Published by the Baltimore ChronicleMiddle East Balance Sheet: What's been accomplished?
What has the most powerful nation on earth accomplished in the Middle East recently? Well, the short answer might seem to be that it has caused much damage and destruction, but the reality may be closer to flailing about ineffectually (if dangerously), alternating with doing absolutely nothing.
It certainly made sense to go after Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on US targets (though it would have been better to have used our prior intelligence to prevent those attacks), but the US let Bin Laden escape and instead bombed the impoverished nation of Afghanistan, pushed out the Taliban, and put in its own ineffectual leader, Hamid Karzai. This has led to a resurgence of strength among the tribal warlords and a return to opium production so now Afghanistan is the major world source of heroin; and the Taliban is regaining power. The US has caused damage in Afghanistan, stirred things up, but the end result has been anything but positive. An enduring legacy is the grim provocation of Guantánamo.
Next the US attacked Iraq. Why was it we did that? What was that about "weapons of mass destruction"? The answer is we attacked Iraq because Cheney and the neo-cons of the Project for a New American Century had wanted to. Saddam was a brutal dictator, formerly, our friend. Now, fortunately, he isn't in charge any more. But 100,000 Iraqis have died and the country is in chaos, a breeding ground for terrorist militants, and out of US control, a place of daily violence, subject to influences from Syria and Iran. There is nothing the US presence can do to alter this worsening situation. Not enough is being done in the US by the opposition in Washington (if there is any) and by the left to push for withdrawal from Iraq. This disastrous adventure proves that "regime change" doesn't work. Robert Baer is possibly right that a CIA-style "Saddam lite" replacement would have been preferable to the chaos and re-separation of the three main factions, Shiite, Sunnite, and Kurd, in the country that has now taken place, and the constant violence.
The central cause of hostility toward the US in the Middle East, though at this stage it's clearly only one among many, is and remains our total financial, military, and diplomatic support of our client state, Israel. How are things going there? The situation has grown worse and worse. The Palestinians in the occupied territories are living in a vast prison of walled-in cantons. They are being starved, squeezed out, killed. The Palestinians had a democratic election following the death of Arafat and chose a militant Islamic party, Hamas. The US and Israel did not like that kind of democracy and economic boycotting and violent attacks have followed. Now, Israel has renewed war with, or rather on, Lebanon, spurred by actions once again not by the ineffectual Lebanese government but by Palestinian militants. The US is doing nothing to calm down this situation. Following capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbullah and firing of rockets on Haifa, Israel struck Lebanon and killed more than sixty civilians. The US will do what it can to block international condemnation of this action. The US has just vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, even though the resolution called for release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and an end to rocket attacks on Israel. The US, in other words, has chosen to do nothing -- to let the fires rage out of control.
Maybe there's a connection between our current official indifference as a nation to both peacemaking and restoring eco-balance. In both cases whether by action or inaction the Bush administration is a force for destabilization rather than planetary harmony.
In Iran, again a collective effort has proven to be preferable to the US's threat of unilateral action earlier this year. It's obvious that Iran's nuclear program is no immediate threat to the US and that North Korea is more of a threat. North Korea isn't really capable of damaging US targets either; nor is even North Korea foolish enough to court destruction by trying to do so. Why, by the way, doesn't the US talk to the North Koreans? That would be the best way to tone them down and normalize relations. Likewise with Iran. But again, behind the US's provocative approach to the Iran nuclear program loomed the neo-con plan, which we now know well: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran. They want to attack Iran, because they like the idea. To show who's boss.
But who's boss? Is being the biggest bully in the schoolyard the best way to run a globalized world?
As for Israel and the US, if the tail is wagging the dog it's less noticeable since US and Israeli interests in subduing the countries surrounding America's little client state are in such harmony. In Ambassador John Bolton, whose stated aim is to further weaken the already downgraded United Nations, Israel has a good friend. The US has cast eight of the last nine vetoes at the Security Council and seven of them pertained to sanctioning Israel. Hostilities between Palestinian militants and Israel and Israel's attacks on Lebanon go on while -- with relatively imperceptible violence -- Israel goes on pursuing what Noam Chomsky has recently called its "steady takeover of the West Bank, which, in effect, if it continues, is just the murder of a nation." That's the main event. And the US does nothing to stop it. If Robert Fisk is right on this as he often seems to be, the key is Syria. And Syria is out of reach. As usual the most important events aren't the ones most prominently reported. And what the US is doing in the region is at best ineffectual and at worst highly dangerous.
It's hard to see anything positive resulting from US Middle East policy. It becomes increasingly difficult to see logic in it, either. It would be nice if one could really argue that the US is in the Middle East for oil, and that its presence there has furthered US control of the oil supply. That at least would make some simple kind of sense. Forceful in wielding his native guile and charm but lacking in logic or information, George W. Bush has actually declared that "we must end our dependence" on the dark fluid, but the administration's choices for alternative fuels, ethanol and hydrogen, seem as empty as that statement. Hydrogen is widely believed to be inefficient and too high in cost. Ethanol has many problems and Butanol is considered preferable. The push for ethanol may be that it is combined with gasoline, and hence its use is easier on the oil and automotive industries. Both of these, as opposed to electric power, continue the use of the internal combustion engine. The talk of alternatives seems mostly a distraction from the fact that when it comes to energy the administration's main push is for more of the same. However, the US auto industry seems to be dying, even though oil and gas use continue at high levels.
What is the future? Global warming and the closely related issue of planetary overpopulation by the human species, greater issues than any human-to-human conflict, seem to have a natural accompaniment in another kind of heating up, on the human scale: global increase in terrorist acts, which are precisely acts unidentifiable with any government or national borders and not part of any identifiable "war" at all. These may increase not only because of hostility to the US such as the Iraq/Afghanistan attacks have aroused in the region but also because the more the US and its allies pursue big-budget "wars on terror" the clearer it becomes that such high-profile campaigns are ill conceived and ineffective. Or to put it another way, the terrorists are "winning" the "war on terror." Except that there isn't any war on terror and there never was. "Terrorism" is the fake enemy of the new millennium replacing the Cold War, and the "war on terror" is the new industry for opportunists who make money on war, militarization, and repression. Human activity seems more and more on the international political level to be an acting out of primitive tendencies. We have ever more sophisticated technology and we have not lost touch with the ability to produce the cultural glories of the arts. The summer forest fires in North America this year are greater than ever before, a phenomenon linked to planetary climate change, AKA global warming. What a waste our life as a species remains so long as governments can't organize for peace and rational action, such as the primary one of doing what we can to preserve the planet.Common Ground Common Sense.