An open letter to President Obama

Friday 08/04/2016

Mr President, I am writing this open letter to you in order to convey the sadness and concern of my people whose blood continues to be spilled in the streets. And I am sorry to say US policies are at least partly to blame.
In the 1950s, when I was growing up in a small village in northern Libya, the three great threats to my people were poverty, ignorance and infirmity. These threats have only increased in the intermittent years as US policies went from sending bread and books to the people of the region to military intervention and widespread destruction.
So how did we move from bread and books to bombs?
During the Cold War, the United States did not directly intervene in our region, although Washington was keen on shoring up support to Mideast countries against Soviet influence. When the Russians became embroiled in Afghanistan, your country did not intervene directly but instead threw its support behind local and regional actors.
This war, however, was something that did directly affect us, particularly as some of those who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan were from our own people. They eventually brought their dangerous Islamist ideology and combat experience back to their homelands.
It is unfortunate, Mr President, that following the Soviets’ defeat in Afghanistan, the United States completely failed to shoulder its responsibility towards that country, allowing it to fall prey to poverty, ignorance and dangerous obscurantist Islamism.
US policy has ever since consisted of spending millions of dollars on military operations but, once objectives were supposedly achieved, the areas were allowed to fall into chaos.
The fateful 9/11 attacks can be traced directly to the Taliban’s takeover of the country, something that the United States could easily have prevented.
And what was America’s response to 9/11, Mr President? Your predecessor George W. Bush and his neo-con supporters were swayed by emotion and blind revenge. They directly intervened in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, Washington’s post-conflict plans there were, as usual, flawed. These countries became less, not more, secure and the Middle East was engulfed in further chaos and destruction.
Then came the “Arab spring”, which again revealed the US foreign policy deficiencies. Some dictatorial regimes, traditional allies of the United States, were ousted and the wave of chaos became a tsunami. Again this was thanks, in part, to US decision-making.
If you think that Iraq was a one-time mistake, then think twice. US planning for its military intervention in Libya was no better. This is not the first time that the United States has intervened in the Middle East, telling the world it was coming to save the people from a dictatorial regime, only for things to end up worse afterward.
The United States’ lack of planning for the post-Qaddafi period allowed Libya to fall into the arms of bandits and terrorists. This caused even more chaos and destruction across the region.
Your stated objective is to spread democracy in the Arab world. A beautiful sentiment but one that does not live up to close scrutiny. After all, how many true democracies are there in the Middle East? If it was under the same type of pressures of tribalism, sectarianism and intolerance, could the United States itself retain its democratic nature?
How can we have true democracy in our countries without good governance, which can only emerge in a corruption-free environment and where development and education allow for a culture of tolerance and openness to blossom?
How can there be true democracy in countries that do not have any real concept of citizenship and whose governments continue to discriminate between citizens on the basis of colour, creed, gender and ethnicity?
The reality, Mr President, is that a US-style democracy in our countries will simply result in further chaos. Democracy is not a one-size-fits-all solution for all countries and societies across the world, even if it offers hope for the people.
I am not saying democracy is incompatible with the Arabs or the Arab world, only that democracy must be adapted to our societies and should be implemented the right way.
Mr President, may I ask you to rethink your strategy towards the region and help us establish good governance in order to preserve maybe what remains of our states. I am in the twilight years of my life and hope that my grandchildren can live to see again the America that I knew as a child, an America that was a model of fraternity and a force for good around the world.