Napoleon Has Left The White House : Ugly Americanism in the Middle East
The November 20th White House Statement, given on behalf of US President Donald Trump, contained a level of crass honesty previously unheard of in US politics. The statement admitted Saudi involvement in the murder of journalist, Jamal Khoshoggi, but justified continued US-Saudi relations in the following terms:
“After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!”
Unlike almost all of Trump’s predecessors, US policy was not being defended in the name of democracy or human rights, or even fighting terrorism. What Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti spent their careers trying to prove is now being stated openly: US foreign policy is about money. It’s about oil profits and weapons contracts, not lofty ideals about freedom and security. One is almost reminded of the Saturday Night Live character, Nathan Thurm. Thurm was the caricature of a crooked, corporate lawyer. When confronted with the misdeeds of his clients, the Thurm character would nervously inhale from a cigarette and say phrases like “Of course, do you think I don’t know that?” and “What’s your point?”
While some of the Pentagon brass and some elderly conservatives may appreciate Trump’s frankness and “telling it like it is,” one can be sure that many within the intelligence community are fuming with rage. Trump’s crass honesty is undoing years and years of work, mainly the work of managing the image of the United States and building relationships with potential proxy fighters. However, this “soft-power” strategy of maneuvering and manipulating Muslim extremists had ultimately climaxed during the term of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Barack Obama: A 21st Century Napoleon
Napoleon Bonaparte was not a Muslim, and most likely, not a genuine Christian either. Bonaparte rose to power in the aftermath of the French Revolution, when atheism was in fashion within the circles of power. Napoleon arranged for the Pope to coronate him as Emperor, but then dramatically took the crown from the Pope and placed it on his own head. Napoleon was excommunicated by Pope Pius VII, but eventually reconciled with the Church shortly before his death in 1821.
However, when Napoleon waged his Middle Eastern campaign, he worked very hard to convince the Arab people that he was a devout Muslim. The following statement was issued on July 2nd, 1798 when he marched into Alexandria: “People of Egypt! You will be told by our enemies that I am come to destroy your religion. Believe them not. Tell them I am come to restore your rights, punish your usurpers, and revive the true worship of Mohammed. Tell them that I venerate, more than do the Mamelukes, God, his prophet, and the Koran.”
Napoleon’s words were false. He apparently joked about them with his officers saying: “A change of religion, inexcusable for the sake of private interests, becomes comprehensible when immense political results are involved…. Do you think the Empire of the East and perhaps the subjugation of the whole of Asia was not worth a turban and some loose trousers?” In the hopes of conquering the Arab people, Napoleon pretended to share their religious beliefs and understand their woes.
Flash forward to 2009, when another western leader was in Egypt, he presenting himself as a friend of Arabs and Muslims. Barack Obama proclaimed: “I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap and share common principles, principles of justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
The Muslim world had far more cause than simply polite words to believe him. After all, Obama’s middle name is Hussein. He had attended a Muslim elementary school in Indonesia as a child. He had met face to face with Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said. His biological father had been a Muslim, and his mother had remarried to a Muslim General in the Indonesian military. Obama’s critics constantly accused of him of being a “secret Muslim.” While such allegations may have harmed him at home, they made the 44th President of the United States immensely popular in the Arab world.
For decades, the United States had already been working with religious extremists to counter their rivals. In the 1980s, the USA had worked with a young Osama Bin Laden to build an army of Mujihadeen to wage civil war and eventually topple the People’s Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Arab Spring
The wave of revolts that swept the Middle East in 2011 was not entirely spontaneous. Social media was key in making it happen. Certain videos got promoted, and calls for protest went viral. Jared Andrew Cohen, a google executive and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, was is very open about how closely he was working with the US State Department during these events. Al-Jazeera, a TV network owned by the Qatari monarchy, was very key in promoting the uprisings, as was the religious/political organization aligned with Qatar and Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a religious and political entity created in 1928 in Egypt. The Muslim brotherhood rejects Arab nationalism and Marxism, and favors a free market economy based on Islamic values. Currently, the Muslim brotherhood tends to recruit small business owners and professionals, mobilizing them to provide charity and services to low income people. Then these desperately poor people are then used by the Brotherhood as foot soldiers against rival political factions.
The Central Intelligence Agency of the United States began actively funding, training and working with the Muslim Brotherhood in efforts to counter the Arab Socialist President, Gamal Abdul Nasser during the 1950s. In the following decades, the Muslim Brotherhood was key in US covert operations to combat the Baathist Arab Socialist Party in Syria and Iraq, as well as efforts against the Islamic Socialist government of Libya. With the help of the CIA, a Muslim brotherhood uprising against the Syrian Arab Republic was staged in 1982, resulting in thousands of deaths. Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected in an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatari monarchy continues to fund the Brotherhood’s activities around the world.
During the 2011 Arab Spring the Muslim Brotherhood, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the US State Department, all marched in lockstep, with Facebook, Twitter, and Al-Jazeera broadcasts providing support in the form of propaganda. The poor people of the Middle East, many of whom were quite desperate in the aftermath of the financial crisis, were mobilized to topple “dictators.”
Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in the first uprising, sparked by a viral video of a frustrated street vendor lighting himself on fire. When the dust settled after the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections and became the ruling party of Tunisia. In Egypt, the dictator Hosni Mubarak was toppled and replaced by a Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohammed Morsi, who was eventually removed by the military in 2013. In Libya, the Muslim Brotherhood was key in mobilizing armed brigades and foreign fighters against Colonel Moammar Gaddafi’s Islamic Socialist government. In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood has been key in waging the ongoing civil war against the Syrian Arab Republic and the Baath Socialist Party.
A New Approach To The World
In 2018, the Napoleonic alliance of Saudi Wahabbi extremists and Muslim Brotherhood activists working to conduct regime change for the United States, is crumbling. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are at loggerheads. Turkey, despite being a member of NATO, is becoming far friendlier to Russia, and facing more condemnation from Washington.
Meanwhile, the Trump presidency seems to be actively working to sever the intelligence community’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. Trump has floated the idea of putting the Muslim Brotherhood on the list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. The ‘Travel Ban’ enacted by the Trump White House prevented the CIA from rewarding allies in the seven listed countries with visas to live in the United States.
Trump boasts about selling weapons for Pentagon contractors. Trump talks of the Saudi relationship being economically important. Trump seems to court the Netanyahu wing of Israeli politics, and emphasize opposition to Iran. Trump also makes statements like ‘Islam hates us’ which do not increase US popularity among the global Muslim community.
Its pretty clear that Napoleon has left the White House. The USA is no longer trying to win friends and influence people in the Middle East region. Rather, the current strategy seems to be a kind of crass self-interest presented under the slogan “America First,” along with a kind of reverence for weaponry, summed up in the slogan “Peace Through Strength.”
The Pentagon may appreciate the Trump administration’s shift away from Obama-era consolation and soft power manipulation, but it is likely that many in the intelligence community are furious. In essence, the work of decades, winning the trust of Muslims and Arabs, building relationships with potential proxy forces, is all being undone by a leader who very much fits the stereotype of an “ugly American.” The fact that hostility to the current president seems to be flowing from the highest seats of American power should not be shocking to anyone.
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.