantee a steady oil price, the United States is using a powerful naval fleet to safeguard the navigation in the Persian Gulf, and since many Arab countries rely on the petrol-dollar too, they are willing to see the United States’ convoy. As the Arab countries are concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, when the United States takes strict sanctions against Iran and even uses military forces to threaten Iran, they are very supportive. But meanwhile, there are also in-depth contradictions between the United States and Arab countries. The United States always stands on Israel’s side, but most Arab countries support Palestine. The United States’ action of giving unprincipled protection to Israel dissatisfies a lot of Arab people.

On some other occasions, Arab countries and the United States’ interests are seemingly in common but actually not. The latest example is the Iraq war starting in 2003. In the name of the Saddam regime possessing mass-destruction weapons and supporting terrorism, the United States invaded Iraq, which got tacit permissions of most Arab countries.

However, after the Saddam government was overthrown, Iraq did not realize stability and development. After the Iraq war, the United States carried out a democratic election in Iraq and established a Shiah administration, but it greatly disappointed Arab countries, because most of them are dominated by Sunnites. Saudi Arabia even believes that the Iraq war launched by the United States was a complete failure. What was bound together with the Iraq war was the “Greater Middle East Initiative.” However, the democratic “model” in Iraq is extremely fragile and completely unconvincing and has no demonstration effect at all.

Making changes to reduce dependence on United States

Regarding the Syria issue, the relationship between Arab countries and the United States has showed its two-sided feature once again. In general, the Arab League originally proposed the “Arab peace initiative” which was bad for the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad but almost completely accorded with the West’ words. However, in the 23rd Arab League Summit held recently, Arab countries’ main tone changed to supporting the intermediation by the United Nations and Arab League’s Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan to realize a peaceful political solution. It was already not completely same as the West’s standpoint. The Gulf countries maintain close cooperation with the United States in overthrowing the Bashar government, but other Arab countries actually do not want to see Syria having a chaotic situation caused by excessive external interventions.

Currently, Western countries led by the United States want to overthrow the Bashar government, but do not want to do it by themselves. Arab countries want international communities, especially the United States, to pressure Syria, but do not want external military interventions. This situation is actually a “sequela” caused by the fact that Arab countries have no independent diplomatic strategy for a long period.

Regarding the structure of the Middle East, Arab countries have a common rival of Iran, and therefore they need the United States’ help to contain Iran. Meanwhile, Arab countries also have a common enemy of Israel, and therefore they are dissatisfied with a United States on Israel’s side.

The situation that Arab countries both “like” and “hate” the United States will not change in a short period. But, the past year of 2011 was full of changes and chances. In that year, the United States killed Osama bin Laden and withdrew its troops from Iraq and its dependence rate on the oil from the Middle East reduced to less than 15 percent. In addition, the great changes in the Arab countries also greatly reduced the United States’ enthusiasm of exporting democracy to the region. The United States’ interests and presence in the Middle East are both gradually reducing, and therefore it probably is a good opportunity for Arab countries to foster their own independent diplomatic strategy and gradually reduce their dependence on the United States.