Reza Aslan, author of the excellent No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam has a must-read opinion piece in today’s Washington Post, titled “He Could Care Less About Obama’s Story.”
The “He” Aslan is referring to is the “young Muslim boy” that many commentators euphemistically refer to as the person who will be most impacted by the re-branding of America with someone in the White House that “looks” innately different than his or her predecessors. I should add that this should be “She” as well.
As someone who once was that young Muslim boy everyone seems to be imagining (albeit in Iran rather than Egypt), I’ll let you in on a secret: He could not care less who the president of the United States is. He is totally unconcerned with whatever barriers a black (or female, for that matter) president would be breaking. He couldn’t name three U.S. presidents if he tried. He cares only about one thing: what the United States will do.
That boy is angry at the United States not because its presidents have all been white. He is angry because of Washington’s unconditional support for Israel; because the United States has more than 150,000 troops in Iraq; because the United States gives the dictator of his country some $2 billion a year in aid, the vast majority of which goes toward supporting a police state. He is angry at the United States because he thinks it has hegemony over almost every aspect of his world.
Now, more than one commentator has noted that on all of these issues, the next president will have very little room to maneuver. But that is exactly the point.
The next president will have to try to build a successful, economically viable Palestinian state while protecting the safety and sovereignty of Israel. He or she will have to slowly and responsibly withdraw forces from Iraq without allowing the country to implode. He or she will have to bring Iraq’s neighbors, Syria and Iran, to the negotiating table while simultaneously reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, keeping Syria out of Lebanon, reassuring Washington’s Sunni Arab allies that they have not been abandoned, coaxing Russia into becoming part of the solution (rather than part of the problem) in the region, saving an independent and democratic Afghanistan from the resurgent Taliban, preparing for an inevitable succession of leadership in Saudi Arabia, persuading China to play a more constructive role in the Middle East and keeping a nuclear-armed Pakistan from self-destructing in the wake of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
Aslan has it exactly right — and it is this enormously complex and fragile puzzle that Obama, Clinton, Biden, Richardson and others should be framing in ways more sophisticated than this dictator or that needs to go — or whether a vote in Congress may have led to Bhutto’s assassination.
Flynt Leverett has written frequently about the need for some kind of regional grand bargain that tracks with much of what Aslan wrote in his piece today. These candidates should be reading Aslan and Flynt Leverett and give us their reactions and something compelling.
— Steve Clemons