Arab Spring Best Left Alone
The cry from the Obama administration’s policy desks since last week is how “we” can “get this revolution back on track.”
“We” are not only talking about the Cairo revolution, but the revolutionary Arab springtime as a whole, with all of its revolutionaries, counter-revolutionaries, Muslim Brothers and Salafists, military putschists — or restorers of order as the soldiers’ supporters claim — beleaguered Copts, oppressed Eastern Rite and Orthodox Christians of the Eastern Mediterranean, anti-Christian fanatics, Kamalists, liberals and secularists in Turkey, as well as all the people fighting and frequently killing one another in the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, and the Egyptian country towns up the Nile. “We” aim to get all of them back under “our” control. We can’t.
But was all this ever under “our” control, or has the United States actually been the self-designated victim of forces in Egypt, and elsewhere in the countries of the Arab-generated Arab springtime, who for a long time have been indifferent if not contemptuous towards what “we” have thought we were doing in the course of forcing ourselves upon their lives and taking whatever we wanted from them?
The 17 phone calls of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the days before the first military assault on the demonstrators who might as well have been put on unanswered “hold” by his Egyptian interlocutors, and the refusal of Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi on August 14, as the violence was underway, even to take a call from Barack Obama (according to the Israeli defense source DEBKAfiles), demonstrated the respect the U.S. now commands in the Middle East.
As for America’s relevance to the world, the advice from a leading American foreign policy figure in a recent New York Times op-ed was that “the United States should do what it can to shepherd the arrival of liberal democracy in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. But the best way to do that is to go slow and help the region’s states build functioning and responsible governments. Democracy can wait.” What sound advice! Just what Egyptians, Syrians, Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Tunisians, Lebanese and the others were waiting to hear from America.
President Obama could then remain on the golf course, or play with the new puppy, and the 19 American diplomatic missions across the Islamic world that closed during the past two weeks in order to protect the U.S. and its allies from new Islamic assaults (or protect the president from the Republicans — take your pick) might better be left closed.
But critics are expected to propose solutions. I have a radical one, which I offer in full confidence that it will be universally regarded as frivolous and certainly not adopted. It changes the scene of action to Israel-Palestine.
I propose that Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry inform Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel must agree within a defined and brief period to that two-state settlement with the Palestinians (whose inevitable terms have long ago been negotiated and are currently understood by both sides and by every observer and bystander, except the most fanatical).
These terms are territorial partition and such population transfers as are necessary to restore slightly modified 1967 frontiers, with Jerusalem a dual capital, acknowledgement by the new Palestinian state of Israel’s Jewish character and only symbolic Palestinian right of return.
Unless Netanyahu and his electorate agree to this within the set period, the White House would endorse a Palestinian claim to the prosecution in international courts of Israel’s continuing occupation and settlement of Palestinian territory as crimes of war under the Geneva Conventions. While this proceeds, the U.S. would suspend the usual exercise of its U.N. Security Council veto on Israel’s behalf.
This, of course, would utterly transform the political situation in the Middle East and bewilder the Arabs, leaving them with their own problems of Syrian revolutionary civil war, sectarian war in Iraq between Shiites and Sunnis, and impending crisis in Libya and Tunisia. But who can solve these problems if not the Arabs themselves? Certainly not the United States, as has been amply demonstrated.
My proposal would embitter U.S.-Israel relations by treating Mr. Netanyahu in the curt and disdainful way in which he is accustomed to treating American leaders, but in this case, it would be to the long-term benefit and security of the Israeli nation and of the U.S. itself.
Combined with the programmed termination of the war in Afghanistan and the beginning of American troop withdrawal from the region, with a halt to aggressive military action, this would create the conditions for ending the present American war “against terrorism.” It might secure lasting security within the U.S., sufficient to dissuade Washington from its current adoption of governing and intelligence methods adapted from past Nazi and Soviet practices.
You would think my proposal would guarantee the defeat of the Democrats in the upcoming national elections, and allow poor Hillary to relax and look after her health. But then again, the Democrats should consider the Republican alternatives. Peace is popular.
Visit William Pfaff’s website for more on his latest book, “The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America’s Foreign Policy” (Walker & Co., $25), at www.williampfaff.com.
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