Claude Salhani is Editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst specializing in the Middle East and terrorism. He is a contributing editor with United Press International and a regular in the Commentary pages of the Washington Times and Dubai’s Khaleej Times. He is also the author of “Black September to Desert Storm;” and contributing author of “The Iraq War.”
The Hawler Tribune: How do you perceive President Barack Obama in relation to the Muslim world?
Salhani: Given the state of the economy and of the world, two wars in the Middle East, relations with just about every country at its worst, I think the election of Barack Obama was seen as a relief by many people here and around the world. It was interesting to see that for the first time in decades people in the developing world waved the American flag instead of burning it.
HT: When Obama was to Turkey, he said that “the US is not –and will never be – at war Islam? How do you believe Obama’s policy might be to the Muslim world?
Salhani: I think President Obama is sincere in hoping that he can mend broken fences. The test will be if the people concerned will let him succeed. Because at the end of the day, no matter how dedicated he may be, if the American president does not get the backing of the people he is trying to help, nothing will be achieved.
HT: It seems that the US has better relations with the Justice and Development [AK] party rather than other Turkish parties even secular ones. What do you make of that?
Salhani: The AKP is a duly elected party – and in spite it being Islamist, it is a moderate Islamist party. Second, Turley is a US ally and a member of NATO. Third, Turkey occupies a very strategic position; it sits at the crossroads of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. The US has no choice but to recognize and work with the Turkish government.
HT: What is your expectation about the future of diplomatic relations between the US and Iran?
Salhani: There is a lot of bad history between those two countries. There is a lot of mistrust and enmity. The first step that needs to be accomplished is that the two sides need to learn to trust each other.
HT: Presidential election in Iran is upcoming; do you think this will change the US policy towards this country?
Salhani:It depends on who wins. If President Ahmadinejad wins, we can expect more of the status quo. Nothing new. If a more moderate wins, then I think we might have a breakthrough.
HT: How do you see the Iraq war?
Salhani: Winding down for the Americans. For the Iraqis, I don’t know. If the Iraqis are smart they will place their country ahead of religious affiliation, sect, clan and tribe and think as one people. But unfortunately, this has not been the case.
HT: What would happen, if US troops are withdrawn?
Salhani: That’s a good question and I don’t think anyone really knows. Some people, including forward government officials (post-Saddam) believe that there would be a full-fledged civil war within fifteen minutes of he American’s departure. Others, including the current US Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, feel that the security situation is secure enough. Time will tell.
HT: What is the best system of governance to make a stable and secure Iraq?
Salhani: As Winston Churchill used to say, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried.” There is no doubt in my mind that democracy is the only answer.
HT: Is there any strategic alliance between the Kurds and the US? What is the guarantee for this alliance?
Salhani: There is no guarantee. The Kurds need to look at history as guidance.
HT: How do you see the future of the Kurds in Iraq?
Salhani: As part of Iraq. History has not been kind to the Kurds. They should look at the past and try avoid similar mistakes.