Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What the US Should and Shouldn't Do in the Middle East

In the inaugural issue of the Jewish Review of Books, Shlomo Avineri wrote an interesting review, entitled "What the US Can and Can't Do in the Middle East," of the recent book "Myths, Illusions and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East" by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky.

Not yet having read the book itself, I can't yet tell where the authors' ideas end and the reviewer's positions begin, but it's clear the book makes an important contribution towards debunking the fantasies of the mis-named "realists" that all would be well in the Middle East if America would just force Israel to give in to all Arab demands and self-destruct.

On the other hand, too much credit is given to America for some past actions which, contrary to the assertions in the review, were harmful rather than helpful.

Example 1: The United States is given credit for planting the seeds for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty by forcing Israel to stop fighting in 1973 before completely defeating Egypt.

Rather than helping, this was just one more in a serious of moves which have taught the Arabs we (America) will make sure they won't have to pay much of a price for aggression, that we'll always save them.

Similarly, credit is given to Jimmy Carter for helping to seal the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, when it likely would have been signed earlier and resulted in a less-cold peace had Carter not kept pressuring Sadat to stick to all his demands while pressuring Begin to make concession after concession.

Similarly, credit is given to President Clinton for bringing Rabin and Arafat to Washington for the famous handshake, but it was the pressure Clinton exerted for the premature ceremony which virtually ensured the abject failure that Oslo became. Most critically, he let Arafat weasel out of the commitment to amend the PLO Charter prior to the ceremony, setting the stage for Arafat weaseling out of virtually every commitment he made and doing so without any real penalty from us.

In the review, Bush I is also given credit for preventing Israel from defending itself from the Scuds launched by Iraq under Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War.

This was both morally indefensible and a strategic blunder harming both America and Israel. We gave in to blackmail by the very people we were defending, demonstrating a weakness, despite our military strength, that decreased respect for America.

It also began the counterproductive era of Israeli restraint, which continues to this day, encouraging Arab terrorism as well as intransigence. This was another important factor in the failure of Oslo and already has cost thousands of lives, both Israeli and Arab.

In another one of the many ironies in the Middle East, many statements made are often true, but in a way different from that intended. Recently, David Axelrod said that part of friendship involves stating yourself bluntly. Unfortunately, that message was directed at Israel, when it is to the Arabs that America needs to speak bluntly and finally send the message that their aggression, rejectionism and intransigence will no longer be accommodated with more and more pressure for more and more Israeli concessions.

That is a necessary ingredient in truly abandoning America's myths and illusions and "finding a new direction for America in the Middle East."

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