- Today the US policy position in the Middle East is either
going down in flames or up in smoke. Use your own preferred image for this,
but look closely at the situations. Start at the Middle East doorway, the
eastern end of the Mediterranean, Lebanon. Here the US has been engaged
behind the scenes for years in an effort to keep Hezbollah from gaining
ascendancy in Lebanese politics. Meanwhile Hezbollah slowly has demonstrated
to Lebanese voters that it is entirely capable of running the place honestly
and has now acquired the parliamentary authority to do so.
- Next door, across the Lebanon mountain ranges, for the
past five years the US, until recent naming of an ambassador, has denied
itself top level diplomatic access to a government of Syria that increasingly
sought to find ways to work with the United States in dealing with Middle
East problems. Those problems stretched across the region from Egypt
to Iraq and Iran. To the south of Lebanon, the US coddled an Israeli ally
that, to some at least, seemed bent on totally isolating itself or committing
deliberate Hari-kiri. Farther south, beyond Gaza, the long-standing US
ally, Hosni Mubarak appeared prepared to reject the aspirations of a rising
young Egyptian society while using military force to suppress them. In
the rest of the region entrenched oligarchs ignored their people while
slowly drifting off the target of US wishes.
- Into this mire the American image has sunk deeper and
deeper while in Washington DC the advocates of an American hegemony pressed
eagerly toward the bow of a sinking ship. Meanwhile, its true believers
press on, choosing not to see that the super power ship has been holed
below the waterline, and it is sinking in a pool of growing debt. Nothing
has changed, aver the sloganeers, and American power is so great that it
cannot be challenged.
- The Middle East paints a very depressing picture of how
that power has been acquired, sustained, at times, enhanced, but is now
being lost. While avid public believers in a free market, the US has never
allowed those beliefs to interfere with its efforts to secure energy resources.
There was a long post World War II period in which global oil prices were
posted in dollars, ex Caribbean, that being the zone of the world's most
important oil market. The birth of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum
Exporter Countries) in 1961 brought an end to that US-centric role in oil
pricing. As the US diplomat who reported that birth to the Washington establishment,
this writer confesses to not having seen at the time just how fundamentally
important that new baby would be to global energy trade and to the nature
of US relations with key countries of the region and the rest of the third
world in the years that followed.
- Two things have driven US relations with the Middle East
region since that time. US energy interests and US relations with Israel
have driven US relations with regional countries, at times to the exclusion
of all else. To be practical, it simply has been easier (perhaps more
reliable is a better term) to protect those interests by working with oligarchic/dictatorial
regimes. Only recently has it been observed that US promotion of democracies
in this region has been, to say the least, more propaganda than action.
Failure honestly to promote democracy and rabid defense of Israel became
key generators of terrorism in this period. It is perverse in this environment
that the George W. Bush administration chose to take out Saddam Hussein
as a dictator when he (a) was in fact better than most of the others and
(b) was recently reported to have been covertly working with the US at
the time the decision to attack Iraq was made.
- Both of those US interests pose distinct problems today.
Respecting oil, the global size and shape of producer/exporter and buyer
markets have radically changed. In that new setting, US companies are
important, but newer players (Brazil, Russia, China and others) are coming
along with large voices on both sides of the market. The once apparently
unique loyalties to the US are fragmenting in the Middle East, especially
as China now imports more oil than the US, and India is a growing factor.
Sunni versus Shia Islamic interests seem to diverge much more than they
appeared to in the earlier OPEC days. In addition, the diverse elements
of Iranian power challenge the monolithic hierarchies of the Sunnis, while
youthful awakening as now seen in Egypt threatens the traditional powers
of the region. These trends pose influential and economic threats to American
power in the region. The longer we back the oligarchs the deeper
we dig our own hole.
- Meanwhile, Israel has been going essentially backward.
Touted for years as the only democracy in the Middle East, it increasingly
has emerged as the oligarchic captive of its Zionist leadership hierarchy.
Its society is more and more openly racist, with its first class citizens
the Ashkenazi imports from Europe, its second class citizens the indigenous
and other (dark skinned) Jews (imported from Sub-Sahara Africa and Latin
America to fill up space), and its obviously third class citizens the Arabs
who remain as a fifth of the population of Israel. Confirming that image,
current Israeli leadership has made no effort to hide its lack of interest
in any peace treaty with the Palestinian people, while it covertly encourages
settlers to occupy the best ground in the West Bank.
- While the US has hung on as the devout booster, financial
supporter and protector of Israeli interests, the task has become less
and less tenable. That is mainly because the Zionist and Israeli supporting
Jews and Christians place US leadership in a virtually slave relationship
to Israeli wishes on Middle East matters. The recent debacle of limits
on Israeli settlement construction has underscored the policy helplessness
of US leadership on regional matters.
- The ultimate driver of a sinking US ship of policy toward
the Middle East is the regional perception, whether true or false, that
the United States does not and cannot serve its own vital interests in
the Middle East region because of Israel. US antipathy to Hezbollah in
Lebanon is perceived to derive entirely from Hezbollah's hostility toward
Israel, and the fact that Hezbollah has grown materially as a political
force in the region seems not to command significant US attention. A virtually
twelfth century Christian antipathy to Islam seems to be one of the key
factors in official US rejection of Hamas. These problems are the most
important foreign policy issues to jangle US domestic politics and they
affect adversely the President's freedom of action.
- The increasingly harsh reality factor in this picture
is the rapidly changing importance of the United States in world affairs.
That US leadership is not focusing nearly enough attention on this trend
should bother Americans much more than any failures of Middle East policy.
We cannot work our way out of this with military forces financed by foreign
borrowing. We simply need to be thinking seriously about our future
roles in the coming international system and acting to assure them, because
if we don't, others will do it for us.
- The writer is the author of the recently published work,
A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist
on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US
Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India,
Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions
were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National
War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism
and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at