Issue Date: September 8, 2006
Urgently needed: a new Mideast policy
By CHARLES N. DAVIS
Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently wrote in the Aug. 10 Washington Post that the consequences of U.S. actions have caused an unprecedented decline in Americas position in the world and are provoking dangerous new anti-American coalitions and encouraging a new generation of terrorists.
I believe that this decline has been largely self-inflicted, yet it could get much worse if the United States were to carry out a bombing campaign to eliminate Irans capability to manufacture nuclear weapons, a plan described by Seymour M. Hersh in the Aug. 21 issue of The New Yorker.
On the other hand, with some dramatic revisions to foreign policy, America can recover its strength as well as being a guidepost of participatory, humane government. Examples of needed revisions follow:
Six decades of major conflicts with Egypt, Syria and Jordan, two invasions of Lebanon, and continuing campaigns against the PLO and Hamas demonstrate that Jerusalems military conflicts have not achieved peace for Israel. Like the wars between France and Germany from the Congress of Vienna in 1814 to the end of World War II, the conflicts between Israel and the Arab world continue with no ultimate resolution.
Certainly, the Israelis have a right to defend themselves and the United States has the right to assist them. But, clearly, new policies must be sought.
This summers conflict with Hezbollah resulted in loss of life on both sides and massive destruction of infrastructure in Lebanon.
The U.S. role was seen by the Arab states as supplying weapons to Israel and manipulating votes in the United Nations leading up to the cease-fire -- with the result that the policies of Washington and Jerusalem were regarded as being one and the same.
The consequences of the Israeli incursion into Lebanon and the subsequent partial withdrawal of Israeli troops have already dramatically changed perceptions. Israeli military forces are no longer considered invincible and Israel is allowing the United Nations to attempt to keep the peace.
If the recent cease-fire holds, it may open a new path.
If a robust U.N. force is ultimately deployed to Southern Lebanon to
support the cease-fire, even if it does not disarm Hezbollah it could be a
precursor for ultimate peace in the eastern Mediterranean. This force could be
expanded to replace Israeli military units in Gaza, the West Bank and the Golan
Heights coupled with the dismantling of all Israeli settlements in these areas.
This would give these Arab areas the independence from Israel they have been
seeking; it would contain the threat of rockets being launched against Israel;
it would liberate U.S. foreign policy from an unhealthy dependence on
Jerusalem, and it would allow the United States to more freely interact with
the Arab world.
The debate in this country -- with undertones of betrayal on all sides -- is polarized between those who want a timetable for a full U.S. withdrawal and those who advocate staying the course. Many fear the consequences for the United States and the Mideast in the case of withdrawal, while, to most, staying the course means hundreds more U.S. lives lost, as well as thousands of Shiites and Sunnis, in a useless and endless conflict.
There is an alternative. In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, the United States protected the Kurds while abandoning the Shiites to Saddams murderous retaliation. Today, the United States continues to support the de facto independence of the Kurds while trying to pacify the Shiites and, Saddams old tribe, the Sunnis. This has managed to turn both Shiites and Sunnis against us.
Instead of accepting the status quo of continuing civil war, a solution, as others have advocated, is a de facto partition of Iraq. Separating the Shiite and Sunni populations, particularly in mixed areas like Baghdad, will not be easy, but, in the end, giving up trying to have the Sunnis and Shiites live in peace while persuading the Kurds and Shiites to give the Sunnis an equitable stake in oil profits will dramatically reduce the opportunities for violence and, after things calm down, allow a significant draw down of U.S. troops.
A continued U.S. presence in the Kurdish area and, along with the
British, in the Shiites area in Iraq will also prevent Iran from
dominating Iraq and will stabilize the region. At all times, we must make it
clear to Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites that we will leave their areas when and if
their local populations want us to. There is always the risk of potential
Iranian dominance in the Shiite area, but the risk is far less than it would be
if we left Iraq unilaterally. This would surely leave Iran in a position to
dominate the oil fields in southern Iraq and the Shiite population there.
Leaving would also give impetus to Turkish intervention against the Kurds in
northern Iraq. In other words, we will have abandoned those whom we promised to
protect -- a dishonorable course.
The U.S. concern with Iran is threefold: the weapons and reconstruction funds it supplies to Hezbollah, Irans threats to destroy Israel, and its refusal to stop enriching nuclear fuel that could lead Teheran to acquire atomic weapons.
The White House should continue to work through the United Nations to offer security guarantees in exchange for Irans giving up the technology that could feed a nuclear weapons program. But if the United Nations does not succeed in persuading Iran to give up its nuclear program, we must remember that the United States coexisted with a nucleararmed Soviet Union and it now coexists with such nuclear-armed states as Pakistan and India. Coexistence was made possible by mutual assured destruction. It still strongly inhibits governments -- even the Iranian government -- from initiating nuclear conflict. We and the Israelis must never forget that.
Two lessons from the 1962 Cuba Crisis are applicable. The first was that President John Kennedy threatened Moscow by saying that any nuclear weapon launched from Cuba would generate the same response as a nuclear weapon launched from the Soviet Union. We can make the same threat to Iran if it were to attack Israel.
The second lesson was that President Kennedy gave Premier Nikita Khrushchev a U.S. security guarantee that the United States would not launch a unilateral attack on Cuba. If the United States did the same with Iran, it would go a long way toward removing Irans self-perceived need for nuclear weapons to deter a U.S. or Israeli attack.
Charles N. Davis served in the Navy and as an analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Intelligence Council.
National Catholic Reporter, September 8, 2006
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