Friday, July 14, 2006

My Thoughts on the Current Middle East Troubles

Hezbollah fighters infiltrate Israel, kill four, injure three and capture two Israeli soldiers in a brazen and well planned attack. They take these two soldiers into Lebanon. This comes just a few days after Palestinians pull off the same maneuver in Gaza, capturing one Israeli soldier. As a result, Israel moves into Gaza in an attempt to find the soldier there, dropping bombs on apparent Hamas homes, leveling some homes and creating a large enough buffer zone so that Palestinian rockets don't land in Israel. In this action, scores of Palestinians are killed, both civilians and militants.

In the north, Israel moves some tanks into southern Lebanon, fires artillery into Lebanon, bombs the Beirut International Airport lanes, and several apparent Hezbollah buildings. To this point 57 or so Lebanese are killed, most civilians. Israel's justification for destroying the airport lanes was to cut off a possible route for the captured Israeli soldiers.

That's the story to this point. International reaction is typical. The United States is the only country to implicitly support Israel's moves into both Gaza and Lebanon. The United States is the only country to veto a UN resolution calling for peace in Gaza, calling it too one-sided and using the excuse that events have moved past the resolution. European nations have generally said that Israel's response is excessive for the crime committed. Iran warns Israel not to move on Syria.

So what does this all mean? Here are my thoughts.

1. Iraq

In the run up to the war in Iraq, Bush and his supporters made the argument, first of all, that we cannot wait for the smoking gun to be in the form of a mushroom cloud, i.e. the WMD angle. They also, on occasion, talked about transforming the Middle East (the neo-cons's flawed vision) into a flourishing democracy, with Iraq being the starting point. This was talked about at a far greater frequency after the war, when it was clear no WMDs were found in Iraq. With the WMD threat eliminated, what other possible justification could we use? Transform the Middle East.

Neo-cons argued that removing Saddam and creating a stable democracy in Iraq will cause a domino effect in the Middle East, capitulating other autocracies and totalitarian regimes. Neo-cons were thinking specifically of Iran, as Iran is the true Muslim power in the Middle East. It's a grand and noble vision, but unfortunately a flawed vision. Neo-cons think only from an American point of view. They have not, to this point, been able to grasp the complexity of the Middle East from any other point of view, even the Israeli, though neo-cons have strong ties to Israeli groups. Neo-cons have argued that the only real influence over Arab cultures is power. Show power and you are respected. Show off your "shock and awe" and the locals will somehow subjugate themselves to your will. Who knows where they got this thinking from.

In any case, the execution of this plan didn't even attempt to show America's real power. Rumsfeld argued that America only needed 150,000 troops to take hold of the country and transform it. He thought bombs would somehow cower the enemy. Well as the enemy has proven with their I.E.D.s, America doesn't cower to bombs. Why should they think their enemy will too? Real power comes from the presence of real force. Real force has always been, is, and always be human beings.

I could go on about my thoughts on the failures of Iraq. In any case, Iraq is a failure right now from the American point of view. The violence there is horrendous. One Republican Congressman attempted to say that Washington D.C. is more violent than Baghdad. While D.C. does have the highest crime rate per capita of all of America's largest cities, at 28 per 1000 in 20004, that does not even come close to comparing to the average of over 100 per 1000 deaths in Baghdad alone. Last month, Baghdad morgues had over 1600 dead brought in, most from gunshots to the head. Did D.C. have more than 1600 killed last month?

This lack of progress in Iraq (closing in on the same amount of time that America was in WWII) has eroded America's credibility and influence in the region. America's failure to control the violence has emboldened Iran, which is a far more powerful country than Iraq ever was.

2. Iran
Bush had a chance with a moderate leader in Iran a few years back to create some kind of dialogue that would bring Iran into the fold of non-rogue states. Bush did not attempt any communication with Iran then. Now Bush is being forced into communications with Ahmadinejad, no friend of America. The continuing violence in Iraq has emboldened Iran to scoff at America's threats on its nuclear facilities. If America were to bomb the facilities, no doubt Iran would do all it could to further destabilize Iraq and put America's 130,000 troops there in further harm. Where would America then have the force required to attack Iran? Let's not even get into how America would fund such an adventure, seeing that our economy has been in the red ever since Bush has come into office.

Iran is further emboldened to take actions against Israel, actions it knows Israel hates, such as the capturing of its soldiers. What's Israel going to do? Invade Iran? Ahmadinejad would love nothing more than a confrontation with Israel.

3. Lebanon
Lebanon had their Cedar Revolution a little while back, in which they had moved closer to a democracy. Lebanon has been used as an example of Bush's policy (and neo-cons's) of working. Unfortunately, the problem that arises for a country like the United States when a country like Lebanon becomes democratic is that certain elements within that country that are no fans of the United States also come to power. Hezbollah won votes and is part of the governing coalition. That added legitimacy makes it all the harder to try and disarm them. Now Bush and Rice are urging Israel to restrain its actions, because further bombardment of Lebanon, sending it back 20 years, only will further strengthen hardliners in Lebanon. This happens to be the current analysis on these events:
With three Israeli soldiers kidnapped — one now in Gaza and two in Lebanon — and Israel carrying out military reprisals, there is for now less room in the Middle East for moderate voices, voices of peace, according to political analysts, government officials and security officials in Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The region’s agenda, as often in the past, is largely being set by militants — with the masses swept along in emotion, anger and vengeance. “They are happy, very happy,” said Marwan Shahadeh, an Islamist and researcher in Amman, Jordan, speaking about the groups that want to focus on war with Israel.

Lebanon's attempt at Western style democracy is in danger of becoming history.

4. Other Countries in the Region
As that article shows, moderate voices are losing to hardliners, both in Israel and her neighbors. I get the impression that all countries in the region have still not seen enough blood. In other words, they are not Japan in 1945, but Japan in 1941. People in Lebanon were passing out sweets in celebration of the capturing of the two Israeli soldiers. Most likely they understood that Israel would respond, as their general said, "very very painfully." That threat seems to not concern many.

The countries in proximity, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran are all monarchies or authoritarian ruled nations. As that article states, the leaders are having a tough time:
The same dynamics are true of governments. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel, are facing increasing hostility in the news media and on their own streets, while Iran and Syria, strong opponents of peace with Israel, have seen their credibility on the street increase. Sensing the tension among their people, Egyptian and Jordanian officials have stepped up domestic security efforts. In Egypt officials have moved to rein in the news media and stop street demonstrations. In Jordan, officials have pressed older members of the Islamic Action Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, to rein in its more militant young members. “They are in great embarrassment,” Taher al-Masry, a former prime minister of Jordan, said of Jordan and Egypt. “These two countries have signed peace treaties, but having and observing peace with Israel is not the same as letting Israel do what it likes because we have peace with them. I think there is a major burden on both countries to do something. I don’t know what, but something.” Regional momentum is supporting hard-liners. Newspapers and television commentators have assailed Egypt and Jordan for trying to negotiate a peaceful solution between Hamas and Israel. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who planned to call a referendum on whether to support a two-state solution, has been increasingly silenced. Even the Hamas leadership in Gaza, which had sought to forge a consensus with other Palestinian factions, found itself trumped by its more militant members. Trying to explain his own impotence, Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, told an Egyptian newspaper that he had tried to negotiate a settlement between Hamas and Israel over the capture of Cpl. Gilad Shalit. He said he had worked out a deal — but a third party pressed Hamas to back out. Mr. Mubarak said he did not want to name the third party, but political analysts here said they believed that it was most likely Iran or Syria. “Politically active Islamist groups like these kinds of battles because they reap misery for the people who then automatically adhere to extremist groups,” said Aly Salem, an Egyptian playwright who has supported normalizing ties with Israel, but says now that there is no margin even to discuss such ideas.

Think about it. Neo-cons and Bush supporters claim that the war in Iraq was to help flourish democracy in the Middle East. But in all the countries, true democracies, with representatives elected by the people, would lead to countries at war with Israel. It is specifically by having authoritarian rule in these countries that keeps the mass at bay from making war with their neighbor. In other words, until the conflict between Israel and Palestine is healed, democracies cannot flourish in the Middle East. It is impossible. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah and Hamas will win elections because they are popular with the masses.

Neo-cons and Bush supporters think the way to bring democracy to the Middle East is through war. In the end, only a resolution to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict will actually bring peace and democracy to the Middle East.
5. Israel and Palestine
I am personally very saddened at these two parties. I doubt they care much what I think, but I have to say it. Both sides are hitting each other where it hurts the other party the most. Israelis hate it when individuals are captured or killed. Palestinians hate it when they get blanket punishment. So what do both sides do? Palestinians take a soldier captive, incensing Israel. Israel hits homes with bombs, killing scores, incensing Palestinians. Both sides wonder why the one can't leave the other alone. It truly is sad. These two nations who share the same home cannot learn to live with each other. They are like a married couple who use their kids as leverage against the other in the most hateful, hurtful way possible, thinking that will show them! How dare they use suicide bombers to kill innocents! How dare they demolish homes of families of suicide bombers, what did they do?

It is clear that the two nations need a strong impartial moderator. Most U.S. presidents before our current ineffective leader did what they could, and for the most part, succeeded in keeping the temperature down. The fact that this situation has not been solved has been said by some as a sign of failure in fixing the problem. So Bush and his supporters are arguing that it is a waste of time. Let them deal with each other without outside support. What Bush and his supporters do not realize is that not doing a thing about this conflict impedes our other, far greater goals. It is impossible to create democracy in the Middle East without solving the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Moreover, now that there is a great conflict brewing in the Middle East, just how effective is Bush's democratic Iraq at solving this problem? Just what would a democratic Iraq do about Israel and Palestine? What kind of leverage could it use on the Palestinians? Iraq right now cannot do a single thing. It cannot even control events within its borders. And this is not going to change anytime soon.

Conclusion

Sixty years ago, a Democratic president took America into a battle brought on them by a brazen attack. This democratic president asked Americans to make a sacrifice. America did without much question. Within three and a half years, the battle was won and the whole world fundamentally changed. We are now approaching three and a half years since Bush began his attempt to fundamentally change one small part of the world, the Middle East. He did not ask Americans to make a sacrifice; in fact, he told them to consume, rather than save. He used minimal efforts to try and change a battle-hardened region, which makes it look so much like his war in Iraq was more about the 2004 election than about fundamentally changing the Middle East. Now that there is a true conflict in the which the utopian democratic Iraq might have had some positive impact, it is impotent and non-influential. It has no effect towards democratization of the Middle East. Furthermore, it puts the US in a bind in regards to the bigger players that are exacerbating this conflict. E.J. Dionne has a great analysis of the failure of our venture in Iraq.

Israel looks confident in its actions in Lebanon. It knows that the conflict might go further, on into Syria. They know America would love for Israel to do something about Asad. I think they are going to be more cautious about removing a leader, or changing the country, because they don't want to own it, to fix it. Israel might venture into bombing Iran, but I doubt it. That kind of escalation might cause Iran to act very aggressively.

In the end, we'll see just how far this goes. America needs to be a bigger player in this conflict than it is right now. We cannot sit on the sidelines in a conflict like this one. It will end badly if we do.

1 Comments:

At 7/17/2006 12:43:00 AM, Blogger Guy Murray said...

Dan, Interesting thoughts. I agree pretty much down the line. We have such a different world view than those who live in the Middle East. We have absolutely no one to blame but ourselves for this fine mess we've gotten ourselves into!

Aside from the obvious after George Bush was appointed president, and then unimaginably elected--we had an energy wake up call back when President Carter was in office--probably even earlier.

We could have, and should have made the hard decisions then to wean ourselves off foreign oil as an energy resource. I have no doubt that America's Best and Brightest could have, and still can if we make the sacrifice and investment become energy independent.

Does anyone really believe we would have so much American commitment and investment in such a volatile area of the world if they exported olive oil, rather than crude oil? How ironic we give them the capital they need to continue their holy jihads against us because we remain dependent on their product–wow!

It's immoral what our leaders have done to this country, its resources both in money and blood over the past 6 years.

There will come a time and place when Mr. Bush must face the music--most likely in the next life--but face it he must!

 

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