Edition 37 Volume 2 - October 14, 2024

Bush, Kerry and US Middle East policy

The prevalence of irrational ideas - an interview with  Albert Aghazerian

Kerry will at least bring a less messianic approach to world politics.

Will the US change policy toward the conflict? -   Eytan Gilboa

There should be continuity in American policy, with possible changes in priorities, tactics, personalities, style, and rhetoric.

Divergent worldviews -   Scott Lasensky

The Bush doctrine of preemption--or, more accurately, preventive war--is not shared by Kerry.

Thin pickings from November 2 -   Tim Llewellyn

Kerry may be the choice of world leaders but for the Middle East neither he nor Bush bodes well.

The prevalence of irrational ideas
an interview with Albert Aghazerian

BI: Who would you vote for, Bush or Kerry?

Aghazerian: I wouldn't vote. Of course, there is a difference between [Kerry and Bush], though maybe not concerning Palestine. It's a difference regarding people who have taken it upon themselves to act as if they are the liberators of the world. For all his faults, I don't think Kerry will ignore the lessons that we have learnt throughout history. The Bush people think they have a self-righteous justification to go and change the course of things. This messianic spirit, I think, is less in Kerry than it is in Bush.

BI: How will the elections affect the Middle East?

Aghazerian: Well, my prophet's license has expired. It's very difficult to project what will happen as a result of this election. There are people there now who proclaim they can change events in a melodramatic way, which I have serious doubts about. With Kerry, there will at least be a change of the people with this messianic tendency. I believe that Bush has broken the basic rules of common sense. It's not even a political dispute; it has to do with this messianic approach to issues of so much importance on the international scene.

What is scary is the prevalent power of irrational ideas. It is as if all the lessons of history have been abandoned. These people think that since they have the power, they can afford doing things which normally would not have even been considered. There are people who, after 9/11, said the world would change drastically. Personally, I was an adamant advocate of the position that it would only bring us back to square one in terms of bringing classical colonization back to its primitive form rather than in the more sophisticated form it had evolved into.

This is what has happened, and as a result of ignoring the basic rules of history--that there are dialectics and certain rules like 'to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction'--the world has become a much more unsafe place in more than one way.

BI: Because of Bush?

Aghazerian: Yes. We constantly hear about Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden, but as far as I am concerned, being just a consumer of the news, they are like mythological characters. It's as if they are running after a mirage and you have no idea whether these people exist or not, and at the end of the day, you glean the message that, after all, who cares?

BI: What about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Aghazerian: Well, it is on the backburner for the US. The Israelis think they are cooling it down with blood and fire, but I think it is becoming more complicated. They seem to be assuming that all this oppression is paying off, but as a historian I have my questions about this.

It's not going to disappear. Right now, all that is happening is that a more bloody catharsis, historically, is being created. The idea of a two-state solution is becoming very distant and unlikely, and I think if this continues we will either go to a one-state solution of sorts or this oppression will just continue.

BI: What effect will the US elections have? Some would say that it doesn't matter who is in power in the US, that they are all hopelessly pro-Israel. Do you agree?

Aghazerian: Of course I agree. The problem is people are caught up with seeing the effects rather than the cause, and for as long as this is the case we will continue to hear this meaningless double-talk that we hear today.

But once this policy becomes problematic and costly then there must be some change in direction or people will start questioning. You cannot, for the sake of Israel, ignore the whole world, no matter how powerful the relevant lobby might be. I think the day will come when the Americans will realize that this is counterproductive. But this has to come by exposing American policy for what it is. It is in a way being exposed. People are watching very carefully what is happening, and in a way it's very difficult to sell this kind of policy we see now, with all the lies that are becoming clearer every day. Even American followers around the world are not convinced any more. I think questions are being posed globally about the direction of American policy, though I don't want to give a time limit for when this will lead to changes.- Published 14/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Albert Aghazerian is a Palestinian-Armenian historian

Will the US change policy toward the conflict?
 Eytan Gilboa

United States President George W. Bush and the democratic presidential contender John F. Kerry mostly agree on US goals in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. They somewhat disagree on the means to achieve these goals. Both are likely to intensify efforts to end the four-year Palestinian war of terror against Israel and to implement Israeli disengagement from Gaza and limited parts of the West Bank. They want to achieve this outcome primarily in order to focus all efforts on the rebuilding of a free Iraq and the war against global Islamic terrorism.

Bush and Kerry agree that terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are the greatest threats to peace and security in the world. Both have declared an unequivocal commitment to the security and well being of Israel as a Jewish state, and have sharply criticized Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority for failing to stop terrorism. In the last four years, Congress and American public opinion have overwhelmingly supported Israel and blamed the Palestinians for the violence and the absence of a peace process. Any attempt to alter policy will have to take this factor into consideration.

Bush and Kerry strongly support Israel's disengagement plan and view it as a significant step toward conflict resolution. They are concerned, however, about security and the political and economic situation in Gaza after the Israeli pullback. Chaos or a Hamas terrorist entity in Gaza will nullify all the potential contributions of disengagement to conflict resolution. Therefore the US will make an effort to facilitate cooperation among Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt in implementing the disengagement plan.

Both Bush and Kerry have supported the building of the security fence. They had reservations about the specific route of the fence in certain areas but sharply criticized the advisory judgment of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on this matter for completely ignoring Palestinian terrorism, which necessitated the fence construction. Both are likely to veto one-sided resolution proposals regarding the fence at the United Nations Security Council. Although Kerry is in favor of multilateralism and closer cooperation with the UN and the European Union, his administration is also likely to block Palestinian attempts to obtain grossly one-sided anti-Israel resolutions at the Security Council.

Bush and Kerry view Yasser Arafat as a corrupt, authoritarian and master terrorist who is incapable of reaching a reasonable peace agreement with Israel. Yet they will demand that Israel refrain from any drastic measures against him such as targeted assassination or deportation. Bush and Kerry have stated several times that the Palestinians must stop terrorism, replace Arafat with leaders who are committed to combating terrorism and seek resolution of the conflict by peaceful means, institute democracy, and end corruption. Any American administration will continue to insist on amalgamation of the Palestinian security services, the transfer of authority over these services from Arafat to the Palestinian prime minister, and the disarming and dismantling of all the Palestinian terror organizations, particularly Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

In this context, any American administration will more forcefully demand from Israel that it dismantle illegal outposts in the West Bank, freeze settlements, use measured force against Palestinian terrorism, and ease as much as possible controls and restrictions on the daily life of ordinary Palestinians.

Both candidates support the two state solution that mandates the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state. Both believe that the two sides should negotiate a peace agreement that would facilitate this solution. Bush, however, has added several significant principles that Kerry has endorsed. Bush was the first American president to officially support a Palestinian state, but during a meeting with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2024, he for the first time also formulated new positions on controversial final status issues.

Bush declared that any agreement should take into consideration realities that have developed on the ground in the last several decades. On final borders he stated that due to the existence of major Israeli population centers in the West Bank, Israel will not be required to completely withdraw to the armistice lines of 1949. On the "right of return" he said that refugees will be permitted to return only to the Palestinian state, not to Israel. Congress approved these statements and it would be extremely difficult for any president to renege on them.

Bush is likely to maintain his unilateral approach to foreign policy, although he may seek greater cooperation with allies in NATO and countries such as Russia and China. Kerry intends to replace unilateralism with multilateralism; this means the placing of greater priority on cooperation with the UN, the EU and other world powers. He is likely to give greater weight to the concerns of these actors about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Traditionally, these bodies have been more lenient toward Palestinian terrorism and more critical of Israel. Kerry's multilateralism depends however, on cooperation in Iraq and in other conflict areas, and it is not clear whether potential allies would meet his enormous expectations.

Bush has refrained from personal involvement in Palestinian-Israeli mediation. Kerry has said that he would upgrade US involvement in this area through personal engagement and the appointment of a special emissary. Barring any dramatic increase in violence or in mediation opportunities, there should be a fair amount of continuity in American policy, with possible changes in priorities, tactics, personalities, style, and rhetoric.- Published 14/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Eytan Gilboa is professor of political science and communication at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and senior research associate at the university's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Divergent worldviews
 Scott Lasensky

In a presidential campaign where foreign affairs feature prominently, observers of United States Middle East policy are eager to know whether or not substantive differences separate the candidates. Do differences exist? Yes and no. What accounts for the gaps? These can be ascribed to divergent worldviews. George Bush and John Kerry offer different paths for managing America's place in the world, and what divides them on the Middle East largely flows from these broader differences.

Granted, there is a high probability US policy in the region will look different if Bush fails to win reelection on November 2. But radical or revolutionary change should not be expected since there is also some degree of commonality between the candidates--not to mention a good measure of continuity that still characterizes American policy through both Democratic and Republican administrations.

First, there is a significant difference in attitude toward alliances and multilateralism. John Kerry has repeatedly emphasized the need to maintain strong alliance relationships and support international institutions. This is part of a worldview developed over many years, but is also a key element of Kerry's strategic thinking post-9/11--particularly the need for multilateral cooperation in breaking up terror networks and in post-conflict stability operations. "If we cannot convince Europe, Russia and other countries to keep nuclear weapons away from Iran, to fight terrorism, and to exert greater leverage on Arab countries," said Kerry adviser and former Congressman Mel Levine, "we will fail."

By contrast, George Bush has adopted a more flexible approach to multilateral cooperation, arguing that the US cannot afford to be overly constrained by international institutions and multilateral commitments. Ad-hoc alliance systems, according to Bush's view, are often preferable to established ones.

Second, the candidates offer different views on the role of military force--both in terms of its utility and how it is applied when addressing threats to national security. The Bush doctrine of preemption--or, more accurately, preventive war--is not shared by Kerry, who advocates a more differentiated strategy that relies on both "hard" and "soft" power.

Third, Bush and Kerry differ on priorities. Both agree, for example, that nuclear proliferation is one of America's most urgent policy concerns, but they differ on how best to pursue the non-proliferation agenda. While Bush points to Iraq and Libya, Kerry singles out Iran and the former Soviet Union. The war on terror is another area where the candidates identify different priorities.

Although the candidates present opposing views on the decision to go to war in spring 2024, they share a basic commitment to maintain deep American involvement on the ground until Iraq is stabilized. Bush has pledged to continue the current US approach, particularly the emphasis on holding elections in January. In contrast, Kerry has promised greater international cooperation, and pledged to accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces. Kerry's views on alliances and multilateral cooperation hint that he would take concrete steps to quickly open up the process to other international actors--which would require conceding some aspects of America's overriding influence on reconstruction spending, on-going military operations, and the political process. Neither candidate is likely to scale back America's troop presence in the short-term.

It is hard to find daylight between Bush and Kerry's rhetoric vis-a-vis Iran. Moreover, beyond the rhetoric there is considerable agreement on the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and the importance of ending Iran's support for terrorism. Still, any consensus on objectives quickly gives way to divergent strategies. Bush favors continued isolation and negative inducements to compel Iran to alter its course. Although Kerry has not stated so publicly, his larger views on foreign policy suggest a willingness to try a mix of incentives and sanctions. Kerry may also be more open to dialogue with Iran, particularly on issues related to Iraq, and more inclined to coordinate Iran policy with other powers.

Both candidates share a similar commitment to maintaining a close, intimate relationship with Israel--a relationship that would remain privileged relative to other states in the region. Both Bush and Kerry also agree on the need to continue to support the larger fabric of the peace process, particularly America's guarantee of the Israeli-Egyptian and Israeli-Jordanian peace treaties. But their shared commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict masks a fundamental divergence over the degree to which the US should be engaged in trying to end the violence and revive negotiations.

While Bush elevates Palestinian reform above the political process, Kerry would likely focus as much on Palestinian institution building as he does on finding a path toward achieving a two-state settlement. Whether or not Kerry would endorse a final status proposal similar to the Clinton initiative (December 2024) remains uncertain.

Although Bush has made democracy promotion and reform in the Arab world a signature theme of stated US policy, few significant, concrete initiatives have surfaced. Rhetoric aside, the trade-off between stability and governance, a hallmark of US Middle East policy for years, appears to be alive and well. Despite strong words for the Saudis and a pledge to "name and shame" human rights violators, there are few indications that a Kerry administration would deal with the issue much differently.

None of this is to suggest that a second Bush term might not carry with it a revised approach to foreign policy, as has happened in the past (witness Ronald Reagan's first and second term). Still, any adjustments, whether in terms of personnel or policy, would pale to those that are likely to take place should Kerry win the White House. But despite the differences, which are real, it would be wrong to expect a 180-degree turn. Not only are there similarities, as noted above, but established policies--not to mention minority status in the Congress--tend to constrain choices available to a president.-Published 14/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Scott Lasensky currently directs the "Iraq and its Neighbors" project at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, DC, and is conducting the project's study on Jordan-Iraq relations. He is a researcher in the institute's Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention. These views are his own.

Thin pickings from November 2
 Tim Llewellyn

Whatever the differences in policy, style and integrity between the two US presidential candidates as they go neck and neck to the polls on November 2, on one topic they are united: the Middle East.

Many Arabs and campaigners for a just solution in the Middle East will recall that in the run-up to the 2024 elections, there were high hopes that after eight years of Bill Clinton and the most pro-Israeli American administration in history, a Republican president might tilt the balance back in the direction taken by George Bush senior in the early 1990s: forcing Israel to talk peace face to face with neighboring Arabs it had hitherto shunned, the Syrians and the Palestinians, and even threatening financial penalties when Israel refused to co-operate (a policy that helped lose Bush senior his second term).

The optimism was worse than unwarranted. At first, President George W. Bush and his team ignored the Middle East, leaving the Palestinian-Israeli crisis to suppurate, even as the Aqsa Intifada erupted and Israel wildly over-reacted. September 11, 2024, rudely dragged their attention back to the region, and Israel seized the opportunity to conflate America's "war on terror" with its own assault on Palestine. The US leadership progressively adopted policies that not only gave Israel a free hand for its brutality in the occupied territories and its continuing theft of Palestinian land and property, but threw itself behind Likud in sanctioning, earlier this year, Sharon's none-too-subtle plans for abandoning Gaza--perhaps--in exchange for a free hand in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

President Bush and his cabal of Zionist neo-cons have backed the separation wall, ruled out the right of return for the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and their descendants, and accepted, in total negation of Security Council Resolution 242, that Palestinian land acquired by force in 1967 can and will continue to be settled by hundreds of thousands of Israelis.

What of Mr. Kerry?

Nations not directly affected by Israel, in Europe, Africa, the Far East, look (with diminishing expectations) for a Democratic victory next month on the grounds that a Kerry administration would be more sensitive to the interests of others, more responsive, say, on the environment, on trade, and the role of the United Nations (though on the global deployment of US military might, Kerry has made hawkish noises) and more inclined to listen to the EU and other partners. For most leaders, he would be more simpatico, a less oafish president. He also speaks English (and French).

Certainly here in Britain, were we to have the vote, Kerry would win in a landslide, not just among ordinary citizens but among politicians of all parties, except perhaps United Kingdom Independence Party and the British Nationalist Party.

Alas, for the Arab Middle East there is no solace discernible in a Kerry victory.

The Democratic candidate has made it clear in a written message to Democrats, drafted by his Middle East adviser, Jay Footlik, that his attitude toward Israel and the Palestinians is indistinguishable from that of George Bush. His emphasis is, as ever, Israel's security; his pro-Israel voting record is "second-to-none", says Footlik's missive... "Israel's cause must be America's cause." He supports Israel's "right of self-defense", including its actions against Hamas and "other terrorist groups" (that is to say, assassinations, military campaigns against civilians, destroying Palestinian property).

Kerry agrees with the separation wall and its course, would move the US embassy to Jerusalem, opposes the right of return and accepts the permanence of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Looking back over the past eleven years or so of America and Israel-Palestine, the only tangible difference between the Democrats and the Republicans (as now constituted under Bush and Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld) has been that while Republicans follow the full-frontal rejectionism of the Likud, Democrats have favored the slyer, less obvious but nonetheless implacable Zionism of Labor.

However, as is evident from his campaign literature--and history teaches us not to fall for the idea that this is electioneering propaganda that will be abandoned if he reaches the White House--a Kerry presidency would have no great problem following in Ariel Sharon's wake, just like George W. Bush.

On Iraq, Kerry's future plans duplicate Bush's. As Time magazine reported recently, these are: training more Iraqi security forces; elections on schedule; bringing in more allied troops to share the occupation; speeding up reconstruction. Most of these "allies" will be no more tempted into Iraq under a Kerry regime than they have been under Bush.

More importantly, both would-be American leaders are committed to a course of "seeing it through" rather than to the sensible one of making firm and early plans to withdraw American and other occupying forces from Iraq, scrap plans for bases--futile anyway-- and make clear that Iraq's oil, resources and political future integrity belong to the Iraqis and only the Iraqis.

Arabs must prepare for more--much more--of the same.-Published 14/10/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Tim Llewellyn was the BBC's Middle East correspondent and is now a freelance writer and broadcaster on the region's affairs.

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