Opinion | Columnists

America’s muddled priorities and double standards

Americans are some of the most friendly and likeable people anywhere, rightly proud of their achievements. However, they should also be ashamed of their government’s bullying foreign policy that treats non-Americans as inferior

  • By Khalaf Al Habtoor | Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 November 23, 2012
  • Gulf News

I’m stunned at the banquet Washington’s political establishment and the US media have made out of the personal indiscretions of a couple of four-star generals past their prime. General David Petraeus was leaned on to resign due to his suspect relationship with his biographer, Paula Broadwell.

General John Allen has been treated less harshly for sending flirtatious emails to Jill Kelley, a Florida woman whom Broadwell suspected of getting her hooks into “her man”. Allen’s appointment as Nato’s Commander in Europe has been put on hold. This maybe the kind of scandal that feeds reality show viewers but, in the great scheme of things, it is inconsequential.

The White House should not have hyped personal matters into a national issue. It should have been buried with a simple “no comment”.

Conversely, the real news barely gets a front-page mention primarily because the American readership is disinterested in what their military has perpetrated in Afghanistan and Iraq in their name. How many care that thousands of their troops were sacrificed under democracy’s standard when, in reality, Iraq has fallen into the arms of America’s enemy Iran?

Where is their fury over up to one million lost Iraqi lives and the squandering of more than one trillion of their tax dollars?

Nothing positive has been achieved in Afghanistan either. Osama Bin Laden fled early on to Pakistan. The coalition destroyed the country’s Al Qaida training camps, true. But Al Qaida is alive and well entrenched throughout the Middle East, the Subcontinent and Africa.

For 11 years, the US and Nato have been battling to destroy the Taliban, now being courted by the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Just days ago, Pakistan released eight Taliban commanders from custody at the behest of the Afghan government seeking reconciliation. Reports indicate the Taliban are gleeful over the public disgrace of the man who engineered “the surge”. No doubt Taliban leaders are rubbing their hands in anticipation of 2014 when US troops will leave.

If Americans expect gratitude they are in for disappointment.

Isn’t there something wrong with America’s priorities? General Petraeus has been punished over his love life. Yet, those military personnel who tortured detainees in Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were dubbed “a few bad apples” and let off with little more than demotion or short jail terms.

They were the ones who soiled America’s name, not Petraeus or Allen. If any Arab country had abducted individuals from the streets of Europe, to be rendered to third countries for torture or had incarcerated westerners without charge or trial, they would have been labelled terrorist states.

Americans ask “why do they hate us?” I have dozens of fine upstanding American friends and I used to look up to the US as the most wealthy and powerful nation on earth, a repository of knowledge, science and invention — and a bastion of human rights.

Americans are some of the most friendly and likeable people anywhere, rightly proud of their achievements. However, they should also be ashamed of their government’s bullying foreign policy that treats non-Americans as inferior and other country’s leaders as pawns in a game of global hegemony.

How do they sleep at night when so many of their fellows live in cardboard homes, sleep in cars, rely on food stamps or have to mortgage their homes to get medical treatment? There is an underclass in America as exposed by hurricane Katrina and superstorm Sandy — people for whom the American Dream is unattainable.

I know that Americans and Europeans tend to look down on us Arabs. In many disciplines they are, indeed, light years ahead of us. Yet, their finest minds have not succeeded in combating economic crises or rocketing rates of unemployment.

We, who live in Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, do not claim to know more than our western counterparts. Our children study in their schools and our sick are tended to in their hospitals. We have benefitted from their experience to boost our economies.

GCC countries recovered from the global downturn more swiftly than others. The difference rests in our unity and the fact that we shun anything that threatens our security, stability and prosperity. We do not permit corporations or individuals to negatively impact our countries.

Our leaders will not tolerate those bent on hurling the GCC into turmoil, for which they have been wrongly criticised by human rights groups. I thank God that they prioritise the well-being of their citizens — providing them with homes, education and medical treatment. Caring for those who are less fortunate is not something we learned from the West. That is a staple of Islam.

Those who chastise us for neglecting human rights, when our people enjoy enviable lifestyles, should look at their own countries — places where prisons are bursting, criminals make the streets unsafe and the desperate join welfare queues. Visit one of America’s own tent cities and speak about human rights.

Or if they dare, let them go to Afghanistan or Iraq and ask the millions of widowed, orphaned and maimed about their human rights. Unless the US and its western allies admit their mistakes, the days when they deserve our admiration are numbered.

The silly Petraeus affair, that has been blown out of proportion, is just another nail in that coffin.

Khalaf Al Habtoor is a businessman and chairman of Al Habtoor Group.

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