The present debate in the United States over making policy for a Middle East that has been profoundly changed by the events of the past three years unhappily echoes past policies that failed. They were intended to promote democracy and usually took the form of military intervention.

The most important current argument is over intervention in the Syrian civil war. But to what American purpose? As always, democracy promotion, Washington says. Is this either politically or militarily feasible in Syria today? What contribution does intervention make to the question most on Americans’ minds today: what relevance has this to America’s domestic terrorist threat?

The civil war in Syria was originally an uprising against abuses by the predominantly Alawite government of President Bashar al-Assad, a family and sectarian dictatorship which has enjoyed support in the past of secular groups as well as Christians and Muslim minorities. The opposition is largely Sunni Muslim, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadists, fighting the established government of a largely Shia population, supported by Iran, and currently by Russia and China. An American intervention would align Washington with groups which elsewhere it opposes. The logic of this is not apparent.

The Syrian war already offers signs of engaging groups in Lebanon, drawing the unfortunate Lebanese towards a conflict where they have nothing to gain. Israel envisages the possibility of getting at Iran by way of its Syrian ally. Again, enlargement of the war serves no visible American interest, which is restored stability in the region.

The undeclared war between Iran (and its client, the Hezbollah organization) and Israel, motivated by Iran’s contention (via its departing president) that Israel has no place in the Middle East, having been created as the result of an attempted genocide of the Jewish people by Nazi Germany, and therefore a European problem that should be settled in Europe and not at the expense of an Arab people. This, of course, is purely a propaganda provocation, although true enough.

Israel’s avowed motive in its confrontation with Iran is to defend its existence, believed threated by Iran’s presumed but unproven project to arm itself with nuclear weapons with which it would have the military means to attack Israel. This despite the logical certainty that Israel would preemptively or simultaneously use its large nuclear strike force to annihilate Iran.

As these are mutually absurd eventualities, it is evident to both sides, and to foreign observers, that this conflict will continue to be, as it is now, a non-nuclear struggle for regional influence and power by the two most important Middle Eastern states — unless Israel, losing patience, and with the consent if not collaboration of the United States, carries out a massive conventional attack on Iran to destroy, for the indefinite future, the latter’s military and industrial power and potential.

This undoubtedly would also be acknowledged in Washington as an allied contribution to continuation of the “war against terrorism, extremism and disorder,” currently being conducted by American drone attacks in Yemen and the Horn of Africa, with new facilities being developed for drone and other possible operations in West Africa, the Sahara and the Maghreb. Thus two new theaters seem under consideration in Washington.

This is while American and NATO forces continue the war in Afghanistan, which increasingly intrudes into Pakistan. The enemies there are Taliban, and elsewhere jihadists of various religious allegiances but united in their enmity toward the U.S. because of its past or present military or mercenary interventions in Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa.

This is seen by many of its victims as part of what now is widely believed by Muslims to be a “crusade” against Islam — an American “war of civilizations” as forecast by Professor Samuel Huntington and initiated by President George W. Bush under the influence of American neoconservatives allied with Israeli Zionists.

Meanwhile, Israel’s undeclared war of territorial expansion against the Palestinians is enlarging with the new settlements under construction near Jerusalem. This is land that was assigned to a Palestinian Arab state by the U.N. Security Council in 1948, when Mandate Palestine was partitioned.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry proposes new Arab-Israeli talks, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has politely offered a “pause” in the illegal construction. The Palestinians now have proclaimed themselves the (occupied) State of Palestine, so-recognized by the U.N. General Assembly and the overwhelming majority of General Assembly members, various U.N. agencies including UNESCO. However, it has not been recognized by the U.N. Security Council, due to an American veto. It has enraged the Israelis as well as AIPAC in Washington, again to no constructive purpose other than to the beleaguered Palestinians.

The negotiations Mr. Kerry wants resumed began in 1993, when the Palestine Liberation Organization was recognized by Israel as representative of the Palestinian people, and have intermittently and inconclusively continued ever since, to no purpose or avail, with no serious prospect of success. And behind the scenes, there remains the permanent possibility that things erupt into still another open struggle, as if another were needed.

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

© 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.


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