Commentary Magazine


Topic: The Daily Star

The Short List of Representative Arab States

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

Rami G. Khouri, writing in the Daily Star in Lebanon, offers a tour d’horizon of the “modern Arab state” — the 22 members of the Arab League:

We also have broken states (Somalia), states that disappeared and/or returned (Kuwait, South Yemen), security-dominated states (Tunisia, Syria, Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein), erratic states (Libya), pirate states (Somalia), vulnerable states (Lebanon, Palestine), privatized states in the hands of small ruling elites (most Arab states), states that carry a specific family’s name (Saudi Arabia, Jordan), tribal states (Yemen, Oman), mini-states (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain), occupied states (Palestine, Iraq to an extent), and various degrees of client and proxy states, rogue states, gangster states, and others that defy description.

Khouri has a succinct description of what is missing from the above list:

Not a single Arab country can say with any certainty that the configuration of the state, the policies and values of the government, or the perpetuation of the incumbent ruling elite have been validated by the citizenry through any kind of credible, transparent, and accountable political process.

Well, there’s one — Iraq, which since 2005 has had successive elections whose outcomes were not preordained, involving a citizenry willing to risk their lives each time to go to the polls. A representative government replacing the most horrific Arab dictator in the region is a historic achievement — even if a fragile one, all the more remarkable in light of Khouri’s description of the other Arab states.

The “state” of “Palestine,” on the other hand, has been a failed one even before it was formed. It has rejected three formal offers of a state in the last decade. Half the putative state is occupied by an Iranian proxy pledged to destroy its neighbor. The other half lacks even the pretense of an elected government: its “president” is currently in the sixth year of his four-year term; its “prime minister” is an unelected appointee chosen by the holdover president; its funding comes primarily from the U.S., the EU, and Japan, not the 21 Arab states that supposedly consider it an urgent priority.

The Obama administration believes our strategic objectives should be to (1) withdraw from Iraq next year, and (2) form a Palestinian state as soon as possible. The first goal puts at risk the one Arab state on Khouri’s list with a representative government; the second seeks to add a 22nd Arab state on the unsupported assumption that it will live in peace with itself and its neighbors, but Khouri’s list suggests that the likely outcome would be otherwise.

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The Middle East Vacuum

Michael Young has a must-read article in today’s Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. Young tackles the question of American decline in the Middle East and its consequences. He rather persuasively lays out the twofold argument that this is good for Iran and that the consequence of this decline might push President Obama in the direction “he dreads most” — namely, military action. (Naturally, this act would first require President Obama to recognize his policy’s failure and to realize that an Iranian ascendancy in the Gulf is bad for American interests.)

The article is illuminating as a succinct but comprehensive summary of all that is wrong — and misunderstood — about present U.S. policies in the region: from the marginal relevance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the limited role that Gulf States have in countenancing Iran; from past, present, and possibly future policy blunders in Iraq to the Afghan challenge; and where Obama may be getting it all wrong. All this is known — though Young argues it well. A less discussed point deserving of more scrutiny is that the vacuum created by a U.S. retreat will not be filled by powers of a gentler kind:

The notion sounds absurd. America lose the power that it has managed to retain for as long as most of us have been alive? Perhaps it is absurd. But consider this: given President Barack Obama’s lack of a coherent strategy for the region, everywhere we see deepening vulnerabilities, when not a conscious decision by Washington to downgrade its ambitions in the face of more dynamic regional actors. These actors have shortcomings of their own, but they appear to be better prepared to deal with the consequences than the United States.

Just a reminder of what this means in practical terms: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just signed agreements to build nuclear reactors with both Syria and Turkey.

Those resentful of American power — including the liberal academic environment that shaped President Obama’s worldview during his formative years — should take notice of what a retreat of American power means. Not a kinder, gentler world, where the oppressed of the earth, finally free from imperialist chains, are able to realize their full potential. It means that authoritarian regimes assert themselves. The oppressed will remain so — more so. As for all those considerations that tame Western powers’ pursuit of their national interests (ethical concerns, respect for local cultures, protection of the environment, rule of law, and the like), forget about it. Power will be raw, at its most ruthless, heads will roll, and blood will flow, while the regional order is reshaped by the new powers that be.

The Middle East will be perhaps the place where the end of the American century will have its earliest and worst impact — Russia will reassert its influence by helping regional powers push America out while bullying Washington’s allies into subservience. In the process, the old Arab order may collapse. Nuclear proliferation will undo the fragile balance of power that currently prevents regional war. And America’s retreat will enable local Islamists to remove the lid of Western influence over the explosive cocktail of Arab authoritarianism, economic underdevelopment, and demographic explosion.

All in all, quite a set of accomplishments by realists, engagement seekers, and those embarrassed by America’s power and image in the world.

Michael Young has a must-read article in today’s Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. Young tackles the question of American decline in the Middle East and its consequences. He rather persuasively lays out the twofold argument that this is good for Iran and that the consequence of this decline might push President Obama in the direction “he dreads most” — namely, military action. (Naturally, this act would first require President Obama to recognize his policy’s failure and to realize that an Iranian ascendancy in the Gulf is bad for American interests.)

The article is illuminating as a succinct but comprehensive summary of all that is wrong — and misunderstood — about present U.S. policies in the region: from the marginal relevance of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the limited role that Gulf States have in countenancing Iran; from past, present, and possibly future policy blunders in Iraq to the Afghan challenge; and where Obama may be getting it all wrong. All this is known — though Young argues it well. A less discussed point deserving of more scrutiny is that the vacuum created by a U.S. retreat will not be filled by powers of a gentler kind:

The notion sounds absurd. America lose the power that it has managed to retain for as long as most of us have been alive? Perhaps it is absurd. But consider this: given President Barack Obama’s lack of a coherent strategy for the region, everywhere we see deepening vulnerabilities, when not a conscious decision by Washington to downgrade its ambitions in the face of more dynamic regional actors. These actors have shortcomings of their own, but they appear to be better prepared to deal with the consequences than the United States.

Just a reminder of what this means in practical terms: Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has just signed agreements to build nuclear reactors with both Syria and Turkey.

Those resentful of American power — including the liberal academic environment that shaped President Obama’s worldview during his formative years — should take notice of what a retreat of American power means. Not a kinder, gentler world, where the oppressed of the earth, finally free from imperialist chains, are able to realize their full potential. It means that authoritarian regimes assert themselves. The oppressed will remain so — more so. As for all those considerations that tame Western powers’ pursuit of their national interests (ethical concerns, respect for local cultures, protection of the environment, rule of law, and the like), forget about it. Power will be raw, at its most ruthless, heads will roll, and blood will flow, while the regional order is reshaped by the new powers that be.

The Middle East will be perhaps the place where the end of the American century will have its earliest and worst impact — Russia will reassert its influence by helping regional powers push America out while bullying Washington’s allies into subservience. In the process, the old Arab order may collapse. Nuclear proliferation will undo the fragile balance of power that currently prevents regional war. And America’s retreat will enable local Islamists to remove the lid of Western influence over the explosive cocktail of Arab authoritarianism, economic underdevelopment, and demographic explosion.

All in all, quite a set of accomplishments by realists, engagement seekers, and those embarrassed by America’s power and image in the world.

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Evenhandedness Would Be Swell

Isi Leibler, writing in the Jerusalem Post, observes Obama’s not at all evenhanded approach to the Middle East, started long before the most recent conflict over an apartment complex in Jerusalem:

These hostile outbursts must be viewed in the context of the fact that despite strong ongoing support for Israel by the American people, the US-Israel relationship has been on a downward spiral since the election of the new administration. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy attributes this to Obama’s determination to rehabilitate Islam’s global tarnished image.

Yet his strategy of “engaging” Islamic rogue states has been disastrous. The effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by appeasing the Iranian tyrants backfired with the ayatollahs literally mocking the US. The response of Syrian President Bashar Assad to US groveling and the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus, was to host a summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah and ridicule the US demand that he curtail his relationship with Iran. President Obama did not consider this “insulting,” prompting the editor of the Lebanese The Daily Star to say that “the Obama administration these days provokes little confidence in its allies and even less fear in its adversaries.”

Condemnation is reserved for the Israelis who have been berated in private and in public for over a year. Not for the other side:

In stark contrast, the US has not publicly reprimanded the PA on a single issue over the past twelve months. It is unconscionable that neither the White House nor the State Department conveyed a word of protest concerning the ongoing incitement and spate of ceremonies sanctifying the memory of the most degenerate suicide killers and mass murderers. Not even when our peace partners President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad personally partook in these ghoulish ceremonies.

And where is this heading? Leibler suspects the worst: “Obama is surely aware that recent statements by his administration will only embolden the Palestinians and Jihadists to be more extreme in their demands, making it inevitable that the talks will almost certainly fail. Some may infer that this is precisely his intention. We will then be blamed for the breakdown and the US, with the backing of the Quartet and others, will then seek to impose a solution upon us.”

And meanwhile the Iranian nuclear threat looms. By the way, it’s mid-March. Where are the sanctions? Why haven’t we resolved the differences between the House and the Senate bill and sent it to the president’s desk? Maybe the White House would prefer to go slow on that one. After all, the “real” crisis is a potential breakdown in proximity talks that have no chance of success. It is a cockeyed set of priorities, which seem oddly in tune with those of Israels’ foes.

In the end we will have no “peace,” our relationship with Israel will be strained but not broken, and the mullahs will move steadily ahead with their nuclear program. And the Palestinians bent on violence will seize the chance to make mischief. This is the result of the most misguided American Middle East policy in decades. It’s change, alright. Let’s hope the damage is reversable.

Isi Leibler, writing in the Jerusalem Post, observes Obama’s not at all evenhanded approach to the Middle East, started long before the most recent conflict over an apartment complex in Jerusalem:

These hostile outbursts must be viewed in the context of the fact that despite strong ongoing support for Israel by the American people, the US-Israel relationship has been on a downward spiral since the election of the new administration. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy attributes this to Obama’s determination to rehabilitate Islam’s global tarnished image.

Yet his strategy of “engaging” Islamic rogue states has been disastrous. The effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by appeasing the Iranian tyrants backfired with the ayatollahs literally mocking the US. The response of Syrian President Bashar Assad to US groveling and the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus, was to host a summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hizbullah terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah and ridicule the US demand that he curtail his relationship with Iran. President Obama did not consider this “insulting,” prompting the editor of the Lebanese The Daily Star to say that “the Obama administration these days provokes little confidence in its allies and even less fear in its adversaries.”

Condemnation is reserved for the Israelis who have been berated in private and in public for over a year. Not for the other side:

In stark contrast, the US has not publicly reprimanded the PA on a single issue over the past twelve months. It is unconscionable that neither the White House nor the State Department conveyed a word of protest concerning the ongoing incitement and spate of ceremonies sanctifying the memory of the most degenerate suicide killers and mass murderers. Not even when our peace partners President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad personally partook in these ghoulish ceremonies.

And where is this heading? Leibler suspects the worst: “Obama is surely aware that recent statements by his administration will only embolden the Palestinians and Jihadists to be more extreme in their demands, making it inevitable that the talks will almost certainly fail. Some may infer that this is precisely his intention. We will then be blamed for the breakdown and the US, with the backing of the Quartet and others, will then seek to impose a solution upon us.”

And meanwhile the Iranian nuclear threat looms. By the way, it’s mid-March. Where are the sanctions? Why haven’t we resolved the differences between the House and the Senate bill and sent it to the president’s desk? Maybe the White House would prefer to go slow on that one. After all, the “real” crisis is a potential breakdown in proximity talks that have no chance of success. It is a cockeyed set of priorities, which seem oddly in tune with those of Israels’ foes.

In the end we will have no “peace,” our relationship with Israel will be strained but not broken, and the mullahs will move steadily ahead with their nuclear program. And the Palestinians bent on violence will seize the chance to make mischief. This is the result of the most misguided American Middle East policy in decades. It’s change, alright. Let’s hope the damage is reversable.

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A Neocon No Longer?

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, has written a must-read opinion article for Reason’s website. In it, he points out the blindingly obvious: that, contrary to myth, so-called neocons are not in control of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

The level of “neocon” influence has always been wildly exaggerated, as I argued in this Foreign Policy article all the way back in early 2004. Any “neocon” orientation is especially hard to find now outside of Bush’s grandiose speeches, which have little connection to policy. As Young points out:

Since 2006, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the democracy agenda to rally the despotic Arab regimes against Iran. Containment is the new catchword and, no surprise, it is pretty much what the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations spent two decades applying to post-revolution Iran…. Similarly, the Bush administration now finds itself back in the oldest gig in town: the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Young concludes: “That should please quite a few of Bush’s domestic critics. He’s returned to the futile routine in the Middle East that they always urged him to.” Yet Bush isn’t getting much credit from his political foes for his shift in policy. Perhaps that’s because the new approach is proving less successful than the dreaded neocon policies of the past, which, lest we forget, cracked open the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, led Libya to renounce its WMD program, and, if the latest National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed, caused Iran temporarily to suspend its own nuclear work in 2003. We are still waiting for any comparable achievements of the newly “realistic” second-term Bush administration.

Actually the administration has achieved something pretty impressive in the past year in Iraq, though that is the exception to the rule, perhaps because, when it came to the “surge,” the President reverted to his first-term instincts; he ignored the Washington establishment consensus that called for rapid troop drawdowns and instead listened to a few…neocons.

Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Daily Star in Beirut, has written a must-read opinion article for Reason’s website. In it, he points out the blindingly obvious: that, contrary to myth, so-called neocons are not in control of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

The level of “neocon” influence has always been wildly exaggerated, as I argued in this Foreign Policy article all the way back in early 2004. Any “neocon” orientation is especially hard to find now outside of Bush’s grandiose speeches, which have little connection to policy. As Young points out:

Since 2006, the Bush administration has all but abandoned the democracy agenda to rally the despotic Arab regimes against Iran. Containment is the new catchword and, no surprise, it is pretty much what the Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton administrations spent two decades applying to post-revolution Iran…. Similarly, the Bush administration now finds itself back in the oldest gig in town: the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

Young concludes: “That should please quite a few of Bush’s domestic critics. He’s returned to the futile routine in the Middle East that they always urged him to.” Yet Bush isn’t getting much credit from his political foes for his shift in policy. Perhaps that’s because the new approach is proving less successful than the dreaded neocon policies of the past, which, lest we forget, cracked open the A.Q. Khan proliferation network, led Libya to renounce its WMD program, and, if the latest National Intelligence Estimate is to be believed, caused Iran temporarily to suspend its own nuclear work in 2003. We are still waiting for any comparable achievements of the newly “realistic” second-term Bush administration.

Actually the administration has achieved something pretty impressive in the past year in Iraq, though that is the exception to the rule, perhaps because, when it came to the “surge,” the President reverted to his first-term instincts; he ignored the Washington establishment consensus that called for rapid troop drawdowns and instead listened to a few…neocons.

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Iran’s Hegemonic Drive

Following on the recent release of the NIE, Michael Young, an editor of the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, sheds light on the real game awaiting us with Iran. According to Young, the main issue is not the report’s accuracy, but rather Iran’s push for hegemony in the region and the reaction of the U.S. to that push. Iran’s rhetoric gives plenty of reason to believe that rationality is not the strongest feature of its rulers. On the other hand, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power is very rational, given the country’s ambitions: a bomb (or the capacity to build it) would greatly enhance its power over the Gulf, the Caspian Basin, and the Levant. As Iran gained power, it would become an unignorable player in the complex game of Palestinian-Israeli peace.

The intelligence community has now concluded that the Iranians are no longer building a bomb. But is Iran, then, harmless? Of course not. The NIE shows that the Iranians were building a bomb in the first place, something that no official document asserted conclusively until now (the IAEA never went so far, saying only that it could not confirm the Iranians were NOT building a bomb). Given that the NIE says the Iranians halted the weaponization part of their program under pressure (while they kept working on the two more difficult elements of the program, enrichment and ballistic missiles), why should that pressure be let off now?

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Following on the recent release of the NIE, Michael Young, an editor of the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, sheds light on the real game awaiting us with Iran. According to Young, the main issue is not the report’s accuracy, but rather Iran’s push for hegemony in the region and the reaction of the U.S. to that push. Iran’s rhetoric gives plenty of reason to believe that rationality is not the strongest feature of its rulers. On the other hand, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power is very rational, given the country’s ambitions: a bomb (or the capacity to build it) would greatly enhance its power over the Gulf, the Caspian Basin, and the Levant. As Iran gained power, it would become an unignorable player in the complex game of Palestinian-Israeli peace.

The intelligence community has now concluded that the Iranians are no longer building a bomb. But is Iran, then, harmless? Of course not. The NIE shows that the Iranians were building a bomb in the first place, something that no official document asserted conclusively until now (the IAEA never went so far, saying only that it could not confirm the Iranians were NOT building a bomb). Given that the NIE says the Iranians halted the weaponization part of their program under pressure (while they kept working on the two more difficult elements of the program, enrichment and ballistic missiles), why should that pressure be let off now?

Even if one assumes the NIE to be accurate, the basic questions about Iran do not change. Can the U.S. afford to let the Iranians become the dominant regional power and have a say over all the crises the West wishes to solve in the Middle East? Can the U.S. afford an outcome in Lebanon solely dictated by Tehran? How Does Iran’s desire to be a player in the “peace process” square with that process’s nominal goal? And what about Iran’s support of insurgents in Southern Iraq ? And Iran’s bullying of other Gulf states? Young says that

Iran would gladly draw the U.S. into a lengthy discussion of everything and nothing, and use this empty gabfest as a smokescreen to advance its agenda. But diplomacy is not an end in itself; to be meaningful it has to achieve specific aims and be based on confidence that both sides seek a mutually advantageous deal. Nothing suggests the Iranians have reached that stage yet.

Focus on the bomb has led some to ask the wrong questions about Iran. Iran’s current agenda is a threat to Western interests—the bomb is just a tool to advance that agenda more effectively. Instead of accommodating Iran in exchange for a temporary reprieve in its pursuit of nuclear power, American foreign policy should focus on containing Iran’s push for hegemony.

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Filthy Lucre

While on holiday on the French Riviera, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, gave an interview to the international edition of Newsweek about the recent French-brokered deal to free five Bulgarian nuns and one Palestinian doctor from Libya’s death row.

In the interview, Qaddafi’s son candidly conceded that Libya had blackmailed Europe. He then proceeded to divulge details of the alleged deal—including $414 million to renew a hospital, $552 million for a compensation fund for the families of the alleged victims of the nurses, arms sales, and a nuclear cooperation agreement. According to the Lebanese English-language paper The Daily Star, Saif al-Islam was then asked from where the monies came. Pleading ignorance, he reportedly answered that “the French managed to bring money in order to pay the families,” but that he did not know the origin of the funds (though the rumor, according to Newsweek, is that the Qataris picked up the tab). “It’s not our business to ask where the money [came] from” said the young Qaddafi. As the Romans used to say, pecunia non olet.

While on holiday on the French Riviera, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the son of Libya’s dictator Muammar Qaddafi, gave an interview to the international edition of Newsweek about the recent French-brokered deal to free five Bulgarian nuns and one Palestinian doctor from Libya’s death row.

In the interview, Qaddafi’s son candidly conceded that Libya had blackmailed Europe. He then proceeded to divulge details of the alleged deal—including $414 million to renew a hospital, $552 million for a compensation fund for the families of the alleged victims of the nurses, arms sales, and a nuclear cooperation agreement. According to the Lebanese English-language paper The Daily Star, Saif al-Islam was then asked from where the monies came. Pleading ignorance, he reportedly answered that “the French managed to bring money in order to pay the families,” but that he did not know the origin of the funds (though the rumor, according to Newsweek, is that the Qataris picked up the tab). “It’s not our business to ask where the money [came] from” said the young Qaddafi. As the Romans used to say, pecunia non olet.

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