Now that Paul Wolfowitz has been driven from his position atthe World Bank, insiders here in Washington concur thatAmerica’s neocon moment in the Middle East is officiallyover. So what does the future, and the 2008 presidentialelections, hold for American policy in the Middle East?
Iraq. Recently, the Democratic-led Senate rejected a billdemanding the White House set a timetable for withdrawingtroops from Iraq. The Dems’ two top presidential candidates,Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, both senators, voted forthe bill, understanding that it was doomed to failregardless. In other words, they are having it both ways,and the same sort of indecision and half-measures thatcharacterized the current White House willundoubtedly define a Democratic administration as well. Arethe Republicans any more focused? Perhaps, but that isbesides the point. As Al Hayat’s Hazem Saghieh hasexplained, the problem in Iraq is Iraq. There is no solutionin Washington.
Iran. Recently, Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiariwas arrested in Tehran, where she was visiting her elderlymother. Her boss at the Wilson Center in Washington is noneother than Lee Hamilton, the less famous half of theBaker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group that counseled engagementwith the Islamic Republic. So, does this gross violation ofhuman rights mean that Democratic officials who have chidedthe Bush administration for not delivering a Grand Bargainto Tehran will finally understand the nature of the IRI? Ofcourse not. More than a quarter of a century ago, theIslamic revolution declared war against the US by takingdozens of its citizens hostage at the American embassy andWashington ignored the message. Republican contenders likeJohn McCain and Rudolph Giuliani acknowledge the seriousnessof the Iranian threat, but whether they can do a better jobthan the Bush team in waking the international community isanother matter.
Persian Gulf. Could the US lose hegemony over the world’smost strategically significant piece of real estate, or whatis effectively America’s sixth and greatest lake? Recallthat it was under another Democratic administration thatAyatollah Khomeini came to power thus smashing one of thepillars of the US’s Gulf security strategy. The two men mostresponsible for this catastrophic failure, former PresidentJimmy Carter and his gullible National Security AdviserZbigniew Brzezinski, are now regarded as two of the wise oldsages of the American foreign policy establishment.
Palestine/ Israel. So what if Hamas and Fatah are at war,Mahmoud Abbas has less charisma than Farfur the muqawamamouse and Ehud Olmert has lower approval ratings than anyleader in Israeli history? The only facts on the ground thatmatter to the Democrats is that they’ve been attacking Bushfor seven years – for following Bill Clinton’s advice! ThePalestinian leadership is not now willing or able to makepeace and trying to force the issue is a waste of Americantime, money and prestige. Why won’t that matter to theDemocrats, even if they’re led by Hilary Clinton? Well, keepin mind that no matter how ineffectual in solving thecrisis, the peace process is primarily a jobs program forAmerican policymakers and officials. Too many otherwiseunemployable experts have too much invested in the“process,” so ordinary Arab and Israeli citizens will paythe price for Washington hubris with their lives.
Egypt. When Gamal Mubarak visited the White House last yearon personal business, the White House gave him an earful ofabuse, which he dutifully relayed to his father, presidentof the Arab world’s most populous state. Stop imprisoningnon-Islamist political figures, Washington said, likeal-Ghad chief Ayman Nour – a contestant in the 2005presidential elections. But the only thing that matters tothe Pharaoh is passing the dynasty on to Gamal. The US StateDepartment prizes stability – i.e., the devil it knows – andhas consistently defended Mubarak against a White House thatat the height of its powers sought to ram much-needed reformdown Cairo’s throat. It seems that now both Cairo and FoggyBottom will have their way and the regime will endure, asis, as unchanging as the Pyramids.
Syria. Anyone who wants to know the future ofWashington-Damascus relations should pick up Barry Rubin’s newlypublished The Truth About Syria. Here, the former fellow atthe Council on Foreign Relations details how craven Westernofficials and diplomats have attended the Assad regime onbended knee, ignoring its longstanding support for terrorismtargeting its neighbors in Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, thePA and, of course, Lebanon. Washington has deceived itselfabout Damascus’ intentions for close to 40 years now,including both Republican and Democratic administrations,and will continue to do so at great peril to their regionalallies. It was only the much-reviled neocons who saw throughSyria’s ruse – without ever doing much about it.
Lebanon. See all above.