Archive for January, 2011

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

When the unrest — the revolutionary activity, really — in the Arab world began, some of us thought: well, at least this will put and end to the crazy ‘linkage theory’ — the idea that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is somehow the root of all the troubles of the Mideast.

Do you remember the Iraq Study Group Report of 2006? It sounds quaint now, but here is some of what it recommended:

Iraq cannot be addressed effectively in isolation from other major regional issues, interests, and unresolved conflicts. To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East—the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism—are inextricably linked. In addition to supporting stability in Iraq, a comprehensive diplomatic offensive—the New Diplomatic Offensive—should address these key regional issues. By doing so, it would help marginalize extremists and terrorists, promote U.S. values and interests, and improve America’s global image…

The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. — Iraq Study Group report, pp. 44-54

Hard to believe, today, that anybody could still believe that when they can see both reformers and Islamists struggling to overthrow dictatorial conservative regimes (not that the reformers are likely to win, or that the Islamists won’t also be dictatorial). Well, believe. The obsession with Israel is so strong that the obsessed will manage to twist reality to whatever degree necessary. Here is ‘Mideast expert’ Robert Malley, interviewed on NPR yesterday:

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Program Director for Middle East and North Africa, International Crisis Group): I think what we’re seeing in Tunisia and Egypt and Yemen and elsewhere is not just protest about living conditions, about poverty, about…

[NPR host Guy] RAZ: Regimes.

Mr. MALLEY: …about regimes. It’s also the symptom of a sense of powerlessness, of impotence, of humiliation, lack of dignity that the Arabs have felt now for a long time. But in particular over the last period where you’ve seen the war in Iraq, we have seen the dismantlement of the Palestine Authority during the Second Uprising Intifada. You now see the humiliation, the Palestinians are not able to get anything from Israel. — NPR

To which my response has to be: “huh?”

You might also think that the nefarious ‘Israel Lobby’ can take a rest as well. But M. J. Rosenberg blames it for keeping Mubarak in power:

Few would argue that the imminent collapse of the Mubarak regime (and other Middle East dictatorships) derives from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Neither Egyptians nor Tunisians are risking and losing their lives for Palestinians. They are doing it for themselves. They want freedom.

But the hatred for America that the revolutionaries feel stems in large part from our support for the occupation and the regional dictators who help enable it. And that support stems entirely from the lobby’s power to intimidate policymakers.  — TPM Café

It’s true that the average Egyptian cares little about ‘The Occupation’. He just plain hates Israel, Jews and the US, thanks to the antisemitic Egyptian media, which have been waging war on them since the days of Nasser and which were encouraged to continue to do so by the Mubarak regime. You’d think that if Mubarak was kept in power by the Lobby, it would have found a way to get him to end the incitement, wouldn’t you.

As a matter of fact, most likely the only thing the reformers, ‘moderates’, Islamists, and everybody else in the Arab world can agree on is that Israel is the Devil and needs to be destroyed. A good argument can be made that as a matter of fact, it’s this attitude that prevents peace between Israel and the Arab states and Palestinian Arabs.

And it’s not been very helpful to the Arab in the street either, who finds his regime using the conflict with Israel as an excuse for repressive measures against opponents, especially reform-minded ones, and for funneling money into military buildups instead of improving the general welfare. Of course then the regime turns around and blames Israel for everything from high prices to inadequate electrical service.

Here’s a bright spot: the Mubarak regime has weakened the Egyptian military by appointing political cronies to all the high positions. Despite the American weapons, you still need competence to fight a war, and you won’t find much of that in Egypt today.

Oh well, the new Arab regimes may turn out to be greater or lesser threats than the old ones (my money is on ‘greater’, I’m sorry to say). But some things never change. It’s almost comforting in this time of upheaval that they’ll still continue to hate us as before, and that their spokespeople in the West will continue to invert reality and twist the truth to come up with the same old conclusions.

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