Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Are U.S. Officials Understanding and Responding to Middle East Crises? Ya Think?

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By Barry Rubin

If you've lost faith in the current administration's ability and mass media's ability to respond to Middle East developments, here's more evidence. There's a relatively new American idiomatic expression, "Ya [you] think?" Said sarcastically, it means: Wow, duh, the answer to that question is really obvious!

So consider how hidden, obscure stories [sarcasm] are being dug out by policymakers and top media. The New York Times reports that the U.S. government is "increasingly alarmed by unrest in Lebanon, whose own fragile peace is being threatened by militant opponents of a politically charged investigation into the killing in 2005 of a former Lebanese leader."

Ya think? Lebanon has been taken over (or recaptured, if you wish) by the Iran-Syria anti-American, revolutionary Islamist, terrorist-sponsoring axis, operating largely--though by no means completely--through their client, Hizballah. Might this be of some concern for U.S. policymakers?

Four years ago, Lebanon was run by an independent-minded, pro-Western government that would have preferred peace with Israel (though it knew domestic pressures made any such action impossible), opposed Iran, and saw radical Islamism as its antagonist. Today, Lebanon has been "lost" in large part through Western (don't forget France's responsibility) weakness and inaction.

I predict that even on this latest point the administration is wrong. There isn't going to be any big conflict over any report that the Syrians murdered former Prime Minister Rafiq Harari. Everybody in Lebanon knows that Syria did so, possibly (though this is far less certain) with Hizballah's help.

But there won't be any problem if the UN-backed investigation publicly states this because everyone in Lebanon has also been intimidated into silence. Even Harari's own son, the most important Sunni Muslim leader and head of the Sunni-Christian-Druze [well, no longer Druze since they have joined the pro-Syrian side for all practical purposes] has surrendered to Damascus.

And of course there remains the question of what, if anything, this administration will do about Lebanon. Answer: Nothing, except continue to aid the army which, at best, is neutral and, at worst, is an ally of Hizballah.

Speaking of Syria and great discoveries. The Washington Post reports that Syria just doesn't seem to be responding to administration efforts to engage, moderate, and pull that country out of Iran's orbit.

Ya think?

During the last almost two years there has been example after example of Syria opposing all aspects of U.S. policy; sponsoring terrorism to kill Americans in Iraq and against Israel; sabotage the Israel-Palestinian peace process; dominate Lebanon; help Hamas and Hizballah; and build an ever-tighter alliance with Iran.

And now people in Washington are starting to notice this? So what will the administration do, end engagement with Syria and take a tough line? Ya think?

Should I mention the blindness towards the Turkish regime's entrance into the Iran-Syria-Hamas-Hizballah bloc, and the need for U.S. opposition to that government to help ensure its defeat in next year's election? Hint: In an interview Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu states, "Washington is just beginning to wake up to the true nature" of the current regime. If that government ever does, it will understand that victory for Kilicdaroglu is a vital U.S. interest.

Should I mention that nothing could be more obvious than the fact that the Israel-Palestinian negotiations process is going to go nowhere because the Palestinian Authority doesn't want to make a deal with Israel. And then add that this problem is being exacerbated by U.S. policy making the PA believe this strategy can succeed fully by getting recognition for a unilateral declaration of independence?

Should I mention the new U.S. policy of engaging the Taliban is disastrous and may result in the movement that partnered the September 11 attacks against America returning to power? The New York Times published an anthropologists' op-ed explaining how the United States can coopt the Taliban and turn it against al-Qaida! Ya think?

But don't take my word for it. Ask the would-be Times Square bomber who worked with that group, or a teenager who describes how the Taliban tried to recruit him as a suicide bomber (something it will be able to do to lots more youth if it can operate legally.

And here's what New York Times reporter David Rhode wrote after spending several months as a Taliban prisoner in 2009: "Before the kidnapping, I viewed the organization as a form of `al-Qaeda lite'...primarily focused on controlling Afghanistan. Living side by side with the[m], I learned that the goal [was] create a fundamentalist Islamic emirate with Al Qaeda that spanned the Muslim world." Ya think?

Should I mention the total reversal of U.S. policy on Hamas from trying to undermine that radical Islamist group's rule in the Gaza Strip to believing Hamas will fall if Gaza becomes prosperous?

Should I mention that most Arab governments are shocked at U.S. expressions of weakness and want a strong American policy to protect them from Iran and revolutionary Islamists?

Should I mention that despite the praiseworthy (but overdue) increase in anti-Iran sanctions there's no doubt that Tehran will get nuclear weapons and this development will transform the strategic balance in the region?

Should I mention that the administration doesn't react to its own intelligence which shows Iran is helping kill Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan through training terrorists and supplying both advisors and military equipment in both countries?

Eighteen months ago I laid out all of these points in detail and pointed out the needed U.S. policy to respond. Every one of these issues has developed predictably since then.

Anybody in the U.S. government noticing these things and perhaps getting prepared to do something about them?

Ya think?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at and of his blog, Rubin Reports,

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