Thursday, February 09, 2006

What Now for U.S. Middle East policy?

This question was at the heart of the second roundtable discussion yesterday, in what I hope will be an ongoing series, co-sponsored by The National Interest and the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy.

We had two "faciliators" for discussion yesterday, Alexis Debat, terrorism consultant for ABC News and a contributing editor of TNI, and Leon Hadar of the Cato Institute, using the recent victory of Hamas at the polls as a starting point.

Since I'm preparing to leave for Moscow to take part in the U.S.-Russia Dialogue, let me just make the following observation: to the extent that U.S. policy toward the Middle East has three overarching objectives--ensuring a steady flow of oil to world markets, preventing extremism from destabilizing the region and spilling over to other parts of the world, and maintaining the U.S.-Israel connection--it is not clear whether either strategy--finding friendly dictators or encouraging democracy--works to advance those interests. Friendly dictators might be able to keep violence under control, to hold down extremists and are prepared to make pragmatic deals but their regimes can become extremely brittle and subject to overthrow; free elections, however, are going to reflect the "will of the people" and to the extent that people will continue to define their interests in opposition to perceived U.S. hegemony and are not prepared to recognize Israel, then democracy doesn't advance our agenda either. I don't mean to pick on Marc Grossman, and in all fairness to him, in his 2003 testimony he expressed this as a hope and not as a certainty, but the idea that a post-Saddam Iraq reconfigured as a democracy might recognize Israel as one of its first acts fell into the trap of assuming that the advance of democratization moves hand in hand with the extension of key U.S. interests.

What the discussion pointed to was the extent to which the dictators or democrats choice does force the United States to have to prioritize its interests--and also that the democrats who emerge on the ground may not be the people we wanted to deal with--but we may have to be prepared for engagement none the less.

Nikolas - I look forward to your comments about Russia when you return. On your above point, the real problem is not the dilemma of dictatorship vs. democracy but the need to differentiate ends from means. It is the perception that our means (support for either dictators or democrats) are our ends that gives rise to the dilemma.
We need a vision of world order that does a better job of inducing voluntary change in other countries. At the very least we could step up our commitment to public diplomacy in some of the ways that have been proposed in the last couple of weeks. I don't see how we can complain about the larger things that go wrong if we are unwilling to make an effort in the smaller things that could go right.
We all look forward to your commentary from the US Russia dialogue.

With regard to the post above, - since the goals the US is supposedly advancing in the ME - (continued connection with Israel, free flow of ME oil, and stability in the region) - are all intrinsically conflicted and conflicting with the interests of the other primarily Arab inhabitants of the ME, the socalled goals are lethally flawed, and practically unattainable.

The fascist warmongers, profiteers, and incompetent chickenhawks (not to mention reckless sportsmen) in the Bush government once held the foolish and delusional visionary hope that the socalled ME would tremble in shock and awe in the presense of America's hypersuperior military, bow to the will of the Bush government, align with the militarily imposed Pax Americana, welcome the Bush government perversion of democracy with sweets and flowers, and continue feeding America and the West's pathological addiction to oil at under $40.00 a barrel. A reading from the gospel according to Fox. Amen.

Since however the bloody costly noendinsight horrorshow and war of choice in Iraq has revealed and proven the factbasedreality that the Bush governments predatory imperialism, brutish hubris, and fascist totalitarianism is hopelessly flawed on its face, and catastophic failure of policy, military strategy management, and leadership, - and further that America's hypersuperior military is not capable of prosecuting long-term occupatons, subduing insurgencies, or nationbuilding enterprizes by sustainable costs in blood and treasure to the American people, - and the quite obviously the indiginous populations do not, and will not for the forseeable future welcome America - and certainly not with sweets and flowers - a more realistic set of goals needs to be established.

The US goals as stated now are unattainable under the current political, social, or economic realities in the ME by the Bush government.
Guy Dinmore of the Financial Times reports his impressions about what's being said around Washington, with a quote included from our host blogger thrown in for good measure
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