The death throes of the Mubarak regime in Egypt signal a new level of crisis for a U.S. Middle East strategy that has shown itself over and over again in recent years to be based on nothing more than the illusion of power. The incipient loss of the U.S. client regime in Egypt is an obvious moment for a fundamental adjustment in that strategy.
But those moments have been coming with increasing regularity in recent years, and the U.S. national security bureaucracy has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to giving it up. The troubled history of that strategy suggests that it is an expression of some powerful political forces at work in this society, as former NSC official Gary Sick hinted in a commentary on the crisis.
Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, every U.S. administration has operated on the assumption that the United States, with Israel and Egypt as key client states, occupies a power position in the Middle East that allows it to pursue an aggressive strategy of unrelenting pressure on all those “rogue” regimes and parties in the region which have resisted dominance by the U.S.-Israeli tandem: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
The Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was only the most extreme expression of that broader strategic concept. It assumed that the United States and Israel could establish a pro-Western regime in Iraq as the base from which it would press for the elimination of resistance from any of their remaining adversaries in the region.
But since that more aggressive version of the strategy was launched, the illusory nature of the regional dominance strategy has been laid bare in one country after another.
- The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq merely empowered Shi’a forces to form a regime whose geostrategic interests are far closer to Iran than to the United States.
- The U.S.-encouraged Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 only strengthened the position of Hezbollah as the largest, most popular and most disciplined political-military force in the country, leading ultimately the Hezbollah-backed government now being formed.
- Israeli and U.S. threats to attack Iran, Hezbollah and Syria since 2006 brought an even more massive influx of rockets and missiles into Lebanon and Syria which now appears to deter Israeli aggressiveness toward its adversaries for the first time.
- U.S.-Israeli efforts to create a client Palestinian entity and crush Hamas through the siege of Gaza has backfired, strengthening the Hamas claim to be the only viable Palestinian entity.
- The U.S. insistence on demonstrating the effectiveness of its military power in Afghanistan has only revealed the inability of the U.S. military to master the Afghan insurgency.
And now the Mubarak regime is in its final days. As one talking head after another has pointed out in recent days, it has been the linchpin of the U.S. strategy. The main function of the U.S. client state relationship with Egypt was to allow Israel to avoid coming to terms with Palestinian demands.
The costs of the illusory quest for dominance in the Middle East have been incalculable. By continuing to support Israeli extremist refusal to seek a peaceful settlement, trying to prop up Arab authoritarian regimes that are friendly with Israel and seeking to project military power in the region through both airbases in the Gulf States and a semi-permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the strategy has assiduously built up long-term antagonism toward the United States and pushed many throughout the Islamic world to sympathize with Al Qaeda-style jihadism. It has also fed Sunni-Shi’a tensions in the region and created a crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.
Although this is clearly the time to scrap that Middle East strategy, the nature of U.S. national security policy-making poses formidable obstacles to such an adjustment Bureaucrats and bureaucracies always want to hold on to policies and programs that have given them power and prestige, even if those policies and programs have been costly failures. Above all, in fact, they want to avoid having to admit the failure and the costs involved. So they go on defending and pursuing strategies long after the costs and failure have become clear.
An historical parallel to the present strategy in the Middle East is the Cold War strategy in East Asia, including the policy of surrounding, isolating and pressuring the Communist Chinese regime. As documented in my own history of the U.S. path to war in Vietnam, Perils of Dominance, the national security bureaucracy was so committed to that strategy that it resisted any alternative to war in South Vietnam in 1964-65, because it believed the loss of South Vietnam would mean the end of Cold War strategy, with its military alliances, client regimes and network of military bases surrounding China. It was only during the Nixon administration that the White House wrested control of national security policy from the bureaucracy sufficiently to scrap that Cold War strategy in East Asia and reach an historic accommodation with China.
The present strategic crisis can only be resolved by a similar political decision to reach another historical accommodation – this time with the “resistance bloc” in the Middle East. Despite the demonization of Iran and the rest of the “resistance bloc”, their interests on the primary issue of al Qaeda-like global terrorism have long been more aligned with the objective security interests of the United States than those of some regimes with which the United States has been allied (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan).
Scrapping the failed strategy in favor of an historic accommodation in the region would:
- reduce the Sunni-Shi’a geopolitical tensions in the region by supporting a new Iran-Egypt relationship;
- force Israel to reconsider its refusal to enter into real negotiations on a Palestinian settlement;
- reduce the level of antagonism toward the United States in the Islamic world and
- create a new opportunity for agreement between the United States and Iran that could resolve the nuclear issue.
It will be far more difficult, however, for the United States to make this strategic adjustment than it was for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to secretly set in motion their accommodation with China. Unconditional support for Israel, the search for client states and determination to project military power into the Middle East, which are central to the failed strategy, have long reflected the interests of the two most powerful domestic U.S. political power blocs bearing on national security policy: the pro-Israel bloc and the militarist bloc. Whereas Nixon and Kissinger were not immobilized by fealty to any such power bloc, both the pro-Israel and militarist power blocs now dominate both parties in the White House as well as in Congress.
One looks in vain for a political force in this country that is free to press for fundamental change in Middle East strategy. And without a push for such a change from outside, we face the distinct possibility of a national security bureaucracy and White House continuing to deny the strategy’s utter failure and disastrous consequences.
The ruling National Democratic Party’s policies secretariat has reportedly received a confidential memorandum from a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs detailing Israeli designs to gain access to the waters of the Nile River in exchange for completing construction of the Gongli Canal project in southern Sudan.
It is estimated that, when complete, the Gongli Canal project would increase Sudan’s and Egypt’s annual share of Nile water by between 10 billion and 15 billion cubic meters. According to the memorandum, Israel plans to ask for half of these amounts, for which it is prepared to pay US$0.1 per cubic meter.
The memorandum also states that Israel has exploited the ongoing disagreements between the upstream and downstream riparian states in hopes of securing cheap access to Nile water.
The memorandum concluded by recommending that the government import coffee and meat from the upstream states of the Nile Basin to ease the latter’s disappointment over Egypt’s current policy of importing these products from other countries.
Vietnam rarely makes the news these days, but there was a recent item about a journalist who died after being doused in his sleep with a chemical, then set on fire. The BBC implied that he may have been retaliated against for reporting on official misconduct.
Investigating corruption and abuse of power, Hoang Hung made plenty of enemies in high places. His best known article is about how officials in Long An, after receiving bribes from developers, kicked hundreds of farmers off their lands to make way for golf courses. After his death, a colleague quoted Hoang Hung, “We’re soldiers on the media battlefield. We must dare to speak the truth, dare to fight for social justice in spite of harassment from many quarters.” Fifty years old at his death, Hoang Hung was too young to participate in the Vietnam War. His father, however, was a Vietcong who died in battle.
The Vietnamese Communists won the war so they could eventually open the country to Capitalist sweat shops and golf courses. No wonder Hoang Hung was pissed. To make room for a rich man’s game, hundreds of Vietnamese became landless. Though Vietnam is smaller than California, it has more than twice the population. The deltas and coastline are packed with people. There, even a lawn is an alien concept, and as popular as soccer is, there are few grass fields. Vietnamese grow rice and vegetables, not grass. The last thing Vietnam needs is golf courses, but of course they aren’t built for the locals.
According to George Carlin, America doesn’t need these vast, high maintenance fields either. From a 1992 skit, “It is time to reclaim the golf courses from the wealthy and turn them over to the homeless […] Think of how big a golf course is. The ball is that fucking big! What do these pinheaded pricks need with all that land? There are over 17,000 golf courses in America. They average over 150 acres apiece. That’s 3 million plus acres, 4,820 square miles. You could build two Rhode Islands and a Delaware for the homeless on the land currently being wasted on this meaningless, mindless, arrogant, elitist, racist […] and a boring game.”
In any case, whoever killed Hoang Hung was a pro. The assassin knew that he tended to work late and often slept in his second floor home office. Waiting until the lights were out, the killer managed to climb onto the balcony without being detected just after midnight. He then entered the darkened room where his target was sound asleep inside the mosquito netting. After the attack, there were photos published in the Vietnamese press of the scorched bed and the near-naked victim lying in the hospital, where he suffered for ten days before dying. Make no mistake about this: Hoang Hung was killed as a warning to other journalists. Make too much noise and you will be roasted alive like this man.
In the 60’s, South Vietnamese monks immolated themselves to protest against the government. Their action was effective because it was a horrendous spectacle. It was visual. At the same time, South Vietnam’s best novelist, Nhat Linh, also committed suicide in protest, but he did it by ingesting poison in private. Whereas the image of a burning monk has become iconic, Nhat Linh’s death caused no international ripple whatsoever. It wasn’t visual. There is nothing to show.
Everywhere now, not least America, writers are becoming more invisible by the day, in any case. With so much mass media all the time, it would not matter if an American writer became a living torch in Times Square. They’d just hose his ashes into the gutter and point the camera at the naked cowboy. The Vietnamese Communists have also figured out that serious writers are mostly irrelevant in this cultural climate. They used to lock up poets—one, Nguyen Chi Thien, was imprisoned for a total of twenty-seven years—but now they pretty much leave poets alone. Though many are still blocked from publishing, poets are no longer jailed. To imprison a poet is to shine a spotlight on him. No one pays attention to poets anyway, no matter what they write. From the perspective of tyranny, it would be foolish to flesh out this nothingness.
Journalists, however, are a different story. They can still reach the masses. America has solved this problem by consolidating her media outlets. With countless newspapers and TV stations, there seems to be many voices speaking, but nearly all are manipulated by the same puppet master. As everyone sits in the dark, the spotlight is fixed on a tiny ring where there’s much flailing over next to nothing. Should anyone still manage to get out of line, however, America can always snuff him out, just like the Vietnamese did. Invading Iraq, we bombed the office of Al Jazeera and shelled the Palestine Hotel, killing three journalists. We also arrested Al Jazeerra’s al Sami al-Hajj and kept him in Guantanamo for six years without charge. In 2005, an American tank shot at a car carrying Italian journalist, Giuliana Sgrena, injuring her and killing intel agent, Nicola Calipari.
On the American fringe, independent voices are free to write as they please, but even the best among them can only appear in little read webzines. Many write almost exclusively on their own blogs. Needless to say, they have almost no impact on the general public. In too late late capitalism, those who seek to tell the truth don’t need to be burnt. They are already being drown out by nonsense.
“Our Leaders are Negotiating the Terms of Our Imprisonment”
With the 18-year-long Middle East peace process finally pronounced dead, is the Palestinian Authority finished too?
That is the question being asked by Palestinians in the wake of a week of damaging revelations that Palestinian negotiators secretly made major concessions to Israel in talks on Jerusalem, refugees and borders.
The PA — the Palestinians’ government-in-the-making, led by Mahmoud Abbas — was already in crisis before the disclosure of official Palestinian documents by Al Jazeera television last week.
Now, said George Giacaman, the head of the Ramallah-based research centre Muwatin, which advocates greater Palestinian democracy, the PA’s “back is to the wall”.
The question of the PA’s survival, and the future direction of Palestinian politics, has gained added urgency as the wider Middle East is rocked by unrest, from Tunisia to Yemen.
Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the director of the Jerusalem think-tank Passia, said the Palestinians were “at a crossroads”. Although the streets had remained largely quiet until now, he said it was only a matter of time before Palestinians started to make clear their revulsion at their leadership.
“It is now much clearer to Palestinians that they are living in a prison and that the PA leaders are there only to negotiate the terms of our imprisonment,” he said.
He, like many other Palestinian analysts, declared the negotiations for a two-state solution over.
That sentiment appears to be shared by a majority of Palestinians. A survey in December, before the leak of 1,600 official documents, by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research showed that 71 per cent of Palestinians believed they would not have a state within five years. The percentage is likely to have risen sharply.
In a sign of the mounting panic in Ramallah, Palestinian leaders frantically launched a rearguard action last week. Initially, they claimed the documents were fabricated, and suggested that Al Jazeera was siding with Mr Abbas’s political rivals, the Islamic party Hamas, to bring down the PA.
But several officials have confirmed the papers’ authenticity, and the PA has redirected its main attention to discovering who was behind the leak.
Mr Abdul Hadi said Palestinians would increasingly draw the conclusion that their intended future was living in “one binational state under an apartheid regime” administered by Israel.
“At the moment Abbas has his followers out on the streets but the Palestinian people are awakening to the reality of their situation,” he said.
Samir Awad, a politics professor at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, agreed that Israel was imposing a de facto one-state solution. “The fight for national independence is over and, if it is to survive, the PA must quickly reinvent its role. Palestinians are now in for the long haul: a struggle for their civil and political rights in a single state,” he said.
Asad Ghanem, a politics professor at Haifa University in Israel and an expert on Palestinian politics, warned, however, that, as the PA faltered, Israel and the US would intensify their efforts to strengthen the authority’s security forces and its repressive role.
With politics stifled inside the occupied territories, said Mr Ghanem, it was crucial that outside Palestinian leaders step in to redefine the Palestinian national movement, including Palestinians such as himself who live inside Israel and groups in the diaspora.
Mr Giacaman said the PA had long ago outlived its official purpose.
It was created by the Oslo accords as a temporary administration in the transition to Palestinian statehood, proposed as a five-year period during which Israel was supposed to withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza in stages.
Since the Camp David negotiations ended in deadlock in 2000, the PA has clung to power, with limited control over less than 40 per cent of the West Bank as Israel has continued to build settlements in the area under its rule.
Mr Abbas has threatened on several occasions to dissolve the PA, most recently in December, when he warned: “I cannot accept to remain the president of an authority that doesn’t exist.”
But Mr Giacaman said such threats were hollow, designed to put pressure on Israel to return to negotiations out of fear that it would otherwise have to take on the heavy financial burden of direct military reoccupation.
The PA, however, was in much deeper trouble after the leaking of the documents, Mr Giacaman said. “Without a peace process, it needs to justify its continuing existence.”
The most likely immediate focus, he said, was intensifying international action through the United Nations, by pushing for a resolution at the Security Council against the settlements.
He also thought the PA would consider changing its position and actively championing the Goldstone Report, the findings of a UN commission that suggest Israel committed war crimes during its attack on Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.
One of the leaked papers revealed that Mr Abbas had agreed under US pressure to shelve the report rather than take it to the UN General Assembly.
“The problem for the PA is that it needs to generate diplomatic crises to get the international community to intervene. But this will put it in confrontation with Israel and the United States. Israel can always threaten to cut the $60 million taxes it transfers every month to the PA,” Mr Giacaman said.
The PA’s threat to unilaterally declare statehood and then seek recognition at the UN, he added, would not change the reality on the ground. “Even if most countries recognise the state, it will still be a state under occupation,” Mr Giacaman said.
In the meantime, the diplomatic vacuum was likely to be filled by Israel. It could promote a plan similar to the one being advanced by Avigdor Lieberman, the far-right foreign minister, to recognise a Palestinian state in temporary borders. Or it could continue its separation policies, withdrawing from more of the West Bank and encouraging the Palestinians to take over what was left behind.
Mr Awad said the collapse of the PA held out many dangers for the Palestinians. One was the possibility of a convulsive civil war between the Fatah party of Mr Abbas and Hamas. Another, he said, was the “Aghanistanisation” of the occupied territories, as tribal warlords took limited control of the territorial enclaves Israel was not interested in.
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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net.
Israeli special forces raided homes in Silwan today at dawn, including that of banished al-Bustan Popular Committee member Adnan Ghaith, and attempted to arrest his son.
When police attempted to arrest Adnan Ghaith’s 11 year old son, Oudai Ghaith, the family refused to hand over the child. Police finally left the home on the condition that Oudai present himself at the police station at 10 a.m this morning.
Adnan Ghaith, Silwan secretary-general of Fatah and al-Bustan Popular Committee member, is currently serving his 4-month exile sentence in Ramallah, banned from entering the Jerusalem region during this time.
Israeli authorities invoked a military law dating from the British mandate period to enable the banishment.
Eyewitnesses reported that soldiers executing the raids were carrying tools used for breaking doors. Police also stopped residents in the streets in the outskirts of the Wadi Hilweh neighborhood and checked their ID cards. Troops were also sighted throughout Baten al-Hawa and Ein Silwan areas.