WHISTLING DIXIE? THOUGHTS ON WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR AMERICAN NEAR EASTERN POLICY:
Notwithstanding some hints dropped here and there, so far, there is nothing of substance emerging from the incoming Administration of the junior Senator from Illinois, with the absurd name. However, in from some ultra-intelligent commentators, like my acquaintance, Professor Joshua Landis of Syria Comment, there is a hope, that the incoming Administration, will in some fashion or other reverse the failed policies of the Bush Regime towards the Near East, and, in particular towards: Syria, Persia, the Lebanon and of course Israel. This seems to me, based upon the prior history of incoming, American, especially Democratic Administrations, a very forlorn hope indeed. Whatever their particular personal and indeed ideological complexions, the fact of the matter is that both of the prior Democratic Party Administrations, have shown themselves extremely hesitant to involve themselves immediately in the morass of the Near East upon coming to power. And, indeed it would be true to say that both under Presidents Carter and Clinton, direct American involvement did not occur until, after, in fact much after the Israelis and their particular Arab interlocutor (in 1977 - Egypt; in 1993 - the PLO) had already begin the process of serious negotiations between themselves, sans American involvement. I suspect that history will repeat itself in the year 2009, especially in the following ways: a) if Tzipi Livni's Kadima Party were to win the upcoming elections, and, be able to embark on serious negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, then, indeed it can be expected that the new American Administration will endeavor to 'piggy back' upon this development and further it in a positive fashion; b) If Benyamin Netanyahu's Likuid Party were to win the elections, and, drag its feet concerning negotiations with the Palestinians, `a la its performance in its prior periods in power (1996-1999, 2001-2005), expect that the new American Administration, while perhaps in a sotto voce fashion, expressing its 'disappointment' with the newest developments in Israel, will do nothing of substance to revive the 'peace process'.
In addition to history there were and are substantive reasons for the above scenario occurring both in the past and in the future: i) most Democratic Party Administrations are primarily concerned about domestic policies, especially in their initial years in office, and, consequently tend to devote less time to foreign policy than their Republican opposite numbers; ii) Democratic Party Administrations not only are much more beholden to the 'Jewish Vote' (aka most Jewish voters tend to vote Democratic), but, individuals who are Jewish tend to both staff and contribute to the upper echelons of Democratic Party Administrations, in a fashion which is much, much greater than their Republican counterparts (something which is also true of the new administration from its initial appointments). Thus, Democratic Party Administrations, tend to be much more leery of involving themselves in the Near East, unless the parties on the ground in the area, especially Israel have already begin the process by themselves; iii) all of the prospective names mentioned for high positions in the new American Administration: Richard Holbrooke, Strobe Talbott, Anthony Lake, Susan Rice, John Kerry, Richard Lugar, et cetera, none have either much experience or knowledge of the Near East or the Israeli-Palestinian issue; iv) even if items 'i', 'ii', and iii, were not true, the fact of the matter is that with a deep financial crisis and with the need to resolve the Iraqi imbroglio on its shoulders, the new administration, will hardly have any time or energy to 'jump start', negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, much less involve itself in Tel Aviv's current negotiations with Syria, unless both process have already been started and are making good progress. Then and only then can one expect the Americans to jump aboard, if for no other reason than to be present for the inevitable photo opportunities, et cetera. No doubt on the White House lawn...
The upshot of the above, is that one can ignore side issues, raised by some commentators about whether or not, the incoming Chief of Staff, Mr Emanuel, is a Likuidnik or even an anti-Arab racist (he may perhaps be the first, but, probably not the second). The real issue is that for the structural reasons cited above, it is highly unlikely that there will be any real and sustained American involvement over and above what the Bush regime has given us recently, for all of 2009 and indeed for much of 2010, in absence of an Israeli push on the peace front. Then and only then, can and will the new American Administration in turn involve itself. To expect anything else, is just whistling Dixie.