Saturday, August 21, 2010

Rami Khouri, George Will, and America in the Middle East

Even with turmoil rising in Afghanistan and Pakistan, American media are chirping with stories about "Iraq in the rear-view mirror" and the homecoming of "the troops"  (even if their return will be marked by a spike in domestic disturbances, divorces, and veterans facing joblessness in a poor economy).  Americans will begin to relax in a warm, comfortable feeling that their job is done there, Iraq is "over," don't worry, be happy, it's up to the hajjis to mend their own country.

Which we broke.  And the welfare of which - despite all of Obama's talk about our commitment to Iraq - we're effectively disowning - in violation of  Colin Powell's 2002 invocation of the "Pottery Barn" rules - you break it, you own it.  Yes, we'll have our largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, and bases elsewhere in Iraq, but their job will be to safeguard American "interests," not fix the Iraq that we broke.

And it's not only Iraq that we've broken.  Rami Khouri writes of how the Anglo-American invasion and its aftermath have fundamentally changed the situation both in Iraq and in the Middle East:
The full impact of the mayhem and devastation unleashed by the American-led invasion will only be measured in calculations across the entire region – and globally in some instances, like the spread of networks of trained-in-Iraq terrorists – for many years to come. To mark the withdrawal of US combat troops as a great milestone is to engage in new forms of intellectual colonialism and self-deception – standard procedures when countries send their armies to the other side of the world for imprecise goals based on false pretenses.

The tensions and attacks between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq reflect a troubling phenomenon that is relatively new in the region, and emanates largely from the Iraq war. Shiites and Sunnis have always had theological and even social-cultural differences, but they rarely fought or ethnically cleansed each other in modern times. Now the Shiite-Sunni demarcation has expanded into a major new regional political divide and battle line that reverberates across the entire Middle East and parts of Asia.

[And BTW, along those lines, check out the Foreign Policy piece on the "King of Iraq," Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shii mullah - once a nemesis of the US - who's now sitting in the proverbial catbird seat as a potential kingmaker (or more) in Iraq.  Back to Rami Khouri . . . .]

This is exacerbated by another Iraq war consequence, which is the heightened regional role played by Iran after the demise of the Baathist regime and state in Iraq. Iran’s more assertive role inside Iraq and regionally helps shape the new ideological, cultural and strategic confrontation defining much of the Middle East. Iran’s close links with Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas, as well as elements in Arab public opinion create a new constellation of forces that is actively opposed by conservative Arab governments, Israel, the United States and other foreign powers.

Tens of thousands of Iraqi, American and other dead, and many more injured, cannot rationally be calculated in any meaningful terms, given the nature of invasion and war that sanctions such cruelty as a normal operating procedure. Those on the receiving end of curtailed or destroyed lives, however, feel the pain and instinctively, silently, do the cause-and-effect calculation of who is responsible for their loss and what should be done about this. Another 4 million refugees and internally displaced Iraqis generate their own challenges, both for the Iraqis whose lives have been shattered and for the host countries and regions that have to absorb them. Such sustained displacement, exile, and refugee status are a radicalizing force that may further damage Iraq and the region in the years ahead. . . .
The Middle East and the world are far more unstable, violent and dangerous today than they were a decade ago, partly as a result of the Iraq war and partly because of other indigenous factors – including assorted thug-based regimes like the one Saddam Hussein ran in Baghdad for nearly 30 years. The American combat troops leaving Iraq should remind us, above all, of the many and terrible consequences of their having entered Iraq in the first place.

But, our real work is done there, no?  Well then, let's what the US is doing to "help out" somewhere else in the Arab world.  How about Palestine?  You'd think that by now the US's unflinching, joined-at-the-hip support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank (and devastation of Gaza)  had done quite enough, thank you, to destroy the lives and hopes of thousands of Arab Palestinians.  But no, Mr. Obama is determined to try his hand at the "peace process."  So, he's shanghaied the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmud Abbas, into so-called "direct talks" with Israel that have absolutely no chance whatsoever of producing any truly meaningful - or, more importantly, just - solution.  The NYT's Ethan Bronner captures very well the feelings going in:
there is a resigned fatalism in the air. Most analysts view the talks as pairing the unwilling with the unable — a strong right-wing Israeli coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with no desire to reach an agreement against a relatively moderate Palestinian leadership that is too weak and divided to do so.

“These direct negotiations are the option of the crippled and the helpless,” remarked Zakaria al-Qaq, vice president of Al Quds University and a Palestinian moderate, when asked his view of the development. “It is an act of self-deception that will lead nowhere.”

And Nahum Barnea, Israel’s pre-eminent political columnist, said in a phone interview: “Most Israelis have decided that nothing is going to come out of it, that it will have no bearing on their lives. So why should they care?”

That such a dismissive tone comes not from the known rejectionists — the Islamists of Hamas who rule in Gaza and the leadership of the Israeli settler community in the West Bank — but from mainstream thinkers is telling of the mood.
One of those "mainstream thinkers," I fear, is George Will, from whom so many right-thinking Americans take their thought cues.  And he has penned for us today in the Washington Post a successor to his earlier warning about Netanyahu's warning  (about Iran's "threat" to Israel) - which was followed within days by another blatantly one-sided, cherry-picked piece about skipping the lecture on Israel's risks for peace - to now instruct us all about how Israeli concessions to Mr. Abbas in the upcoming "talks" would be "suicidal."  Here's some of what he has to say, with a few comments of my own:

Rhetoric about a "two-state solution" is de rigueur. It also is delusional, given two recent, searing experiences.

The only place for a Palestinian state is the West Bank, which Israel has occupied -- legally under international law -- since repelling the 1967 aggression launched from there.
Legally under international law?!  Which handbook are you consulting, GW?  The entire world - even the US, officially - regards Israel's West Bank settlements as illegal, based precisely on international law that prohibits such occupation.  And as for that 1967 aggression, have you forgotten that the whole 1967 war began with an Israeli surprise attack on Egypt?

 The West Bank remains an unallocated portion of the Palestine Mandate, the disposition of which is to be settled by negotiations.
Oh, OK, this must be your rationale for calling the Israeli occupation legal - because the European powers during and after World War I somehow didn't get around to "deciding" - as if it was their right to decide - who got the West Bank?  That makes it OK for Israel to colonize it, and to dispossess thousands of Arabs in the process?

 But with constructive -- because illusion-shattering -- bluntness, Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, puts aside diplomatic ambiguity:

"There is no Israeli leadership that appears either willing or capable of removing 100,000 Israelis from their West Bank homes -- the minimum required to make way for a viable Palestinian state even with Israel's annexation of its three main settlement blocs. (Those blocs effectively function as the suburbs of Jerusalem.) The evacuation of a mere 8,100 Israelis from Gaza in 2005 required 55,000 IDF [Israel Defense Forces] troops -- the largest Israeli military operation since the 1973 Yom Kippur War -- and was profoundly traumatic."
Israel, in violation of international law - and UN resolutions - encourages and funds illegal settlements for more than 40 years - in effect, creates the problem that Oran now - with "constructive bluntness" - says that Israel can't undo - and therefore cannot be held accountable for having created that problem?!  Again, GW, which school of international law did you attend?!

Twenty-one Israeli settlements were dismantled; even the bodies of Israelis buried in Gaza were removed. After a deeply flawed 2006 election encouraged by the United States, there was in 2007 essentially a coup in Gaza by the terrorist organization Hamas. So now Israel has on its western border, 44 miles from Tel Aviv, an entity dedicated to Israel's destruction, collaborative with Iran and possessing a huge arsenal of rockets.
Deeply flawed election?  By whose estimation?  Observers on the ground - including Jimmy Carter's organization - attested that the election was conducted fairly.  The "coup in Gaza" came about after a US-backed effort by Fatah's militia to take power there sputtered, and Hamas's forces kicked them out.  Here's the lede to David Rose's 2008 expose in Vanity Fair:
After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, the author reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever. 

Rocket attacks from Gaza increased dramatically after Israel withdrew. The number of U.N. resolutions deploring this? Zero.
OK, but recall that (1) Richard Goldstone's UN-commissioned report about the IDF's war against Gaza did indeed lay some blame on Hamas for those rockets; (2) the damage caused by those rockets pales in comparison to the Arab lives Israel has destroyed in Gaza; and (3) just prior to the IDF invasion in Dec. 2008, rocket fire from Gaza had virtually stopped during the mutually agreed cease-fire.

The closest precedent for that bombardment was the Nazi rocket attacks on London, which were answered by the destruction of Hamburg, Dresden and other German cities. When Israel struck back at Hamas, the "international community" was theatrically appalled.
Are you saying that the IDF ought to demolish Gaza they way the Allies fire-bombed Dresden?  Are you implying that the impact of rockets from Gaza compares even mildly to the thousands killed by the V1 and V2 rockets that hit London?  And gee, did you notice that you're implicitly equating the Hamas "threat" to Israel with the Nazi threat - the Holocaust, perhaps?  Did you really mean to cheapen the Holocaust like that?  Oh, OK, thought not.

A senior cabinet member -- Moshe Yaalon, strategic affairs minister and possible future prime minister -- says "our withdrawals strengthened jihadist Islam," adding, "We have the second Islamic republic in the Middle East -- the first in Iran, the second in Gaza: Hamastan.". . . .
So, we're to equate Yaalon's over-the-top hasbara with reasoned discourse?

Because upward of a million immigrants have come from the former Soviet Union, today one-sixth of Israelis speak Russian. Israel has Russian-language newspapers and television. Russian Israelis are largely responsible for Avigdor Lieberman being foreign minister. Yoram Peri, professor of Israel studies at the University of Maryland, says these immigrants "don't understand how a state that can be crossed in half an hour by car would be willing to even talk about relinquishing territories to its seemingly perpetual enemies." These immigrants know that Russia's strategic depth -- space -- defeated Napoleon and Hitler.
Are you unaware of the controversies that have been raised by the very marginal "Jewishness" of many of these immigrant Russians?  That many of them have only a slim sense of Judaism as a religion?  That their presence in such large numbers has inserted a major new fault-line that may fracture Israeli society and, in time, the cohesion of the Israeli state? No?  Check out some of the excellent work by the late Israeli sociologist-historian Baruch Kimmerling.

Netanyahu, who is not the most conservative member of the coalition government he heads, endorses a two-state solution but says that any West Bank Palestinian state must be demilitarized and prevented from making agreements with the likes of Hezbollah and Iran. To prevent the importation of missiles and other arms, Israel would need, Netanyahu says, a military presence on the West Bank's eastern border with Jordan. Otherwise, there will be a third Islamic republic, and a second one contiguous to Israel.
That makes a Palestinian state into a bantustan, GW (which, I sense, you wouldn't mind in the least).  And as for the West Bank becoming a new Islamic republic - how do you figure that?  Fatah, which is the dominant party in the West Bank, is founded on secular Palestinian nationalism.  Also, Palestinians are, per capita, among the most highly educated Arab community - not exactly fodder for radical fundamentalist imams, especially when provided opportunity for economic development, political self-determination, and life liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  Or are you just hyping the Islam=terror bit to keep your public scared?

So, again: Negotiations about what?
Well, with "mainstream thinkers" like you shaping American public opinion, I suppose you have a point.  What indeed is the point of negotiations if you've succeeded in stacking the deck.

I have a suggestion for GW: read Rami Khouri more often, learn something about Middle Eastern realities (and the US's role in creating them), and don't declaim on subjects with which you are poorly suited to declaim.

No comments:


Blog Archive

Cluster map

Search This Blog

ICAHD - 18,000 Homes Campaign (large banner)