The Problem With the US Elections' Extremes
04 July 2016
By Eyad Abu Shakra
The leading US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump recently
announced his team of political, security and economic advisors; the –
unfortunately interconnected – Middle East, Muslim world and terrorism files
were given to Dr Walid Phares. On the Democratic side, Hawaii Congresswoman
Tulsi Gabbard resigned as Vice-Chair of the Democratic National Committee,
decrying what she regarded as the DNC's attempts to bolster the position of
Hillary Clinton against Leftist Presidential challenger Senator Bernie Sanders
of Vermont, subsequently joining the latter's campaign.
Dr Phares, for those who do not know much about him, is a right-wing Christian
Lebanese-American academic and political activist, who for a long while was
very close to the Christian militias which fought the Lebanese War
(1975-1990), and metamorphosed after bouts of infighting, schisms and
reorganization into 'The Lebanese Forces' party. As there may be no need to
dwell much on the history of that war, its various groups, or the
''achievements'' of these fighting groups regardless of their slogans, it is
worth mentioning what follows:
Firstly, the 'The Lebanese Forces' in its current form is a civilian political
party, represented in Parliaments by a bloc of deputies (MPs), and it was one
of the fighting groups that gave up and handed over their arms after the 'Taif
Secondly, 'The Lebanese Forces' was initially an 'umbrella militia' created by
Bechir Gemayel, the former commander of 'The Lebanese Phalange' (Kata'eb) and
Lebanese president-elect, as the fruit of his plan to ''unify Christian guns''
against the then Pan-Arab and Leftist ''National Movement'' and its
Palestinian allies. This means the 'Forces' were, from an organizational
aspect, a group made up of several militia that included in addition to the
Kata'eb's, the National Liberal Party's 'Numour' (i.e. Tigers) and 'The
Maronite Organization''s 'Tanzeem'.
Thirdly, following the assassination of Bechir Gemayel in the autumn of 1982 –
shortly after being 'elected' president – many aspiring factional leaders
emerged and competed to succeed as the 'Christians' strongman' at the helm of
the 'Forces'. Some were defeated and left, others were killed, the rest
deserted politics altogether. Dr Samir Geagea, a former 'Kata'eb' young
militia commander emerged victorious and became the leader of the 'Forces',
however, many of the disgruntled veterans never recognized him, and remained
outside the re-formed party.
Dr Phares, who at one juncture in his career was Secretary of the 'Maronite
World Union', left Lebanon in 1990 and pursued post-graduate studies in the
USA. He earned a PhD from the University of Miami, and became a well-known
conservative political commentator and TV pundit specializing in terrorism and
Islamic radicalism. His works and comments have always been very close to
those of the Christian right now dominating the Republican Party. Being chosen
by Trump as an advisor on the Middle East, Muslim world and terrorism,
especially, following Trump's controversial anti-Muslims positions, confirms
that these positions did not come up by accident.
With this said, it is worth noting that Trump's anti-Muslim sentiments are not
much worse than those of Senator Ted Hughes, his main rival in the GOP field.
The latter caused furore during the 'In Defense of Christians' three-day
conference (September 9/11, 2014 in Washington, D.C. when he insisted on
saying that the Christians of the Middle East won't have a better ally than
Israel. Among those who felt obliged to leave the main dinner in protest was
the Melkite Catholic Patriarch Gregorios III Lahham, born in the now besieged
Damascus suburb of Darayya. Still it was Trump's call for a 'ban on Muslims'
entry to the USA' that made even Cruz look like a 'moderate' in comparison.
In fact, if Dr Phares has had an input in Trump's positions, this is surely a
worrying sign for the future relationship between 'Donald Trump's Washington'
and a frustrated and disappointed Arab world which the policies of the last
two administrations have caused him to lose faith and goodwill in America.
On the opposite side, it is fascinating to read the resume of Ms Gabbard, the
first Samoan and the first Hindu member of the US Congress, and a member of
both Armed Services and Foreign Services Committees. Gabbard (34 years old)
who in the late 2014 visited India's hard-line prime minister Narendra Modi,
has been vociferous in opposing any attempt to bring down Syria's Bashar Al-Assad,
arguing it was ''counter-productive to overthrow Assad'', and asserting that
''the Syrian government is a powerful anti-ISIS force in the region and
toppling it would only serve to bolster the presence of terrorist groups in
Syria and neighbouring countries''! Furthermore – like many liberal democrats
– despite her professional military experience, Gabbard has linked her
opposition of using force in Syria to opposing the invasion of Iraq, a
position taken by Sanders in 2003.
Thus, we are faced with two contradictory extreme cases, one absurdly too
conservative, the other absurdly too liberal.
As Arabs – albeit from an American standpoint – we share the position of the
old poet Duqelah al-Manbiji in his famous 'The Orphaned poem' when he said:
''Two extremes, when coming together …. each enhances the beauty of its
This was absolutely true, at least as far as the average American is concerned
– let alone Democratic voters – with the hawkish Neo-cons' led Republicans. It
has been true too with Obama's passive, retreating and appeasing policies
which are now fuelling an ultra-conservative Republican reaction bordering on
blatant racism and sectarianism benefitting Sanders' 'leftist' Democrats.
Given the above, I dare say that it is in America's interest first, and the
whole world's second, that neither the dogmatic extreme right as represented
by Trump, or the dogmatic utopian left as represented by Sanders wins. Indeed,
one hopes that in the coming months we witness some logic and a lot of
realism, and this is what both Republican and Democratic 'establishments' feel
and are working for before it is too late en route to the two parties'
National Conventions this summer.
The world, of course has the right to criticise America, but America is still
the greatest world power, even its people forget this fact!
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with
the newspaper since 1978.