During last summer’s Israeli-Hezbollah war, Condi Rice assured us that we were witnessing the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.”
Condi may be right. But that new Middle East appears to be one in which U.S. influence is visibly waning and America is on the way out. Consider the returns from November.
Bush’s war was repudiated in a Democratic triumph. Our NATO allies begged off sending more troops to Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban. After a leaked White House memo insulted him as ignorant or incompetent, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stiffed Bush by refusing to join him and the king of Jordan for dinner.
Cheney was summoned to Riyadh to assure the king that the United States was not going to scuttle Iraq else the Saudis would have to intervene to save the Sunnis in the sectarian civil war sure to follow. The king was telling the veep: If you go, a regional and sectarian war will follow you out.
In Somalia, the Union of Islamic Courts is consolidating control. In Bahrain, the Sunni-ruled sheikdom that is home to the U.S. Gulf fleet, elections brought Shia victories in 16 of 17 legislative races they contested. Liberals and women were routed, with 17 of 18 woman candidates defeated. The lone victor ran unopposed.
King Abdullah of Jordan warns of the prospect of three simultaneous wars in Lebanon, Palestine, and Iraq. The king did not include the five-year war in Afghanistan, where opium exports have reached record highs and British troops, following Pakistan’s example, are concluding local armistices with the Taliban.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah is demanding the government cede it veto power, or it will bring down the regime with the kind of street action our protégés used in Beirut, Belgrade, Kiev, and Tbilisi.
Anbar province has been virtually ceded to the insurgents and their al-Qaeda allies. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Iraq to Syria and sanctuary. The Kurds are carving out their own country, including Kirkuk, in anticipation of a breakup.
U.S. forces are being moved into the capital for what appears to be a final Battle of Baghdad to prevent a takeover by the Mahdi Army of Moqtada al-Sadr, our old nemesis, now said to be the most powerful and popular figure in the Shia provinces south of the capital, whence our British cousins will soon be departing.
Bush’s meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, the Shia cleric who heads the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which runs the Badr Brigades, is not unrelated to the rise of Hakim’s bitter rival, Sadr. There may soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on in Baghdad.
As for the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” it is as close to comatose as it has been since before Oslo.
Israel’s economic blockade of Hamas, following Hamas’ election victory, brought rockets down on Israeli towns north of Gaza and a bloody re-intervention by Israeli troops. Ehud Olmert’s war to smash Hezbollah ended in smashing Lebanon and a moral victory for Hezbollah, which withstood five weeks of air strikes and a feckless Israeli invasion.
Diplomatically, America has never been weaker in the Middle East, Israel has never been more beleaguered, the Hezbollah-Syria-Iranian axis never stronger, and our friends in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the Gulf states never more apprehensive.
Nor are the trends hopeful. The Afghan and Iraqi wars Bush launched never looked more certain to end in U.S. defeats.
What is the cause of the impending collapse of the U.S. position across the Middle East? We put democratist ideology ahead of national interests. We projected our ideas of what is right, true, and inevitable onto people who do not share them. We tried to impose our will with our military power, which is more effective at killing Arab enemies than winning Arab hearts.
America is failing in the Middle East because our leaders of both parties will not look at the region through Arab eyes. What Bush saw as a glorious liberation of Iraq, Arabs saw as an invasion. Where Bush sees in Israel a model of democracy, Arabs see a pampered agent of U.S. imperialism, persecuting and dispossessing the Palestinian people.
“For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all the people.”
So Condi Rice hubristically declared in Cairo in 2005.
Since then, those elections that Rice demanded have advanced toward or into power the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the radical Shia in Iraq, and Ahmadinejad in Iran.
But at least Bush and Rice have solved the stability problem.