President Obama sponsored a widely-heralded international "summit" to counter violent extremism at the White House the third week of February, urging national governments to broaden their response to ISIS beyond military intervention, boost economic and educational opportunities and robustly confront that organization's "warped ideology" as part of a heavily promoted Administration push to counter the Islamic State's appeal to disaffected young men across the Muslim world. Some Americans are annoyed about TV comedians making light of ISIS. But it's our government that's the real joker.
The first President to win the Nobel Peace Prize for showing up had it backwards as the U.S. underscored at the "summit" its alliances with some of the world's worst governments - dictatorships Islamic State and Muslim democrats alike define themselves against.
Remember? Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.
This is the source of America's profound historic appeal to the world. Yet it still has zero actual role in U.S. foreign policy.
As we trample this principle in the Middle East, we undermine ourselves and strengthen the "terrorists" we're supposedly fighting. No investment in money and guns can make up for this craven abandonment of what America stands for.
What if the real problem in the Middle East isn't a few thousand crazy guys running around in the desert chopping off heads? What if the real problem is the established order that inspired them to organize, the very order the U.S. continually helps perpetuate? Of corrupt, venal, murderous dictators that bring tyranny and stagnation to the region's hapless people.
The crucial thing Obama won't do is end or even lessen U.S. sponsorship of dictators across the Muslim world. For people who actually live in the Middle East, they do far more harm than the Islamic State can.
As Ahmed Younis, an American Muslim leader attending Obama's summit, well put it:
This rule of human nature applies to countries as well as buildings.
Obama rushed away from his recent visit to India to pay respects to the dictators of Arabia, the parisitic House of Saud, on the death of their "king." Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship run by a fabulously wealthy family that created, owns and controls a country it historically shares with Western oil companies. Most of the other Gulf states are similar dictatorships. There are democratic movements across all these countries being disgracefully suppressed with U.S. collaboration, some of them Islamic but also democratic. Treating these governments as our "great friends" in the region is a profound moral and political blunder that keeps us at odds with most of the region's people. Nothing more strengthens the Islamic State.
Though a few things come close: Like continued U.S. support for Egypt's junta. Our U.S. government made barely a peep at military strongman Sisi's destruction of democracy in the largest Arab country before rushing to restore $1.5 billion in aid. Though this money is apparently paid to buy us influence, Obama refuses to use it on behalf of democracy.
Sisi calls all his opponents "terrorists," like most of our allies in the region. What he's done would be equivalent in the U.S. to banning the Democratic Party, imprisoning all its leaders and office-holders, barring it from the public space and killing thousands of its supporters, then calling "elections." These are the people we're supporting. Obama refused to call the coup a coup, continues to violate US law (which prohibits giving our tax money to those overthrowing elected governments) and promptly sent the State Department's number two man to Cairo to insist the US wouldn't "take sides" between an elected government and the army overthrowing it.
What could possibly do more to legitimize "terrorism" by showing up the American commitment to democracy as totally fraudulent when it involves Muslims in the Middle East?
Amazingly now we're even backing (without admitting it) the Assad regime in Syria, perhaps the world's single worst government, which has killed 200,000 Syrians, as we continue to define the Middle East's "problem" as ISIS and "terrorism" rather than regimes like Assad's that commit mass murder and inspire lunatic resistance movements. It was Islamic State, though tiny in numbers, that incredibly fought Assad at least to a draw over the last several years while "moderate, pro-Western" rebel groups were ineffective. Now we're ensuring Assad's victory every day by massively bombing ISIS.
What would you, as a young Arab man in the Middle East, take from America's continued generous support for virtually every venal dictator in the region and its indifference or opposition to anyone challenging them?
Maybe that you should support forces with the will and effectiveness to change things, whatever their ideology, to sweep away contemptible dictators and America's malignant influence on the region.
Is that really such a ridiculous idea? And how much would a White House "summit" help?
You can only beat ideas in the long run with better ideas. Ideas matter. When we pick friends like these, we're saying ours don't.
Like it did in Southeast Asia, and in Latin America for generations, the US has effectively abandoned all concern with democracy in the Middle East for an illusory sense of control - amorally promoting some concept of "our interests," clearly not those of the people who live there.
And when the next 9/11 happens, most Americans will again dumbly believe that inhuman "terrorists" totally unlike themselves "hate us because we are free."
Without paying moral attention to what our government does, we never see the Great Satan in the mirror.
Better to return to first principles before throwing around our guns and money:
Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.