November 23, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 156

An Arab Commentator's Open Letter to 'President Elect' Bush

November 23, 2000
Special Dispatch No. 156

Fuad Jirjis, an Arab-American professor of diplomatic and international relations, published an open letter to the American "President Elect," George W. Bush in the November 11, 2000 edition of the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat. He asked that in return for voting for Bush, Arab-Americans play a role in shaping the next administration's Middle East policies. Following are excerpts from this article:

"First, I wish to congratulate you (although your victory has not yet been decided) in the name of the Arab Americans who, for the first time in the US, have significantly and efficiently exercised their democratic right, gone to the polls, and voted for you. The vast majority of Arab Americans voted for you.... The Arab vote almost carried...Michigan for you, where 500,000 Arab-American citizens live. Such a victory would have spared you the agony of competing in other states with fewer [Electoral College votes]."

On Laws Discriminating Against Arab Americans

"For the first time Arab Americans went, with great enthusiasm, to the polls because you were not afraid to meet their leaders in public and answered some of their questions regarding the racism from which they suffer. You had the courage that previous presidential candidates have not had, to promise them that you will try to change some of the unjust and biased laws, such as the [secret evidence repeal act] law, that question the reliability of their citizenship... You demonstrated moral courage when you publicly objected to certain unconstitutional actions against some ethnic groups, such as the Arab community, in the guise of national security. Arab-Americans appreciated this modest step and showed their gratitude by voting for you by 60%."

"Now, Americans of Arab origin expect that when you are inaugurated in mid-January 2001, you will keep your promises out of loyalty to a constitution committed to legal equality for all American citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin. We expect you to defend the private and public liberties and to object to the discrimination of ethnic groups on any pretext or due to private actions carried out by individuals..."

"It is true that the Clinton-Gore Administration listened to the complaints of Arab-Islamic leaders, but it did not effectively combat or refuse to sign laws that implicitly label Arabs traitors and criminals. These laws exposed our people to acts of provocation and unfounded legal investigations, and have deepened the racism against them in American society."

"Therefore, Arab Americans did not believe Al Gore's promises to reexamine these laws... More importantly, the Democratic presidential candidate did not have the humility to meet with Arab and Islamic leaders, as you, the Republican candidate, did."

Foreign Policy Concerns

"Regarding foreign policy, I exercise caution in discussing any moral and humanitarian positions your administration may uphold in the Arab region and the Middle East peace process. In contrast to your opponent, who emphasized the importance of values and the fact that the American state is central in the New World Order and will militarily intervene... to protect human rights and prevent massacres, you were true to yourself, your people, and the world when you said you were a realist in international relations, and that the main criteria for relations between countries is their interests."

"...[A]llow me to explain to you what the Arab and Islamic world expect from you and what the US may gain in return.... The Arabs do not demand that your administration give up Israel as a strategic ally... They understand the role of domestic [American] elements in shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East...[and] that there are axioms in your country's foreign policy, especially regarding the special relation between Washington and Tel Aviv, and that ignoring these axioms entails a political price."

"Many Arabs also understand the growing importance of Congress in shaping Middle East policy, in limiting the role of the Executive branch, and in preventing anything that may upset Israel and its powerful and influential friends... the Arabs understand that it will be hard for you to be the honest broker between them and the Israelis, because [of] the composition of your foreign policy team, as well the composition of your society..."

"Does American national interest dictate an exclusive focus on Israel and complete ignorance of the strategic importance of the Arab oil-exporting countries, whose role is essential to keeping the... world economy, and especially the American economy, moving? I would like to say a word of appreciation on this matter. When asked about the Middle East in one of the debates, you answered - contrary to your opponent who has forgotten there are peoples and states besides Israel - that you will try to develop relations with some of [America's] Arab allies. It is only natural that the development of Arab-American relations serve both sides, and not only the Arab one..."

Balance the Policy Team

"We understand that you are not personally interested in the Middle East and do not have firsthand knowledge of it. You will rely on your aides to set policy in this region.... [A] major reason for the current administration's failure is the homogeneous composition of its Arab-Israeli negotiation team [whose members] belong to the clearest Zionist stream, [and] have adopted most of Israel's positions.... [W]e hope that your Middle East team will not include only people like Richard Perle or Paul Wolfowitz, who are known for their extremism and their unrestrained support of Israel, but also independent aides such as your father's former Secretary of State James Baker, and his former Middle East Undersecretary, Robert Pelletreau."

"Is it possible to appoint an Arab-American to the peace team? Will it not help win the trust of the Palestinians and Syrians and reward the Arab Americans who voted for you... Is it not time to treat the Arab Americans like any other minority in the US?"

Policy towards Iraq

"...[I]n your election campaign you gave the impression that you [favor] escalating [sanctions] against Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, and that you will try to overthrow him. This offensive approach contradicts your wish to avoid [American] military intervention in the world. ...we hope this does not mean that your administration will continue the policy of collective punishment and leave the catastrophic situation as it is. ...the death of Iraqi children does not serve America's long term national interest!"

Build Arab Democracies

"[What] about assisting and encouraging the authoritarian regimes in the region to find peaceful ways of changing and relinquishing power [voluntarily]? Doesn't the protection of long term American interests require genuine concern with human rights, the deepening of democracy, and broadening the base for political involvement in Arab countries? Does the political stability in Arab societies not serve the national American interest?"

"We hope, Mr. President, that your rule will serve as a breakthrough in the relations between your government and the Arab governments and societies, notwithstanding our pessimism about your ability to ignore the requirements of domestic American politics. We believe a great leader is a leader who convinces [the public] of the importance of change, and not one that is led by the public and a slave to narrow interests. The Middle East will serve as a test not only of your policies in this region, but also of your personal leadership."

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