In a world that is characterized more by turmoil and instability than order, the world is in need of leadership more than at any other time. The US seems to have lost that position for some time now. So far, the Iraq, Afghan and Libyan wars have cost nearly $1.5 trillion; this is no doubt one of the reasons for the current world economic and financial chaos. However, there are other factors.
A poll conducted in Arab countries -- Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- by the Arab-American Institute has revealed that the popularity of the United States in five of the six countries lagged behind Turkey, China, France and even Iran. Ironically, the peoples of these countries view the US as “the greatest obstacle to peace and stability in the Middle East.” They do not see the US as playing a positive leadership role in the post-Arab Spring transition.
They hold the view that the US is the most important actor in allowing Israel to cling to occupied Palestinian and other Arab (Golan Heights) territories. The Arab people believe that the US and Israel have identical strategic interests and they are all against Arabs.
In the US things do not look that bright, either. According to the latest Zogby poll, President Barack Obama's popularity has dramatically decreased. But the US president's ratings are worse in the Middle East. He is less popular than Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran's policies are viewed more favorably than America's. How can the US, under these circumstances, offer leadership in the volatile Middle East? This is an opportune time for the radicals and the extremists.
The statehood of Palestine will be put to a vote at the United Nations next month. The first vote will he cast in the UN Security Council where the United States has veto power. Otherwise, there is no doubt that the resolution would pass unanimously except for Israel and the US (192-2) in the General Assembly. This event will probably once again build up anti-American and anti-Israeli feelings throughout the world.
What could be the possible results of the failure of leadership and direction -- at the domestic and global levels alike -- on Middle Eastern countries? Democratic-liberal forces are in disarray, institutionalization towards more popular rule after the downfall of dictatorships is still embryonic and consensus among middle-class intellectuals and bureaucrats is weak. And personal or group agendas are at work.
No doubt militant groups acting in the name of “divine and just order” (religion) are there to fill the gap. Their mentality is as authoritarian as the former regimes. There is no concept of the individual in their political agenda. Their totalitarian understanding of life and society does not allow for democracy but rather a constant fight against the “infidel” and the vices of modernity.
Will the moderates and democrats of the Middle Eastern countries ever have the opportunity or common sense to provide the leadership and ability to build a popular government by an overwhelming majority in their respective countries?
The European theater is also in disarray. Some countries of the 27-member European Union, such as Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland, are close to bankruptcy. Given this mixture of political as well as budgetary failure, many non-Western peoples view this double jeopardy (Europe and the US) as the failure of the Western experience. This is an opportune time for illiberal currents and political groups to spawn their totalitarian ideals geared to control all vestiges of life for a “just and cohesive” order as they believe it to be. Shall we “escape from freedom” once again?