Four years after the emergence of the first signs
of a serious insurgency in Iraq, US President George W. Bush finds himself beset
with major crises stretching from Palestine to Pakistan.
With US-backed Fatah forces routed by Hamas in Gaza this week, Bush's five-year-old
vision of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict now looks
more remote than ever, while a new Pentagon report in Iraq suggests that his
four-month-old "surge" strategy is failing in its primary objective
of reducing the violence there.
Meanwhile, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, to whom Washington has provided
virtually unconditional support since al-Qaeda's 9/11 attack, faces a growing
popular revolt, while much of the country's tribal border regions have come
under the control of forces allied with Afghanistan's Taliban.
And Iran, which senior US officials this week accused of arming the Taliban,
as well as Shi'ite militias in Iraq, has continued to defy Washington's demands
that it halt its nuclear enrichment program, while Tehran's regional allies,
Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah, not to mention Hamas itself, appear to have successfully
withstood intensified US-led efforts to isolate them.
This week's events in Gaza, in fact, are also likely to have dealt a heavy
blow to US hopes of forging an anti-Iranian coalition consisting of Israel
and the "Arab Quartet" led by Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Indeed,
Saudi King Abdullah appeared to have grown disillusioned with Bush even before
the US-backed dissolution by Palestine Authority President and Fatah chief
Mahmoud Abbas of the government of national unity whose birth was personally
midwifed by Abdullah himself last March.
"There's a strongly held view among our Arab friends that we don't know
what we're doing," observed ret. Amb. Daniel Kurtzer, Washington's chief
envoy to Israel during Bush's first term and now a professor at Princeton University,
earlier this week before Hamas' takeover of Gaza.
Al-Qaeda, which continues to enjoy the protection of its allies in Pakistan
and has made the US military occupation in Iraq its primary recruiting ground,
has also benefited enormously from the backlash against Washington's policies
throughout the region, according to most experts here.
"al-Qaeda today is a global operation – with a well-oiled propaganda
machine based in Pakistan, a secondary but independent base in Iraq, and an
expanding reach in Europe," wrote Bruce Riedel, a former high-level Central
Intelligence Agency (CIA) analyst, in Foreign Affairs magazine last month.
In the article, entitled "al-Qaeda Strikes Back," Reidel, the senior
director for Near East Affairs in the White House from 1997 to 2002, predicted
that the group would likely set up new operations in northern Lebanon and Gaza
and eventually try to provoke "all-out war" between the US and Iran
as part of a "grand strategy" aimed at "bleeding" Washington
in much the same way that US-backed mujahadin and their Arab allies bled the
Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s.
Indeed, like Jason of Greek myth, Bush has sown dragon's teeth throughout the
region with a predominantly military policy, particularly his decision to unilaterally
invade and occupy Iraq, even as he encouraged right-wing governments in Israel
to indulge their propensity for using force to resolve problems with their neighbors.
But, unlike Jason, it looks increasingly doubtful that Bush can subdue the
militant forces that have sprouted from those seeds and appear to grow stronger
with each passing day.
Israel, which last year fought a disastrous war in Lebanon promoted and prolonged
at the behest of Washington's hawks and now facing a Hamas-dominated Gaza on
its southern border, also appears increasingly vulnerable.
Regional specialists, including Riedel and Kurtzer, have long argued that resuming
a credible Israeli-Palestinian peace process that could offer Palestinians tangible
hope for gaining their own state in the not-too-distant future – or what Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice has called a "political horizon" – could
be the single most important step toward reversing the region's radicalization
that Washington could make.
So the big question now is how the US and Israel will react to the latest
events in the Palestinian territories – a subject that will almost certainly
top the agenda when Bush meets with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert here
next week. Of particular importance is whether they will adopt the same harshly
punitive policies against a Hamas-dominated Gaza that they have applied to the
Palestinian government since Hamas defeated Fatah in the January 2006 elections.
Already, neoconservatives and other hawks are clamoring for a tough policy
consistent with that of the past five years, insisting not only that the US
lead an diplomatic and aid boycott against Gaza, but that it also shelve any
plans for resuming a peace process, even with Abbas.
"(S)ince Palestinian politics have clearly returned to a pre-1993 status,
so must Western and US policy. This means no Western aid and no diplomatic
support until their leaders change policies," wrote Barry Rubin, director
of a Likudist think tank in Jerusalem in Friday's Wall Street Journal.
"Hamas is the enemy, as much as al-Qaeda, because it is part of the radical
Islamist effort to seize control of the region, overthrow anything even vaguely
moderate, and expel any Western influence," he argued.
But others insist that such an approach would play into the hands of the region's
radicals, including al-Qaeda.
"The US needs urgently to rethink its failed policy in the Middle East,"
said Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator who directs the Middle East
Initiative at the New America Foundation (NAF) here and who has decried the
administration's efforts to weaken and eventually overthrow Hamas.
"In its failed effort to pursue regime change in Palestine and prevent
Palestinians from embracing Hamas, the US is driving them instead into the
arms of al-Qaeda," he said.
Americans for Peace Now, a Jewish group, also called for the administration
to resist the hawks' advice and reassess its policy. "We urge the US,
Israel, and the international community to not repeat the mistakes of the past
18 months, with policies predicated on the now clearly discredited notion that
the Hamas failure in government will lead it to disappear from the Palestinian
political scene," it said.
(Inter Press Service)