Expect More Damage from US Kaleidoscopic Diplomacy
by Rami G. Khouri Released: 1 Aug 2007
BEIRUT -- The riddle of American foreign policy in the Middle East this week became even more puzzling, following the announcement of major new military aid and sales packages to Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and smaller Arab countries. The totals will top $70 billion over the coming ten years. The United States justifies this as part of its policy of fighting radicalism and terrorism, supporting moderates, and promoting an Arab-Israeli peace process.
It might also help the Man on the Moon learn to make really fine New York-style cheesecake.
American foreign policy in the Middle East combines impressive persistence with wildly erratic swings. It changes with the season and the political climate:
• promote and then ignore Arab democratization;
• boycott and then speak with Syria and Iran;
• disregard then actively engage in Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations.
Simultaneously, it adheres to sacred principles, such as:
• Israeli military superiority over all the Arabs;
• sure access to oil;
• protecting friendly Arab regimes.
Such diplomacy, which is at once consistent and kaleidoscopic, generates a mish-mash of contradictions that only reinforce the low-quality policies of Arabs, Israelis and Iranians. The combination has resulted in frightening trends in the Middle East in the past generation: continued militarization, polarization, radicalization, and frequent destabilization.
This week’s latest American approach to the Middle East perpetuates this legacy, which is closely linked to several new factors in recent years: the messy war in Iraq, the increased regional clout of a nuclear Iran, and the growing strength of Arab mainstream Islamist political movements. Also, the Middle East sees the vulnerability of some Arab governments to economic and political stresses, ethnic and religious challenges to centralized state identities, widespread Arab skepticism of “democracy promotion” attempts, and the continued expansion of small but violent terrorist groups broadly reflecting Al-Qaeda-like worldviews.
Each one of these trends is exacerbated, not diminished, by the pro-military, pro-Israel, and pro-Arab autocracy policies the United States now reaffirms and intensifies. As if to ensure that its policies backfire and promote popular Arab, Iranian and even Turkish resistance, rather than acquiescence, Washington also routinely lumps together very different movements and sentiments in the region: the most powerful and legitimate Islamist movements (Hamas, Hizbullah), two very different state leaderships (Syria and Iran), and the equally distinct extremist terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. By seeing these forces as a common foe, and countering them with tens of billions of dollars of advanced weapons for Arab states, humiliatingly subjected to Israel’s approval, Washington guarantees another failed policy.
For such an approach combines three consistent, core American mistakes in the Middle East:
• wrong analysis of causes of popular and official sentiments,
• biased interventions in favor of Israel at the expense of Arab and Iranian rights, and
• using military tools to deal with political and socio-economic problems.
Back in the last century, this sort of thing was called “adding fuel to the fire”. Today Washington calls it “promoting moderate Sunni Arab regimes”, or, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday en route to the Middle East, “we are working with these states to give a chance to the forces of moderation and reform.”
Maybe the Man on the Moon would also like a recipe for hefty New York-style baked ribs, too.
Rice should counter this other-worldly dimension of her country’s policies by engaging with the realities of the Middle East, and focusing on the concerns and rights of all parties. If she could walk through any middle class neighborhood in the Arab world on her visit this week and touch the sentiments of ordinary men and women, she would discover important things. One would be that moderation and reform in the Middle East in the past generation have been retarded and even discredited -- not fostered -- by massive American military hardware and political bias. Another is that ordinary Arabs, Iranians and Turks want to have close, friendly ties with the United States, but to be treated as equals, not as fools.
Raising the intensity of American policies anchored in militarism, threats, sanctions and political bias will only make things worse. Trying to do this as a backhanded way of trying to stabilize Iraq, so that the US forces can leave, adds an element of shamelessness to a strong foundation of dysfunction. Couching this in terms of repelling Iranian ambitions may furthermore trigger two trends that the United States says it is trying to dampen: greater popular support for the Iranian regime, and that regime’s accelerated quest for serious defense capabilities, perhaps including nuclear arms.
The US-led “global war on terror” has played into the terrorists’ hands and expanded actual global terror networks and threats. This American plan to counter the influence of Iran, Syria and Arab Islamist and resistance groups is similarly likely to bolster their popular support, technical capabilities, political determination and policy coordination.
Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 Pax Christi International Peace Award.
Copyright ©2007 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
Released: 01 August 2007
Word Count: 797
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