Juan Cole on the foreign policy brilliance of Michelle Bachman

Jewish culture & religion - Talk Politics Mideast


Bachmann has startled the nation with her misadventures, as with her
claim that she was briefly imprisoned in a bathroom by lesbians.

But nowhere has she left a trail of mayhem and misinformation more
colorful than in regard to the Middle East. No doubt Rupert Murdoch or
some other sociopath will inflict her on us in the mass media for some
time to come. But here to mark the end of her career in politics per
se are some trips down memory lane:

1. In 2011 Bachmann pledged that if she became president, she would
immediately close the US embassy in Iran! (There has been no US
embassy in Iran since it was invaded late in 1979).

2. She went on to allege that Iran had been “delivered a nuclear
warhead.” (No one could understand what she meant by this charge. For
instance, who delivered it and why? Of course, it wasn’t, and isn’t

3. She maintains that if the United States did not give knee-jerk
support to far right wing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
it would be “cursed:”

” I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States
fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States . . .
if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play.”

4. She said Iraq should reimburse the US for having invaded and
occupied it.

5. Bachmann supported Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak to the end:
Bachmann accused President Obama of “sitting on his hands” as Mubarak
fell in February, 2011, arguing that somehow the US should have
magically stopped massive crowds from overthrowing him. She
characterized the young people in Tahrir Square as “radical.”

6. She charged that Huma Abedin, aide to Hillary Clinton, had
infiltrated the US government on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. (I
suggested, tongue in cheek, that Bachmann is herself a cat’s paw of
that group).

7. Bachmann complained that President Obama had “put us in Libya” and
now was “putting us in Africa” (with 100 troops sent to Uganda),
apparently unaware of what continent Libya is in.

8. In a debate with John Huntsman during the GOP presidential
primaries, Bachmann spilled classified information on Taliban attacks
on Pakistan nuclear facilities. Why she is allowed to serve on the
Intelligence Committee, none of us can understand.

9. In 2007, Bachmann after visiting Iraq came back with a notion that
someone (the Bush administration?) had made a deal with Iran to give
half of Iraq to it (apparently the Sunni part) and that Shiite
ayatollahs would then run that annexed territory as a radical Sunni
terrorist base against the United States:

 “Iran is the trouble maker, trying to tip over apple carts all over
Baghdad right now because they want America to pull out. And do you
know why? It’s because they’ve already decided that they’re going to
partition Iraq.
And half of Iraq, the western, northern portion of Iraq, is going to
be called the Iraq State of Islam, something like that. And I’m sorry,
I don’t have the official name, but it’s meant to be the training
ground for the terrorists. There’s already an agreement made.

They are going to get half of Iraq and that is going to be a terrorist
safe haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more terrorist
attacks in the Middle East region and then to come against the United
States because we are their avowed enemy.”

Bachmann did not say how she knew about this plan, nor with whom Iran
has made this deal.”

10. To the increasing bewilderment of high US intelligence officials,
Bachmann invented US drone strikes on Libya and “North Africa” in her
questioning of prospective CIA director John Brennan:

“REP. Michele Bachmann: When the White House conducted their armed
drone strikes in North Africa, particularly in eastern Libya, prior to
the attack on our mission in Benghazi on 9/11 last year, did the White
House notify the State Department of the armed drone strikes before
they were made?

DIR. John Brennan (director of central intelligence): Armed drone
strikes in Libya? I’m unknowing of such, and I would defer to the
White House to address your question.

REP. Bachmann: Were there any armed drone strikes in Northern Africa
that were made by the White House?

DIR. Brennan: White House doesn’t have a drone capability,
responsibility, whatever. So I –

REP. Bachmann: Did they have any directives toward having armed drone
strikes in North Africa?

DIR. Brennan: Again, I don’t know what it is specifically you’re
referring to, but again, I would defer to the White House on whatever
happened at that time.

DIR. CLAPPER: (Referring to ?) the capability, the UAVs that were over
— flying over Libya were military and were unarmed.

REP. Bachmann: And so were there any armed drone strikes that were
made in North Africa prior to 9/11?

DIR. Clapper: In Libya?

REP. Bachmann: I’m asking in North Africa. I’m asking the — I’m asking
Director Brennan. Were there any armed drone strikes that were made by
the United States in North Africa prior to 9/11?

DIR. Brennan: Well, we usually don’t talk about any type of specific
actions, but again, I don’t know what you could be referencing.

REP. Bachmann: I’m just wondering if the State Department was aware or
if the military was aware or if the CIA was aware. And if we aren’t
going to talk about that, we aren’t going to talk about that, but
that’s a question I’d like to know.”
Juanita Cole banging on about Michelle Bachmann is as intellectually
stimulating as listening to Goofy's opinion of Donald Duck.

She was not competent to be in the U.S. Congress. Her entire career
demonstrated it.


The Middle East, America, and the Emerging World Order

Chas Freeman November 29, 2012 Arab, Economics, Iran, Islam, Israel,
Middle East and South Asia, Palestine, Russia, Speeches, Strategy,
Terrorism, U.S. Foreign Policy
The Middle East, America, and the Emerging World Order
Remarks to the Higher School of Economics, National Research

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Moscow, Russia   29 November 2012

I want to speak today about the Middle East in global, not just
American perspective.  Of course, as I’m sure you know, it was Rear
Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan, the great American naval strategist, who
first called West Asia and North Africa “the Middle East.”  As he saw
it, this was the region between America’s “near east,” that is Europe,
and its “far east,” meaning India.  For better or ill, the name
stuck.  Even people in the region now use it.  Arabs say “ash-Sharq al-
Awsat” to refer to where they live.

An Arab friend once told me that God waited till last to create the
Middle East.  As He did so, He remarked to the Angel Jibril that He
planned to make the region truly special.  God said He would put the
Garden of Eden there as well as the three holiest cities on the
planet, the world’s most magnificent desert landscapes, and some of
its most beautiful coral reefs.  When God went on to say that He also
intended to bestow three-fifths of the world’s energy reserves on the
region, Jibril reportedly tapped Him on the shoulder to ask Him
whether He didn’t think He was overdoing it.  God is said to have
replied: “wait till you see the people I’m going to put there.”

The Middle East is where Africa, Asia, and Europe meet.  That, not the
character of its peoples, is the main reason it has been at the center
of so much human history.  The strategic interaction between North
Africa, West and Central Asia, and Europe has been intense.  In both
the Second World War and the Cold War, battlegrounds in these areas
were closely correlated.  But their strategic inseparability had long
been evidenced in repeated conquests of Europe and India from the
Asian steppe; invasions of Europe from Africa by Carthage and the
Arabs; the Greek and Roman annexations of large parts of West Asia and
North Africa; Islam’s conquest of territories from Spain to India;
Ottoman rule in southeastern Europe, North Africa, and West Asia; and
latter day European empire building in Africa as well as in the
Levant.  Eight centuries ago, when the Mongols ruled Eurasia, and
again during World War II and the Cold War, the Mediterranean and Asia-
Pacific regions were so conjoined strategically that they functioned
as a single geopolitical precinct.

The Middle East is where the world’s three great monotheistic
religions began, where religious fanaticism is most highly developed,
where both ethno-religious and state terrorism are most widely
practiced, and where the bulk of the world’s conventional oil and gas
supplies are to be found.  All four attributes give the region
exceptional geopolitical influence.  The Middle East today is a region
in which American primacy is receding amidst an Islamist awakening, in
which terrorists and the risks of nuclear proliferation are
multiplying, and in which the political geography created by the
colonial era can no longer be taken for granted.

The world’s 13.5 million Jews, 2.1 billion Christians, and 1.6 billion
Muslims all revere the city of Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage.
All are emotionally invested, though from different perspectives, in
the status of that city, its monuments, and the surrounding land of
Palestine.  The displacement of much of Palestine’s mostly Muslim Arab
population by the partial ingathering of the world’s Jews in a
continuously expanding state of Israel has set in motion global trends
of spreading religious animosity.  The malevolence this hatred fuels
is now manifested in wars of religion.  These wars are as merciless as
those that attended the death of the Roman Catholic order in Europe
during the Thirty Years War, though not yet as destructive.  Like the
Thirty Years War, the conflicts in the Middle East combine religious
fervor with toxic politics and innovative ways of war.

Uniquely among religious communities, Jews also define themselves as a
people.  The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians began under
British colonialism, which fostered Jewish settlement in Palestine.
At the beginning, the competing nationalisms of the European Jewish
immigrants and the indigenous Palestinian Arabs had few religious
overtones.  With Israel’s independence, the contention widened to
intermittent warfare between Israeli Jews and Arabs more generally.
It has since evolved into a planetwide religious conflict in which
anti-Semitism competes with Islamophobia, and secularism contends with

The violent antagonism in Palestine has helped to inspire terrorist
reprisal against Israelis and their allies.  It has also spawned
retaliatory interventions in the Muslim world that have catalyzed
increasingly savage warfare between adherents of the Sunni and Shiite
sects of Islam.  This process has now embroiled the United States and
a growing number of Muslim societies in low-intensity wars of
attrition that no one knows how to end.  Snowballing hostilities are
an expanding threat to the peace of both Muslims and non-Muslims

For anyone with the ability to listen, the causes of virulent anti-
Americanism and its spread in the Muslim world are not hard to
understand.  The fanatics who assaulted New York and Washington on
September 11, 2001 went out of their way to describe their
motivations.  They also outlined their objectives to anyone who would
listen.  America turned off its hearing aid.  It’s still off.  The
grievances that catalyzed 9/11 remain not simply unaddressed but
ignored or denied by Americans.

The Islamist goal is not to impose Islam on non-Muslim countries.  It
is to expel non-Muslim influence from Muslim lands.  But, rather than
analyzing the Islamist challenge in its own terms, the United States
has analogized the struggle to past contests for global supremacy,
like World War II and the Cold War.  It has compounded this error by
responding to the challenge of Islamist terrorism with a series of
military and paramilitary campaigns that are unlinked to any political
strategy.  Lacking such a strategy, America has sought no ideological
allies in the Muslim world.  Not surprisingly, the results of this
misconceived approach have been counterproductive.  There is little,
if any, prospect that it will yield anything but increasingly costly
failure in future.

Al Qaeda saw 9/11 as a counterattack against American policies that
had directly or indirectly killed and maimed large numbers of
Muslims.  Some of those enraged by these policies were prepared to die
to achieve revenge.  The chief planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh
Mohammed, testified under oath that a primary purpose of al Qaeda’s
criminal assault on the United States was to focus “the American
people . . . on the atrocities that America is committing by
supporting Israel against the Palestinian people . . . .”  In so-
called “fatwas” in 1996 and 1998, Osama Binladin justified al Qaeda’s
declaration of war against the United States by reference to the same
issue, while levying other charges against America.  Specifically, he
accused Americans of directly murdering one million Muslims, including
400,000 children, through the U.S. siege and sanctions against Iraq,
while “occupying” the Muslim heartland of Saudi Arabia.

Al Qaeda members have described the war strategy they ultimately
adopted as having five stages.  Through these, they projected, the
Islamic world could rid itself of all forms of aggression against it.

In stage one, al Qaeda would produce massive American civilian
casualties with a spectacular attack on U.S. soil in order to provoke
American retaliation in the form of the invasion of one or more Muslim
countries.  In stage two, al Qaeda would use the American reaction to
its attack to incite, energize, and organize expanding resistance to
the American and Western presence in Muslim lands.  In stage three,
the U.S. and its allies would be drawn into a long war of attrition as
conflict spread throughout the Muslim world.

By stage four, the struggle would transform itself into a self-
sustaining ideology and set of operating principles that could inspire
continuing, spontaneously organized attacks against the U.S. and its
allies, impose ever-expanding demands on the U.S. military, and divide
America’s allies from it.  In the final stage, the U.S. economy would,
like that of the Soviet Union before it, collapse under the strain of
unsustainable military spending, taking the dollar-dominated global
economy down with it.  In the ensuing disorder, al Qaeda thought, an
Islamic Caliphate could seize control of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the
rest of the Middle East and complete the expulsion of non-Muslim
influence from the region.

This fantastic, perverted vision reflected al Qaeda’s belief that if,
against all odds, faith-based struggle could bring down the Soviet
Union, it could also break the power of the United States, its Western
allies, and Israel.  This strategy seemed ridiculous when al Qaeda
first proclaimed it.  It is still implausible, but sounds less
preposterous than it once did.

Strategies can only be evaluated in terms of their objectives.  The
objective of the 9/11 attacks was to provoke the United States into
military overreactions that would enrage and arouse the world’s
Muslims, estrange Americans from Arabs, stimulate a war of religion
between Islam and the West, undermine the close ties between
Washington and Riyadh, curtail the commanding influence of the United
States in the Middle East, and overthrow the Saudi monarchy. The
aftershocks of Al Qaeda’s 9/11 kamikaze operation against the United
States have so far failed to shake the Saudi monarchy but – to one
degree or another – the operation has achieved its other goals.

Among other things, the violent interaction between America and the
Muslim world since 9/11 has burdened future generations of Americans
with over $5 trillion in war debt, with more debt yet to come.  This
has thrust the United States into fiscal crisis.   The 9/11 attacks
evoked reactions that have eroded the rule of law at home and abroad,
tarnished the global appeal of Western democracy, and militarized
American foreign policy.  They precipitated military interventions in
the Middle East that have energized reactionary religious dogmatism
among Muslims.  In other words, the continuing struggle is reshaping
the ideologies and political economies of non-Muslim and Muslim
societies alike.  And most of the changes are not for the better.

As Islamist terrorism has gained global reach, it has provided
political justification for a general retreat from civil liberties and
ethical standards of governance in secular societies everywhere, not
just in the United States.  Russia is not an exception to this trend.
Ironically, the Middle East was where the moral values upon which
modern societies are founded had their origin.  The European
Enlightenment transformed these norms into secular ideals of reason,
tolerance, and human and civil rights that spread widely throughout
the world.  Trends and events in the Middle East are now setting back
prospects for the advance of tolerance in that region even as they
drive a widening deviation from the values of the Enlightenment

Although there is a long tradition of heroic sacrifice in Islam, the
use of self-immolation as a weapon by Muslims began only in the early
1980s, when Israel’s invasion of Lebanon led to the widening and
ultimately successful Shiite use of suicide bombings against Israeli,
American, and French forces.  By the early 1990s, Sunni Palestinians
had embraced the suicide belt as a means of resistance and reprisal to
the Israeli occupation and settlement of the West Bank and Gaza.  As
this century began, various forms of explosive self-destruction began
to be widely employed in acts of terrorism against non-Muslims outside
the Middle East, including with tragic regularity here in Moscow and
elsewhere in Russia, in the 9/11 attacks on the United States, and
subsequently in the capitals of Western Europe.

When the U.S. invasion of Iraq catalyzed bitterly lethal strife
between Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites, suicide bombing quickly became the
weapon of choice for Sunni extremists there.  By the middle of the
last decade, this technique had begun to be widely used in
Afghanistan.  What began as a means of last-ditch resistance to
invasion and occupation is now a preferred means of retaliation
against foreigners seen to have offended the peace of the Muslim
umma.  Although it is completely contrary to Islamic scripture,
suicide bombing has become a predictable aspect of civil strife
everywhere in the Islamic world and beyond it.  And civil strife is
widespread.  Much-resented foreign intrusions into Muslim lands have
exacerbated intra-Muslim sectarian differences.

Al Qaeda’s kamikaze attack on the United States drew America into a
punitive raid in Afghanistan.  This soon became a campaign of
pacification there.  It eventually grew into a widening circle of
armed interventions in other Muslim societies.  These include the now-
ended, tragically counterproductive American attempt to transform the
political culture of Iraq and the frustrating, continuing effort by
the United States and NATO to do the same in Afghanistan.

It has long been said that Afghanistan is where empires go to die.
Many would argue that the Soviet Union’s experience in Afghanistan was
what finally broke both its spirit and its treasury.  Most Muslims
believe this.  They also believe that America’s misadventures in the
Middle East are having a similar, if so far less decisive effect on
the United States.  As they see it, a great deal of the melancholy
among Americans today derives from mounting recognition that U.S.
military campaigns in Muslim countries are failing to accomplish their
objectives, even as they become both apparently endless and ever more

America’s almost nine-year war in Iraq claimed at least 6,000 American
military and civilian lives.  It wounded 100,000 U.S. personnel.  It
displaced 2.8 million Iraqis and by conservative estimate killed at
least 125,000 of them, while wounding another 350,000.  The U.S.
invasion and occupation of Iraq will ultimately cost Americans at
least $3.4 trillion, of which $1.4 trillion represents money actually
spent by U.S. government departments and agencies during combat
operations; $1 trillion is the minimal estimate of future interest
payments; and $1 trillion is future health care, disability, and other
payments to the almost one million U.S. veterans of the fighting.  The
war failed to achieve any objective other than the removal from power
of Saddam Hussein.  The U.S. invasion and occupation traumatized Iraq,
set it ablaze with sectarian strife that has since spread to Syria and
elsewhere, and left the security of Iraqi Kurds and Sunni Arabs in
doubt.  It destroyed the balance of power in the region, allied Iraq
with Iran, and estranged Iraq from its Arab neighbors in the Persian

After eleven years of combat in Afghanistan, the United States alone
has spent about $580 billion there.  Leaving aside other NATO members,
almost 2,000 Americans have died and 16,000 have been seriously
wounded in Afghanistan.  In the end, the Afghan war is likely to cost
Americans about $1.5 trillion.  That’s about $50,000 per Afghan.  The
per capita income in Afghanistan is about $1,000.  The United States
and NATO are now headed for the exits, with no workable plan to deny
Afghanistan to terrorists with global reach, contain the effects of
India’s and Pakistan’s strategic rivalry, or insulate the rest of
Central Asia from the spillover effects of continuing disorder there.

There is no reliable estimate of the expense of ongoing American
combat operations in places such as the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, the
Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, and now – post-
Benghazi – in North Africa.  Together, however, the various wars the
United States has conducted or is conducting in Muslim countries or
against Islamist guerrillas and terrorists will ultimately cost
something approaching $6 trillion dollars.  The evidence strongly
suggests that this effort is creating many more terrorists than it is
killing.  There is no end in sight and no strategy for achieving one.

Terrorists are people with a grudge and a bomb but no air force – and
so far no drones – with which to inflict bodily harm on their
enemies.  Suicide bombing allows otherwise impotent peoples to destroy
politically important targets.  It reflects the unfortunate facts that
human bravery is the most effective means of breaching security
perimeters and that the human brain is the most reliable guidance
system yet invented for delivering bombs to targets.  Until Muslim
extremists are either drained of their resentment or convinced that
there are nonviolent means to register their grievances, they will
continue to make their political point through terrorist acts.  Some
of these will involve the willing death of those carrying them out.
Others will rely on innovation, much as improvised explosive devices
have evolved on the battlefields of Afghanistan.  The struggle will
not be limited to the Middle East.  It will extend to the homelands of
those carrying out military operations in Muslim lands.

There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism.  In default
of one, I defer to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.  Speaking
as Secretary-General, he defined terrorism as “any action intended to
cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants, when
the purpose of such an act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate
a population or compel a government or international organization to
carry out or abstain from any act.”

Given the tendency of enemies to copy each other, it is ironic but
perhaps not surprising, that counterterrorism has come to rely upon
terrorism to combat terrorists.  America’s expanding drone wars along
the Afghan-Pakistan frontier and in Somalia, Yemen, the Sahel, and
elsewhere fit the definition of terrorism except for the fact that
they are directed against loosely associated Islamic civilian
militants rather than a government or an army.  Israel’s occupation
and gradual annexation of Palestine as well as its brutal siege and
occasional battering of Gaza also rely heavily on state terrorism
intended to intimidate Palestinians into passivity.  Quite aside from
the betrayal of traditional values and the forfeiture of the moral
high ground that this represents, using terrorism to fight terrorism
invites rather than discredits terrorist retaliation, especially when
the political drivers of terrorist violence remain unaddressed.

History strongly suggests that the only way to end terrorism – short
of the genocidal annihilation of intransigent populations – is to take
action to address the grievances and apprehensions that inspire the
terrorists.  Jewish terrorism against the British in Palestine ended
when the United Nations General Assembly authorized what became the
State of Israel.  Irish terrorism against the United Kingdom ended
when Britain took advantage of mutual exhaustion on the battlefield to
redress political and social grievances in Northern Ireland while
opening the political process to its terrorist opponents.

More recently, the successful suppression of terrorism in the Kingdom
of Saudi Arabia has famously involved the rehabilitation through
religious reeducation of would-be terrorists and their subsequent
reintegration in society.  It has also entailed ruthless action to
kill or bring to justice those who actually engage in terrorism.  But
the prerequisites for progress against terrorism in the Kingdom have
been the removal of the politico-religious irritant of the U.S.
military presence on Saudi soil and, even more importantly, a well-
conceived, state-sponsored religious campaign to refute and discredit
Islamist justifications for terrorism.

Terrorists are inspired by passionate resentment of perceived
injustice and by the belief that there is no effective alternative to
violence as a means of halting this injustice.  To end terrorism, both
these motivations – that is, the sources of the resentment and the
absence of an alternative to violent means of curing them – must be
addressed.  Given the large role of American policies in stoking the
anger that powers terrorism with global reach, this means that there
must be major adjustments in U.S. policy.  Unfortunately, given the
range of difficult domestic issues now confronting America, it is
unlikely that such policy adjustments will take place for the
foreseeable future.  The American paramilitary contention with
Islamist terrorists is therefore much more likely to escalate than to
subside.  This suggests that the threat to the security of both the
American homeland and Americans abroad will also escalate.

The implications of this dynamic are dire, not just for the United
States but for other non-Muslim nations afflicted by Islamist
terrorism.   Nations that support Israel or have disgruntled Muslim
minorities on their soil will face a protracted struggle to sustain
domestic tranquility.  The United States will continue to support
Israel.  So, I believe, will Russia.  The Russian Federation borders
the Middle East and includes restive Muslim minorities.  Russians can
expect to continue to suffer terrorist attacks.  The countries of
Western Europe have too many Muslim immigrants to be insulated from
the spreading violence.  U.S. and Israeli policy may bear a
disproportionate share of the blame for the phenomenon of Islamist
terrorism, but it is not a purely American or Israeli problem.

Continuing challenges to the internal security of nations perceived to
be persecuting Muslims will guarantee continuing pressure on domestic
civil liberties and the tightening of police controls on freedom of
movement, expression, and religious belief everywhere.  In the face of
protracted struggle with Islamist extremists, America is more likely
than not to continue its pull-back from the rule of law abroad as well
as at home.  Other nations will react with their own parallel
measures.  We must anticipate a period of increasing illiberalism in
the world’s industrial democracies and a relapse into authoritarianism
in many societies that have aspired to leave it behind.

In these circumstances, the United States is certain to remain heavily
invested in the Middle East.  This means, among other things, that
America is very unlikely to have either the resources or the
leadership time to address the challenges to its primacy in other
regions, like the Indo-Pacific.  The pivot to Asia may turn out to be
a pirouette, as the Middle East refuses to release America from its
various preoccupations there.  But continuing heavy investment by the
United States in the Middle East does not mean a reversal of America’s
ebbing sway there.

The United States no longer makes any pretense of the evenhandedness
that once enabled it unconditionally to support Israel while
simultaneously maintaining cordial relations with the major nations of
the Arab world.  The U.S. effort to broker peace between Israel and
the Palestinians has lost all credibility in the region and
internationally.  Israel has deliberately overwhelmed the two-state
solution with “facts on the ground” in the form of illegal settlements
in the occupied territories of the West Bank.  As a byproduct of this
strategy, Israel has evolved a political order that treats the Arabs
in its charge as second-class citizens in Israel proper, as helots –
wards of the state with no rights – in the West Bank, and as objects
of sadistic punishment in Gaza.

A shrinking part of the Jewish population outside Israel remains
identified with Zionism and prepared passionately to defend it.  A
clear majority does not wish to bear the taint of such association.  A
growing number of Americans, including Jewish Americans, are disturbed
by Israel’s policies and resentful of its leaders’ contemptuous
dismissal of U.S. interests and views.  The more thoughtful members of
the Jewish communities in the United States and elsewhere understand
the risks to their standing in their own societies of their being
implicated in Israel’s morally unacceptable behavior. Still, a
significant minority remains committed to Israel, right or wrong.
This minority contains many individuals of considerable wealth and
consequent political influence.

The question of how to deal with the issues posed by Zionism and its
consequences for the Arab population it has subjugated promises to be
increasingly divisive in the United States and other countries long
committed to the Jewish state.  The United States remains committed to
Israel but demands for boycotts, disinvestment, and sanctions against
Israel are growing.  Racism of the sort now built into the Israeli
political system is a problem Americans understand from our own
experience, see as fundamentally wrong, and have repudiated.
Similarly, the world decisively rejected apartheid in South Africa.
It is most unlikely to accept it in Israel.

Meanwhile, the Arab uprisings promise to strip Israel of even the
minimal acceptability that past American diplomacy had won for it in
its region.   The Arab world is no longer sleepwalking through
history.  Its governments now seek legitimacy in the support of their
people, not in endorsements or subventions from foreign protectors.
Arab political parties increasingly identify with Islam and reject
secularism.  The clear trend is toward both greater religiosity and
greater identification with the Palestinian cause.

Arab governments have long been prepared to make peace with Israel but
Arab peoples have yet to be convinced that Israel can be an acceptable
part of the Middle East mosaic.  Israel’s cruelties to its captive
Arab population, its scofflaw settlement practices, its periodic
maimings of Gaza and Lebanon, and its short-sighted, self-destructive
alienation of powerful neighbors like Turkey call into question the
continuing viability of a U.S. Middle East policy aimed at achieving a
secure place for Israel in the regional order.  It is becoming harder
to paper over the gap between American and Israeli values and the
tensions between Israel’s purposes and competing American interests
and strategic concerns.

Since 1979, the Camp David accords have been the linchpin of U.S.
policy in the Levant.  They are now in jeopardy.  Egypt has begun to
demand that Israel, too, fulfill its promises at Camp David.
(Israel’s treaty commitments included its withdrawal from the
territories it seized in 1967 and facilitation of Palestinian self-
determination there.  Instead, it has swallowed up the land for
itself, while ghettoizing its Palestinian inhabitants.)  Jordan now
faces simultaneous demands for domestic political reform and a less
accommodating posture toward Israel.  The Camp David accords were
conceived as a platform on which to build a broader peace.  With no
such peace in the works, the platform itself is beginning to wobble
and show signs of future collapse.

Egypt and Jordan are not the only neighbors of Israel whose future
orientation is in doubt.  Despite the hard line Damascus has
traditionally taken on Israel-Palestine issues, Syria has been
reliably passive as an enemy of Israel.  In contrast, Syria today is a
wild card in Middle East politics.  No one can be sure of its future
roles and orientation vis-à-vis Iran, Israel, and Lebanon, not to
mention Turkey and the Arab Gulf states.  It is hard to predict when
and how Syria will emerge from its current anarchy but it is even
harder to imagine that, when it does so, it will sustain its past
pattern of coexistence with Israel.

The existing diplomatic mechanisms for managing Israeli-Palestinian
relations no longer have credibility.  Talk of a resumption of the so-
called “peace process” evokes cynical sarcasm.  The convening of the
“Quartet” is greeted with indifference.  Things have changed.
Everyone in the region knows that Israel is obsessed with land.  No
one now believes it is interested in peace.  Mr. Netanyahu’s mid-
November assault on Gaza has simply reinforced the regional view that
Israel is an enemy with which it is impossible peacefully to coexist.

The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank remains committed to a two-
state solution based on self-determination in a mere 22 percent of the
original Palestine Mandate.  Hamas has indicated that it is prepared
to go along with this.  But it has been almost twenty years since
there has been any progress toward peace between Israel and the
Palestinians.  Israel’s seizure and settlement of land beyond its 1967
borders now effectively preclude a separate Palestinian state.  The
trend in Palestine and abroad is therefore shifting rapidly toward
support for a struggle for equal civil and human rights within an
unpartitioned Palestine.

The Arab reawakening of 2011 was accompanied by the beginnings of an
intense political conversation among all 340 million Arabs.  Within
this newly aroused Arab community, change has taken place one Arab
nation at a time, reflecting national rather than pan-Arab
circumstances, interests, and concerns.  Still, there are some trends
that span the Arab world.  All Arab states are trying to attenuate
their dependence on their previous foreign protectors and to diversify
their international relations.  None seems likely to be willing in
future to rely exclusively on a particular foreign power.  All seek
new balance in their international orientation.  The nations of the
Middle East were once subjected to European colonial powers, then
divided into spheres of American and Soviet influence, and finally
dominated by the post-Cold War United States.  They are now
promiscuously engaged in building relationships with a widening list
of external powers.

Aided by the eclipse of American influence, the diplomatic lassitude
of a self-absorbed Europe, and the rise of Islamist populism, Middle
Easterners, not foreigners, are deciding what happens in their
region.  New coalitions are forming between them.  In the new Middle
East, outsiders no longer call the shots.  They are business partners,
mercenaries, potential hired help, or simply bystanders.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Syria.  The strife there is the
product of domestic turmoil inspired by Arab uprisings elsewhere.  It
is also the outcome of foreign covert action intended to overthrow the
Assad government and install a Sunni Muslim regime, thereby depriving
Iran of Syria as an ally, isolating Hezbollah in Lebanon, and flanking
Shiite-ruled Iraq.  Given the linkages between Syria and its
neighbors, civil strife in Syria could easily spread more widely in
the region.   The division of Syria and Lebanon was an artifice of
French colonialism.    If Syria disintegrates, Lebanon will almost
certainly do likewise.  If Syria comes under unchallenged Sunni Muslim
domination, it will suppress both Shiite political sway and Iranian
influence in Lebanon.  That, presumably, is one factor motivating
states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar to support the mostly Sunni Syrian
opposition to Alawite rule in Syria.

Short of the obvious implications of developments in Syria for the
continued existence of Lebanon as an independent state, the potential
regional impact of what is happening in Syria is far-reaching  The
situation of Syria’s Kurds affects Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.
Syria’s Sunni Arabs have tribal as well as religious links to Iraq,
Jordan, Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.  Syria’s ruling Alawites are linked
to Alawites and other Shiites in Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, and even
farther afield.

Syria’s current distress devalues it as a strategic asset for Iran
almost as much as regime change might.  Despite their protestations of
concern about the humanitarian costs of the fighting in Syria,
governments bent on undercutting Iran’s influence in the region feel
no real urgency about ending the conflict there.  Iran remains
traumatized by its historical experience of Arab, Russian, British,
and American dominion over it.  Iran’s theocratism estranges it from
much of the rest of the Muslim world.  The peculiar separation of
powers inherent in the doctrine of “guardianship by jurists” – wilayat
al faqih – raises doubts about who has the authority to speak for Iran
internationally.  The Shiite doctrine of “calculated deception” –
taqiyyah – adds to this perplexity by inspiring distrust of Iranian
policy statements and assurances.

Iranian-American relations are at their lowest level since the two
countries first began to deal with each other officially 137 years
ago.  There is much talk of war but no serious dialogue between the
two governments.  People-to-people exchanges between the U.S. and Iran
are nearly nonexistent, and media on both sides are biased and
inaccurate in their reporting about the other.  The United States has
effectively outsourced its Iran policy to Israel.  The issue Israel
cares about is whether Iran acquires nuclear weapons, not Iran’s
aspirations for hegemony in the Persian Gulf region, its struggle with
Saudi Arabia for leadership of the world’s Muslims, or its search for
strategic advantage in Bahrain.  In virtually every respect, the
official American view of Iran mirrors Israel’s rather than that of
the Arabs.

Israel’s perspective consists in part of psychotic fears that Iran
might attempt to annihilate the Jews in the Holy Land.  It also
proceeds from entirely rational apprehensions about the impact on
Israel’s military freedom of action if it loses its nuclear monopoly
in the region.   Few outside Israel believe that Iran’s possession of
nuclear weapons would embolden it to attack Israel, given Israel’s
ability to obliterate Iran in response.  And no one has suggested that
Iran might attack Israel with anything other than nuclear weapons –
which it doesn’t yet have.  But Israel’s threats to attack Iran give
Iran a very convincing reason to secure itself by developing a nuclear
deterrent.  Given this logic, Israel’s fear of losing its nuclear
monopoly in the Middle East seems likely to become a self-fulfilling

Iran claims that, inasmuch as nuclear weapons are immoral, it will not
acquire them.  Yet Iran seems to be reenacting Israel’s clandestine
weapons development program of five decades ago, developing
capabilities to build and deliver nuclear weapons while denying that
it intends actually to do any such thing.  Israel lacks the capability
to eliminate Iran’s nuclear programs but keeps threatening quixotic
military action to do so.  Israel’s purpose is clearly to force the
United States into a war with Iran on its behalf.

As an alternative to war, the United States, joined by some of its
allies, has bypassed the UN to impose what American politicians
describe as “crippling sanctions” on Iran.  American pundits gloat
over the suffering these are causing the Iranian people.  Real as this
suffering is, however, it has not caused Iran to change course.  The
belief that it will is an expression of faith rather than reason.
Washington has so far offered Tehran no way to achieve relief from
these sanctions other than complete capitulation to U.S. and Israeli
demands.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress has provided generous funding
to efforts to overthrow the Iranian regime. America is working with
Israel and the Mujahedin-e Khalq to carry out cyber warfare and
assassinations inside Iran.  By any standard, these are acts of war
that invite reprisal.  There is no negotiating process worthy of the
name underway between the United States and Iran.

On the other hand, there are also no good military options for Iran,
Israel, or the United States.  Iran is too realistic to start a war it
could only lose.  An attack by Israel on Iran would thrust the entire
region into turmoil and deal a heavy blow to the world economy, while
stoking Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Such an attack would damage but not
cripple Iran’s ability to go nuclear.

American air and related attacks on Iran could set back its nuclear
program more substantially but would still not eliminate Iran’s
capability to build nuclear weapons.  Any attack by either Israel or
the United States would, in fact, unite Iranians in demanding that
their government develop and field a nuclear deterrent.  It would
result in Iranian retaliation against Israel and the Arab countries of
the Gulf, while creating a far more active, long-term Iranian threat
to the region than at present.  It would also further inflame Muslim
opinion against the United States, making the continuing American
military presence in the Gulf Arab countries politically precarious
and precipitating an upsurge in anti-American and anti-Israeli

So far the world’s diplomacy toward Iran resembles its approach to
north Korea.  In the absence of major adjustments in policy to
facilitate a compromise, this diplomacy seems likely to yield the same
result with Tehran that it drid with Pyongyang.  The most likely
prospect is therefore that Iran, like north Korea, will eventually get
its bomb.  This will ensure that other countries in the region seek
their own nuclear deterrents, either on their own or through
arrangements with powers like Pakistan to station nuclear weapons on
their territory.

The world has come to rely upon American domination of the Middle East
to serve the global interest in stability and secure access to energy
supplies there.  American military strength remains without peer but
the political and economic capacity of the United States to be able
indefinitely to play the role of stabilizer of balances and lubricator
of interactions between states and peoples in the Middle East is now
in doubt.

The United States has neither the political will nor the diplomatic
credibility to resurrect the defunct peace process between Israel and
the Palestinians.  There is no apparent substitute for the past
American role as the manager of that conflict.  But without some new
temporizing proposition, the Camp David framework and other elements
of the status quo have a limited half life, and the cycle of Islamist
terrorist action and U.S. and other non-Muslim military reaction will
continue to escalate.

America has demonstrated the capacity to organize severe economic
pressure on Iran but not the ability to curtail Iran’s regional
influence, to carry on a strategic dialogue with it, or to persuade it
to provide credible guarantees against its acquisition of nuclear
weapons.  Israel will not give up its own nuclear arsenal to preclude
others from acquiring one.  Nuclear proliferation looms as a real
possibility for the Middle East sometime in this decade.

The conflict in Syria also has the potential to transform the map of
the Middle East in highly destabilizing ways.  The United States is
part of the conflict in Syria, but not a plausible source for an
answer to it.  For varying reasons, no great power wishes to see the
Libyan precedent applied to Syria.  The Libyan experience stiffened
international disagreement about the permissibility of humanitarian
intervention in sovereign states.  NATO transparently abused the UN’s
authorization of a no-fly zone in Libya in order to engineer regime
change there.  The outcome of that regime change has been sobering for
those who sponsored it.  Mutual mistrust between the region’s and the
world’s great powers and their differing stakes in what happens ensure
that the outcome in Syria will be decided by Syrians, regardless of
the views of outsiders.

Israelis and Palestinians, too, are entering an era in which their own
actions and interactions, not those of outsiders, will be decisive.
Israel would be in difficulty even if America’s ability to protect it
from the regional and global political consequences of its actions
were not rapidly weakening.  The only credible threat to Israel’s
existence is internal, not external.  It arises from Israel’s
deviation from its own founding values and its inability to find a way
to grant dignity and equality to its captive Arab populations.  Israel
remains a state isolated and alienated from its own region, dependent
on external support for its survival, and devoid of a sustainable
basis for governing the territories and peoples it controls.  Like
apartheid South Africa, it is a vigorous democracy for some of its
people and a harsh tyranny for others.  This is not a sustainable
status quo.

What is different is that there is now nothing the United States or
any other external actor can do to help Israel resolve the existential
dilemmas it faces.  The two-state solution having been precluded, the
achievement of peace for Israel now depends on fundamental change in
Israel itself.  As in South Africa, such change cannot be imposed from
outside, though outside pressure for it can help.  Solutions must be
crafted by Israel itself with Palestinians and other Arabs.  And if
there is to be a mediator in this process, it can no longer be the
United States.  It would take years of effort to rebuild the lost
confidence of the parties in such an American role.  There is not time
to do this.

There is no current possibility of a renewed balance of power in the
Persian Gulf, given Iraq’s alliance with Iran.  Thanks to new
technologies that allow the exploitation of oil and gas in shale
deposits, the United States is moving rapidly toward energy self-
sufficiency.  Self-sufficiency will reduce American concern about
supply disruptions.  Arguably, the American willingness to continue
unilateral guarantees for global access to Middle Eastern energy could
be affected.  Still, oil prices everywhere, including North America,
are set by the global balance between supply and demand.  The United
States will continue to have an interest in assuring that this balance
is not upset by instability in the Persian Gulf.  It is not too soon
to begin to discuss how the burden of sustaining peace and freedom of
navigation in the Persian Gulf region could be shared more equitably
by the world’s energy producers and consumers.

The changes that are taking place in the Middle East are part of a
broader evolution toward a more pluralistic world order in which
international affairs are regulated more at the regional than at the
global level.  In the case of the Middle East, as American dominance
and influence recede, the direction of events is being taken up by
regional powers and by political Islam.  A region accustomed to
looking to the United States for answers to its multiple dilemmas is
now challenged to craft its own diplomatic processes and solutions.
As it struggles to do so, the rest of the world is being reminded that
the Middle East is too important to be left to its own devices.  But
the rest of the world, like the Middle East itself, has yet to
organize itself to deal with the changes that are taking place there,
still less their consequences.  Those consequences are potentially far-
reaching and grave.  The argument for a concerted international effort
to deal with them is compelling.
Neither is Arab arselicker Juanita Cole.