There are roughly three schools of thought about the US role in the Middle East. One school says "leave it alone." This is the Bush administration. Another school, perhaps represented by AIPAC and the "neocons," wants the US to be active in pressuring Iran to stop its nuclear program. A third school, the "progressive activists," is pushing for US intervention to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, and to support the "moderate" government of Mahmoud Abbas. In the US Jewish world, J Street represents these voices, who find some allies with the "realist school' that might be represented by the Baker institute people and those who wrote the Iraq Study Group report.
As Israel has tied itself so closely to the US, we had better understand what might be happening there, how the US sees the Middle East and what may be in store for us.
It is obvious that the US cannot just leave the Middle East
alone. The events of 9-11 demonstrate that if you leave the Middle East alone, it will come to you. The question for the next US administration is "How to be active?"
Representatives of the "progressive activists" have written an article entitled "Reviving U.S. Leadership in the Middle East"
. They are "experts" and people with influence. One of the authors, Mara Rudman, served in the National Security Council under President Clinton. (see my commentary: Is US Middle East Policy Hopeless?
The authors discuss developments such as the recent Doha agreement of the Lebanese and the Israel-Hamas cease fire. They ask if this "progress" indicates that the Middle East can take care of itself. Their answer is that no, US intervention to ensure the success of these efforts will be "critical." What they missed is that the Doha agreement and the Hamas-Israel cease fire are the result of desperation, the fruits of failed US policies. In Lebanon, the pro-government US-supported forces were surrounded by Hezbollah guerrillas. Saad Hariri couldn't get out of his house without permission from Hezbollah thugs. They shut down his TV station. The "compromise" was "Either your name is on the paper or your brains are on the paper." The US was nowhere to be seen. And the Doha agreements only produced another stalemate on the road to Hezbollah hegemony in Lebanon. What choice did the Lebanese have?
In Gaza, Hamas took power after US intervention forced their participation in elections, and after they overpowered the Fatah clients of the US and took their US-supplied weapons. The Hamas-Israel deal means that the US supported Palestinian Authority is probably no longer viable. If it holds, then it is very likely that Hamas will take over the Palestinian presidency in December. That is the end of the US sponsored peace talks. It is not a success, or progress toward peace, but a dismal failure. It represents the best efforts of the locals, facing an impossible situation, to save the remains of their national interests or the selfish political interests of their leaders. Can anyone fault them?
Their idea of the magnitude of the US role in the Middle East that these people advocate, can be gathered from the ambitious title of the article, which aims for leadership no less. A quote illustrated both the direction and the depth of the involvement they demand:
To address the Middle East's numerous challenges, we should and must expect the U.S. government to pay attention to the details and have an integrated approach - ensuring coordination between different departments, accountability for actions and proper follow- up mechanisms. For instance, the secretary of state should know and care about getting a Fulbright student out of Gaza, and if we have three military officials working on movement and access issues, one of them should have coordination with the Israelis on this matter as part of his portfolio. Permits, programs, and processes all contribute to making the grand policy.
The US cannot manage security in Iraq, and couldn't even manage it in the US, but they propose to micromanage Israeli security. Never mind that they want to interfere in the affairs of another country. Can we imagine that every trivial process in the entire Middle East, wherever the US has influence, will need to be processed through the state department bureaucracy, and controlled by an omniscient and omnipotent secretary of state?
The gap between the ambition and the capabilities of the United States is illustrated by the tragicomic case of al-Hurra television. . Having an American presence in Arab world television seems like a good idea. But well meaning incompetence has caused the project to wander between vapidity and self-inflicted bodily harm. A 60 minutes-Propublica investigation (to be aired Sunday June 22) shows that Al-Hurra aired a viciously anti-Israel speech, with no attempt to balance the view that Israel is a racist state. How did this happen?
... Brian Conniff, assures Scott Pelley things have improved editorially. "We now have a fully functioning assignment desk that views all packages and scripts...I have an independent monitoring system..."
You get what you pay for, right? For half a billion dollars, your might expect pretty thorough programming review, right? But not everything can be fixed with money.
... 60 Minutes and ProPublica monitored the broadcast last month... found a Palestinian guest named Hani El-Masri on its flagship show "Free Hour,"... His exact quote, unchallenged by the host or balanced by another panel member, was "[Israel] is the occupying and racist state that imposes the stifling and deadly blockade and perpetrates a holocaust against 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza."
Conniff, who speaks no Arabic, says he was unaware of this and after looking into the matter...
All those fancy monitoring mechanisms and half a billion dollars later, and they are "looking into the matter." It happened because the big chief in charge of the operation speaks no Arabic. All the money, all the gadgets, all the review mechanisms are wasted because ignorant people are put in charge -- because there is nobody else to put in charge. The US is deaf and blind in the Middle East
How will this work when the US micromanages Israeli security? Where will the US get the personnel to second guess every Israeli decision? US officials, who speak no Arabic, will be vetting and questioning prospective Fulbright scholars through Hamas - supplied interpreters. Did anyone really check these bright young Fulbright scholars? After the Secretary of State virtually commanded their release, was there any possibility to appeal the decision? Two weeks - or 7 years - after one such "student" blows himself up in an American city, the American officials, who speak no Arabic, will be "looking into the matter" just as they are still "looking into the matter" of how the 9-11 culprits escaped the attention of the CIA and the FBI.
It is one incident that is indicative of the entire malaise of US Middle East policy, which is based on hubris and ignorance. If you don't know what you don't know, you will make terrible errors. The notion that the US must "revive leadership" in the Middle East is interesting. What would Americans think if British foreign policy experts wanted to "Revive British leadership in North America?" It is more than ambitious. It is obnoxious colonialist condescension. The Americans want to make "grand policy" - no less - for Israel. Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer said that, " U.S. policy needed to be made in Washington." Well OK, Dan Kurtzer, but Israelis are not proposing to second guess the decisions of the FBI, the CIA and the State Department. You want Fulbright scholars to travel under the protection of the American flag, by command of the imperial government. But the FBI arrests Israelis all the time, doesn't it? Can the Israelis have an attache in every US law enforcement agency who protects the rights of Israelis and Jewish lobbyists in the United States? Can Tzippy Livni review every arrest of every AIPAC official? Would that be right?
We do not want to rule, in New York or Washington;
But we do not want the Yanqui, in Tel-Aviv or Kiriat Tivon
We Israelis have a powerful friend in the US. A friendly giant with the best intentions. But our friend is a stranger in the Middle East. He doesn't understand our customs and our language. His best Middle East advisers can only produce vapid pap about "reviving US Leadership" that spins disaster into "progress" and pads it with comic book corporate cliche language about "management strategies" and "leverage."
Every friend of the US in the Middle East should be giving our friends in Washington a hand and guiding them through the maze. Instead, we have chained ourselves to the giant. The giant is a wounded and blind giant who cannot read the road signs or the maps - they are in Arabic, Farsi and Hebrew. He is not aware that he is blind. He thinks he has a direction and a way to get there. He goes blundering about leaving disasters in Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and the Gulf states, and dragging us along after through minefields, oblivious to our fate.
We cannot control our friend. He doesn't want to listen: "U.S. policy needed to be made in Washington." The policy born of ignorance must breed disaster after disaster, as it has in the past. We can only decide what we must do and that is clear. We need to find a way, a friendly way, to cut the chains and regain our independence. We are no use to the US as an ally if we are not strong and free.
The ties that bind us run through $3 billion in annual aid. With money comes control. Perhaps every $100.00 will buy a place for another US "liaison" who will pass judgment on every Israeli decision. Like the mother-in-law who pays for the apartment, the US will advise and does advise on everything from travel permits to how to slice onions the correct way. But the US is never around to assume the consequences of its advice.
That outsized aid budget attracts unwanted attention. It gives an excuse for every anti-Zionist and anti-Israel commentator to scrutinize every Israeli action with an electron microscope - "They are doing it with our money." A vast lobby apparatus exists to push for these aid grants. The Six Day War was probably the last big military success of Israel. It was done without US arms and aid. We were once strong and poor and free. The US has made us rich, weak and dependent. We complain of weak leadership. Could we elect a Ben-Gurion or an Eshkol today? What would Condoleezza Rice and Mara Rudman say about a proposed Six Day War? "Better check first if you are hurting any American citizens. You cannot use our equipment for an aggressive war..."
Is it realistic to find a pro-Israel voice that will advocate what is necessary and obvious: To reduce US aid to Israel gradually, through a program that fosters military and economic independence. To encourage a multilateral alliance policy in Israel that will help Israel be a better ally to the US, and mutually decouple the US and Israel from the worst consequences of policy error.
Those of us who really support Israel must find a way.
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