The Contradictions in U.S. Mideast Policy

If anyone still has doubts about the United States's lack of even-handedness in the Middle East and fair-mindedness toward the Arab world, one had only to hear U.S. Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering's insulting and condescending address on October 16 at the Middle East Institute's 52nd Annual Conference.

His speech was full of contradictions - the kind of that serve to irritate and anger the majority of the Arab world and which support the perception of American double standards. For instance, he called the recent Wye river discussions an example of America's commitment to the "needs of the people of the region," but then he stated that the U.S. has taken steps "to ensure Israel's qualitative military edge." He also repeated constantly that understanding and respect for Islam are necessary elements of U.S. policy, but, in fact, each time he mentioned Islam, he managed to link it with the usual negative images.

Pickering makes fun (and rightfully so) of Saddam Hussein's "invoking the legacy of the Babylonians to legitimize his aggressions," but he never questions the fact that the Zionists used the same argument to re-establish Israel. He blames radical movements in the Middle East for using the "clash of cultures" argument and states that "[Samuel] Huntington is perhaps more in vogue in the Middle East than the Middle West." It seems he's never heard of Steven Emerson.

Pickering acknowledges that European and Ottoman colonialism left its mark in the region, but he fails to acknowledge Europe's two other legacies from the beginning of the 20th century: (1) The Balfour Declaration which supported the Zionist movement and established Israel on land that was already inhabited by other people who had cities, homes, schools, places of worship, and cultivated fields for thousands of years; and (2) The Sykes-Picot Agreement (crafted by the foreign ministers of England and France), which chopped the Arab world up into arbitrary regions. These three elements have worked together to create the perpetual instability of the region and the "time-bombs" constantly threatening to explode, including the wars that inevitably erupt from time to time.

He notes that it is necessary to "take into consideration the views of our allies in the region and the social and political forces which influence their decision-making," but then he says that those facts don't necessarily have to determine American actions. In other words, America will continue to do what it wants in the region, the desires and needs of the people of the area (even though we understand them) be damned.

Pickering states that those who criticize the United States's "war" against terrorism as a war against Islam suffer from "a fit of oversimplicity," but he fails to mention that 17 out of the 30 groups on the State Department's list of "terrorist organizations" (the list used to enforce the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996) are Arab or Muslim, and that such notorious groups as the Irish Republican Army are conspicuously absent from the list. He also fails to mention Israel's acts of terrorism, such as expropriating (stealing) land, building settlements on stolen land, demolishing homes, imprisoning thousands of people without charge, torturing prisoners (and even going so far as to legalize torture), and closing off Palestinian areas in order to put an economic strangle-hold on the people, to name a few. It isn't that the U.S. distinguishes between terrorism and state-sponsored terrorism, it just distinguishes between Israel's actions and those of everybody else in the area.

Turning to the Sudan, he defended the US bombing of the pharmaceutical plant, and called the Sudan's continued request for an international mission to investigate the plant as cynical "now that the rains have begun to wash the soil." Indeed, it is the United States that is being cynical to even make such a ridiculous claim, considering that (a) if the plant were manufacturing chemicals for weapons, there would certainly be evidence within the plant itself, not just in its dirt, and (b) it has been the United States that has resisted the investigation, not the Sudanese who have called for it from the moment the plant was bombed. It is America's behavior that is suspicious. It would be much better for the US to admit it made a grave mistake, than for it to continue to condemn the victims of its error. Any grievances against the Sudan (and there are plenty of valid ones), should be handled with diplomacy, not with air strikes.

In defending the air strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan, Pickering asserts that the US "had to balance our respect for the Arab people and Islam with our concern to protect our own citizens..." This is a backhanded way of linking all Arabs and all Muslims to the actions in Nairobi and Dar Es Salam, instead of just one group under one lunatic's leadership. It is not putting forth the "respect and understanding" he preaches.

Pickering glosses over the immense human suffering of the Iraqi people under sanctions and states that the United States's "goal is full Iraqi compliance with its obligations under all UNSC resolutions." He does not mention that the United States has not lifted a finger to uphold literally dozens of UN resolutions against Israel, some dating back over 30 years. Nor does he mention that, in fact, the United States has consistently vetoed any resolution introduced into the Security Council against Israel.

But the main point that we should focus on is that Pickering made it painfully clear that the United States would continue to work to make Israel the main power in the region. He stated "Throughout this [peace] process, the Secretary of State has made it clear that there should be no doubting the Clinton Administration's commitment to Israel's security and its people. That commitment has been unshakable and has been demonstrated repeatedly - in our joint struggle against terrorism, in the assistance to Israel that the American people have so long and so generously provided, and in the steps we have taken to ensure Israel's qualitative military edge." [italics added].

While he acknowledges that lasting peace is the solution to the region's problems, it is clear that Israel is and will always be the priority. The Iraqi people can starve, the Palestinians can remain under occupation, the Sudanese can be bombed, the Lebanese can continue to suffer random military strikes, etc., etc., but the United States must, at all costs, support Israel, no matter what it does, no matter what the consequences. Obviously, America is not and cannot be a neutral third party in the peace process.

Given all of this, there should be no doubt that the negotiations at Wye River, Maryland, were intended to serve American policy, which means that they were intended to serve Israel. Incredibly, Israel tried to make the release of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard a final condition to signing the new peace agreements, and, although he managed to delay a decision and got the Israelis to sign the agreement, President Clinton has said that he will look into how Pollard, a person who was spying on the United States on Israel's behalf - a traitor (!) -   might be released. Israel's interests are not only placed above those of the Arab world, they are placed above America's. This is the skewed and blurry vision of American policy makers.

It is clear from the legacy of colonialism and now the "new world order" that it is the policy of the West to divide and conquer the Arab world. This has caused immense problems in many parts of the region, including poverty and instability, which are the perfect breeding grounds for extremist movements, which only exacerbate the problems. It would be to everybody's benefit - the Arabs and the West - for the Arab world to unify in pursuit of its common goals, for example, along the lines of the European Union, in order to bring about regional stability and counter the unbalanced, external influences on the region.

- The Arab-American Dialogue (Al-Hewar)

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