Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|11/07/00 at 11:08:51|
|Middle East Diplomacy:|
Continuities and Changes
November 5, 1991
Z Magazine, December 1991
On October 30, the US-brokered conference on the Middle East opened in Madrid. The conference was described on all sides as a "historic event," a remarkable achievement of George Bush's diplomacy and the tenacity of his Secretary of State James Baker in exploiting the "historic window of opportunity" opened by changes in the world order. These observations are not unrealistic, when understood within their historical and policy context -- a question of perspective and judgment, of course. I will review the way these matters look to me, contrasting that picture with a different one that dominates public discussion.
Three related questions arise at once about the current diplomatic efforts: First, why are they taking place right now? Second, do they signify a departure from the traditional US stand? Third, what is the meaning of the disputes between the US and Israel?
The answer to the first question is clear enough. The Bush administration desperately needs a foreign policy success to obscure the outcome of its war in the Gulf: hundreds of thousands killed and the toll mounting as a long-term consequence of the devastating attack on the civilian society; the Gulf tyrannies safeguarded from any democratic pressures; Saddam Hussein firmly in power, having demolished popular rebellions with tacit US support. US government interests and goals are hardly concealed. Washington seeks "the best of all worlds," New York Times chief diplomatic correspondent Thomas Friedman explains: "an iron-fisted Iraqi junta without Saddam Hussein," a return to the days when Saddam's "iron fist held Iraq together, much to the satisfaction of the American allies Turkey and Saudi Arabia," along with the Reagan-Bush administrations, which gave unwavering support to their murderous ally. These images, however, cannot be left in the public memory in the United States or elsewhere. The reality can be effaced by what the press describes as the "remarkable tableau" in Madrid, with its promise of a "sweet victory" built on the ruins of the Gulf slaughter.1
Furthermore, the Arab clients who lined up in the US war must be helped to maintain some credibility. This requires gestures to suggest that the US-led crusade aimed at something more than merely reinforcing US dominance over the oil-producing regions, with the family dictatorships of the Gulf playing their traditional role as an "Arab Facade," in the words of British imperialists of earlier days.
It is also necessary to divert the attention of the American public from the social and economic crisis resulting from Reagan-Bush domestic programs. Under such conditions, any powerful state would seek diversionary foreign policy exploits.
The second question is also readily answered: the available evidence reveals no departure from the traditional US stance on a Middle East settlement. In fact, another reason for the current diplomatic efforts is that the US monopoly of violence now offers a "historic window of opportunity" to advance traditional US goals.
The urgency of the current Bush-Baker diplomacy is understandable. Not surprisingly, Washington refused to permit the Madrid conference to be derailed by the intransigence of Israeli hawks, even at the cost of a confrontation with the government of Israel and its domestic lobby.
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