Tuesday, July 18, 2006



























Sorry, but I've been busy writing commentary and analsis for several newspapers and magazines as well as doing a few broadcasting interviews. But I'm pasting here something on U.S. policy in the Middle East which was I published a while ago and which was based on an address before a group in Washington. Too bad that George Will didn't read it then and wouldn't have to wait so long to come to similar conclusions (sort of).
January 24, 2003
In the Wake of War
by Leon T. Hadar

Leon Hadar is a research fellow in foreign policy at the Cato Institute.


Following the end of the first Gulf War and the Madrid Peace Conference, there were high expectations in Washington that a new American-led order would be established in the Middle East. The Madrid Peace Conference and the ensuing Oslo peace process were supposed to lay the foundations for a New Middle East: Peace between Israel and a Palestinian state. And the integration of the region into the global economy.

Ten years later and it's the same old Middle East. There is a President Bush. There is an Assad. (He does surf the Internet. So perhaps globalization did have some effect.) The ayatollahs are still around. And so are the Hashemittes. And the Saudis. The military is still in charge in Egypt. And there is still violence in the Holy Land. And there are Sharon and Arafat -- older, heavier, ailing. But just like in Lebanon 20 years ago, they are ready for another gunfight.

And, of course, there is Saddam.

Sounds depressing. But welcome to the Middle East that has proven to be -- and will prove to be once again -- a grave-yard of great expectations for outside powers, as well as regional players.

Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire they have all been trying again and again to make and remake the Middle East. And at the end, in the words of the Rolling Stones, they can't get no satisfaction!

Whether it was Shimon Peres's mirage of a New Middle East -- or Ariel Sharon's fantasy of a New Order in the region after the Lebanon War. Or consider the promise of Nasserism and the ambition of Khomeinism. Recall how the Six Day War or the 1973 War... and then the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord... were supposed to change everything. And indeed, that euphoric mood in Washington following the first Gulf War, and the Madrid Peace Conference.

As historian L. Carl Brown proposed, the post-Ottoman Middle East can be compared to a Kaleidoscope. Everything is related to everything else. There are no clear boundaries between local, regional and international issues. A powerful outsider enters the picture. And it hopes to impose its agenda. But that only produces counter-efforts by unsatisfied players to form opposing regional alliances and secure the support of other local and international powers. The outside power tilts the Middle East kaleidoscope. But the many tiny pieces of colored glass move to form a new configuration that looks very different from what it expected.

On the top of the list of unfulfilled expectations was the British imperial project in the Middle East in the early 20th century. Driven by strategic interests, the smell of oil, and religious sentiments, the English-speaking people invaded the Middle East and they tried to establish a new and stable order.

And now in the early 21st century we seem to be on the eve of an hegemonic American undertaking in the region. The Anglo-Americans are returning to try to set up another order, a new and stable order in the Middle East.

It seems that one can say about the imperial designs of great powers in the Middle East what George Bernard Shaw once said about marriage: That is was the triumph of hope over experience.

In the old movie, the British created Iraq. They put the Hashemittes and the Saudis in power. Maintained influence in Egypt. They tried to end this or that cycle of violence between Arabs and Jews in the Holy Land. We know how that movie ended. To put it in economic terms, the costs of the British Empire in the Middle East were higher than the expected benefits. Resistance from regional players, including terrorism, challenges from global powers. Including the U.S. ally, economic decline and opposition at home led eventually to a long and painful withdrawal of Britain from the region, culminating in the 1956 Suez debacle.

This time the name of the movie is the American Unilateral Moment in the Middle East. But we have a feeling that we've seen that movie before. Different actors. But a similar script: Recreating Iraq. Navigating between the Saudis and the Hashemittes. Preserving influence in Egypt. Bringing an end to another cycle of Arab-Jewish violence. Some in Washington are even adding a Wilsonian soundtrack to the old new order script: An Iraqi federation of Arab Sunni and Shiites and Kurds based on Western and liberal principles. Trickle-down democracy, secularism, pro-Americanism that would transform the entire Arab World, and help bring peace between Israel and Palestine. read the rest

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