Wasta, the Jewish Lobby and George Bush’s War

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Hady Amr

Here we go again.  A week into Republican President George Bush’s military campaign against the universally condemned regime of Saddam Hussein, and the across the Arab World TV commentators, academics and the man and woman on the street are busy blaming the “Jewish Lobby”-and seemingly blaming it for everything. Be it in Jordan, Lebanon or Syria where I have spent this first week of the war, that’s the word on the street, in the air and on the internet. This is an Israeli war, not an American one.

Emails are circulating with old statements signed by Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, and Bill Kristol condemning Bin Landen, Saddam and Hizballah. And I recently got a text message from someone very close to me asking if Paul Wolfowitz has Israeli citizenship.

This time of great suffering for the Iraqi people and pain for the Arab World may not be ideal for the following self criticism, but I feel compelled to write:  This superficial level of analysis is not only smacks of self-denial, its just plain sad.  And the same thing happened a year ago when George Bush and the U.S. Congress largely stood idly by as Israel waged a brutal war against the Palestinian people.  The Arab World blamed the Jewish Lobby in Washington.

America also has failed many, many times over. And believe me, when I go back to Washington, my colleagues will get an earful about that.  But it’s time for the Arab World to “wake up and smell the coffee.” Actually, it’s been that time for decades.  But coffee hasn’t seemed to have worked, so maybe the smell of Tomahawk Cruise Missile explosions will get people in the Arab World to understand-they need to work hard themselves if they want to see American policy change in way that they like. No one else will do it for them-certainly not the likes of Gaffney, Perle and Kristol.

How can the Arab World Change things?

Although it is true that many in the Jewish American community have been very, very effective at advocating for U.S. policies that favor Israel regardless of whether these policies severely harm the Arab World, there are certainly those like the late Jewish American Senator Paul Wellstone who advocated policies with great compassion towards the Palestinian people and the Arab World.  There are also many “neo-conservatives” now in the Bush administration that have long been advocating the use of American force against Saddam and Hizballah and granting Israel a freer hand to use violence as well.  True, there are Jews among this group, but there are also people of just about every other ethnicity.

So the “Jewish Lobby” not the issue.  True, there are advocates in the U.S. for supporting Ariel Sharon-like policies, and these advocates are effective.  But the Arab World has largely itself to blame for the predicament in which it finds itself. And it should stop whining and start working-and working hard-to fix the problem.

When I last counted, there were nearly 300 million Arabs. That’s a lot of people. And unlike the Arab World I was born into in 1967, today’s Arabs are highly educated, have access to satellite TV, the internet and most of the middle and upper classes have friends or relatives living in Europe or North America.

So there is no longer any excuse for Arab World to not directly engage the political system in the United States and taking matters directly into their own hands.

So what are the steps?

First, apply this general rule I learned early on in life:  If you don’t like something, the learn about how it works and change it.

So if the Arab World does not like the shape of U.S. foreign policy, then its leaders and citizens alike need to undertake a rapid and intensive course in learning about the institutions and mechanisms that formulate U.S. policy. That means opening up institutions of higher learning to study U.S. policy at every university in the Arab World and maybe even requiring every high school and university student to take courses in U.S. and European foreign policy.

It also means that those Arab students who are studying in the U.S. and Europe-whether they are studying chemistry, language or politics-need to personally volunteer on political campaigns. The benefits could be enormous:  Arabs would learn about the political process so that they will be better able to influence it.   The young Americans who are working on campaigns and who are thus most likely to be future political leaders will get favorable impression of Arabs. And relationships will develop between future American and Arab leaders that will stand the test of time so that decades from now at times of crisis between the U.S. and the Arab world will be able to pick up the phone and call each other to discuss the nuances of policy and hopefully avert crisis. I recently met a young political leader in Syria who studied politics with Americans who now serve as key staffers in the U.S. Congress and in the Bush Administration. It is these sorts of relationships that will bear fruit in the years to come. We needs tens of thousands of them, not just dozens. In Arabic it’s called “wasta.” In America, the difference is that you don’t get it because of who your parents are, you earn your wasta through hard work. So get to work.

Second, the Arab World needs to promote creative debate and civic engagement. Forget the buzzwords like “democratization” and “regime change.” How about some genuine analysis that recognizes the weaknesses in society. That offers alternative analysis to the roots of problems and offers creative solutions.  That breaks the old stereotypical analysis of blaming the West and the Jewish Lobby for everything. These analyses have clearly failed. Something else is required. Progress requires a public debate that recognizes weaknesses, failures and plots a way forward. Let the debate begin.

Third, ordinary people and journalists in the Arab World need to engage the U.S. directly. Anyone who can write in English and has access to the internet can and should be writing letters to the editor of U.S. newspapers about their views. Yes, the letters to the editor page in U.S. newspapers do play a formative role in policy formulation. And Americans are very hungry for Arab opinions these days. Get writing.

Sadly, ordinary people in the Arab World today have nowhere near the capacity to stop this war, let alone pick up the telephone to make personal calls to American decision-makers. But if these steps are followed-quickly and vigorously-you can be sure that decades from now there will be a stronger mutual understanding between the U.S. and the Arab World. If not, there will surely future crises like the Palestinian catastrophe, the war on Iraq and the September 11th attacks that will lead to more pain for Arabs, Americans, and the world alike.

Hady Amr

was formerly the National Director of Ethnic American Outreach for Al Gore’s presidential campaign and served in former President Bill Clinton’s Department of Defense at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. Amr is currently an independent consultant who divides his time between Arlington, Virginia and the Arab world. He contributed

was formerly the National Director of Ethnic American Outreach for Al Gore’s presidential campaign and served in former President Bill Clinton’s Department of Defense at the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies. Amr is currently an independent consultant who divides his time between Arlington, Virginia and the Arab world. He contributed

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Media Monitors Network (MMN).

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