Bush Has Abandoned Long-Time Consensus on Mideast, Says William Quandt

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New York City and Tri-StateNews

Under the current Bush administration, US. policy toward the Middle East has undergone a paradigm shift, William B. Quandt told the audience at a Jan. 19 talk jointly sponsored by the Princeton Middle East Society and the Near Eastern Studies Department of Princeton University. Quandt, who served on the National Security Council in the 1970s, during the first Camp David accords, now is vice provost for international affairs at the University of Virginia. He is the author of seven books, including Peace Process (1993) and Between Ballots and Bullets: Algeria's Transition from Authoritarianism (1998).

From Presidents Truman through Clinton, Quandt said, there had been a consensus on American policy, albeit with variations and obvious exceptions. First, Washington viewed the Middle East as a region that was slowly emerging from colonialism and traumatic intervention, and was therefore concerned not to be seen as a colonial interloper. He described President Dwight D. Eisenhower's response to the 1956 Israeli, British, and French attack on Egypt as the high water mark of American distaste for colonial adventurism.

Secondly, according to Quandt, U.S. policy accepted nationalism as a legitimate, if difficult, force-although, he added, this became confused in the context of the Cold War, when the U.S. identified nationalist leaders such as Nasser with Communism.

Thirdly, Quandt continued, there was agreement that the Arab-Israeli conflict was a major issue. Prior to 1967, the U.S. assumed the conflict was not ready for diplomacy and put it on the back burner. After that, however, each succeeding administration felt it important that Washington be seen as trying to promote peace, with each president offering an initiative. Tactics differed, but the visions were all based on land for peace.

The fourth concern for US. policy, Quandt said, was to maintain stability to protect the oil resources of the Gulf countries.

Among the successes of the American consensus, Quandt cited the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement, the avoidance of direct confrontation with the Soviets, and the fact that, with the exception of the 1973 war and its aftermath, oil interests were well served. Against these, Quandt counted the U.S. failure to anticipate and forestall the Iranian revolution, and, under the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, the failure to reassess our relationship with Saddam Hussain after supporting him during the Iran-Iraq war.

Under George W. Bush the consensus has

broken down, Quandt argued, characterizing the administration's sharp shift to a neo-conservative perspective as actually radical, with the intent to dramatically transform the Middle East. The neo-conservatives first emerged in the Reagan administration, Quandt said, but were discredited by two set-backs: the US. failure to discourage Israel from its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and the Iran-Contra scandal. Now, with Donald Rumsfield, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and Elliott Abrams, among others, in policymaking positions, they have made a comeback.

In contrast to the former American policy consensus, neo-conservatives gloss over colonialism, struggles with Zionism, and the effects of US. policy. Instead, Quandt said, they view the Middle East as having distinct pathologies that stem from Arab nationalism and Islam, and consider Israel and Turkey the only worthy countries in the region.

Stability, Quandt observed, is now redefined as stagnation. The major themes of the current Bush administration are that Iraq is too dangerous for containment and that the entire region is ripe for fundamental transformation-not by nurturing indigenous movements, but by getting rid of the bad guys.

The Bush team expects to go to war soon and to achieve a quick and painless victory. They predict the Iraqi people will welcome US. soldiers as liberators, other leaders in the region will realize that their time is up, and the Palestinians will admit defeat. …