THE ZELIKOW RESIGNATION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
According to today's New York Times, Mr. Philip Zelikow, who is the 'Counselor' at the State Department, and, probably the 'brains' of the entire department at present, has announced that he is resigning. As per the Times, Zelikow claims that his resignation is due to reasons of finance. However, according to anonymous sources, the Times claims that Zelikow, while having won some important bureacratic victories, in the 19 months that he has been at the department, is frustrated by the inertia of American policy, particularly in dealing with the Near East (see: "Senior Aide to Rice to resign from Post," in www.nytimes.com). As readers of this journal know, back in September, Zelikow made an important speech in which he attempted to re-position in American policy, vis-`a-vis both the Arab-Israeli dispute, and, the overall problem of 'extremism' in the region. Now, at the time, I was quite critical of Zelikow's thinking, judging that it did not go far enough in distancing the USA away from its, unthinking support for Israel. I also judged that relying upon the Sunni Arab regimes in the region to reinforce American policy was a non-starter, due to the very negative fallout in the region of both the Iraq debacle, and, Israeli assault on the Lebanon in summer. Make no mistake these regimes are pro-American and pro-Western, as well as being very antagonistic towards Persia and Shiites extremism. It is just that these regimes, are too weak both internally and externally to act as a sort of cordon sanitaire vis`a-vis Persia and its local allies (Syria, Hezbollah) in the region. What needs to be done, is a pro-active American policy, which: a) definitively settles the Palestinian problem along the borders of 1967; if that requires imposing economic sanctions, cutting off of military and economic aid on Tel Aviv, so be it....b) resolving in some manner or other the Iraq debacle, by either bringing in many more troops, or conversely redeploying said troops on the periphery of Iraq, as well as in Kurdistan; c) using intelligent and collaborative diplomacy in handling Persia, and the problems that it poses for stability in the region, and, especially the issue of its nuclear programme; d) the same with Syria, especially in the hopes of reducing its ties with Persia to an extent, and in arriving at a grand settlement involving the Golan Heights & the Lebanon; e) the use of intelligent and subtle diplomacy, of the 'Helinski-watch' / Soros 'Open Society' type, in combination with the EU, to move forward, in the longue dureetowards greater pluralism, stronger civil society and parliamentarism in the Near East and the greater Arab World.
Now, notwithstanding my own caveats about the shortcomings in his ideas (no doubt heavily watered down by Rice, et al.) and policy proposals, Robert Zelikow coming depature from the administration is most definitely a bad thing. In an administration, where competence as opposed to cronyism and ideology are the defining choices for assigning higher office, Zelikow, and the more recently departed, Robert Zoelleck (from Deputy Secretary of State position), would be occupying the posts that Rice has so far filled in this administration: National Security Advisor and or Secretary of State. The quick departure of both gentleman from office, having occupied the same for less than two years, suggest that inertia, lack of imagination and sheer incompetence are becoming the defining features of Rice's tenure at Foggy Bottom. Something of course, which as Mark Danner's recent article in the New York Review of Books, has shown was most ably demonstrated in her tenure a the NSC (see:"Iraq: The War of Imagination" in www.nybooks.com). What this will mean concretely in terms of future American diplomacy, particular in the Near East, is that one should not have high hopes, on any great sea change in American policy there, on specifically on the war with Iraq. Indeed, Mr. Bush statement made today at the NATO Summit, in Riga that:
"There is one thing that I'm not going to do. I am not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete" (see: www.today.reuters.com).
Based upon this reading, notwithstanding the recent election results, and the appointment of Mr. Gates to replace the egregious Rumsfeld, one can only expect the US administration to muddle along, in the same policy pit that it has been occupying for the last four years. Sad, frustrating but all too true. Makes it all to clear why both Messers. Zelikow and Zoellick have chosen to depart the corridors of power when they did.