Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East Surprises for Americans-And Not Only in Iraq

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Middle East Surprises for Americans-And Not Only in Iraq

Article excerpt

For those formulating American foreign m policy and dreaming of remaking the Middle East in their own image, the region appears to be full of surprises. The determined resistance of some Iraqis to the Western occupation of their country seems to have been genuinely unanticipated. It should not have been. If the United States were conquered and occupied by Arab armies which announced their intention to stay for years and to restructure the country's government and economy along Islamic lines, would no Americans-other than "hardcore Bush loyalists" or "Republican Party remnants"-resist?

Kuwait's July 5 legislative elections, if noticed in America, should have constituted an even more stunning surprise. Before and after the conquest of Iraq, U.S. proponents of the war evoked the vision of a virtuous "domino effect" toppling authoritarian regimes in the region and replacing them with modernizing, Western-oriented "democratic" ones. As a genuine reason for war, such a democratic mission always lacked credibility with those who actually live in the region-and recognize that, so long as America and Israel act like Siamese twins joined at the brain, any government in the Arab world which actually reflected the will of its people would be fervently anti-American.

Of course, Americans do like elections-provided they produce the "right" result. (Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has made it clear that an Islamic government will not be permitted in Iraq even if most Iraqis were to favor one.) However, few believe that Washington really would prefer a democratically elected government which is anti-American to an authoritarian regime which is pro-American.

So, what happened in the elections in Kuwait, the most pro-U.S. country in the Arab world, with the most reason (by far) to be pro-American? Kuwaiti "liberals," who seek a more open and modern society and had hoped to make significant gains, were almost wiped out, retaining only three seats (down from eight) in the 50-seat parliament. The remaining 47 seats went to conservatives and Islamists, including radical fundamentalists. The "domino effect" has not worked out-at least not falling in the "right" direction-next door to Iraq. What would genuinely fair elections produce in other Arab countries, whose people are far less pro-American? A quiet burial for the "democratic mission" can be anticipated.

Another illusion destined soon to be dispelled is that the current "road map" for Israel/Palestine will win the United States friends and gratitude in the Arab world, diminishing the anger aroused by the conquest and occupation of Iraq. While the "road map" is widely described as a "peace plan," in Arab eyes, "peace" in Israel/Palestine requires ending the Israeli occupation, not crushing all resistance to it. Indeed, in most of the world true "peace" is recognized to require some measure of "justice," a word rigorously avoided by successive American governments in connection with their successive "peace plans."

If one reads the "road map," it is readily apparent that it builds on a false premise to reach an unbelievable conclusion. The premise is that the problem in Israel/Palestine is Palestinian resistance to the 36-year-long occupation, not the occupation itself. The conclusion is that, if the Palestinian leadership will first suppress completely all forms of resistance to the occupation and eliminate all capabilities for ever resisting again, thereby making the occupation totally cost-free for Israelis, then (and only then) Israel will choose, of its own free will, to end the occupation, withdrawing to (essentially) its internationally recognized pre-1967 borders, vacating the settlements, sharing Jerusalem and agreeing to a just settlement of the refugee issue. …

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