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Conspiracy : US and the Middle East

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The other day, a wide-eyed colleague confronted me with an elaborate reconstruction of US strategies towards Iran, Iraq and Syria and lamented with an exasperated shrug: it’s a conspiracy.

Conspiracy or no conspiracy, I said, it’s certainly an interesting and deliberate take on what appears on the surface to be a confused, accidental or reactive policy.

No, it’s a conspiracy, he insisted with frustration. Time to call a spade a spade.

I am fine with spades, secrets and scoops, and I totally understand why an increasing number of keen observers can sense a certain conspiracy.

It’s just that what is often seen as conspiracy, I see as policy.

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In that way, our exchange reminded of the American reaction to the alarmed Arab reaction to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq and the way in which it strengthened Iran.

Captive minds

Only a few days before the Arab Uprising began to take shape in December 2010, Roger Cohen of the New York Times went out of his way to ridicule what he called the “Captive Arab Mind” that sees conspiracies everywhere, including why and how Tehran benefited from the invasion of Iraq.

“What we are dealing with here is the paltry harvest of captive minds. Such minds resort to conspiracy theory because it is the ultimate refuge of the powerless. If you cannot change your own life, it must be that some greater force controls the world,” he wrote.

Cohen concluded that there was “little evidence that the Middle East is ready to exchange conspiratorial victimhood for self-empowerment”. It was the same week the Arab uprisings started in Tunisia.

I usually don’t care to respond to such nonsense, but out of respect for Roger and because of the importance of the New York Times, I decided to respond to his “superficial and misleading” comments:

“Yes, an increasing number of people lean on conspiracy theories to explain certain complex events, but they’re not exclusively Arabs, nor are their theories always wrong or completely unfounded.”

I will spare the fantastical conspiracy theories awash since US President Barack Obama’s elections. The latest of which, warn of a US invasion of Texas (yes, you read that right) and coordination with ISIL and Iran to attack the US – I will leave this fun subject for another day.

Benevolence or betrayal

A sober look at Washington’s policy towards the Middle East and beyond, one can conclude, as so many do, that the US is in retreat and retrenchment.

How the Obama administration responds rather tardily and timidly to major crises in Syria and Ukraine, while its nemesis in Moscow and Tehran act boldly and benefit enormously.

How US relations with its key regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are in tatters, and how the White House has lost all clout on both rather embarrassingly.

How Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charges into Washington without invitation, while Saudi King Salman snubs Obama and declines his invitation to the White House.

But a penetrating look can lead to very different observations and conclusions.

How the US reaction is tempered by moral restraint, multilateralism and legal accountability.

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