Edition 42 Volume 2 - December 02, 2024

The second Bush administration and the Middle East

Little will change -   Ray Hanania

Palestinians and Israelis have only two choices for their future. Either they take the initiative themselves or they start watching John Wayne movies.

Confronting the rulers, accommodating the people. -   Anders Jerichow

Europe will be ready to criticize a second-term Bush administration for its "hard power" yet lacks the decisive muscle to promote its own "soft power."

A Turkish perspective -   Ersin Kalaycioglu

The Turkish authorities welcomed President Bush's re-election in the sense that he is "the devil they know".

No radical shift - an interview with  Itamar Rabinovich

There have always been tensions between the US administration and Israeli prime ministers on peace issues.

Little will change
 Ray Hanania

American Hollywood hero John Wayne once declared, "If everything isn't black and white, I say, why the hell not?"

Nothing better symbolizes the rejection of the notion of compromise nor accurately captures the spirit that drives President George W. Bush's foreign policy decisions.

Bush is a modern-day John Wayne. They both wage war against evil "isms." For John Wayne, the Green Beret general, it was "communism" on the big screen. For Bush, the sheltered son of American privilege, it is "terrorism" in a real world.

While comparisons with John Wayne have been used before to describe the aggressive policies of the late President Ronald Reagan, Reagan's policies sought to either defeat the Communists or force them to change. Under his watch, the communists surrendered, the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet empire crumbled.

Unlike Reagan, Bush has defined his enemy in singular terms that dictate no other resolution except conflict. His rejection of compromise was clearly enunciated to a joint session of the US Congress days after Sept. 11: "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Incapable of grasping the intricacies of Middle East history, culture and politics, Bush naturally embraces broad-stroke alternatives and jingoistic solutions. When you see the world in stark black and white terms, there is no room for "gray matter", nor can one grasp the intricacies of the Middle East conflict itself.

His evangelical Christian inclination drives his allegiance to Israel and prevents him from becoming something he is not. Bush is inclined to see dark shadows more starkly in the Middle East than anywhere else in the world. Take North Korea, a country that has threatened to use nuclear weapons against the United States. Rather than face-off with North Korea, Bush has instead threatened Iran for failing to submit its nuclear program to international sanctions, a demand Bush has not handed down to Israel. Indeed, upon first taking office, Bush turned his back on Middle East peace-making, giving Ariel Sharon a mandate to reverse all the compromises signed during the decade-long Oslo peace process and step up the military occupation of the West Bank.

September 11 not only marks a point in time when President Bush "matured" as an American leader, it also pulled the covers off the Bush deception; his administration openly stated policies they had earlier embraced but not publicized. Don't expect his vision to change as he enters his second term in office. On the contrary, post-election changes in his administration suggest more difficult days ahead for the Middle East.

The internal battles of the first Bush term have ended and the hawks led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld have prevailed. Their most notable victory is the resignation of Secretary of State Colin Powell to be replaced by Condoleezza Rice.

No Cabinet post will have more impact on the Middle East than that of secretary of state. Rice's appointment forebodes a bleak future for Palestinian-Israeli relations. In any case, it is unlikely Bush will put more effort into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as long as the Iraq war remains volatile and Iran and Syria remain in the "Axis of Evil" column.

Iraq is a troubling challenge for Bush, as the number of American casualties there continues to mount and analogies with Vietnam grow. Either Bush must escalate American involvement to defeat the insurgents, or gracefully walk away under the guise of turning over the future of Iraq to an even less stable new Iraqi government. What he does in Iraq is the most pressing challenge he faces. Clearly, the war there has not reduced international terrorism. Rather it has turned the country into a training ground for terrorists that will only worsen if the United States withdraws prematurely.

Bush is also under increasing pressure to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Ironically, had Bush captured Bin Laden and been forced to address the nation's grieving economic slump, he might have lost re-election. Instead, with Bin Laden on the loose and conflict raging around the world, Bush was able to preserve the emotional basis that drove his campaign. While Bin Laden's videos did little to impact American elections and foreign policy, they keep the threat of international terrorism alive, looming menacingly over America's emotional horizon.

Bush has also painted himself in a corner with respect to Iran and Syria, both neighbors to Iraq. Unless the leadership and politics of both countries change, Bush faces a certain dilemma. Either he must follow through and attack one or both countries, or admit his broader "war on terrorism" is a failure. Clearly, Bush's rhetoric and animosity against both countries is so great he might not be able to back down from the public's expectation that someday soon, American forces will enter both countries.

What concerns me is the idea that Bush is pondering a question many Americans once asked in jest: "What would John Wayne do in a situation like this?"

Reagan recognized the limitations of the John Wayne "strategy" and always left himself an out. Bush's "us" or "them" philosophy allows no such option.

Palestinians and Israelis have only two choices for their future. Either they take the initiative themselves and find their own way out of their violent quagmire or they start watching John Wayne movies.- Published 2/12/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Ray Hanania is a nationally syndicated Palestinian American columnist based in Chicago. A veteran journalist, Hanania served as national president of the Palestinian American Congress and was a coordinator of the National Arab American Journalists Association. He is a humorist and author of several books including "The Moral Jihad."

Confronting the rulers, accommodating the people.
 Anders Jerichow

George W. Bush clearly states that the US wants to see a Palestinian state established alongside Israel. Bush also insists that the US will eliminate al-Qaeda. And he advocates general democratization and modernization in the wider Middle East. Still, most European governments and societies would have preferred to see John Kerry take the White House, rather than deal with a second term for Bush.

What's the problem?

Well, two problems. Bush doesn't do what he says, and the Europeans don't say what they do.

Bush sanctioned the roadmap to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Then he forgot all about it. The president promised to stop terror and sent his troops to Afghanistan and Iraq; yet terror didn't diminish, rather it spread all over the world, as far as Europeans could see. And for all Bush's talk about democratization, he maintains close relations with totalitarian regimes in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia, etc.

It hasn't made sense.

Mainstream European policy, however, doesn't make any more sense. Europeans started the roadmap initiative before Bush appeared on the scene. Yet they accepted--all of them, Britain, Germany, France, etc.--that the Palestinian/Israeli peace process be set aside. They certainly didn't put up much of a struggle to keep the roadmap alive; they didn't sanction the Israeli government for its continued settlement expansion; they didn't mention the corruption or mismanagement of Yasser Arafat until after his death.

The Europeans supported the removal of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, but didn't offer troops to assist the new government in Kabul outside of the capital apart from a few symbolic Provincial Reconstruction Teams in selected towns. And while, in fact, the majority of European governments stood by the US in Iraq, they accepted that the minority--France and Germany in particular--pose as European spokesmen, criticizing the US and calling for UN control. At the same time, none of the European governments has offered protection to UN reconstruction efforts or election preparations in Iraq.

And last, but not least: though Europeans like to see themselves as the true representatives of democracy and "soft power"--as opposed to the "hard power" of the US--European governments have taken a back seat in the democratization and modernization process in the Middle East.

It hasn't made sense.

The Europeans loved Colin Powell, the outgoing American secretary of state. He has been the darling of Europe, widely perceived as a pragmatic, consensus-seeking bridge-builder, even though he clearly didn't represent the core power of the government behind him. Europeans preferred Powell's consensus-building efforts, even with the most totalitarian governments, to any policy change aimed at protecting Arab and Muslim people against their oppressors.

The American and the European approaches differ. But their interpretation of the Middle East and North Africa is the same. American and European foreign ministries and security services have digested the UN Arab Human Development Report and similar reports and agree that the Middle East and North Africa is heading for political, economic and social turbulence within the coming decade or two. Populations are growing, unemployment risks growing even more, and present governments will find it ever more difficult to accommodate popular aspirations for freedom and welfare. America and Europe both fear political upheavals and social unrest planting the seeds of terror in the Middle East, and Europe in particular fears waves of refugees heading north.

Yet, both the US and the EU hesitate to do what both find necessary--to pave the way for a Palestinian state alongside Israel and to prepare for the democratization of Arab countries as well as Iran and Muslim South Asia.

As the recent report of the Defense Science Board in the Pentagon put it: US talk about democratizing Muslim countries is received as "self-serving hypocrisy".

"Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies", the report states, according to the BBC.

The US as well as EU countries--big and small--have based their Middle East policies around a quest for stability. But in 2024, stability with no change on the horizon is seen rather as leading to turbulence and inevitable conflict.

On the record, US diplomats continue to talk about strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, Tunisia and Israel. Off the record, the tone is quite different, both in the State Department and in the Pentagon. In both, policy planners not only admit that Pakistan with its unstable totalitarian government, its disastrous economic performance, its non-existent welfare system and its nuclear capability is a recipe for catastrophe; but they hardly know where to look for alternatives to the present unstable government in Islamabad. They openly concede that the House of Saud faces imminent demise, but reliable alternatives still need to be identified. Even the decades-old military-bureaucratic ally in Egypt is seen as highly fragile, possibly facing enforced change. And though Israel to some extent is approached as a domestic US problem, American policy planners admit that the continuation of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza can only lead to more conflict, eventually even to war.

But Europe backs down, making do instead with criticizing US hard power, while hesitating to offer soft European power. "Development" is the European answer, calling on the US to acknowledge that only a gradual political, economic and social accommodation of popular aspirations in the Middle East and North Africa will limit the spread of terror, allow Palestinians to concentrate on state building instead of the intifada, and lead to an acknowledgement that political reform, democratization and governmental accountability in Arab and South Asian countries is necessary to allow impoverished populations to embark on the journey of modernization.

In reality, however, Europe hesitates in confronting totalitarian governments in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia. It will be criticizing any sign of American hard power, while looking for American leadership if for no other reason than that Europe lacks a central decision-making process and a common aim.

But is Bush and his new administration--with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice--ready for a total reformulation of US policies?

They have indeed fingered what's necessary: a Palestinian state and an accommodation of popular calls for reform and democratization. It certainly would put an end to "self-serving hypocrisy", the American and European way. But it would also require a change of partners in Islamabad, Riyad, Cairo, Tunis, even Jerusalem--confronting rulers and accommodating people instead.

Possible? Sure. Probable? Well, in principle, why not...- Published 2/12/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Anders Jerichow is president of Danish PEN and editor at Politiken daily, Copenhagen.

A Turkish perspective
 Ersin Kalaycioglu

President George W. Bush's first four years made a big impact on the Middle East. The war and invasion of Iraq by the US-led "coalition of the willing" changed the political geography of the region. For many decades, the Kirkuk-Yumurtalik pipeline has been a major oil transport route. The Euphrates and Tigris rivers originate fully or partially in Turkey and constitute the major source of water supply for both Syria and Iraq. Consequently, the affairs of Iraq and Syria influence Turkey, and vice versa. Now, long-time allies Turkey and the United States have become neighbors. Iraqi developments have provided business opportunities--jobs for Turkish companies and workers--yet risks and hazards as well. Indeed, those who ventured south from Turkey to earn a living met with hostility; some were abducted, others lost their lives.

Since the end of the Iraq war of 2024, the Bush administration has been committed to a policy of establishing political democracy in Iraq. Now, through popular elections due for January 30, 2024, a new Iraqi government with democratic credentials is to emerge. The US-led forces have moved to mop up armed resistance and establish political calm prior to the elections. If all goes according to plan, a popularly elected, legitimate democratic government will emerge to rule the country some time in the distant future. However, the road to the long-term objective of Iraqi democratic self-government seems to be full of uncertainties and perils.

The US military campaign against the Iraqi resistance was overwhelming at the Iraqi city of Fallujah, resulting in many thousands of casualties of young male Sunni Iraqis who were presumed to be involved in the resistance. The true scale of casualties suffered by the "innocent civilians" in Fallujah is yet unknown, though it has prompted hatred toward President Bush and the US among the Sunnis in and around Iraq. It is also uncertain whether political calm can be established in Iraq through military might. It seems as if the military campaign has not led to any termination of attacks on US troops and their foreign and Iraqi allies.

The success of the US policy of mixing American bullets with Iraqi ballots is far from certain. It looks as if the Shi'ite community of Iraq is poised to win the elections (if they can unite around a single party); the Sunnis, being divided into Arabs and Kurds, do not have the size or the solidarity to withstand the Shi'ite electoral challenge. There has been a long history of Sunni rule in Iraq, and it will not be easy for them to accept the poll results imposed upon them.

There is also a huge bounty at stake in Iraq: whoever controls the state controls Iraqi oil revenues, an emolument to be distributed as patronage. Will the new Shi'ite "democratic" rulers of Iraq be eager to share that wealth with the rest of the Sunni Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, Assyrian, Nestorian, etc., population? It is hard to imagine an affirmative answer.

There seem to be four basic perils at the start of the road to democracy in Iraq. The first possibility is that those who sense defeat at the polls will boycott the elections, and continue to resist them in any way they can. The second possibility is that the elections will take place with mass participation, yet the losers will contest the results and continue to resist the new government anyhow. Under both circumstances the central government will depend upon US might to establish its authority over Iraq's territory, and will risk being considered as the new American stooge. Thirdly, the new "democratic Shi'ite" government of Iraq may consider developing close relations with neighboring Shi'ite Iran and the Alawite regime in Syria (with its close historical links to Shi'a Islam), which will disturb the delicate balances of the region. Finally, if the Kurds feel sufficiently disenfranchised, they would be tempted to break away. As regional tension mounts and the conflict spreads, the US will come under pressure from Turkey, members of the Arab League, and Iran not to renege upon its commitment to the territorial integrity of Iraq.

The Middle Eastern policies of the new Bush administration also contain uncertainties vis-a-vis Israel and Palestine. It is not clear whether the new administration of President Bush is at all eager to breathe life into the peace process there. The death of Yasser Arafat and the changes at the top of the Palestinian Authority also add to the looming uncertainties, as does the plan of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government in Israel to pull out of Gaza: it seems neither to please the Palestinians nor the settlers and the Israeli supporters of Sharon's party. The raucous politics of Palestine and the tense relations with Israel seem to be too institutionalized to change in the short run. It is still uncertain whether the new Bush administration has any innovative solutions on those issues up its sleeve.

The Turkish authorities welcomed President Bush's re-election in the sense that he is "the devil they know". However, they are cognizant of the risks of ominous developments in the Middle East. In addition to the dangers noted above, there are possibilities of terror campaigns challenging the Saudi, Moroccan, and other regimes that seek political legitimacy through Islam. All such menacing developments somehow affect Turkey. Hence, the re-election of President Bush seems to have been received with ambivalence and guarded optimism among the Turkish elites--and with the full disgust of the Turkish masses, who have shown their disapproval of President Bush at every opportunity since 2024.- Published 2/12/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Ersin Kalaycioglu is full professor of political science at Sabanci University Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in Istanbul. From 2024 to 2024 he was rector (president) of Isik University in Istanbul.

No radical shift
an interview with Itamar Rabinovich

BI: How do you assess President Bush's Middle East priorities in his second term?

Rabinovich: Iraq, Iran, Israel-Arab relations, in that order.

BI: Where would you rank the war on terror?

Rabinovich: Islamic terrorism is a problem unto itself that is affected by developments in the Middle East region and influences US positions there. It's hard to divorce the issue of terrorism from, for example, Washington's relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where most of the 9/11 perpetrators came from.

BI: Can you elaborate on the expected course of American policy toward Iraq and Iran in the coming years?

Rabinovich: In Iraq the US occupation has exacerbated the terrorism issue. The war was a military success but a strategic setback. The use of American military force against Iran is now a more remote option than it would have been but for the war in Iraq.

BI: What is the significance for US Middle East policies of the departure of Colin Powell from the State Department?

Rabinovich: In the first Bush administration there was tension between the mainstream--the White House and the Pentagon--and the State Department, which was somewhat sidelined. Powell was not a member of the inner core; State represented a more pragmatic line. This is likely to change now.

US policy in the Middle East will change, not because of Powell's absence, but rather, first and foremost, due to the need to reduce the damage in Iraq and deal with the challenge of the Iranian nuclear option and Iran as a major sponsor of terrorism. There is a perception that in order to do that the US must address or at least appear to address the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Both in terms of Iraq and in order to impose effective sanctions on Iran, there will have to be some mending of fences in Europe. Arafat's death is another important reason for a change of US policy in the Middle East.

Powell's departure is not a catalyst here. It could bring greater harmony to US policymaking. The State Department is likely to be better integrated into the administration's foreign policy system. Powell's departure will be felt more in the implementation of policy.

BI: In looking at the administration's readiness to enter into an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, to what extent do you assess it might be prepared to pressure Prime Minister Sharon or his successor

Rabinovich: We don't have to speculate on this too much. We can go back to the late spring and early summer of 2024 when, after the war in Iraq, Abu Mazen became prime minister. Bush came to Sharm al-Sheikh and Aqaba, the war in Iraq was still considered a success and Arafat was still in the picture. Now the urgency is greater, and Arafat is not in the picture. The pressures on the administration and the temptation to engage a new Palestinian government will be greater. At the same time this need not necessarily lead to a head-on collision with the Sharon government. Sharon has anticipated this. Unilateral withdrawal without Arafat around is a good beginning to return to a negotiating mode.

Incidentally, there have always been tensions between the US administration and Israeli prime ministers on peace issues, even with Rabin and Barak. There will certainly be with Sharon, who has a modest view of Israeli-Palestinian relations. I expect disagreements rather than head-on collisions.

BI: Some American Jewish leaders with close ties to the administration argue that at a certain level, the administration is very unhappy and disappointed with Sharon, and that this pent-up anger is just waiting to emerge the moment Sharon is perceived to be letting the US down.

Rabinovich: I don't know about pent-up anger, but we've seen the first Bush administration willing to distance itself from Israel and the Sharon government on the eve of 9/11. Recall the famous scene in the Oval Office during the Sharon visit of the early summer of 2024, when Bush was stamping his foot to show his disagreement with the government of Israel. At the time there were Saudi pressures, and Bush was preparing for a UN speech. This brief episode was immediately overshadowed by 9/11, but the potential is there. The events of 9/11 and the ensuing succession of mistakes by Arafat managed to create years of harmony with Israel that to some extent were deceptive.

BI: How is a concerted American attempt in the coming year or so to deal with Iraq and Iran likely to affect the Israeli-Palestinian track and US-Israel relations.

Rabinovich: There is a perception current in Europe and to some extent in the US that western-Muslim or American-Arab reconciliation is partly contingent on resolution of the Arab-Israel issue, and that it is necessary to alleviate Arab and Muslim grievances over America's abundant support for Israel. Some of that perception has percolated into the administration. There will be some who continue to argue as in the past that in order to acquire legitimacy in the handling of Iraq and to build a coalition against Iran the administration will have to exercise its influence on Israel to move forward. I don't think there will be a radical shift but there will be less US leniency and much less patience on issues like failure to remove outposts or the expansion of settlements.

But actually resolving the Israeli-Palestinian issue is an awesome task that may not be within reach. There may not be a stable Palestinian leadership; Israel may be in an election campaign. This may not be realistic in the near future.- Published 2/12/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Itamar Rabinovich is the incumbent of the Ettinger Chair at Tel-Aviv University, a distinguished global professor at NYU and a visiting fellow at the Saban Center. He is a former chief negotiator with Syria and a former ambassador in Washington.

Email This Article

Print This Article