Condoleezza Rice’s Doomed Middle East Policy

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    24 February 2006 article

    Condoleezza Rice’s Doomed Middle East Policy

    By Patrick Seale



    What are the goals of American policy in the Middle East? Any sensible person would imagine that the U.S. would like to stabilise the volatile region, resolve the conflicts which plague it, win friends among Arabs and Muslims, secure the uninterrupted flow of oil at reasonable prices, and keep Islamic extremism at bay.

    If these are indeed America’s goals, then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has embarked on a course which seems to be heading in the opposite direction.

    This week, she is visiting Cairo, Riyadh and Abu Dhabi in an attempt to drum up support for her campaign against a whole raft of enemies -- Iran, Syria, Hizballah in Lebanon, and the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas, which won a landslide victory at the Palestinian elections on 25 January and is about to form a government.

    She has publicly declared her hostility to these countries and movements and seems determined to bringing about their defeat or collapse. By any judgement, this does not seem either wise or realisable.

    Iran and its nuclear programme remain the main targets of Dr Rice’s hostility. Before setting out on her trip, she denounced the Iranian government as ‘the central banker of terrorism and a strategic challenge to the U.S.’ Addressing the Senate foreign relations committee, she declared that ‘The United States will actively confront the policies of this Iranian regime…’

    The Bush administration has asked Congress for $75million to launch a U.S.-run Farsi television station, aimed at undermining the Iranian regime from the inside, and to help various dissidents and other opponents of the Mullahs. This is reminiscent of the Iraq Liberation Act signed by President Bill Clinton in 1998, which prefigured the catastrophic invasion of 2003. To the outrage of Damascus, a further $5million has been earmarked for opponents of the Syrian regime. In both Iran and Syria, the U.S. seems to be edging towards a policy of ‘regime change’.

    In spite of its denials, the U.S. is also evidently conspiring with Israel to ensure the financial and diplomatic boycott of Hamas. In an interview with Arab journalists, Dr Rice cautioned Middle East governments not to give money to a Palestinian government headed by Hamas.

    These aggressive views seem certain to exacerbate local conflicts, destabilise the region, arouse still more hate of America among Arabs and Muslims and hand a handsome present to Islamic radicals. It is sad to see a great power floundering incompetently in this way, as if oblivious of the consequences of its policies.

    Although she may not be aware of it, Dr Rice’s mission is doomed. She will not get what she wants because, whatever they may tell her, the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates do not want to confront Iran or destabilise the Syrian regime. And they certainly cannot afford to side publicly with the U.S. against either Hizballah or Hamas, both of which enjoy wide popular support throughout the Arab world.

    Arab leaders tend to err on the side of politeness. They are unlikely to tell her that American policies in the region – especially the devastating war in Iraq and support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians – are profoundly wrong-headed and need urgently to be revised.

    No one seems to know what views, if any, Condoleezza Rice herself holds regarding the troubled Middle East. Most of the time, she seems to be parroting the views of others. She has hinted at times that Israel should not take unilateral action in seizing Palestinian land, but her words have not been followed by firm action of any kind. On the contrary, she now seems to have embraced Israel’s views concerning both Iran and Hamas.

    On her tour, she has repeated the mantra that Hamas must renounce violence and recognise Israel’s right to exist. She made no mention of the truce Hamas has observed for nearly a year, nor of the indefinite truce it has offered Israel. Nor did she demand that Israel recognise Palestinian national rights and stop killing Palestinians. Just this week the IDF gunned down five Palestinians, including two 17-year old youths who were throwing stones, and wounded another score. If non-violence and recognition are to hold, they must be reciprocal.

    Reports from Washington suggest that, at least on Middle East issues, Dr Rice has been outmaneuvered by the ‘Likudniks’ in the Bush Administration, notably Eliott Abrams, in charge of Middle East policy at the National Security Council, and John Hannah and David Wurmser, respectively Vice-President Dick Cheney’s national security adviser and his principal adviser on Middle East affairs.

    These well-placed officials evidently believe that it is in Israel’s interest to ensure that Hamas is starved of funds, isolated internationally, and defeated before it has even had a chance to form a government. This is a short-sighted policy. If Israel refuses to negotiate with Hamas – which has the legitimacy and grass-roots backing to make a deal stick – it may well in due course have to face a far more violent enemy in the Al-Qaida mould.

    Never have American policies in the Middle East born such a clear Israeli imprint – a bias which is eroding Rice’s reputation and further damaging America’s already battered reputation with Arabs and Muslims.

    When Ehud Olmert, Israel’s acting Prime Minister, decided to freeze the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of some $50 million a month in tax and customs receipts – the Palestinians’ own money unlawfully withheld – Rice remained silent. Scandalously, the State Department said it had no comment on the Israeli decision.

    The only prominent American voice to challenge Rice’s policy has been that of former President Jimmy Carter, who last month led a team of observers to the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council. In an article in The Washington Post on 20 February, Jimmy Carter urged the United States and Israel not to obstruct a Hamas government.

    He warned that ‘Any tacit or formal collusion between the two powers [the U.S. and Israel] to disrupt the process by punishing the Palestinian people could be counterproductive and have devastating consequences.’

    Some commentators have claimed that the victory of Hamas has set back the cause of peace. Carter punctured this argument by declaring that ‘The election of Hamas candidates cannot adversely affect genuine peace talks, since such talks have been nonexistent for over five years.’

    Carter repeated his long-held view that ‘A negotiated agreement is the only path to a permanent two-state solution, providing peace for Israel and justice for the Palestinians.’

    Jimmy Carter speaks as a man who still regrets that the deal he brokered at Camp David in 1978 between Menachem Begin and Anwar al-Sadat was not followed by a comprehensive peace. A global settlement of the conflict remains his hope.

    He warns that the result of punishing Hamas, will be ‘to alienate the already oppressed and innocent Palestinians, to incite violence, and to increase the domestic and international esteem of Hamas. It will certainly not be an inducement to Hamas… to moderate their policies.’

    This is the voice of reason. But there is no sign that an expansionist Israel and its friends in the U.S. have taken note. Condoleezza Rice is relatively new to Middle East politics. She has allowed herself to be drawn into a battle which she cannot win against Islamic and nationalist forces, both Arab and Iranian.

    It is, in any event, unclear how much influence she really has in shaping U.S. foreign policy in this vital region. End​
     

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