Middle East Crisis: Is The U.S. Part of the Problem?

Muqtedar Khan
Muqtedar Khan Former Brookings Expert, Professor, Department of Political Science and International Relations - University of Delaware

July 31, 2006

This opinion has also been published at Middle East Online, Alarab Online, Aljazeerah, Altmuslim, OpEdNews, The American Muslim, and Naseeb

We are presently witnessing in Lebanon the third humanitarian disaster in which US President George W. Bush has had a direct or indirect hand. In Iraq over 50,000 are dead and dying thanks to Bush’s decision to invade and occupy the country in 2003, without a sufficient number of troops necessary to secure the country. In New Orleans, the administration’s incompetent preparation and slow response exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. And now hundreds of innocent people are dying in a war in Lebanon that could be stopped by the international community if it were not handcuffed by the Bush administration. We may recall that Israel failed to undermine a much weaker Hizbullah even after 18 years of warfare and occupation of Southern Lebanon. Why expect success now?

The United States has so far achieved only two things since the Lebanese conflict began on July 12 – indeed in the month since the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier prompted Israel to unleash its ruthless war machine.

One, it has acted to ensure that no effort by the international community would succeed in stopping the mayhem in Lebanon. Three times the US has subverted the processes of peace, at the United Nations, at the Group of Eight summit and at the Rome conference.

Two, even during the conflict, instead of working toward peace, we are arming one side with rockets and powerful bombs which, in the words of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, are “cutting Lebanon to pieces.” We are even smuggling these weapons through Britain, somewhat like Iran smuggling weapons to Hizbullah via Syria. Unlike Syria, however, Britain is protesting.

The administration claims that the Rome conference helped build a consensus for an international force to prevent future crisis. For those of us familiar with the history of the conflict, we know that it was only because of Israeli and American opposition that there is no real international force already in the area capable of policing the borders and keeping all parties peaceful. What US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice means by consensus is that finally Washington has agreed with the rest of the world on one issue involving Israel.

This strategy of American foreign policy to arm, encourage and support extended and open-ended Israeli military action, I am convinced, will fail miserably in realizing its goals. By the time the Israelis finish in Lebanon it will be a pile of debris with perhaps 1,000 innocent civilians dead and over 1 million homeless and displaced. All other major US goals in the region – democracy promotion, support for moderates, winning hearts and minds, undermining support for radicalism – will also be buried under the debris.

Hizbullah fighters will be regrouping to fight another day with more men, more support, thanks to the elevated levels of anti-US and anti-Israeli sentiment across the Middle East, and perhaps more deadlier weapons. They will also be more confident and experienced after their current showing. From their performance it is apparent that they are the best fighting force the Arabs have produced in a long time.

I see no light at the end of the tunnel except wishful thinking that Hizbullah will be destroyed and the rest of the world will send their soldiers to defend Israel. It is like the neocon pipe dream of Americans being received as liberators by Iraqis. After seeing the current form of Hizbullah, I will be surprised if any country will volunteer its forces. If Bush decides to send our troops, the party will move from Iraq to Lebanon. For Al-Qaeda and the jihadists, it will be like a “buy one, get one free deal,” with the US and Israel together in the same fight.

The US up to now has said it will not talk to Syria or Iran because they are “part of the problem.” From the steps taken so far, it is not clear to me that American foreign policy is part of the solution.

Remember that when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Hizbullah was born. It is scary to imagine what the current fighting will yield. American foreign policy is in wrong hands and is heading in the wrong direction. It is not in the interest of global peace, not good for America’s many interests in the Middle East and will not make Israel safer.

With great power comes great responsibility. As the sole superpower, the US has responsibility to maintain the global order and nurture the international system, not become a destabilizing force. American foreign policy is a global public good and by acting in a highly partisan and shortsighted fashion in the current Arab-Israeli conflict we are abdicating our status as a global leader.