Savir's Corner: An American Spring

A victory in war has become virtually impossible in the age in which missiles and terror in the hands of the weak can deter the most powerful of armies, as was the case with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel in Lebanon and Gaza.

Boy Scouts of America (photo credit: Wikicommons)
Boy Scouts of America
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
What was interpreted as an incremental change in favor of diplomatic solutions in the breakthrough in the Syrian chemical weapons crisis is most probably part of a profound change in international relations. War has become futile and archaic. A victory in war has become virtually impossible in the age in which missiles and terror in the hands of the weak can deter the most powerful of armies, as was the case with the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel in Lebanon and Gaza.
Even a winnable war can lead nowhere in the age of the information revolution.
No country can withstand the verdict of world public opinion with conquests of land or natural resources.
In today’s world, there are more threats than enemies – threats of proliferation of nonconventional weapons, of terrorism and of fundamentalist ideologies. These cannot be controlled by a single country or army; collective action is necessary, seldom by force, mostly by diplomacy; as we witnessed in Libya and Syria. Collective diplomacy and security contend with collective threats.
Diplomacy is highly supported by most international public opinion, as in the cases of Syria and Iran. Collective terror, proliferation efforts and fundamentalist ideologies depend on the support of relevant constituencies; religious fundamentalist public opinion in Iran still sees the United States as Satan.
Within this balance of constituencies – the constituency of peace and economic growth and the constituency of religious war and violence – a global policy must emerge to stabilize the international arena.
President Barack Obama is indeed leading such a policy, understanding the limitations of military power and the power of diplomacy. He has redefined the components of power of a modern state – military might, while still important, taking a back seat to economic power, technological and scientific advance, democratic and social fabric, level of education, etc.
He knows best how to adapt America’s world posture to scientific and technological advances. America has the best universities and leads the world in scientific and technological development. Those who predicted the demise of the leading superpower are being proven wrong. It’s not about smart bombs anymore, but about smartphones. It is this America that much of the world wants and needs. Russia and China may be better in the traditional cynical power game, but their policies are outdated compared to the US.
Obama also understands the new democratization in the world. Not a copy of Jeffersonian democracies, but a new form of vox populi through peoples’ ability to express themselves freely, almost all over the world, on the Internet, and be empowered in relation to less relevant government.
This has led to regime change in the Arab world, Asia, Latin America and Africa. It forces governments to be more attentive to their constituencies on social networks. Facebook is the ultimate defeat of outdated intelligence services, hardly worth their name. Freedom of expression by hundreds of millions on social networks cannot be controlled.
From these profound transformations Obama concludes that in addressing international threats and problems, America must act diplomatically, armed with new assets in coalition with the international community and in respect of public opinion.
Obama is the president of “new diplomacy” with a forceful and brilliant secretary of state on his side. He outlined his diplomatic vision in his recent annual speech at the UN. He cautioned the nations of the world not to underestimate the force of the US or its willingness to use it as a last resort. He called on them to join the American-led collective diplomacy in the fight against international threats. His three priority areas were clearly outlined: the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, completely halting the Iranian nuclear program and putting an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since then the US has been on an intense diplomatic offensive.
The Syrians are engaging actively in the dismantling of their chemical arms arsenal, negotiations with Iran have begun with a more serious than ever Iranian proposal and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have been intensified with more active participation by Washington.
In all three arenas, we are at the beginning of the diplomatic process. It promises to be a three-track diplomatic roller coaster. None of these negotiations can advance without serious crisis moments, as the issues at stake are of great strategic importance to all relevant parties. Yet American diplomacy these days is determined and passionate and plans to bring about the endgame to these processes about half a year from now – spring 2014.
It may be an “American Spring.”
On Syria, there is little doubt that Bashar Assad’s chemical arsenal will be dismantled.
A political settlement is more difficult but possible if the coalition of opposition groups will compromise with the Alawites.
In any case it seems that Syria and Lebanon will not be Iranian satellites as before.
Hezbollah will weaken; the Sunni al-Qaida will be more potent. An international Syrian deal must take into consideration the economic rescue of Syria and an end to Syria as a terror base – Shia or Sunni. An American-Russian Geneva II or III may lead there. The Syrian peoples’ well-being, after horrendous suffering, must be taken into consideration.
Regarding Iran, difficult negotiations will probably lead to a watershed deal. It must neutralize any Iranian military nuclear program by curbing uranium enrichment and allowing for rigorous ongoing international inspections. In return, international sanctions will be gradually lifted and Iran’s role as regional power will be recognized.
Saudi interests will have to be taken into consideration.
The Iranian people’s well-being must be at the forefront of international concern.
They have suffered economically and their basic human rights were assaulted by the ayatollahs’ regime. Economic development should be paralleled with a more open Iranian society, especially in relation to the rights of women and minorities and the opening of social networks in Iranians. It seems that Iranian society is ready for such changes, in which case the regime may have to opt for at least incremental reform.
Even the Tehran clerics must be more attentive to the people, which is the prime reason that the sanctions had an effect.
Resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is also of prime concern to Washington, as the continuation of the status quo may lead to violent deterioration in the region. Furthermore, America, Israel’s main ally, has learned to be attentive not only to Arab leaders, but also to the Arab street.
The Arab people, from the Maghreb to the Gulf, unlike the Arab leaders, care about the fate of the Palestinians.
For the sake of regional stability, we may very well witness a dramatic endgame to the Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status negotiations that are planned to take nine months. It may come about through a series of summit meetings between Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas (with John Kerry’s participation) and a possible Camp David Summit in the spring of 2014.
These will, in the best of cases, lead to a permanent-status framework agreement, followed by a prolonged period of more detailed negotiations and implementation of the two-state solution. Such an agreement would be the basis for the creation of an independent Palestinian state with borders based on the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps, stringent security measures and cooperation, with temporary Israeli presence along the Jordan River, recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and regional cooperation arrangements. The identity issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees may then be postponed on the basis of American side letters, closer to the Palestinian position on Jerusalem and to the Israeli position on the right of return.
Just as conflict breeds conflict, conflict resolution can breed other conflict resolution (between 1993 and 1998 we witnessed the Oslo, Dayton (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Good Friday (Northern Ireland) peace agreements and the peaceful transition in South Africa).
Syria, Iran, Palestine and Israel are areas from which much regional and international instability can emanate. The alternative to conflict resolution in these areas may lead with time to nonconventional ballistic warfare. This is at the basis of the American administration’s strategic understanding and assertive diplomacy.
The regional leadership is not mature and courageous enough to perceive the dangers and the opportunities to overcome them. Yet there is a more profound reason why the American diplomatic initiative may be successful with time.
The majority of the people of the region are tired of war, they understand its futility, they want to belong to a changing world (except for those who purport to speak in God’s name), and the majority wants better education, employment opportunities and basic freedoms. What has brought about a new mindset by the young generation is that they are moving out from the darkness of their seclusion and ignorance to being more informed than ever about the opportunities the interconnected world has to offer.
There may not be a democratization of societies, but there is a democratization of international relations. Regular people want to live in peace and prosperity. Now they have a voice. The societies in our region will be more affected by frustrations and desires of the people and less by the selfishness and corruption of leaders.
Over time this is a profound change; a change that will give a chance for American- led diplomacy to succeed in favor of strategic people’s peace. The combination of the information revolution with assertive and creative American diplomacy may indeed lead to progress in our region.
The information revolution that came with the advent of the 1843 rotary printing press, also brought about political revolutions such as the Spring of Nations in 1848.
The Internet and social network revolution may very well bring about profound political transformation in our region and, indeed, we may witness next year an American Spring.
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
This article was edited by Barbara Hurwitz.