How come the United States invited Mideast leaders, including those of Saudi Arabia and Syria – and even Iran, although they refused to come – to a meeting about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when the real priority is to find a solution to the situation in Iraq?
It’s a long story.
US policy since 9/11 has been remarkably bad, and the Bush Administration – which I admit, with regret, to having voted for – may well go down in history as the one that finally ended the golden age of America.
President Bush declared total war on 9/11, but he was fuzzy about who the enemy was. In war you have to kill the enemy, and if you don’t know who that is you end up killing people arbitrarily. Lots of deaths but no victory.
The President said that he would take steps to dry up funding for terrorists and bring down governments that support terrorism. Some steps were taken against financial networks, but today Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbullah, etc. are swimming in money. We did not kill the enemy.
He did depose the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, but depended on Afghan warlords and Pakistani troops to trap Bin Laden. Unsurprisingly, Bin Laden bought his way to safety, and the Taliban is still fighting after six years.
Despite the ‘total war’, most Americans – with the exception of those in the military and their families – found their lives unchanged. The war was financed entirely by borrowing.
Then Mr. Bush chose to overthrow Saddam in Iraq, who – while certainly a sponsor of terrorism and an all-around rat – had nothing to do with 9/11. That may or may not have been a good idea, but the execution by the political echelon was disastrous (the military did fine – they wiped up the Iraqi army as ordered).
The combination of unpreparedness, lack of good sense, incompetence, cronyism and sheer corruption that characterized the administration of conquered Iraq allowed our real enemies to take advantage of local antagonisms and unsettled scores to trap us between multiple insurgencies.
So far, the administration has managed to confine the damage to, as before, military people, but when the bill for the enormous cost of the war comes due, inflated as it is by corruption, the consequences for average Americans will be devastating. The fact that all of the same weaknesses that caused the occupation of Iraq to fail have resulted in massive failures here at home hasn’t helped.
And the blunt way that the administration hacked away at the constitution in order to prevent terrorism – or at least to look as though it is preventing terrorism while really protecting its own interests – may well come back to haunt us when the destabilizing effects of the coming economic crunch start to hit.
The various insurgencies in Iraq are supported by Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Defeating them would mean fighting Iran and Syria as well as forcing the Saudis to do our bidding. We believe that we can’t afford – in blood or money – to do the first, and for at least 35 years we have not been able to go against the wishes of the House of Saud (“Israel lobby” conspiracy theorists please note). We are unable to fight our true enemies.
So the administration has chosen a different approach, that of ‘engagement’. This means asking the sponsors of the insurgents what we need to do to get them to turn down the heat – which, by the way, looks like it is already happening – and then give it to them.
Syria has simple needs: we need to stop annoying them with questions about who killed Rafiq Hariri and enough anti-Syrian members of the Lebanese parliament to change the balance of power; we need to not interfere with the takeover of the Lebanese government by Hizbullah (and we must prevent Israel from interfering); and we need to make Israel give them the Golan heights in return for nothing.
Iran would like us to be more understanding of her aspirations to be a nuclear power. And we are already beginning to back off on the rhetoric; maybe they’re not developing weapons after all.
All three nations are marking out their spheres of influence in the soon-to-be dismembered Iraq. Why not? They have defeated the United States, with its massive military power, by forcing us into a corner which they are betting that we will not try to fight our way out of. And…oh yes. There is one more thing.
While the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves far less territory, far fewer people and far less natural resources than any number of conflicts flickering around the globe, it has enormous mind space. It has been presented as a titanic clash between the villains of history, the Zionist Jews, who are crushing an Islamic people in pursuit of their goal of destroying all of Islam (never mind that there are more than 100 Muslims for every Jew in the world).
The boundary between cynical employment of this myth and acceptance of its truth, even by sophisticated Arabs (and Persians) has long been crossed. The removal of the Jewish state from the Mideast is a major goal for them, and the Iranians and Saudis are both cooperating and competing to be responsible for it, even though none of them likes the Palestinians much. But they are to be one of the tools for the job.
And this is why the US convened a conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is what the Saudis wanted. In the background there are secret agreements with Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia; in the foreground, a process that will – in keeping with promises made to the Saudis in the 1970’s – force Israel back to the 1949 armistice lines, hand her capital to the Palestinians, and probably end in a regional war whose goal will be, yet again, to destroy the Jewish state.
So whether or not the Bush Administration makes a graceful exit from Iraq, the shape of the Middle East in the future will be one in which the dominant power is not the US, but probably Iran, with Russian backing.
With all of its macho posturing, this administration may be the one that marks the beginning of the inglorious end of the American era, and possibly the republic as well.