US policy in Ukraine against the Middle East is a blatant contradiction

The Biden administration is right to respond to reported Russian atrocities by arming Ukraine to defend itself and is equally justified in steadfastly avoiding a direct military confrontation with Putin’s Russia.

However, while the Russian war in Ukraine has had an economic and political impact on the Middle East, Middle Eastern audiences see several glaring contradictions in President Biden’s approach to the two regions.

In Ukraine, President Biden poured billions of dollars in weapons to help President Volodymyr Zelenskyy defend his country in his battle for democracy and freedom and the rejection of Putin’s dictatorship and inhuman war. In the Middle East, by contrast, Washington has sold billions of dollars worth of weapons to Arab dictators despite their abysmal human rights record and the suppression of civil liberties for their peoples.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Israel and others balked at the US anti-Putin campaign in the region. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates remains the playground of Russian billionaire oligarchs. Turkey also welcomes Russian-owned super yachts to its ports. The Saudi-Russian economic and diplomatic court is becoming increasingly visible on the world stage despite US pleas to the contrary.

As a friend of mine in the Middle East told me recently, he and his compatriots see very little difference in attitude toward Arab dictators between the presidencies of Trump and Biden. While Trump has used both rhetoric and action to get close to Arab autocrats, Biden has used soft power (rhetoric) to extol the virtues of democratic values, but has extended hard power support to those same dictators.

Arms sales and military aid worth billions of dollars continue to flow to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and other Arab and non-Arab countries in the region , regardless of their serial human rights violations, whether in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates or the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza.

The ongoing massive injection of US weapons into Ukraine will hopefully help the Ukrainian military defeat Russian aggression. Huge US arms sales and aid to Arab countries, on the other hand, will certainly empower Arab autocrats to defeat their own people’s struggle for freedom and human dignity.

If it is true that Ukraine is invaded by a foreign power and Arab countries are violated by their own regimes, it does not matter if human rights and democratic values ​​are violated by a foreign or indigenous dictator. Such a distinction is false and dishonest.

This dichotomy should not escape US leaders as they pursue a new strategic paradigm in a post-Ukrainian war Middle East. Fig leaves such as the so-called Abraham Accords should not erase the contradiction between the United States’ costly and deep commitment to human rights in Ukraine and its lukewarm, mostly rhetorical defense of democratic values ​​in Arab countries.

As Arab regimes lose their primacy as key players in the region and are replaced by three non-Arab states – Israel, Turkey and Iran – they tend to enact more repressive laws and practices to suppress their peoples. They suppress the ingenuity, creativity and desire for freedom of their peoples, thereby reducing the ability of these countries to develop economically and innovate technologically.

If creativity and innovation are allowed to emerge, they could enable Arab societies to move forward. If Arab peoples were part of the process of government, they could help their leaders regain their lost regional influence and prestige. Conversely, such influence could not be co-opted by endemic tyranny. …

With US military support, Ukraine stands a good chance of resisting and potentially defeating Russian aggression. The universal ideal of freedom and democracy to which the peoples of the whole world aspire must be supported and defended on principle and not according to cynical political calculations. This ideal is indivisible, non-selective; global and not regional; and principle-based, not subject to political negotiation.

The high moral course the Biden administration has followed in Ukraine should become the guiding principle of America’s relationship with regimes in the Middle East. The pursuit of political interests should not trump the administration’s genuine commitment to democratic ideals in its dealings with Arab regimes.

Emile Nakhleh is a research professor and director of the Global and National Security Policy Institute at UNM and a former senior intelligence officer at the CIA. A longer version has been posted on ResponsibleStatecraft.org.

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