“Defining a Constructive Role in the Middle East,” by Ahmed Salkini

Defining a Constructive Role in the Middle East
By Ahmed Salkini, Spokesman for the Syrian Embassy, Washington
Washington Post Global

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of the most commonly used phrases when describing a certain party’s role in the Middle East is whether or not it is “constructive.” American officials have a special affinity for this phrase, particularly when referring to players whom they disagree with.

Syria is a case in point. Those who are pro-engagement with Syria defend engagement as a tool to make it play a more “constructive role.” Meanwhile, the anti-engagement crowd argues that such efforts are futile, and unwarranted, because Syria’s role is “not constructive.”

Yet, no one has defined what this all-too-ubiquitous “constructive role” entails.

We do know what it does not entail. Invading a country in the Middle East, causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions, and engendering an all-too contagious sectarianism is not constructive. Turning a blind eye to the daily deaths of Palestinians, the building of illegal settlements, the world’s largest nuclear arms arsenal per capita, and the establishment of the only current apartheid state is not constructive. Brokering peace between two sides while arming one with billions of dollars worth of weapons and preventing the other from having a mere functioning state is not constructive. Continually fomenting sectarianism in Lebanon and historically favoring one side over another, all the while criticizing others for not playing a constructive role, well, is not constructive.

As people of the Middle East we cannot logically expect the United States to view its interests through our lens. Similarly, the United States cannot define what is ‘constructive’ in our region while completely neglecting our interests.

Every year, the University of Maryland, in conjunction with Zogby International, conducts an opinion survey in six Arab countries: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Morocco. Incidentally, these countries all have pro-American governments.

The results of the poll are very telling and can serve as a barometer for those trying to truly understand what the people view as ‘constructive’ or not.

Eighty-five percent of those surveyed have either a somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable attitude towards the United States; 63 percent are disappointed with U.S. President Barack Obama’s Middle East policy; 78 percent believe Iran has a right to a nuclear program; 88 percent and 77 percent respectively say that Israel and the United States pose the greatest threat; and when asked to rank their world’s favorite leader, the top five were: Erdogan, Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Assad — not really a pro-American list.

Most importantly, when asked which country plays the most constructive role in the region, the United States came in dead last.

Of course, the reader does not require this essay or these poll results to discover that there is a deep anti-American sentiment in the region and around the world. The aim here is to highlight the irony, audacity, and indeed absurdity of having the foreign power viewed by the indigenous people as playing the least constructive role, define for those same people what is “constructive.”

On the other hand, the results of this survey indicate that Syria’s policies most reflect the aspirations and demands of the Arab street — clearly evident in President Assad ranking the highest among Arab heads-of-state, year in, year out. In light of these inexorable facts, American officials should, indeed, reconsider questioning Syria’s “constructive role” in the region.

What constitutes a constructive role in the Middle East is diligence towards ending all forms of occupation, allowing for the creation of a Palestinian state and helping bring about peace, stability, and opportunity for our people. If the United States truly believes in these goals, it should drop the hubris of dictating to us what is constructive for our own region, and instead engage in a serious dialogue on how to achieve them — flowery, sonorous speeches do not count. This would be the first step towards curbing anti-American sentiment, while creating a new, peaceful, Middle East.

Comments (22)


1. Averroes said:

Good article. Actually the battering of words into mush is a pretty common practice in US official and media domains. To me, that mutilation of terms is as cruel as the war itself.

Other examples are “moderate,” “freedom,” “democracy,” and a whole bunch more. Anyone care to throw in their lists of abused terms?

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November 25th, 2010, 3:16 pm

 

2. Norman said:

How about the only Democracy in the Mideast and the only dependable ally that the US has (( Israel ))

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November 25th, 2010, 4:14 pm

 

3. Norman said:

The Syria central bank expect the Syrian economy to grow between 6 and 7% next year and the Syrian government intends on investing in infrastructure , I wonder if private investment can be used to build Toll roads to recoup their investments ,

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November 25th, 2010, 4:37 pm

 

4. MONTAGNARD said:

The constructive role that the US government claims to have in the Middle East, is shining through what it did in Iraq, before, during and after the invasion and the occupation of Iraq.
The US government can get blue in the face by repeating its cliche words such as the constructive role it plays, when it is nothing but destructive, every opinion poll of the region confirms that image.
Who are they trying to fool?

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November 26th, 2010, 9:30 am

 

5. why-discuss said:

Montagnard

The other US foreign policy cliche repeated at nausea:
“Syria,Iran etc..(except Israel) should comply with their international obligations”

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November 26th, 2010, 10:09 am

 

6. Serious Syrians | peacefare.net said:

[...] The Syrian Embassy spokesman is at pains to argue that “Syria’s policies most reflect the aspirations and demands of the Arab street.” This naturally leads to “President Assad ranking the highest among Arab heads-of-state, year in, year out.” [...]

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November 26th, 2010, 3:54 pm

 

7. why-discuss said:

Iraqis fleeing again to Syria.

Iraq’s Troubles Drive Out Refugees Who Came Back
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/27/world/middleeast/27refugees.html

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November 26th, 2010, 11:25 pm

 

8. norman said:

This the way they see the Golan heights and the West Bank ,and Syria,s desire for peace it is rejection , how long Syria should Waite another 40 years ,It is time ,

article now LETTERS NOVEMBER 27, 2010 Syria Wants Peace? OK, Here Are Some Suggestions
Article Comments

Regarding the response to your Nov. 8 editorial “The Damascus Mirage”: In his Nov. 19 letter, Syrian embassy spokesman Ahmed Salkini states, “The crux of the problem is not engagement. It is peace.” The truth is that only when Israel—the illegal occupier of our lands—decides to return our land will there be peace in the Middle East.

Until then, political and military resistance will inevitably, and rightfully, persist.

What “illegal” lands is Mr. Salkini referring to? Tel Aviv, Haifa and all of Israel, as his schoolchildren’s maps show? Peace will come when the Arab leaders recognize Israel’s right to exist, denounce praising, honoring and making martyrs of terrorists and encouraging their children to murder Israelis and Jews. When the Arabs stop inciting hate (a Palestinian boy said at an Arafat memorial shown on Fatah PA TV on Nov. 10, “I don’t know what he died from, but I know it was by the Jews”), only then will there be peace.

Ed Kohl

West Bloomfield, Mich.

Mr. Salkini suggests there will be peace in the Middle East if Israel gives up more land. Anyone familiar with Hamas and Hezbollah knows that the issue is not land. The issue is Arab/Muslim refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state. Once Israel’s existence is no longer threatened, there will be peace.

June Brott

Oakland, Calif.

Mr. Salkini’s letter shows again that time has not changed any of Syria’s opinions. Hiding behind the ridiculous excuse of Israel being the problem time and again shows that the prospects for peace are very weak, to say the least. It still seems to be that no matter what the problem may be with any Arab country or movement, Israel is always the culprit.

What a crying shame that another generation has to look forward to more conflict simply because of the hatred and narrow-mindedness of so many Arab leaders. If these same countries would spend the energy they devote against Israel to instead improve their societies, everyone would be better off.

Serge Fischler

New York

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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November 27th, 2010, 2:22 pm

 

9. Shai said:

Norman,

It won’t be another 40 years. We’ll have war by then. Statistically speaking, we have war every 10 years or so.

An interesting article by one of Israel’s top most novelist and essayist, A. B. Yehoshua, titled “Zionism is not an Ideology”

http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/zionism-is-not-an-ideology-1.326939

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November 27th, 2010, 3:11 pm

 

10. Norman said:

xxxx

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November 27th, 2010, 5:21 pm

 

11. Norman said:

Shai
When was the last war between Syria and Israel,

It looks like he thinks what you told AP and AIG all the time that you are more Zionist than they are , They must be angry ,

Shai ,

I think the most important deal that Israel can make to settle the Mideast problem with her neighbors is a mutual agreement for right of return to Christians , Muslims and Jews but a final deal on borders and giving back the Golan is essential ,

The more i think about it the more i feel the present Israeli leadership is committing negligence by not moving on a peace process that can guarantee Israel future and it’s place in the Mideast , what a waste of time , energy and resources ,

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November 27th, 2010, 5:23 pm

 

12. why-discuss said:

Norman, Shai

Negligence ? It is called racism, greed and arrogance.

This attitude is making all Arabs even the ones who used to be moderate more eager to see that judeo-military regime receive a good blow that would make it stop oppressing, humiliating and dictating their will to the people of the area.
They will end up allying with the devil to reach that goal.

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November 27th, 2010, 7:24 pm

 

13. majedkhaldoon said:

The conflict between North and South Korea,is very dangerous, where N.Korea is taking advantage of the problems USA is going through,first financial,second being involved in two wars in Iraq and Afganistan,and third is Obama Image as weak.Israel will not benefit from war in Koreas,since it will sure embolden Iran,I think the world will be ready for change,it may be getting out of control.

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November 27th, 2010, 8:14 pm

 

14. Shai said:

Norman,

I agree with you. And if my hopes about Netanyahu are true (that he too understands this), then I really hope he takes the necessary steps in time, before we do go through another 1973. Except we already know it’ll be far worse, and we’ll end up right back in the same spot, and a different Israeli leader will go back to the 1967 borders. It is inevitable.

Why Discuss,

Almost every nation has had its period of Racism. Seems Israel is going through hers… Of course this is no excuse, perhaps just a very sad reality and a dark chapter in its history.

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November 28th, 2010, 6:27 am

 

15. Norman said:

Shai,

The only problem i have is , what will be the catalyst that will push Netanyahu to move on the peace process and how he can justify that to his people who think that they do not have to give an inch in return , it would be difficult for him without pressure somehow ,

WD ,

Israel was established to have a sanctuary for the Jews that they can seek refuge in if they are discriminated against , Yes the law in the Western world changed and anti discrimination laws are there to protect minorities like the Jews but these can change and and that is why the Jews insist on a Jewish state they fear being a minority again .

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November 28th, 2010, 7:53 am

 

16. Shai said:

Norman,

So many things haven’t been tried yet, short of war. The current administration in DC can do so much more. Shamir didn’t go to Madrid because he suddenly fell in love with Arabs – he went there because a Republican administration forced him to. The EU could take a tougher stance, be more vocal, and more unambiguous.

If Israel will be criticized more by its allies, more Israelis will begin to understand that it’s OK to be criticized, and maybe there’s a reason for it. The politicians will not be able to yell “antisemitism” forever at any Norwegian diplomat daring to meet with Hamas.

But personally, I think the Arab world can do much much more as well. It has done a lot (far more than I expected, to be honest), certainly since 2002. But it can literally “take the air out” of much of Israel’s anti-peace “balloons”. For instance, if most Israelis believe the Arabs have yet to recognize Israel’s right to exist here, then invite Netanyahu to Damascus, and by so doing demonstrate in no unequivocal terms Syria’s readiness to accept Israel in the region.

If you see that while you keep claiming Israel is the stronger party, Israel still insists on getting these “recognitions”, why not do something about it, without spelling it out? Inviting your enemy isn’t a form of capitulation, it is done out of a position of power, and it is the clearest sign of readiness for Peace. If Netanyahu wants Peace, THIS will help him tremendously, and he will jump on the bandwagon, and return home both a hero and a leader ready to take his people to Peace. If he’s not ready for peace, he’ll find a way not to go.

Just as we should not expect the Arab People to make peace with us in the kind of Middle East of today (non-democratic regimes), Syria should not expect Israelis to demonstrate readiness for peace now. Only Netanyahu can return the Golan, not the Israeli people today. So help him. Don’t assume that if he wanted to, he could have done it already. He needs the right catalyst, as you say. And it doesn’t have to be war. It can be the exact opposite.

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November 28th, 2010, 10:06 am

 

17. Norman said:

Shai,

Will Netanyahu be ready to recognize the June 4th border between Israel and Syria and willing to have a peace treaty on that principle , in his visit to Damascus , If that is the case , then that might work and should be encouraged but what will guarantee Syria that he will not flip like Barack ,

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November 28th, 2010, 10:14 am

 

18. Shai said:

Norman,

The same thing that guarantees that Syria won’t keep allowing Iranian weapons through to Hezbollah the day after the peace agreement is signed. There are no guarantees. Only logical developments. Just as Egypt got its Sinai, and Israel got a peaceful Egypt, same will happen between Israel and Syria. Two enemies, that currently cannot distrust each other more, must meet to shed away the layers of distrust. And, knowing how similar Jews and Arabs are, I believe these layers can be removed very very quickly.

Invite Netanyahu to Damascus, and call his bluff. But if he’s not bluffing, you’ll be giving him the political power Begin received from Sadat in 1977. He couldn’t have given back the Sinai without it.

Btw, Barak was a coward, and gambled everything on new elections, barely a year into power. But he was also on the wrong side of the political spectrum. The entire Right was against him. But like with Begin, if Bibi comes back from Damascus saying “We have a partner!”, 70% of Israelis will stand by him, immediately.

Even Barak’s two meetings with Farouq al-Sharaa made the Israeli Stock Market rise in double figures. There was a reason for that then, and it will happen again, I am sure of it.

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November 28th, 2010, 11:09 am

 

19. Norman said:

Israel will not leave the Golan the day after the peace agreement and has time to see if Syria will work to have peace between Israel and Lebanon as Syria wants to do and Israel will have time to see if Syria will stop being a state for Anti Israeli activity , Israel has time to Check Syria’s intention while Syria after the recognition of Israel has no other card,

Things should be settled first then announced and marketed with a fanfare ,

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November 28th, 2010, 11:19 am

 

20. majedkhaldoon said:

Syria news mentioned that Mitch Daniels,currently governor of Indiana,a republican, may run for president,His grandfather is Ilias Daniels born and raised in Homs Syria emigrated later to USA

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November 28th, 2010, 7:34 pm

 

21. Off the Wall said:

I am reading some of the WL documents. If a war breaks with Iran, it is for Israel. Israeli officials seem so obsessed with Iran gaining access to nuclear weapons that it is even comically absurd. War is advocated by every single Israeli official to any vising US official. It is also discussed by non other than the head of the Egyptian Intelligence who seems keen that the US should attack and not Israel. Add to that a continuous ranting about Iran from gulf fiefdoms (probably telling the Americans what they wanted to hear).

I am waiting for the cables from before GWB war on behalf of Israel in Iraq to be released, but that could take months.

Funny thing, they are not against the sale of weapons like F15 to KSA but they are against these fighters carrying weapons.

So far of the 20 dispatches i have read, there is nothing very scandalous other than the utter normalcy of the report. For those who have seen any diplomatic dispatches or mission reports from UN officials, these leaks, so far seem rather mundane, except for on on Turkey in 2005.

However, what was released so far is very small part.

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November 28th, 2010, 8:44 pm

 

22. why-discuss said:

Hariri’s visit to Iran: Photos show a different reality

In the photos, Hariri jr wearing a smart Giorgio Armani suit, looking with disdain and boredom at the iranians, seems to be asking himself: What the hell am I doing here? I would rather be in Paris Elysee…

http://www.payvand.com/news/10/nov/1283.html

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November 29th, 2010, 12:33 am

 

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