The Region: Don't overestimate the West's naivet? - or its resolve

Any compromise peace would actually enrage large elements of opinion and galvanize the Islamists into even more violence.

barry rubin new 88 (photo credit: )
barry rubin new 88
(photo credit: )
April, wrote T.S. Elliott, is the cruelest month of all. But for hopes of peace, freedom and moderation in the Middle East, June will play that role this year. In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, backed by the supreme spiritual guide, is about to be reelected. In Lebanon, a regime backed by Iran and Syria, is about to be installed. It shouldn't be that way. Remember the famous sign in the Clinton for President Headquarters in 1992, which said, "It's the economy, stupid," as the main issue? Well, in the Middle East the equivalent sign would say, "It's the Islamist revolutions, stupid." And yet instead we see strategies based on a desire to believe or do anything to avoid confronting this great challenge, this uninvited battle that is sure to take up the rest of our lifetimes and very possibly much of this century's first half. THE HEADS are very deep in the sand. For to fit into the mainstream of Western analysis and strategy about the Middle East, you must: Pretend that a two-state solution is possible with a mostly radical Palestinian Authority and a far more extreme Hamas running Gaza, neither having done any preparation for real compromise and a lasting peace. Pretend that this solution - which isn't going to happen - will solve all other problems, as if personal and state ambition, ethnic conflict, ideological battles and all sorts of disputes didn't exist in the region which have nothing to do with this. Not to mention that fact that any compromise peace would actually enrage large elements of opinion and galvanize the Islamists into even more violence. Pretend that Iran's regime will be talked out of having nuclear weapons by either the charm of Western leaders or relatively limited sanctions when Teheran already knows everything is a big bluff. Pretend that Islamists can be moderated when they think they're winning, believe themselves to be following the will of the deity and see daily proof that their rivals are eager to make concessions. Pretend that Syria can be wooed into changing course when it is so dependent on its alliance with the Iranian regime, thinks that it's on the winning side and is tightening its control over Lebanon. Pretend that Hizbullah and Hamas will settle down into moderation disciplined by the task of governing, the same theory discredited by the behavior of the PLO, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority over the last 16 years. IRONICALLY, MUCH of the Western Left seems to think that empowering the most reactionary forces in the world will somehow contribute to its vision of a better world. Much of the Right appears to believe that this strategy will be pushed far enough to lead to a grand sellout of Israel. But the West isn't so craven, while its enemies aren't so strategically flexible or tactically clever. After all, both theories expect that the radicals will meet the West partway. It's reminiscent of the expectations for Yasser Arafat and the PLO. One side thinks they'll make a deal and keep it; the other that they'll make a deal and break it. In fact, they see no need to make a deal at all. They'll do what they want and give not an inch. It would be a mistake to overestimate the naiveté of Western governments, but it might be an equal mistake to overestimate their resolve. Consider the words of the two Obama administration appointees to the highest State Department posts focusing completely on Middle East policy in their confirmation hearings. Jeffrey Feltman, to be assistant secretary of Near East affairs, explained: "When you traveled around the [Middle East] five, six, seven years ago, almost everywhere you went, the first thing that came up was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When you travel around today, what you are going to hear about is Iran." But then he added: "We want to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to remove one of the tools that Iran uses to distract the region from what Iran is doing," From this, it sounds like, by his own testimony, his policy is seven years out of date. Even he acknowledged the paradox that Iran is a "spoiler" on making progress. So if Iran, along with Syria, the Gaza Strip regime (Hamas), the soon-to-be Lebanon regime (Hizbullah) and the main opposition groups seeking power in every Arab country (Islamists) are all spoilers, how are you going to "address" this issue effectively? Especially if your friends - the Saudis, Egyptians and others - won't do much to help? Meanwhile, the nominee for assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, Robert O. Blake, congratulated the Pakistani government for fighting the Taliban, even while that regime is quite happy to live with them and al-Qaida as long as they stick to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. "We do think that important progress is being made." Yes, it is: by the enemies of freedom, democracy and Western interests. Incidentally, Elliot's poem which opens with the line about April is entitled "The Wasteland," which is what the Middle East is going to become unless Western policies really wake up and smell the coffins.