Public Comment

The United States Middle East Foreign Policy Cul-de-sac

By Rizwan A. Rahmani
Wednesday March 30, 2011 - 12:00:00 PM

When the UN resolution against Israeli settlements—which was co-sponsored by 130 countries—came up for a vote and all fourteen members of the Security Council voted for the resolution except for the United States: it vetoed the resolution with a statement that was peculiarly full of absurd logic, contradictions, and balderdash which bordered on inane. And it was not the first time the U.S. found itself alone on a limb on this issue. So why the U.S. is being made to walk this razor sharp knife edge of a Middle East policy, shoeless and bloodied in the process? Moreover, it stuck to its counter intuitive policy at a time when any gesture towards Middle East peace may actually win goodwill for the United States, now that the Middle East is making overtures to democracy all over the region—and the rather incongruous paradox to all the newly kindled democratic fervor is that United States didn’t have to fire a single shot to realize these changes (I realized I spoke too soon after hearing the news of the air attack on Libya). 

Current events in the Middle East fly straight in the face of the Bush administration’s sophist political rhetoric and cowboy doctrine which tried to forcibly shove democracy down Iraq’s throat, and his ‘axis of evil’ cover story for a war that was already scripted. With this policy, he decimated a country and its populous and went through over seven hundred billion dollars of our money (and counting) to go after a lone dictator with negligible influence (out of many worldwide with equal or worse human rights records). As the macabre saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat—of course, cogitating other alternatives would have been asking too much from a person who once self professed, “I don’t do details”. 

The Bush administration with its myopic view of the world effectively outsourced its Middle East foreign policy to the American Enterprise Institute’s Likudnik Neocons. Whether it was Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perl, Bill Kristol, Norman Podhoretz , Douglas Feith, John Bolton, or Frank Gaffney of Center for Security Policy (to name a few) , they all seem to have the solutions for the Middle East problem, and quite a few of them had key positions in the Bush administration to promulgate their agenda with carte blanche access. Wolfowitz had ingeniously paid for the war in his lofty oil revenue estimates before the real war even began, and had the Iraqis welcoming them as liberators. Richard Perl had the Iraqi people naming grand squares after Bush, and Rumsfeld thought that war was going to be a walk in the park and fired people who raised concerns! 

No group has done more to weaken the United States’ notorious might and economic footing while besmirching its already bedraggled reputation in the Middle East and around the world than the Neocons. These self professed experts on the Middle East were utterly clueless about its people and culture: it was a comically tragic display of on-the-job training gone awry. 

Nowadays you don’t much hear from these architects of the war in Iraq (until last week - some of them appeared again with the usual drumbeat), and most of them have gone into hiding. Some of them have laughed all the way to the bank: Blackwater, Halliburton and its subsidiaries have bilked U.S. tax payers out of billions of dollars, and will continue to as long as two wars are underway. And if they do reappear after a long hiatus, with a sheepish lying-through-their-teeth demeanor and affected, transparently pathetic, arrogant swagger, they usually hawk their own fictionalized account of the events in books full of manufactured rubbish, as removed from reality as the village idiot. 

The United States’ Middle East strategy basically amounts to putting all its eggs in two baskets: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Sure, it has some interest in other oil producing emirates but they are minor players. Iraq was always on the United States’ radar for its oil reserves, but engaging in Iraq wasn’t quite inevitable until the late nineties. Some Iraqi oil was making its way into the world spot market by way of the United Nations’ food for oil program scam after the first Gulf War, but when oil demand rose exponentially in the late nineties, Iraq became a renewed target with its second largest oil reserve after Saudi Arabia. 

As we applaud aspiring democracies sprouting across the Arab world, and the toppling of decades-old autocratic regimes, we forget how those regimes came about: these tyrants and radical elements weren’t created in vacuums. They were a direct result of British Colonial meddling pre-1950 and then the United States’ pro-Israel policies in the Middle East for the last sixty years. Al-Qaida, Hezbollad, and Hamas were created only in the last thirty years as a direct response to the policies by Israel and the United States. 

Moammar Al-Qaddafi rose to power in a coup in 1969 by idolizing Nasser and the Libyan national hero Umar Mukhtar, and like Nasser, he toppled a monarch that was propped up the British. Also like him he took to speaking on behalf of the Palestinians and championing their cause by demonizing the United States’ proxy power in the region: Israel (incidentally Saddam Hussein played from the same playbook, and now Mahmoud Ahmedinejad too has been reading from the script). This approach gave Qaddafi a lot of early success with the Libyans and Arab contingency, but also made him one of the West’s vilest persona non grata – he was deservedly much reviled for his anti-west rhetoric or sponsorship of anti-west violence, but perhaps his worst offense was his nationalization of Libyan oil. 

Gamal Abdel Nasser officially came to power under similar circumstances over a decade earlier: he too took on Israel on behalf of Palestinians, and was a formidable foe for Israel because he was able to unite other countries in the region against it. Nasser’s leadership quality provided him with a certain standing among his people and the Arab world. After he lost the six day war (1967) where Israel attacked its neighbors in a surprise air strike and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan lost territories in that war, Nasser resigned. But he was reinstated after his people pleaded him to come back. After his death his VP Anwar Sadat (also a Military man) took the reins of Egypt. Mubarak came to power after Sadat’s assassination: he was Sadat’s VP. 

Sadat did want a détente with Israel, he wanted to settle Egypt’s territorial dispute of 1967 to gain some standing among his people, but he was rebuffed by the Meir regime. After fearing an imminent attack from the Israelis according to the Soviet and other intelligence, Sadat started a preemptive war in 1973. During that war, Kissinger was effectively in charge of the U.S. foreign policy. He was known for his rogue style of diplomacy that Nixon absolutely detested and was weary of Kissinger, especially when it came to the Middle East. He even took to writing his important memos by hand for fear of alteration. But during that war Nixon was consumed with the crisis of Vietnam and Watergate, and he was unable to keep a watchful eye on Kissinger. 

After an initial setback, Israel pleaded with the United States and the Europeans for help, and the United States, with lots of meddling by Kissinger, did supply the Israelis with intelligence, logistics, and arms to turn the war in Israel’s favor. Kissinger also managed to keep a direct military intervention by the Russians at bay—this also allowed the United States to showcase its military superiority to the Russians, who were supplying arms to Egypt and Syria. This had a two fold effect: it demoralized the Egyptians—Nasser was not happy with the Soviet support during the 1967 war—and Sadat began to doubt his alliance with the Soviets after the 1973 war. 

This was the opening the United States had planned to break Egypt away, with heavy input and coaxing by Kissinger. He had always believed that the viability of Israel in the region depended on getting Egypt and possibly Syria out of the opposition picture, and he managed to persuade the two nations to talk peace directly after some deft diplomacy with the Meir regime. He eventually succeeded, as the two countries signed the Camp David peace accord during Carter’s presidency, thanks in large part to a juicy carrot that secured Egypt’s signature and agreement to stay out of Israel’s hair—an annual aid package of about three billion dollars. The U.S. didn’t really care what sort of government it was buying. 

The United States has had a relationship with Saudi Arabia since the thirties, and Standard Oil Company was responsible for exploring the very first oil well there. But the U.S. really began to take Saudi Arabia seriously late into WWII, and had an official diplomatic presence there. After a finding more oil, the Arab American Oil Company (ARAMCO) struck a deal of sharing the royalties. The United States had a large footprint in Saudi Arabia with its military personnel presence and training facilities to arm the Saudis against other political influences. 

After the 1973 war and U.S. support of Israel in the war, there came the short-lived but annoying oil embargo, and the Saudis decided to voice a few word of discontentment with the United States for show—yet ARAMCO remained there to look after the interests of the United States: a de facto U.S. representation without the stigma of a foreign government presence. Saudi Arabia officially nationalized the oil company in 1988, but still sells most its oil to the United Sates, and remains on the list of favored nations despite its despotic laws. 

The United States prefers democracies of its own flavor in the Middle East —otherwise it is quite happy supporting corrupt regimes that would play by a United States’ rule book. But Israel really doesn’t want democracy around it borders: it loves to flout its Western style pseudo democracy in the region as a cause célèbre, claiming a kinship with Western society, and quite truly so as most of the Jewish population that settled in Palestine after WWI were Ashkenazim. 

Case in point: when democratically elected militant entities like Hamas and Hezbollah come to the fore, empowered by embittered and oppressed populous suffering at the hands of Israeli policy of aggression in the region, they are quickly delegitimized. They are unacceptable to the West because instead of being brutally crushed and dehumanized in silence, they have taken to arms against the aggressor. The formidable Zionist propaganda machine does an excellent job of telling one side of the story—it drowns out any voice of dissent with its high decibel disinformation noise floor and strong arms governments around the world to adopt its propagandist rhetoric. 

The current overthrow of some of these corrupt regimes in democratic uprisings is ironically a repudiation of U.S.-Israel policy in the Middle East. But the United States hasn’t learned its lessons from its history in the region. Israel has often behaved belligerently towards its neighbors, but also towards the United States despite claims of being an honest ally, and now U.S. finds itself beholden to the point of paralysis by the Israeli lobby machine. This is particularly tragic right now, because United States has a chance to make new allies in the region with more palatable regimes. 

When Huggnagh, Lehi, and Irgun terror groups conducted the Plan Dalet (the operation which began as ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages outside the planned country of Israel months before the declaration of independence in 1948), the Zionist groups gave the U.S. the proverbial finger which had already agree to a border, they rebuffed the U.S. after it condemned the massacre at Qibya, they ignored a cease fire agreement and risked bringing the Russians directly into the fray during the 1973 war, and they bombed USS Liberty deliberately off the coast of Lebanon (the U.S. endured the indignation under lobby pressure). And when Jon Pollard was caught spying for Israel, Lawrence Franklin was caught passing sensitive information regarding Iran to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman of AIPAC, and Ben-Ami Kadish pleaded guilty to spying for Israel, even during these offenses the United States assumed a tacit stance. 

Susan Rice (who would have shown more integrity by walking out of the assembly) was under pressure from heavily lobbied Congress to make the embarrassing statement which amounted to, and I am paraphrasing, “We strongly oppose any illegitimate settlement (though illegal is more accurate) in the Palestinian territories, and are united with the Council on that point but we regrettably must veto the resolution because well-intentioned outside forces (UN) cannot resolve it for them”. Pardon, come again madam ambassador? Later in an interview she further said that it is an Israeli and Palestinian internal conflict and without direct talks UN cannot do much, and UN cannot create an independent state of Palestine, and declaratory statements “don’t achieve anything”. She further conjectured that the passing of the resolution would have in fact increased settlements, and perhaps would have hardened the two parties, and would have been unwise for the peace process, etc. etc. etc…. 

What? If not at the UN, then where on Earth is the proper venue, Madam Ambassador? Didn’t the United Nations come into existence precisely to address this sort of thing? Didn’t it create the state of Israel? Did someone forget to brief her that the main obstacle to the peace talks was the Israeli settlements? While I think the United Nations structure, giving five “permanent” Security Council members veto power, is about as anti-democratic as you can get, and tantamount to a modern colonial power under the guise of a benevolent name (current events in Libya is an evidence of that), I still do hold some hope that someday it may function as it was intended to. 

Interestingly, Susan Rice had no qualms about making a rather strong statement about the internal unrest in Libya and condemning it, and even helped to foment consensus of an unprecedented nature for referring the war crimes case against Al-Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court, suspending Libya’s membership in the U.N., and passing a resolution on a no-fly-zone over Libya with the help of the Security Council which was egged on by the usual Neocon suspects like Clifford May, John McCain, Bill Kristol, Randy Scheunemann, and Liz Chaney—on the face of it all very just causes but there is certainly more here than meets the eyes. But nevertheless, shouldn’t the same litmus test be administered to other nations in the region? 

Which brings me back to U.S.’ flawed approach in the Middle East which keeps producing autocrats and radicals, and allows heinous humanitarian crimes perpetrated against Palestinians and harassment of neighboring countries by one of its allies: Israel? Israel is a signatory to the Geneva Convention, and is bound by its articles. Yet it has egregiously violated those articles by razing Palestinian homes, building settlements, and ignoring UN resolution 242 in the occupied territories despite condemnation from the international community and the World Council of Churches, which thought that the United States missed a golden opportunity to start making amends towards peace and be an honest broker. 

I am all for democracy in the Middle East and at this point maybe a single state can work, as suggested by the Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe: let’s start with Israel, and give all its non-Jewish population exactly the same rights as the Jewish population. Since Israel claims hegemony over the Palestinian land “promised to them by God” in some deist tome or another (no offense intended, but as an atheist that one really amuses me), let’s proffer citizenship and representation to all denizens of the Gaza Strip and West Bank—generationally they have more sovereignty (Jus soli) rights over the land than the Ashkenazim and Sephardim aliyah (immigration)—and let’s have a real participatory democracy. 

Israel maybe the only country recognized by the United Nations that has not officially declared its borders for 63 years, and still refuses to do so. The people in the occupied territories are either Israelis—and Israel can dictate their behavior according to its constitution—or they are not: the two are mutually exclusive. The Zionist leader David Ben Gurion, a strong proponent of a larger Israel (beyond the UN-designated boundaries), said “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population”. It seems that the state of Israel has taken that advice to heart, and has been doing exactly that since Ben Gurion left office. Sadly, the United States has been the main enabler and continues its absurdly askew policies in the region, and ostensibly risks fostering new crop of radical elements in the Middle East.