True||American officials are very good at vernacular descriptions, but lousy at history and political reality in the Middle East. As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sets off Sunday on her short trip to a Middle East that is increasingly engulfed in violent confrontations and political turmoil, she has described the massive destruction.||
American officials are very good at vernacular descriptions, but lousy at history and political reality in the Middle East. As US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sets off Sunday on her short trip to a Middle East that is increasingly engulfed in violent confrontations and political turmoil, she has described the massive destruction, dislocation and human suffering in Lebanon as an inevitable part of the "birth pangs of a new Middle East."
From my perspective here in Beirut, watching American-supplied Israeli jets smash this country to smithereens, what she describes as "birth pangs" look much more like a wicked hangover from a decades-old American orgy of diplomatic intoxication with the enticements of pro-Israeli politics.
We shall find out in the coming years if indeed a new Middle Easy is being born, or - as I suspect - we are witnessing the initial dying gasps of the Western-made political order that has defined this region and focused primarily on Israeli national dictates for most of the past half-century. The way to a truly new and stable Middle East is to apply policies that deliver equal rights to all concerned, not to favor Israel as having greater rights than Arabs.
Rice declared that Israel should ignore calls for a cease-fire, saying: "This is a different Middle East. It's a new Middle East. It's hard, We're going through a very violent time."
Behind the American position to support Israel's massive attacks against Lebanon's civilian infrastructure and Hizbullah positions is a sense - widely reported from Washington in recent days - that the Bush-Rice team wants to use this conflict to achieve short-term tactical aims and long-term strategic goals that serve the interests of America, Israel and their few allies in the region.
Short-term, the US would like Israel to wipe out Hizbullah, allow the Lebanese government to send its troops to the South of the country, ensure the safety of northern Israel, cut Syria's influence down to size, and apply greater pressure on Hizbullah supporter Iran. The US opposes a cease-fire, therefore, because, "a cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo," Rice said.
This diplomatic position to support Israel's attacks on Lebanon, coupled with rushing sophisticated precision-guided bombs to Israel from the US arsenal, indicates that Washington seriously aims to fundamentally redraw the political and ideological map of the Middle East in the longer term. If this means yet another Arab land goes up in flames and war, so be it, Washington seems to be saying. So we now have three Arab countries where American policies and arms have played a major role in promoting chaos, disintegration and mass death and suffering: Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. You can watch them burn, live on your television sets.
Ironically, these were the three countries that Bush-Rice & Co. have held up as models and pioneers of the American policy to promote freedom and democracy as antidotes to Arab despotism and terrorism.
Washington's desire to change the face of the Arab world requires removing the last vestiges of anti-American defiance and anti-Israel resistance. The problem for Bush-Rice is that such sentiments probably comprise a majority of Arab people. Most of them flock to Islamist parties and resistance groups like Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and assorted Shiite groups in the Iraqi government.
Syria and Iran are the most problematic governments for Washington in this respect. So there is further irony and much incoherence in the latest American official desire for Arab governments to pressure Syria to reduce its support for Hizbullah and other groups who defy the US and Israel. The numbing fact that Bush-Rice fail to acknowledge - perhaps understandably, given the alcoholic's tendency to evade reality - is that Washington now can only speak to a few Arab governments (in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and elsewhere) who are in almost no position to impact on anyone other than their immediate families and many guards.
Washington is engaged almost exclusively with Arab governments whose influence with Syria is virtually nonexistent, whose credibility with Arab public opinion is zero, whose own legitimacy at home is increasingly challenged, and whose pro-US policies tend to promote the growth of those militant Islamist movements that now lead the battle against American and Israeli policies. Is Rice traveling to a new Middle East, or to a diplomatic Disneyland of her own imagination?
If Rice pursues contacts in the coming five days that increase Washington's bias toward Israel, tighten its links with isolated, increasingly impotent Arab governments, and further alienate the masses of Arab public opinion, she will exacerbate the very problem she claims she wants to fix: the spread of violence and terror, practiced simultaneously by the armies of states like the US and Israel, by police-state governments in the Middle East who live by violence as a rule, and by non-state actors like Hizbullah and others like it.
On her long flight from Washington to Palestine-Israel Sunday night, someone should give Condoleezza Rice a modern history book of the Middle East, so that she can cut through the haze of her long political drunken stupor, and finally see more clearly from where the problems of this region emanate, where the solutions come from, and how her country can become a constructive rather than a destructive force.
Rami G. Khouri writes are regular commentary for The Daily Star.