Wednesday, October 11, 2006

RICE’S NEW NEAR EASTERN POLICY:
WHAT IS IT AND WILL IT SUCCEED?



“I am afraid that this reaction from the State Department was inevitable sooner or later. Apart from the problem of maintaining U.S. (and other outside) sympathy, this telegram raises the whole question of whether the Egyptians and other Arab governments are more likely to be impressed by ruthlessness or reasonableness. In the nature of things our policy must be neatly balanced between the two, but I think that we must try to persuade the Americans that mass sentiment in Egypt and other Middle East states is not likely to be much influenced by the degree of restraint which we show in maintaining our position in the Canal Zone. I should have thought that Arab ‘public opinion’ would find little difficulty in accepting the fact that we must use some degree of force to maintain our position in the Canal Zone, and may even respect it. Were it, however, to be suspected that we were afraid of the consequences of using force or unduly reluctant to offend world opinion, Arab opinion would undoubtedly become even more hostile.”

Minute by J. V. Bendall, 29 October 1951
FO 371/90144/JE1051/357.
Copy of the original in my possession.


Recently, in the early part of October, Secretary of State Rice, went on a trip to the Near East. An area of the world which she had conspicuously had absented herself, since the beginning of the Lebanon War, when she made her infamous misstatement, about that conflict being a sign of the ‘birth pangs of a new Middle East’. The purpose of the trip was to explore and bring about, a new alignment of forces in the area, an alignment of what her Counselor at the State Department (and arguably a much better choice for both National Security Advisor and Secretary of State), Philip Zelikow, called in a speech before the moderate (in American terms only!) Washington Institute for Near East Policy, on the 15th of September ‘strategies for the multifront war against Islamic radicalism’ (see: www.state.gov/s/c/rls/rm72855.htm). In the speech, Zelikow, identified the United States natural allies in combating the ‘corrosive agent’, of terrorism, and religious fanaticism, as:

“Key European allies, the state of Israel and the Arab moderates—Arabs who seek a peaceful future. You could call it the coalition of the builders, not just the coalition of the willing. The coalition of the builders as opposed to the coalition of the destroyers”.

As per Zelikow, it is with these allies, and the “practical idealism” of American policy which will enable the USA, and its allies listed above, to overcome the ‘multifront’ threats confronting all of them, in the region, id est, Islamic radicalism, Iran, Syria, and the Palestinian problem. It was for the purpose of cementing and building upon the assets listed above, that Rice made her trip to the area. Or in her own words, to “consult with, and in effect rally moderate forces, and moderate voices in the Middle East” (see a transcript of an interview in: www.nytimes.com). With the trip having been made, and the Secretary of State, now returned to the USA, what can one make of this initial foray?

The reactions in the region to both the Secretary and to this new term (or semi-turn) in American policy was less than thrilling. Notwithstanding her warm words of praise for the Saudis, and other moderate, pro-American regimes in the region (Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf States, Mahmud Abbas, et al.), none appeared to be either greatly interested in meeting with Rice, nor at all interested in playing the role of spear carriers for what is now widely seen as a discredited and or failed, American policy in Iraq, in Lebanon and in dealing with Syria, Persia and the Palestinian issue. While perhaps it is a bit of an exaggeration to argue as did the British scholar, Patrick Seale, that the region is about to go ‘up in flames’, it does appear that the American administration’s unwillingness to either propose any type of forward looking policy to deal with the Palestinian problem, except bringing pressure on the Hamas government, in the hope that it will collapse has for all intents and purposes few defenders in the region (on Seale’s comments see: www.JoshuaLandis.com). Even the normally pro-American, periodical, the Economist of London, commented on the 7th of October that:

“The whole notion of ‘resistance’ to America’s perceived desire to dominate the region has gained ground among the wider Arab public. While the Hizbullah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, and even Iran’s president, Mahmound Ahmadinejad, win popular acclaim as Robin Hood-like heroes, stalwart Arab ‘moderates’, such as Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah of Jordan, are tarred as American puppets. Their sense of vulnerability to such charges explains why Ms. Rice’s reception in Arab capitals was relatively muted. Arab diplomats seemed as concerned to show the y were not creating a new, pro-American coalition, and were not acting against anyone in particular, as they were to emphasise any positive result of their talks. Yet aside from reflecting the current toxicity of America to Arab public opinion, this coolness also reflected diverging priorities between America and its allies”.
See: www.JoshuaLandis.com).

In short, the upshot of Rice’s trip to the region, was a nullity. Nothing was changed for the better. The standoff between Hamas and Abbas, continues. The standoff, between Hizbullah, and the relatively pro-American, and weak, government of Lebanon, continues. The Palestinian problem continues to be unresolved, the regime in Damascus, continues to be spurned by the USA, notwithstanding the fact, that it has as much legitimacy perhaps, as any of the USA’s Sunni Arab allies. And, of course, the twin peaks of crisis in the region, that of Iraq, and its ever increasing drift towards civil war, with American troops both too conspicuous to avoid being targeted, and too weak to douse the ever increasing flames; and that of Persia, and its forward march (however slow and measured) towards acquiring nuclear weapons. Something with the outbreak of the crisis over North Korea’s nuclear test, appears to be an ever more impossible problem to resolve. Indeed, one has the impression that the Administration is almost on the brink of permanent irresolution, more than anything else. Neither able nor willing to enforce its power of decision on anyone in the region, either friend or foe. The sense of drift, of hoping Mr. Micawber like, that ‘something will turn up’, seems inescapable. At least to this observer. Short of either a revolution in personnel, or in caste of mind, it would appear that Washington is incapable to taking even the minimal real steps to solve or attempt to resolve any of the outstanding issues in the region. With an ideological caste of mind, which prevents logical thought, `a la Mr. Elliott Abrams (the fanatically pro-Israeli, head of the Near Eastern desk at the National Security Council Staff), ‘nothing doing’ appears to be in the works as official American policy (on the recent drift in American policy and the growing worldwide feeling that a space for anti-American policies has opened up worldwide, see: “US Vulnerability and Windows of Opportunity,” in www.Stratfor.com).

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