By Daniel Doron - August 2, 2001
Those who framed America's foreign policies (and probably still do) made the world's only superpower act like a nanny. But acting like a nanny in a brutal Middle East is dangerous. Former US ambassador Martin Indyk concedes as much, but blames US problems on "É a fundamental failure of Arab leadership ... bad timing ... a million and one reasons."
CAFI Note: Apologies to all the excellent social workers. A good social worker does not mollify people's anger. A trained social worker (one with a BS or master's degree, or doctorate) is a mental health professional as well as an advocate, as well as a practical person trying to find resources to fill clients' needs.
When people blame "a million and one reasons," there is usually one major reason they evade. In this case, it is the crucial question of how Arab leadership, bad timing and "a million reasons" managed to thwart a superpower. What rendered US policy impotent, and who was responsible?
Why did it take US negotiators eight years to realize that "you can't have one environment at the negotiating tables, and a different reality on the ground," in the words of former US special Middle East envoy Dennis Ross, or that "given the makeup of his policies ... [Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser] Arafat [never] really gave up violence as a tool to achieving his objectives," as Indyk confirms?
Why were the warnings that the Oslo process was a wild conceit of deluded Israeli leaders afflicted by messianic longings ignored? Why, at the least, was it not implemented with greater caution, but rashly provided Arafat, a consistent breaker of agreements, with a terrorist base and the means to implement his destructive anti-Israel and anti-American agenda (Arafat remains a fervid supporter of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein)?
When asked by The Jerusalem Post's Herb Keinon and Jeff Barak whether it was "...realistic to think Arafat could turn from terrorist to statesman," Indyk amazingly replied: "...it was realistic to try...." "Realistic" to take such a huge gamble with Israel's security by recklessly planting in its midst a terrorist entity whose very raison d'etre was Israel's destruction? "Realistic" to give Arafat so much before he fulfilled any commitments?
Indyk reveals how woolly the Clinton administration's thinking was when it "came in with this sense [sic] that there was a real opportunity to transform [sic] the Middle East" (into "The New Middle East," perchance?). The US knew, Indyk explains, that the demise of the Soviet Union deprived the Arabs of their military patron and made it the sole and strongest player in the region, a point reinforced by the abject defeat of Saddam Hussein.
But instead of asserting its power and forcing Arafat to negotiate peacefully as he undertook in Oslo, the US kept rewarding his aggression by making ever more demands for Israeli concessions. The Clinton administration essentially viewed the conflict as a social worker, and therefore "empathized," "accommodated" and "pacified" Arab aggression rather than confront it.
In his recent book Madeleine Albright and the New American Diplomacy Thomas Lippman, a groupie of Clinton's secretary of state, describes the mentality that animated US foreign policy.
Lippman relates how Albright arrived at the startling insight that "real security depends on real peace," and saw the Arab-Israeli conflict as "an unbreachable psychological border," "a crisis of confidence." This was to be overcome with "the kind of grandmotherly understanding that has been one of her most appealing traits," by "genuine understanding" for "what was the Palestinian problem in a nutshell, the rage and humiliation of a proud people long abused by history, fate, Israel, and the incompetence and corruption of their own leaders."
History and Israel aside, it is really the Arab leadership's "corruption and incompetence" that provokes Arab rage and militancy, that is skillfully directed against the West, chiefly Israel. Even Lippman realizes this. Yet US policy did nothing to alleviate the miserable poverty and lack of human rights under these corrupt leaders. It apparently found it more convenient to pacify Arab rage by offering repeated Israeli concessions.
The Israelis who "had just been traumatized" by terrorism also "needed reassurance," Lippman concedes. Only later could the secretary castigate former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for "snatching the vision of freedom and independence" that "inspired" the Palestinians (though they let Jordan rule them until it was ejected by Israel). To make "a symbolic jab at Netanyahu," Lippman reveals, the secretary wore a dove-of-peace brooch she received from Leah Rabin. Wow!
When Arafat was not mollified by "understanding" and violently broke the putative "peace process," "the ever image-conscious" Albright decided to at least create "an illusion of progress" by "communications with many audiences through a combination of "conventional diplomatic discussion, symbolic public events, communication with local people, chats with students, frank talk, evasive indirection...." In all these events, Lippman admits, "the media layout was more important than the substance of the conversation."
Instead of facing hard realities, then, US policy created illusions. The conflict was consequently made worse, America was weakened and Israel endangered. But secretary Albright could pose "as a leader of compassion," and US president Bill Clinton as the great peacemaker. So who cares if the Oslo process failed?
©2001 - Jerusalem Post