Contextual Content

A rational US foreign policy in the Middle East?

Aijaz Ahmad: "America should understand that other countries have similar strategic interests. I think looking at the world through narrow American interests is itself both immoral and counterproductive."

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next part of our interviews with Aijaz Ahmad, where we ask the question, what would a rational American foreign policy look like? Now we discuss the Middle East. So, Aijaz, if your phone rang at three in the morning, and it turned out to be the next president of the United States, and he said, "Well, what should we do in the Middle East?" what would you answer?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: Well, I actually have prepared a document for such uses. I think the first thing I would advise the president of the United States is to give up the doctrines of unilateralism and preemption, that whatever policies the US pursues in the region have to be coordinated with countries of the region as well as the three big powers bordering the region. And that is where I think that the very notion of international community has to change, because as of now, the term "international community" works simply as a code for the West. For the Middle East, I think the primary notion of the international community would be the countries of the region and the three great powers around it. That would be my first.

JAY: Well, if you back up, the argument for preemption would go, if in fact there had been weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which we know there’s not, were not, but in theory there could have been, if one believes, because of the type or the character of weapons of mass destruction, the nature of those weapons, if you don’t take them out before they take out you—I mean, this is the whole argument for preemption, that in today’s world it’s necessary. And what’s the counterargument to that?

AHMAD: The counterargument is that if you start working on hypotheses like this, you render a fifth of the population of Iraq homeless; you kill hundreds of thousands of people on suspicion. I think it’s criminal. You have to know that there were international bodies, particularly the IAEA, as well as other UN inspectors who advised strongly against such action.

JAY: We know in the document The Project for a New American Century and some of the other literature that’s come from the neoconservatives that the whole idea of international law was really something that was only useful to American interests when there were two superpowers in the world. And one of the main ideas of that document is that international law really isn’t all that useful now, and that America should assert democracy or assert its interests. If one looks at a narrow American angle, is that a legitimate argument for Americans?

AHMAD: I think looking at the world from narrow American interests is itself both immoral and counterproductive. If pursuit of American interests leads you to act on suspicions of the kind which cost hundreds of thousands of lives, as they may again in Iran, that is not the way to pursue national interests. Moreover, such pursuit of national interest has cost the United States a lot in its economy, in its human costs, in its prestige in the world. On September 11, the United States had the sympathy of the world behind it. Since the Iraq War, because it followed the policies of the kind that the neocons have suggested, it has become the world’s least popular, in fact, the world’s most disliked country.

JAY: So if the phone call is "What should we do in the Middle East?" how do you dig into that question?

AHMAD: First of all you identify your real strategic interests, and I think there are basically three in number which are primary. One is the guarantee of secure flow of oil and gas—the hydrocarbon question. Second is the question of international terrorism, which must be separated from this, you know, free-for-all word "terrorism."

JAY: So here you’re making a differentiation between al-Qaeda and a Hezbollah or Hamas.

AHMAD: Absolutely, and many other instances where violence may be used by people for their regional purposes or their local purposes. I would even say that by and large most of the Taliban are not interested in what can strictly be called international terrorism. So there’s that. And third, I think specifically with relation to Afghanistan there’s the question of drugs, production of them and proliferation of them. Now, the point is, Paul, that all three of these are critically important for a large number of countries. They’re as important for Russia or China or India. Terrorism, for example, is as important for countries in the region and around the region as they are for the United States. So instead of pursuing a unilateral policy and saying to the world, "You’re either with us or against us," you actually have to have sort of a consortium, international consortium of these states who are most affected by these problems, and have a common policy.

JAY: In the next part of our interviews, let’s discuss the most critical issue facing the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and see how these principles apply. Thank you for joining us, and please join us again in our series of discussions on what a rational American foreign policy would look like.

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