Monday, August 14, 2006

The "New" Middle East

“There is something very sinister to my mind in this Mesopotamian entanglement […] Week after week and month after month for a long time we shall have a continuance of this miserable, wasteful, sporadic warfare marked from time to time certainly by minor disasters and cuttings off of troops and agents, and very possibly attended by some very grave occurrence."
Winston Churchill, August 1920.[1
You would think Churchill was alive today and talking about the current situation in Iraq!

Some weeks ago, Condoleezza Rice greeted the conflict between Israel and Lebanon as an opportunity, which in her eyes “is the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East”. But does this New Middle East mean more chaos, sectarian violence and insurgencies, as Iraq has been experiencing on a daily basis? One that is the result of misguide war mongering, blind impositions economic and political structures incompatible with the region, and ignoring the facts that everything in the past few years has nothing but a big failure—failure to win hearts and minds, failure to secure trust and security after toppling authoritarian regimes, failure to engage with players in the Middle East that are essential for diffusing tensions, failure to have an exit strategy when all else fails.

“War has always generated unintended consequences and high levels of social and political chaos. But in the post-Cold War era, new ways of conceiving of the usefulness of violence fused war and chaos in what turned out to be a particularly grim fashion. First, in the mid-1990s, policy-makers began to think of chaos as having an important role in the functioning of the emerging "dominate or die" global economic system that went under the rubric of "neoliberal globalization" (or as it was euphemistically known, "free market democracy"). "Creative destruction," an old term that gained a new life in these years, also came to be seen as an apt way of understanding and justifying the violence and chaos that planners believed would be necessary to transition from the old Cold War world of superpowers, dictatorship, and poverty to a new globalized order of progress and democracy. Second, neoconservative strategists in the U.S. began to imagine that wielding the dazzling military power of the world's sole remaining superpower would be the easiest path to creating a global Pax Americana - or is it Bellum Americanum?”
Mark LeVine, ‘101 Uses of Chaos’

“The one, at least partial, exception has been Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice whose State Department, a bastion of realism, has been under almost constant attack since the outset of the Lebanon crisis by the same coalition of neo-conservatives, assertive nationalists, and Christian rightists led by Vice President Dick Cheney that led the drive to war in Iraq.”
Jim Lobe, New Middle East" Out of Control

“Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks of building a "new Middle East," but the Bush administration construction plan seems to begin with setting the old Middle East on fire. The bungled occupation of Iraq has drawn new recruits to the jihadist cause around the world, and now the disproportionate Israeli assault on Lebanon is doing the same thing. We are at war with an ideology, and pounding it frontally just disperses it. It's like trying to smash mercury with a hammer.”
Eugene Robinson, The War Bush isn’t fighting

"To talk about the 'new Middle East' or, before that, the 'Greater Middle East', ignores the real problem in the region, which is the suspension of the peace process. […] That leads to a rise in feelings of despair, frustration and extremism
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak

Terrorists: all the same!?

Just as the west does not act and speak as one, there are fundamental differences with ‘terrorists’ (a terrorist to one is a freedom fighter to another). And the Bush government does no one justice by lumping all terrorists together under the overall ‘global war on terrorism’.

“Bush two weeks ago likened Hizballah militants to the terrorists who last summer bombed London subways. That implies that Hizballah has the same mind-set and agenda as the global jihadis of al-Qaeda and its imitator groups, but they are not the same. Hizballah's military mission is principally to defend Lebanon from Israeli intrusion and secondarily to destroy the Jewish state. As an Islamist group under Iran's sway, Hizballah would like to see Islamic rule in Lebanon. The global jihadis think much bigger. They are Salafists, radicals who seek to revive the original and, to their minds, pure practice of Islam and establish a caliphate from Spain to Iraq, in all the lands where Islam has ever ruled. The Salafists are Sunni, and Hizballah is Shi'ite, which means their hatred for each other is apt to rival their hatred for the U.S. Al-Qaeda's late leader in Iraq, Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, used to say Shi'ites were worse than Americans and launched a brutal war on them in Iraq.”[2]

Such black and white, with-or-against us, friend-or-foe perception of world affairs and the current crisis underlines the short sightedness (and self-interestedness) of the US—the consequences of which emphasises its go-it-alone attitude and alienates other parties who are genuinely interested in diplomacy.

“The U.S.'s connect-the-dots view of terrorism also diminishes its power of persuasion. For Washington to succeed in putting together a multinational force to help the Lebanese government neuter Hizballah, it must win the participation of other states, perhaps France, Egypt and Turkey. But many governments by now are loath to go along with anything that sounds like an extension of the Bush doctrine.”[3]

How misguided, just as I was writing about this, Bush links the London plane bomb plot to Hezbollah! And then there are suggestions this bears “the hallmarks of Al Qaeda” too. Which one is it?

“[…]counterterrorism experts said Saturday that the focus of government officials and the public on Al Qaeda, a term today with deep connotations but elusive meaning, may be misplaced.”

And inflammatory remarks calling for “war with Islamic fascists” do not help, Mr Bush.

“What would the people of Iraq say about fascism if asked? But then they haven't been asked, have they - they've been liberated, of course. What would our founding fathers say about detention without due process, without end? Electronic surveillance of all Americans, without regard for the law? What is democracy if the citizens have no confidence in the integrity of their elections? Our military hurls five-hundred pound bombs all day and all night. They land on whom they land on. It is not an isolated act of madness, it is a coordinated act of state. All the while private corporations profit wildly.

Fascism, Mr. Bush, is not your strongest card. You should change the subject again.”
Marc Ash, Fascists of All Varieties

It only underlines how fundamentalist his administration is, and how in spite of their attempts to differentiate themselves in action and words from the ‘fascists’, both sides of the ‘war on terror’ are all too similar.

If anything, name-calling and lumping terrorists as one encourages ‘terrorists’ to band together, under the banner of pan-anti-Americanism and pan-anti-Semitism, now that the behaviour of the US and Israel (as well as compliance of the rest of the west) seems to play into the insult that Islam, and not fundamentalist militants, is the enemy.

“By failing to make distinctions between groups--differentiations that are clear to people who actually live with these various conflicts--Bush feeds Muslim paranoia that his war on terrorism is just a cover for a war on Islam.”


“"Peace will come only by defeating the terrorist ideology of hatred and fear," the President said recently about the Lebanon crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But there is no one ideology among terrorists. And terrorism isn't even an ideology. It's a tactic. The President would be better off leveling with the American people. The U.S. has interests in the Middle East, such as protecting Israel. Some of them are subtle and require explaining, like resisting Iran's efforts to expand its influence. And many of them have nothing to do with global terrorism.”[4]

Israel was already planning attack on Hezbollah, well before the kidnappings

“According to a Middle East expert with knowledge of the current thinking of both the Israeli and the U.S. governments, Israel had devised a plan for attacking Hezbollah - and shared it with Bush Administration officials - well before the July 12th kidnappings.”

And the US was already clandestinely exchanging intelligence with Israel in plans to deal with the greater Syria and Iran problems. With Hezbollah weakened, its patron, Iran seems to be a very potential candidate on the hit list. The Israeli campaign now may be foreshadowing an even larger one to come. Revelations by senior officials in the US working along side the top hawks in the administration:

“The Israeli plan, according to the former senior intelligence official, was "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran." (The initial U.S. Air Force proposals for an air attack to destroy Iran's nuclear capacity, which included the option of intense bombing of civilian infrastructure targets inside Iran, have been resisted by the top leadership of the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps, according to current and former officials. They argue that the Air Force plan will not work and will inevitably lead, as in the Israeli war with Hezbollah, to the insertion of troops on the ground.)”

They say the path to peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours runs through Washington. And it seems the path to war does as well. More evidence the current conflict may just foreshadow a greater one. Another article which suggests that this 'waiting for the green-light' theory'.

The way things are going for the Israelis and Americans indirectly, does not bode well for plans to take out Iran.

"The actual experience on the ground makes clear that the original expectation in Washington has backfired in a remarkable way. If Israel had succeeded in its aerial "shock and awe" campaign against Hizbollah, this would in principle have undercut Iran's ability and opportunity to respond to an attack on its nuclear facilities by encouraging action by its Hizbollah surrogate against Israel. The Bush administration would therefore have solved one of its key problems, thus diminishing too Iran's wider prestige across the region.

Instead, the opposite has happened and Israel's failure to disarm Hizbollah is in consequence also a failure of United States policy towards Iran [...]"

Disproportionate!Israel Asks US to Ship Rockets With Wide Blast

“ Last month, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch said its researchers had uncovered evidence that Israel had fired cluster munitions on July 19 at the Lebanese village of Bilda, which the group said had killed one civilian and wounded at least 12 others, including 7 children. The group said it had interviewed survivors of the attack, who described incoming artillery shells dispensing hundreds of cluster submunitions on the village.”

Cluster bombs are illegal under international law:

“Additional Protocol I of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions has some internationally accepted legal standards to assess the problems caused by those weapons. Although that protocol recognizes the inevitability of some civilian deaths, it also says states cannot legally target civilians or engage in indiscriminate attacks.

Cluster munitions have the potential to be indiscriminate because they cannot be precisely targeted. In that regard, Article 51 (4) (b) specifically prohibits attacks "which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective."

Figures compiled by the city morgue indicated Wednesday that the number of killings in the Iraqi capital reached a new high last month […]

This is real progress.

Finally! A resolution…after 4 weeks of fighting, hundreds of casualties, and immeasurable suffering on all sides of the conflict. Enough of the words, now for the action. How crazy: peace tomorrow, at a set time, while today, the fighting and killing continues.

“'We will continue to operate until we achieve our aims. We are fighting Hizbollah and will continue to fight it until a ceasefire is decided, but more than that, until it is decided what the mechanism for implementing [that ceasefire] is,' [Dan Halutz, Israeli officer commanding the campaign]”

We must not make a mistake - not in the resistance, the government or the people - and believe that the war has ended,' added [Hezbollah leader, Hassan] Nasrallah in a television interview. 'The war has not ended. There have been continued strikes and continued casualties. 'Today nothing has changed and it appears tomorrow nothing will change.' ”

And a resolution may not mean the end-all solution. Who is going to implement it? Who will send the troops?

"The Security Council will take very seriously any action in defiance of it," [Alvaro] de Soto [U.N. special envoy for the Middle East peace process] said. "We fully expect full compliance."De Soto said the United Nations has already lined up several governments to send troops to join the expanded U.N. force. The Security Council empowered the force, known as UNIFIL, to "take all necessary action" needed to perform its duties. France is expected to lead the force. Western diplomats said Italy, Spain and Turkey were expected to send contingents. Although the resolution authorizes 15,000 international troops, a senior diplomat said: "It may be difficult to get them. Forces for this kind of operation aren't easy to come by."

If anything, the resolution:

“[…] buys a period of calm, at best, and sets the region up for the next war with Hezbollah, critics said. The truce will be "a time-out until the next confrontation, and maybe not even this […]”

!!!!UPDATED 16 AUGUST 2006!!!

[1] Joe Klein, ‘Even Churchill Couldn't Figure Out Iraq’, p15, 7 August 2006, Time

[2] Lisa Beyer, ‘Why the Middle East Crisis Isn't Really About Terrorism’, p16-20, 7 August 2006, Time

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

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