Friday, November 5, 2010

Understanding the Middle East: One Day’s Survey

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By Barry Rubin

--The UN annual Human Development Report for 2010 ranks Israel at number 15 of 169 countries in the world in terms of the health, education, freedom, and income of its citizens.

--Well worth reading, Steven J. Rosen, "The Arab Lobby: The European Component." Despite the title, it also includes new information on the history of U.S.-Israel relations and on Arab lobbies in the United States.

--Danny Seaman, director of the Foreign Press Office, discusses the Western media and Israel in a long interview. But the article also includes what might be the best succinct statement I've ever seen on the development of Israeli worldview and perceptions:

"There were certain `truths' that we were told: That if we adopt UN resolutions, there’ll be peace. If we recognize the Palestinian right to self-determination, there’ll be peace. If we remove settlements, there’ll be peace. And over the past 25 years, there’s been a progression in the Israeli position: Israel recognized the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people; relinquished territory; removed settlements.Regarding Lebanon, Israel fulfilled all the UN resolutions.

"Yet the end result was not the peace that we were promised. In no way am I criticizing the efforts for peace. Peace is a strategic necessity for the State of Israel. But here, in this case, these `truths' that we were promised never came about. On the contrary, it only increased violence, increased extremism. Yet there was a failure by a lot of the media to be intellectually honest, to say `maybe we need to reevaluate....'"

--Speaking of intellectually honesty, here's the New York Times' evaluation of the U.S. elections. It begins:

"The Democrats’ loss of control of the House of Representatives and their reduced majority in the Senate have left many outsiders pondering whether the open hand of the newly inaugurated president—extended to Iran, Russia and the Middle East in 2009—will close, replaced by an introspective and distracted White House...."

The article's main theme is that people abroad are worried that President Barack Obama's wonderful policies will be limited or sidetracked by his defeat in mid-term elections. There is no mention whatsoever about the widespread concerns that Obama's weak policies and focus on conciliation with enemies have upset many leaders throughout the world. This information is being largely kept from the American public.

Fully 30 percent of the article is devoted to Israel and how Obama's defeat may be "enabling Israel’s right-wing government to continue to resist pressure to freeze the expansion of settlements in the West Bank." This is a measure of how that issue is ridiculously overblown, being treated as if it is the most important question in the world. by the left-wing elements in the mass media and by this U.S. government itself.

In fact, Israel's government is a left/right coalition based on a national consensus (see Seaman's quote above). Moreover, even if Israel did adapt a two-month freeze--an issue on which the mid-term U.S. elections will have no effect--that isn't going to change anything.

There is no hint of how Obama's policies have themselves sabotaged the possibility of negotiations by making the freeze the centerpiece of his strategy, nor of how his policy has strengthened Hamas. There is not a word about the deep-seated concerns of relatively moderate Arab forces about the president's actions: too slow in countering Iran, too eager to engage Syria, downplaying the need to battle against revolutionary Islamist groups.

--An example of the radical bloc's crowing are two articles in al-Akhbar, a Syrian-puppet newspaper in Lebanon. The editor argues that the United States and the relatively moderate Arab governments have failed while the Iran-led bloc has advanced. Consequently, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan should join the radicals.

Among these gains he cites growing Iranian influence in Iraq; the regaining of Lebanon by Tehran and Damascus; the victory of Hamas in maintaining control over the Gaza Strip; Turkey's regime as a new member of the radical bloc; and American weakness.

The Saudis and others won't take the bait at this point. But if these trends continue without a strong U.S. policy to counter them what will the situation be like in five or ten years?

The Times and other such media might actually tell their readers about all the people and leaders in the world unhappy with current U.S. foreign policy. They can start with Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other Arabic-speaking countries; then jump to the Turkish and Iranian oppositions; then hop over to much of Asia, including China which is increasingly worried about all those U.S. dollars it holds; then pole-vault over to Latin America where leaders are asking why the U.S. government is friendlier to an aggressive, hostile Venezuelan dictator than to them.

I don't know sub-Saharan Africa well nowadays but I am quite aware that even many in Western Europe (notably in France) aren't thrilled by U.S. policy. The problem they all see is not that Obama is being held back from implementing his wonderful policies (by being "introspective and distracted") but that those policies are helping America's (and their) enemies more than them.

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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