U.S. Fails to Defend Interests in Mideast

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

July 17, 2006

This opinion has also been published at alt.muslim, The Daily Times, The News Journal, and other news outlets

The crisis in the Middle East is rapidly reaching dangerous proportions. Unless a heavy dose of sanity is injected into the region’s affairs immediately, it is likely to escalate into a wider conflict that will make Iraq look like a picnic. The only player perhaps capable of playing this role is the U.S. The U.S. has the most to lose if things get out of hand. Its key interests in the region–oil, Israel and liberalism–are all in jeopardy.

Oil is already at a record high, closing at $77.03 Friday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, due to fears of disruption in case of a wider war.

Israel has never been more insecure. Its two biggest enemies, Hamas and Hezbollah, are effectively in control in the north and south and are shooting rockets at Israel.

U.S. attempts to promote democracy and liberalism in the region had made both Hamas and Hezbollah legitimate political forces. Now its own ally, Israel, has undermined Palestinian democracy with its military campaign in Gaza, and by attacking Lebanon it is strengthening support for Hezbollah.

Israel easily could have engaged in a prisoner exchange with Hamas and Hezbollah, as it has done several times in the past, and the matter would have ended there. But Israel’s overwhelming response to the capture of its soldiers, at a time when Iraq is on the brink of a civil war and the Iranian nuclear crisis is at its zenith, is undermining all the key pillars of American national interests in the region.

However, I do not blame Israel for this crisis. It is doing what it thinks it must to pursue its security and its interests. I am wondering whether the U.S. is doing everything it should to defend its interests.

All players in the region are pursuing self-interest.

The ability of Hamas and Hezbollah to attack the invincible military of Israel and score successes, killing and capturing soldiers and shooting rockets, must have sent a chill down Israel’s spine. It is reacting with overwhelming force out of fear.

Israel’s future depends on its military power, and it thinks that by punishing Palestinians and Lebanese civilians it can restore that fear and deter future attacks.

Hezbollah, under pressure from within Lebanon and the international community to demilitarize, has once again succeeded in presenting itself as the only defense that Lebanon has against Israel. Israel’s killing of dozens of Lebanese civilians and bombing of Beirut will merely increase support for Hezbollah.

Iran, thanks to America’s foolhardy adventure in Iraq, is rapidly emerging as a regional power. It is protecting itself from America’s pressure on the nuclear issue by creating a dangerous diversion.

Meanwhile, Muslims across the world are watching a nuclear power supported, armed and funded by the U.S. bombard and kill dozens of civilians, destroy the economy and infrastructure of Palestine and Lebanon, kidnap dozens of elected Palestinian leaders, bomb their homes, and all the U.S. does is provide political cover for Israel in the UN Security Council and on the world stage. Al Qaeda must be running out of enrollment forms.

The escalation in the region is not in the interest of the U.S. It strengthens anti-Americanism worldwide and fuels radicalism in the Arab and Muslim world. It also reverses hard-earned gains in the region, such as fledgling democracies in Palestine and Lebanon. The U.S. does not have to abandon Israel to defend its other interests in the region. All it has to do is use its enormous leverage to ensure that Israel’s policies are moderate and prudent and safeguard both Israeli and American interests.