by Saad Eddin Ibrahim
President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may be quite right
about a new Middle East being born. In fact, their policies in support of
the actions of their closest regional ally, Israel, have helped midwife the
newborn. But it will not be exactly the baby they have longed for. For one
thing, it will be neither secular nor friendly to the United States. For
another, it is going to be a rough birth.
What is happening in the broader Middle East and North Africa can be seen
as a boomerang effect that has been playing out slowly since the horrific
events of Sept. 11, 2001. In the immediate aftermath of those attacks,
there was worldwide sympathy for the United States and support for its
declared "war on terrorism," including the invasion of Afghanistan. Then
the cynical exploitation of this universal goodwill by so-called
neoconservatives to advance hegemonic designs was confirmed by the war in
Iraq. The Bush administration's dishonest statements about "weapons of mass
destruction" diminished whatever credibility the United States might have
had as liberator, while disastrous mismanagement of Iraqi affairs after the
invasion led to the squandering of a conventional military victory. The
country slid into bloody sectarian violence, while official Washington
stonewalled and refused to admit mistakes. No wonder the world has
progressively turned against America.
Against this declining moral standing, President Bush made something of a
comeback in the first year of his second term. He shifted his foreign
policy rhetoric from a "war on terrorism" to a war of ideas and a struggle
for liberty and democracy. Through much of 2005 it looked as if the Middle
East might finally have its long-overdue spring of freedom. Lebanon forged
a Cedar Revolution, triggered by the assassination of its popular former
prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Egypt held its first multi-candidate
presidential election in 50 years. So did Palestine and Iraq, despite harsh
conditions of occupation. Qatar and Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf continued
their steady evolution into constitutional monarchies. Even Saudi Arabia
held its first municipal elections.
But there was more. Hamas mobilized candidates and popular campaigns to win
a plurality in Palestinian legislative elections and form a new government.
Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt achieved similar
electoral successes. And with these developments, a sudden chill fell over
Washington and other Western capitals.
Instead of welcoming these particular elected officials into the newly
emerging democratic fold, Washington began a cold war on Muslim democrats.
Even the tepid pressure on autocratic allies of the United States to
democratize in 2005 had all but disappeared by 2006. In fact, tottering
Arab autocrats felt they had a new lease on life with the West conveniently
cowed by an emerging Islamist political force.
Now the cold war on Islamists has escalated into a shooting war, first
against Hamas in Gaza and then against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel is
perceived i n the region, rightly or wrongly, to be an agent acting on
behalf of U.S. interests. . . .
"Gaza: What's Really Happening," The Wisdom Fund,
June 29, 2006
"Israel-Lebanon Conflict: What Really Happened,"
The Wisdom Fund, July 13, 2006
Nathan Guttman, "US moves to scuttle Arab plan for
international peace conference," Jerusalem Post, September 14, 2006
[Some Hamas leaders have accused Abbas and Fatah of serving the interests of
Israel's ally, the United States, which has led a Western aid embargo to
force Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past accords
with the Jewish state.--"U.S. begins $42
million program to bolster Hamas opponents," Reuters, October 14, 2006]