The Middle East:
US Foreign Policy at Its' Worst.

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The Bush Administration's Mid-East policy has consisted of stop and go/contradictory measures that have contributed to regional instability. Unbelievably, even as recently as a couple of days ago, with Israeli troops occupying Ramallah and Sharon's avowed desire to uproot Arafat and the PLO from the region, Bush stated that Arafat/The PLO "can do more," and defended Sharon and the Israeli response to terrorism! Yet, only a couple of days earlier, the United States voted for a Security Council Resolution, passed 14-0, calling for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian cities!

The public Mid-East foreign policy disagreements between President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, secretaries Powell and Rumsfeld, and their various undersecretaries/aids, have further contributed to the confusion. While General Zinni may be a good man, the Administration has sent him to the region at inopportune times. Ditto, for the Secretary of State. Finally, the Bush Administration's criticism of former President Clinton's past role in the peace process is mere finger pointing. The Administration's infighting and public ineptness, emboldens extremists on both sides of the conflict.  

With Sharon on one end of the spectrum and Hamas/Islamic Jihad on the other, Arafat is caught in a dangerous tug of war. Both Israeli military actions and Islamic terrorists have seriously weakened his position. The Israeli occupation has played into the hands of Islamic extremists, who have attempted to sabotage the peace process for over thirty years. The Islamic terrorist acts have played into the hands of Sharon, whose enmity towards the PLO leader stretches back twenty years or more.

Ariel Sharon's anti-PLO/Arafat policy, predicated on the assumption that Arafat "can do more" to reign in Islamic terrorist activities, has had the exact opposite effect. Finally, Israel has yet to provide evidence that Arafat's PLO, in fact supports/harbors terrorists. The United States' public insistence that Arafat is the bona fide leader of the Palestinian people contradicts the notion that Arafat is a terrorist or his organization supports terrorists. If Arafat's PLO is a terrorist group or supports terrorists, the United States' formal recognition of him and his organization as representatives of the Palestinian people would be immoral and hypocritical. Has the U.S. initiated a new policy of negotiating with terrorist groups or nation's that harbor/support terrorists? Has Israel failed to share military and security intelligence with the United States that would support its' anti-PLO policy?

Sharon's inept and brutal policies (which at times appear to be backed by the U.S.) are helping make Arafat a world-wide martyr, radicalizing the moderate Arab states, engendering sympathy for radical Arab states such as Iran and Iraq, emboldening Islamic terrorists, weakening the "global war on terrorism," and endangering U.S. relationships with its' allies. Arab oil export restrictions/embargos to the West are another related and possible consequence. Finally, Israel's known nuclear missile capability potentially injects layers of fear and concern among Arab states, the consequences of which are unpredictable and highly destabilizing for the region and the world.

Sharon's comparison of his governments "anti-terrorist" policy to the U.S. response to 911 is disingenuous. For example, the Untied States did not occupy Afghanistan (prior to 911) or confine its citizens to refugee camps. Nor was the United States engaged in a series of violent and embittering tit for tat exchanges with Afghanistan prior to 911. Further, the target of U.S. military actions has been Al Qiada, not the Afghanistan people or its' legitimate leaders. Again this begs the question, is Arafat's PLO a terrorist group or a supporter of terrorists? Are they legitimate leaders of the Palestinian people?

The suicide bombers, while themselves tragic victims, are essentially pawns of the terrorist organizations that sponsor them. Still, one should not underestimate the pain, suffering and hopelessness that are the well spring of such acts.

In conclusion, I believe none of the responsible parties to the conflict dispute the need to stop terrorism. Israel, the PLO and other nations in the region, working together, must rekindle the peace process and either root out terrorist groups or bring them into the peace process.

If in fact, as of last Wednesday, both parties were close to Tenet, wouldn't Israeli restraint have increased pressure on the PLO to move forward? Since Tenet provides for joint and effective security cooperation between the PLO and Israel, wouldn't Israel have gained an important ally in its struggle against Hamas and other terrorist groups? Apparently Israel did not think so. The question is "Why?" Surely Israel does not think that vengeance for vengeance sake will increase its' security and bring peace. When in history has this ever been the case?

If nothing else, this brief article highlights the confusion in U.S. policy and attendant risks. Even if the Bush Administration thinks it speaks with a clear and united voice, the World does not. Perhaps ambiguity is the staple of effective foreign diplomacy. It is however, probably not the staple of effective foreign policy. Does the Bush administration know the difference?

                           -Lowell Greenberg, 4/2002

Update: On 4/4/02 President Bush gave a speech from the White House Rose Garden concerning the Middle East. During the speech, the President dispatched Powell to the region to broker a cease fire/Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories. Bush indicated that:

"...Consistent with the Mitchell plan, Israeli settlement activity in occupied territories must stop. And the occupation must end through withdrawal to secure and recognize boundaries consistent with United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338. Ultimately, this approach should be the basis of agreements between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon.

Israel should also show a respect, a respect for and concern about the dignity of the Palestinian people who are and will be their neighbors. It is crucial to distinguish between the terrorists and ordinary Palestinians seeking to provide for their own families.

The Israeli government should be compassionate at checkpoints and border crossings, sparing innocent Palestinians daily humiliation. Israel should take immediate action to ease closures and allow peaceful people to go back to work..."

The test of the President's leadership will be how skillfully and effectively he can use America's global influence to bring both parties into the security and peace process. To date, he has failed.

See Also:

"Policy Divide Thwarts Powell in Mideast Effort:
Defense Dept.'s Influence Frustrates State Dept, Washington Post, 4/26/02."
Unfortunately, this article bolsters the chief contention of my 4/4/02 article, "The Middle East : U.S. Foreign Policy at its Worst." Namely that the Administration's infighting and public ineptness, emboldens extremists on both sides of the conflict and contributes to regional instability. Quoting from the Washington Post article:

"State Department officials say Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has been repeatedly undercut by other senior policymakers in his effort to break the Middle East deadlock, warning this has left U.S. diplomacy paralyzed at an especially volatile moment.

State Department officials said they fear Sharon will seek to exploit the split in the administration and end the standoff at Arafat's compound in Ramallah by raiding the building -- despite American warnings not to do so.

"The State Department has a strategy and Powell does. But he's not supported by the administration and by the president because of the political risk," a former U.S. official said."

"Israel Balks at Probe By U.N. of Jenin Assault:
Inquiry Backed by U.S. Is Delayed," Craig Whitlock and John Lancaster, Washington Post, 4/24/02

"Inside the Camp of the Dead,": From Janine di Giovanni in Jenin refugee camp, 4/16/02

The refugees I had interviewed in recent days while trying to enter the camp were not lying. If anything, they underestimated the the carnage and the horror. Rarely, in more than a decade of war reporting from Bosnia, Chechnya, Sierra Leone, Kosovo, have I seen such deliberate destruction, such disrespect for human life." Also: " Amid the ruins of Jenin, the grisly evidence of a war crime,"- Phil Reeves,, 4/16/02.

Gush Shalom: "The primary aim of Gush Shalom is to influence Israeli public opinion and lead it towards peace and conciliation with the Palestinian people." "Liberal alternative to the voices of Jewish conservatism and spiritual deadness in the Jewish world and a spiritual alternative to the voices of materialism and selfishness in Western society."

The Tenet Plan : Israeli-Palestinian Ceasefire and Security Plan, Proposed by CIA Director George Tenet; June 13, 2001.

Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee The Mitchell Plan; April 30, 2001

Text: Bush Will Send Powell to Middle East; 4/4/02

Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development                              


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