by Jim Lobe
(IPS) WASHINGTON --
George W. Bush's silence as Israel dismantles Yasser Arafat's Palestine Authority (PA), casting aside the nine-year-old Oslo peace process with it, marks a sweeping change in U.S. Middle East policy, to the detriment of Washington's Arab allies.
That Washington has been deaf to their appeals to rein in Sharon suggests that Bush and his most influential advisors have moved far toward embracing the notion that Israel is the U.S.'s only strategic ally in the region, and that the interests of Arab states take second place.
That conclusion spells a huge and potentially decisive victory for a coalition of largely Jewish neo-conservatives and Christian Right Republicans, both inside and outside the administration. In recent months they have argued more vehemently that Washington's traditional deference -- which they often call "appeasement" -- to Arab rulers is ultimately counter-productive.
The insiders include Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the numbers 2 and 3, respectively at the Pentagon; I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff and national security adviser, Elliott Abrams, a senior member of the National Security Council staff; John Bolton, under-secretary of state for international security; and John Ashcroft, the evangelical Christian who heads the Department of Justice. There is every indication that Rumsfeld and Cheney generally share the views of these deputies.
"America's fate and Israel's fate are one and the same," wrote William Bennett, a prominent right-winger who often spans the divide between neo-conservatives and the Christian Right, two weeks ago.
Attacking the State Department for its call on Sharon to exercise restraint, Bennett argued that "Israel is being pressured so that we can assuage countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Yet it just so happens that those countries are responsible for the reappearance of the worst forms of anti-Jewish propaganda since (Nazi Propaganda Minister) Joseph Goebbels."
Bennett's article was one of dozens that have been churned out by the pro-Likud right-wing in media such as the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, the National Review, and Washington Times, as well as by nationally syndicated columnists such as Charles Krauthammer, William Safire, and Michael Kelly.
The same sources, many of whom favor the even harder line of Safire's main Likud rival, Benyimin Netanyahu, have not hesitated to attack Sharon himself whenever he has shown any hesitation in destroying the Oslo process, which they opposed from the outset.
But their principal target has been the State Department, and especially its Near East Bureau, which the Right believes has long been a hotbed of pro-Arab, if not anti-Semitic, sentiment. In their view, the bureau's analysts -- along with Mideast specialists in the CIA which tends to back bureau views -- are simply wrong.
For example, the conventional view from the bureau, as from virtually all Mideast specialists in the United States, Europe, and even Israel itself, sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a central factor in regional politics. Any effort by Washington to forge a coalition in the Arab world supporting an attack on Iraq as the next stage in the war against terrorism will be far more difficult if hostilities there persist or, worse, the peace process ends.
In this view, presented by a retired head of the bureau and ambassador to Egypt, Nicholas Veliotes, in an appearance on CNN last week, the present situation "in the West Bank and Gaza is an obscenity" that will badly damage U.S. interests in the region.
The Right believes this is all wrong.
"Washington needs to wean itself from viewing the Israeli-Palestinian collision as the center of the Middle East," said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA covert operator who now perches at the staunchly neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute.
To the argument that Sharon's march into the Palestinian territories inspires fury and hatred against the United States in the Arab world, the Right answers: Arabs only respect strength.
"In the Middle East, America's awe -- the key element that gives both us and our Israeli and Arab friends security -- can only be damaged by a Bush administration publicly fretting about Ariel Sharon's prosecution of his war against the Palestinian Authority," Gerecht wrote.
"Though the Near East Bureau at State hates the notion, the tougher Sharon becomes, the stronger our image will be in the Middle East."
Regional experts have also repeatedly argued that the conflict in Israel and Palestine makes it far more difficult for long-time U.S. allies and clients, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to maintain control -- hence their "moderate" policies -- as their populations demand strong action against Israel.
The Right's reply is surprisingly radical: the destabilization of such autocratic governments may be a good thing.
Permitting Arafat to set up a Palestinian Authority "is only the latest example of how dealing with Mideast dictators has become a Faustian bargain, not just for Israel but also for the U.S.," wrote the Journal's editorial staff yesterday. "American presidents have gambled for 40 years that these rulers can buy stability, and that the alternative is far worse; in the long run they come back to haunt us."
The answer, according to this view, is to invade Iraq and establish a democratic government there that can serve as a model for the region.
"Liberating Iraq from Saddam and sponsoring democracy would not only rid the region of a major military threat, it would also send a message to the Arab world that self-determination as part of the modern world is possible," said the Journal, which dismisses Arafat as a petty despot rather than leader elected by the population of the Palestinian Authority.
This view received strong support from Joshua Muravchik, reviewing in The Standard a few months ago a survey by another neo-con group, Freedom House, on the state of freedom in the world. It found the situation bleakest in the Arab world.
"Far from pointing toward a relaxation of military efforts (in the anti-terrorism war)," Muravchik wrote, "(the survey) suggests that the more terror-loving tyrannies the United States can topple the better."
And if the Saudi royal family were replaced by a democratic government that was nonetheless hostile to the United States? "It would force a decision on whether to take over the Saudi oilfields, which would put an end to OPEC," the Journal enthused.
April 7 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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