By Raghida Dergham
President Barack Obama wishes that he could concentrate on domestic affairs in order to ensure his return to the White House for a second term; however, amidst his election campaign he is forced to prepare for an injection into foreign policy matters, particularly into those pertaining to the Middle East. The “Arab Spring” will be followed by summer, autumn and winter before it is even clear that the expected “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia has blossomed. In Tunisia today, there are concerns about an economic fallout and political chaos. In Egypt, very remarkable signs of election victories most likely signal an advent of Islamic parties. Some strategic options for the Egyptian government include the transition toward a stronger relationship with Iran and the departure from moderate camps, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
The future challenges posed by these revolutions of transformation pale in comparison to the challenges brewing in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain, as well as those in the growing dispute between Iran and the Gulf Cooperation Council. Iraq is the source of other challenges, while Lebanon promises to be the cradle of others. Then there is the issue of Israel in the face of a changing Arab map in the new regional order. The forgotten Palestinian-Israeli conflict will return and backfire with many more challenges for the U.S. administration if the United States is not the first to seize opportunities to change its policies. This will not be easy for Barack Obama in the midst of his campaign, but tackling the challenges averts falling behind the events. The current policy would necessarily lead to a patchwork solution again. The tactic of temporarily engaging in events is not a viable alternative for an incipient strategy necessary for the United States in this critical transitional phase.
Libya still commands the most of the American media’s attention, which began to teeter but eventually subsided. Of course, there is talk behind the scenes of an arrangement to exile the Gadhafi family on the one hand, while Moammar Gadhafi sent his proclaimed “son,” Barack Obama, a message conveying his desire to accept a deal to keep himself in power.
Obviously, there is a decline in the achievements on the field by the rebel forces who blame NATO for some of their shortcomings. The rebels now claim that NATO’s promises were inflated to the degree of deception and that the timing of the suspension of NATO’s military operations on the ground resulted in victories for Gadhafi’s field forces. The timing came primarily at the expense of the Libyan people and secondarily at the expense of the opposition and rebel forces.
This development coincided with the defection of Gadhafi’s Foreign Minister and the regime’s “black box,” Moussa Koussa, who was picked up by British, French and American intelligence organizations. These agencies lavished him with immunity in order to obtain information about the regime, which has achieved the largest collective suppression of two generations of Libyan people and plundered the wealth of the country.
These kinds of deals transpired for the sake of intelligence gathering at the international level, despite claims that it would encourage more defections. Britain has already claimed that they have gleaned all of that which is pertinent to the transaction between the Irish Republican Army and the Gadhafi regime. When they engaged in the Lockerbie deals, which facilitated the transfer of oil and funds to the United States, the regime was rehabilitated and celebrated. So it is no wonder why Gadhafi survives and the men behind the transaction continue to envision an initialization of other deals today.
The greatest fear revolves around the possibility of encouraging the rebels, whether inadvertently or deliberately, through public statements or behind-the-scenes promises. A decline in determination on the field could originate out of the fear of a withdrawal of NATO leaders in the Libyan quagmire.
Political analysts close to the powers in Washington, London and Paris began to speak in a bombastic tone of victory and assumed a sense of achievement for stopping the massacre in Benghazi. The speech surprisingly began to focus on Benghazi from beginning to end, rather than on the future of Libya.
What’s worse, some are not only content with the proposition of dividing Libya, but in fact promote this idea. This serious issue certainly gives the impression that the United States has a long-term strategic policy to divide Arab countries from Sudan to Libya and Iraq to the GCC countries. The United States has already been accused of dividing Arab countries by means of the war in Iraq, the referendum on Sudan, its supporting of the insufficient number of rebels in Libya, the sectarian appeal of the Gulf States and Lebanon and its negligence of Yemen. Therefore, the rhetoric prevailing in the American arena regarding the condoning of the division of Libya proves to be dangerous on several levels.
Libya will then leave a bitter taste in the mouths of those who dreamed of revolution and reform. The door will open for Al-Qaeda networks, which are highly organized in Libya. The division leaves the Gadhafi regime — whether it is Gadhafi himself or his children — in power. Thus begins a cycle of revenge.
It is better that the Obama administration delivers a clear message to Gadhafi and his family to the effect that the forces’ achievements on the field are now the only window for him to secure a safe exit. It is not logical for the Obama administration to send in any other ideas after the U.S. president said that Moammar Gadhafi should leave. Nor is it reasonable to arrange deals pertaining to the succession of any of Gadhafi’s children, even at the transitional stage, because Egypt experienced a similar succession crisis which led to a revolution, an overthrow of the Mubarak family, and the securing of the military’s place within the regime.
The situation in Egypt appears to have been a U.S. coup on behalf of America’s friends and allies who are in need. This narrative has repercussions and disadvantages. It is noteworthy that Egypt appears to be on the verge of a radical change in its regional strategy, perhaps in order to protect itself from unforeseen surprises. Egypt may, for example, separate itself from Iran.
The Obama administration should pay attention to this, especially at a time of increased tension between Iran and the GCC. The tension originated from Iran’s intervention in Bahrain, which came after the terrible international silence surrounding the prospects of Iran establishing a quasi-military base in Lebanon and after Iran’s intervention in Iraq after the Iraq War.
Today Iran is acting increasingly more confident because it feels that it is immune to the condemnation of the international community, which is reluctant to aggravate the tension. On the other hand, Iran has acted nervously out of fear of increased confidence in the reform of Arab countries. It is now venturing to raise sectarian strife and plant the seeds of division in the GCC countries. All the while, it is moving to build its nuclear capabilities and is disregarding the majority of countries, including both their “carrots” and “sticks.”
From the viewpoint of the GCC, the battle is crucial not only because Iran has controlled Iraq after the U.S.-led war there, but also because Iran’s tentacles extend into Bahrain, Yemen and sometimes even other GCC countries in coordination with Al-Qaeda. It may be a sectarian battle, but it is a battle for survival at its core. The Obama administration made up its mind in this battle; it apparently abandons its allies and leaves them at the mercy of Iran.
Iran still requires immediate attention, regardless of how deeply preoccupied the world is with Libya today or Yemen tomorrow. Indeed, the eminent concern for Yemen certainly requires evaluating Iran’s role there, especially in conjunction with Al-Qaeda.
The situation won’t allow the international community, specifically the United States, to lag behind the fast-moving events. It demands a clarification of the road map for all stakeholders though an integrated strategy, focusing on the players in the midst of the confusion. This time bomb in Yemen will explode in front of more than the key players and spectators. The beneficiaries would include the agents of extremism; the situation would yield a decisive military action and the overthrow of the calls for reform and reconstruction which initiated the Arab Spring.
But it is not too late for a prudent optimism, not unlike the overwhelming desire of the Arab youth who call for jobs, welfare, education and hope for a secure future. Some hesitate to use the word “moderate” at this stage, but prefer “enlightened.” Regardless of the terminology, the hopes of the new generation should not be overthrown in the midst of narrow-minded political calculations. This brings us to the subject of Israel.
It is probably correct to say that the Palestinian cause is not at the top of Arabs’ priorities at this juncture, but this does not exclude the possibility that tomorrow may exhibit volatile feelings which do not include the coexistence so desired. A fire still burns among the embers; though the ashes cover the flame, they do not extinguish it.
Therefore, it is necessary for the Obama administration to pay close attention and give support to the Israeli NGO initiative, which first offered an integrated Israeli peace process. The Arab initiative for peace in the Middle East remained on the shelf for years because the lack of Arab endorsements and because the refusal to acknowledge and recognize the role of the American government and media.
Today, there is an Israeli peace initiative which was announced by more than 40 political, military and cultural figures in Israel. The initiative was a response tantamount to that of the Arab community and was forged among the Israel Security Agency, the former IDF Chief of Staff, the former president of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the son of former Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin. These signatories claim that the formation of the Palestinian State must be based upon the Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied by Arabs in 1967, an exchange of land, the establishment of East Jerusalem as its capital and a resolution on the status of Palestinian refugees, which would include reparations or a possibility, in some cases, of a return to Palestine or Israel. Details surrounding the initiative are important, but it is more noteworthy that Israelis have finally put forward a proposal under the title of an Israeli peace initiative. This deserves encouragement and engagement by the Obama administration, rather than the current hand-off of the peace process to Obama’s designated Middle East adviser, Dennis Ross, who has made the peace process an end in itself.
Before Barack Obama injects himself in the events of the Middle East amidst his reelection campaign, it would be prudent for him, the United States and the world to prepare a good strategy before intruding.
From Al Quds, Palestine
Translated By Joseph McBirnie
9 April 2011
Edited by Gillian Palmer