Note from Steve Clemons. My colleague Nir Rosen who has been one of America’s most significant chroniclers of the Islamic dimensions of America’s war in the Middle East is now a regular contributer to The Washington Note. Please welcome him. And as always, the views he expresses are exclusively his own and not those necessarily of The Washington Note or mine. — Steve Clemons
When Israel was bombing Lebanon in 2006, killing its civilians and destroying its infrastructure, Condoleeza Rice celebrated this as the “birth pangs of the new Middle East,” a phrase that lives in infamy in Lebanon. The events of the last 24 hours in Lebanon were the death throes of the Bush plan for the new Middle East. In Iraq, instead of creating a democracy, the US introduced a civil war, sectarian militias, death squads and ethnic cleansing. It installed a series of ineffective dictators, Garner, Bremer, Allawi.
Then it surrendered to pressure from the sectarian Islamist Shiites it had empowered and agreed to elections, which of course ended in victory for sectarian Islamist Shiite militias who began slaughtering anybody they didn’t like, especially Sunnis. Then the US decided it had had enough of its puppet prime minister Jaafari, who was not proving obedient enough, so they forced him out and replaced him with another sectarian Shiite Islamist, Maliki, who also proved a disappointment to them. But though they threatened to remove him, they have backed him as he loses popularity and even attacks more popular Shiite movements like the Sadrists. Meanwhile the US has introduced new Sunni militias composed of thugs and former murderers. Its icon was Abu Risha, the slain leader of the Awakening council in the Anbar.
In Palestine, furious that Hamas won democratic and fair elections, the US (along with the Saudis, Jordanians, Israelis, Egyptians and others), backed the unpopular Fatah and Mahmud Abbas, a traitor to his own people, collaborating with their occupiers. As Fatah tortured its opponents Gaza was suffocated and the Palestinian people punished for their decision to take part in elections. As Fatah thugs attempted a coup in Gaza, Hamas thwarted this threat with a counter coup and easily defeated the American backed Palestinian militias.
In Somalia, the Americans backed a coalition of hated warlords to go after the much more popular Islamic Courts Union, in the name of the war on terror. The Islamic Courts rise was the first reason for optimism in Somalia, the first time after 14 attempts to set up a government and 15 years of civil war.
The Islamic Courts introduced peace and stability to Mogadishu and its environs, got rid of warlords and their militias who terrorized Somalis. Women were able to walk on the streets unharassed and exiled businessmen returned to rebuild the broken country. But it was an Islamist movement, and in the era of Bush, that means al Qaeda, so the US backed the war lords and its local proxy, the Ethiopians, who invaded Somalia and occupied Mogadishu and are now raping and killing civilians, while the Islamists radicalized and the situation in Somalia is worse than ever.
Things aren’t going very well in Afghanistan either, where Hamid Karzai, a weak puppet who controls nothing, relies on the Americans to back an every strengthening violent resistance.
In Lebanon, the Americans view Hizballah as a terrorist threat and have pressured their Sunni proxies not to compromise. Hizballah, the most popular movement by far among Lebanese Shiites, and very popular among other groups (not to mention throughout the region) was demanding a national unity government so that it could have a more equitable share of political power, but Hizballah, despite its military power, was not even asking for a a larger share for Shiites but instead it sought a larger share for its non Shiite allies in the opposition. This was in order to have a say in strategic issues and prevent the weapons of the resistance from being threatened, while also maintaining Lebanon outside the American and Israeli sphere of influence.
According to Amal Saad Ghorayeb, an expert on Shiite movements and on Lebanon, until recently attached to the Carnegie Center for International Peace Middle East Center: “US policy in Lebanon is underpinned by an overarching US Middle East strategy of reconfiguring the political map of the Middle East as we know it, aka, the “New Middle East” plan, formerly the “Greater Middle East Initiative” officially unveiled by Condi Rice at the start of the July War. The tactics change but the strategy remains the same: both in its earlier (promoting democracies) and most recent (supporting autocracies) incarnations. US strategy seeks political,military and economic domination of the region, while ensuring the security of Israel. Its chosen instrument for implementing this strategy is the “moderate”US-friendly client Arab regime.
Given its dissatisfaction with the results of democratic elections in the region, the Bush administration continues to support autocratic regimes in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, while de-democratizing existing democracies in Lebanon and Palestine. In the latter case, it is cultivating the latest breed of democracy, “the democratic regime,”a new form of government which is popularly challenged, constitutionally disputed and derives its legitimacy from outside powers. The formation and preservation of regimes such as Siniora’s (the Lebanese Prime Minister) has necessitated a US policy of promoting instability and national disunity, in short, a policy of”constructive instability.”
The Americans thought that they could pick a proxy and get him to rule Lebanon. But Lebanon is too complicated for them, and they didn’t know that no single group can rule Lebanon. The Americans along with their Saudi allies backed the creation of sectarian Sunni militias in Lebanon, some of whom were even trained in Jordan. Their ideology consisted of anti Shiite sectarianism. But these Sunni militiamen proved a complete failure, and America’s proxies in Lebanon barely put up a fight, despite their strident anti Shiite rhetoric. Now it is clear that Beirut is firmly in the hands of Hizballah and nothing the Americans can do will dislodge or weaken this popular movement, just as they cannot weaken the Sadrists in Iraq or Hamas in Gaza.
Jordanian training, which was provided to the Sunni militias in Lebanon, the Fatah militias in Palestine and even Iraqi security forces, has proven inadequate. Note that in Iraq, the Iraqi security forces are either sectarian death squads or are unable to fight, and rely on the Americans.
Say what you will about Hizballah and its allies, whether you sympathize with them or oppose them, it is clear that they cannot be dislodged, that they are an integral part of Lebanon and the Middle East. They proved this when they won the war of 2006 and proved this once again yesterday when they dispatched pro American and Saudi militias with ease and seized control of Beirut.
If one dreams of a Hizballah without weapons, or a Hamas that does not engage in violent resistance, or any sort of peaceful resolution in the Middle East, then one has to begin at the beginning, with the Israeli occupation of Palestine (as well as a little bit of Syrian territory).
— Nir Rosen