16 November 2006



The results of the US mid-term congressional elections have helped clear the wax from the ears of the White House, perhaps they would now listen to new wisdom provide by British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Editorial by  By Adel Darwish 



Positive Climate in Washington is Met by a Negative Middle East Reality
Thursday 16 November 2006

British Prime Minister Tony Blair was quick to call for some practical steps to discover the sliver lining in the clouds of the latest electoral storm to hit President George W. Bush's ship which was sailing with a broken compass using ancient charts on which there were no marks to identify some new currents and streams of some dangerous perils. Blair's diplomacy is subtle and wise. He does not embarrass his allies nor does he antagonise his adversaries. He used the traditional Prime Minister's speech during the Lord Mayor's dinner at the Guildhall in the city of
London – an annual event marking the election of the new Lord Mayor John Stuttard- to explain British foreign policy. The Prime Minister outlined the priorities of his policy commencing with solutions to issues in the Middle East and Iraq, and the war against terrorism.
Using a his video link the next day as he was interviewed by the Iraq Study Group in Washington, headed by former US Secretary of State James Baker III, Mr Blair
emphasised his ideas to find a way out of the quagmire in Iraq. Prior to both events, Downing Street leaked reports that the British leader had advised the Americans to change their strategy by search for solutions outside of Iraq as well as inside the country, especially by focusing on a Palestinian-Israeli settlement, supporting the Lebanese in reinstating their independence and stability, and engaging Syria and Iran in a dialogue in light of the role they can play in the aforesaid three issues.

Blair's strategy has been clear for the past three years and his latest speech reemphasises the strategy he made in his two speeches in Canberra (March) and Los Angeles (July) about his foreign policy’s priorities and the safeguarding of the values of the Free World, which are the same values shared by the Muslim democrats and the peace advocates in and out of the Middle East.
The mid-term Congressional election was a referendum in which the American voters rejected the
attitude and the foolish mistakes of the neo-conservative in their radical approach to world problems. The Democrats gained control over the House of Representatives, which includes the committees of International Relations, Armed Services, Homeland Security, and Energy and Commerce. Blair, however, enjoys a great deal of respect and admiration among both Republican and Democrats in both houses. He is a brilliant lawyer who knows how to present his case, and an eloquent orator who has won the hearts and the respect of those he addressed when he stood next to President Bush, and before him next to former President Bill Clinton.

Blair took an immediate principled stand when declaring that Britain stood shoulder to shoulder with America after al Qaeda’s September 11 aggression against the American people. Blair often expresses his gratitude by reminding world of America's role during the Second World War when American young men spilt their blood on European shores save the Europeans from the Nazi brutality. This gained Blair a special place in American hearts especially after many ungrateful European leaders fails to revisit such history, or to acknowledge how the Marshall Plan helped rebuilding Europe after the war.
The changes in the Capitol Hill helped removing the built-up wax in the White House ears making it more attentive and receptive to the counsel given by
London, which is more familiar with the Middle East as British diplomats enjoy the trust and respect of the wise among the Middle Eastern leaders. Donald Rumsfeld's departure from the Pentagon is more than President Bush’s symbolic gesture by removing an official associated with accumulated errors and negative aspects of the US strategy that turned Iraqi people’s elation at the sight of Saddam's collapsing statue signaling an end to the Baathist dictatorship into a tragedy. Rumsfeld's dismissal clearly signals the start in search for a new strategy. His successor, Robert Gates has a long experience in security having had a long professional career at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He is also Baker's partner in the Iraq Study Group and his viewpoints on the region are similar to Mr Blair's analysis of the situation. In his report to the US Foreign Relations Council in 2004 and in several other articles, Gates proposed engaging Syria and Iran in a dialogue while offering incentives and waving sanctions at the same time. He stressed that dialogue and openness can activate the civil society as an instrument for change in the two countries. He also proposed a tradeoff in which to dismantle the Iranian opposition Mujahideen-e Khalq Organisation (MKO) in Iraq in return for Iran's refraining from supporting the Shia militias in south Iraq. A politician with Baker’s experience, one who belongs to the pragmatic school of political realism, can profit from the experience of a man like Gates who has served in the CIA and the National Security Council by adding him to the Iraqi Study Group. And Blair's testimony, or rather his advice, to the Baker commission on the video link Tuesday emphasised the need to practically implement the proposals made by Gates. James Baker was one of the most efficient and capable US secretaries of state. However, he and his colleague, Lee Hamilton and the 13 others in the study group including Gates, are not magicians who can perform miracles. They hope to be able to provide the White House with a wider range of options, a list of the potential risks and dangers, in addition to proposing a budget in order to set the timetable for withdrawal from the crisis that has become Iraq.
From a realistic point of view, it is not fair to expect Baker and his group to offer the ideal solution on how to pullout from
Iraq when the country is in a state of total collapse. We may agree with the British prime minister on the need to find a just solution for the Palestinian Israeli fix, with preliminary steps to save the lives of Palestinian and Israeli civilians alike. And we may agree with him on the need to lay the groundwork for a joint dialogue with Iran and Syria. But there are very few, if any, chances for Blair's initiatives to succeed given the realities in the Middle East.

Hamas, the extreme Islamists movement which is now the Palestinian government after winning the general elections, refuses to honour accords signed by the previous government; or to recognise Israel's right to exist. This dissipates any hope that the Israelis could accept any negotiations for a settlement with the Palestinian while Hamas is in power.
In response to Blair's initiative,
Iran encouraged the militias it backs in southern Iraq to blow up a British patrol boat in Shatt al Arab, with the loss of four British lives. Furthermore, intelligence agencies report that Iran was grooming a new leadership for al Qaeda to take over from Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, that would be more cooperative and sympathetic toward Iran. There seems to be no indication that Iran is willing to abandon the extremists. Moreover, it would be hard for the international community to pay the price Iran wants to help bring stability in Iraq; namely the world’s acceptance of Iran's right to develop a technology that would enable it to make nuclear bombs. It also means that the world will have to overlook Iran's role in backing Hezballah and other extremist organisations. Furthermore, Iran is obstructing the peace process between Palestine and Israel and is publicly calling for the destruction of the Jewish State.
As for
Syria, it will not cooperate until it gets an assurance that it will come out clean from the investigation of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri is since the evidence seems to be pointing at Syrian leaders. Syria also wants to regain the Golan heights by resuming its negotiations with Israel from the point at which they had stopped under the late President Hafez al Asad. The investigation into al Hariri's assassination is not an Anglo-American one but an international one. Thus, it would be difficult for Blair to rescue the Syrian leadership from this predicament even if he wanted to.
On the other side, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is in an unenviable domestic political situation. The rightist opposition led by Benjamin Netanyahu will exploit any concession that he would make to
Syria and will interpret that as “a reward for Syria for backing Hezbullah and Hamas for their attacks and for igniting the war in the summer.” Thus, Olmert will not be able to persuade the Israeli voter of a useful outcome of negotiating with Syria. Moreover, the Israeli voter is traditionally suspicious of initiative coming from Britain, which is viewed as pro-Arab.
The new political map in
Washington has given Blair a bigger chance to convince Bush of a wiser policy. Unfortunately, the current political map in the region makes the implementation of his new strategy almost impossible.


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