Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Washington Needs New Mideast Friends

For those who have not yet noticed, the Mideast is complicated, and U.S. national security requires that Americans avoid over-simplifying. The situation now is far more complex than “allies vs. adversaries.” Egyptians are asserting their liberty, and Washington must devise a new policy that responds to them. Unless and until someone imagines a better path, the conciliatory, positive-sum one Erdogan envisions seems by far the safest for a distant superpower that would like to continue buying oil.

A very misleading tendency is arising in the US to do what we always seem to do – oversimplify to the point of totally distorting–in this case, by grouping moderate, conciliatory Turkey with the far more hard-line Iran. Ankara and Tehran may both in some vague sense be Islamic, but that essentially tells us nothing about either their domestic policies or their foreign policies. Turkey is a country trying very hard to become democratic, while Iran–whose democratic revolution 60 years ago was destroyed by Washington and London in order to keep their ill-gotten oil gains–seems to be moving away from democracy toward conservative military dictatorship, but one based not on being a US client like Mubarak but on nationalism and a determination not to accept a US-managed regional political system.

The similarity between the two countries is that neither can any longer stomach the excesses of the recent US subservience to the Israeli right wing with its policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, expansion, and speaking the language of force to its neighbors.

The differences between the regional vision offered by Erdogan and that offered by Ahmadinejad (without for a moment buying into the self-serving Netanyahu myth of Ahmadinejad as the “new Hitler”) are enormous – far greater than the differences between Ahmadinejad with his Basij and Mubarak with his goons on camels. Washington urgently needs a policy that will encourage Egypt to move in a direction compatible with Erdogan's vision rather than a direction compatible with Iran's IRGC.

Erdogan offers a vision of the region that just might be the only path by which the US can ride out the Arab Revolt and end up with a workable degree of regional influence. There is a regional axis including Iran and another including the US. We all can see which is gaining and which is losing influence. Turkey really is not quite part of either, instead offering a new axis, if you wish, or perhaps the better analogy is, from Washington’s perspective, a lifeboat.

But if Americans insist on remaining addicted to the never accurate idea of Mideast axes, then it seems pretty obvious that the Washington-Tel Aviv imperial axis is not the way to go right now. Stuffing the Egyptian people back into a dictatorial box, perhaps under ex-intel guy Suleiman, is not the way to go right now. Continuing military aid to Egypt while security forces literally trample the people under a camel’s foot and the army fails to protect the people is not the way to go right now. Continuing the barbaric policy of collective punishment of Gaza is not the way to go right now.

The lame superpower needs a new axis, and it could do much, much worse than encouraging Erdogan and el Baradei to take the lead. As for the various Islamic movements of the region, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the rapidly organizing movement in Tunisia and Hamas and Hezbollah, the first two have a policy of non-violence that should be encouraged. The last two, under endless Israeli military pressure, obviously believe they have the right to defend themselves; the issue is not their use of violence but the environment that forces them to use violence. In fact, both have tried to take the democratic road: Hamas won election to administer Palestine in 2006 only to be betrayed for renouncing violence; Hezbollah is senior partner in the Lebanese government. Marginalizing them when they are accepting Western rules sends a lesson that harms U.S. national security. On U.S. policy toward the Mideast, it is time for change.

No comments: