Monday, August 21, 2006

Of Grand Visions & Miniscule Leaders!

Many Israelis seem to be interested in advocating talks with Syria these days, including my former colleague at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Avi Dichter, not to mention my other former colleague, but always the friend, Flynt Leverett, who wrote quite an analysis of US foreign policy in the latest issue of the American Prospect calling for the adoption of a new vision and a new approach, especially to the Middle East.

Now this might come as a surprise for some, but I actually have no problem with the resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace talks provided certain conditions are met, namely that they take place within the framework of a wider regional initiative that includes Iran, and that the issues of internal reforms is put on the table.

In other words, I want a combination of the Barcelona and Madrid processes, and I want some monitoring mechanism to be included as well and some manner of holding states accountable to their failure in living up to their commitments, especially with regard to internal reforms. This development will still not deliver democracy, I know, but it will give us a real chance to work it out peacefully from within, or so I hope.

Indeed, I started my career as an activist exactly by advocating the necessity for launching such an initiative, with both European and American involvement and sponsorship, and I have attended more conferences that I can remember where my colleagues from across the region and I sat down with European and American policy advisors and wrote papers upon papers and proposals upon proposal and commissioned studies upon studies, then sent them up the ladder using all appropriate channels, only to get saddled with vague declarations and initiatives such as the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative and the Foundation for the Future, which, as significant as they are, remain woefully insufficient and fall far short of what is really needed. Follow through has always been lacking as well. The will to wage peace is not as present as that to wage war. Key people got easily distracted, and the powers that be continue to have conflicting agendas and interests.

So, we, the liberal activists, slowly drifted away to focusing on smaller initiative based on the political situation in our respective countries in the hope of bringing about a small change there that would help us advocate our agenda on a more national level. To no avail. Our leaders were all too idiotic and corrupt, and too mired in their own intenral calculations and particularistic interests to be able to deliver on promises of reform.

Leadership and vision. The world seems all too lacking in both, at a time when these two qualities are needed most. This is the essence of our contemporary dilemma I guess. Rather than managing the New World Order and building it ourselves, the New World Order is managing us and introducing itself upon us and at our expense, especially with regards to the peoples of the developing world.

But in reality, politicians do not seem capable anymore, if they have ever been, of formulating the grand visions needed today. In our hope to democratize the world and to bring greater harmony to it, and for the sake of introducing and supporting liberal and liberating ideals, the relevant visions and leadership need to be provided by independent civil actors and organizations working across boundary lines, just as in the case with transitional fundamentalist movements and terrorist cells. Non-state actors and movements working for the sake of radical causes can only be effectively combated through a parallel development on the liberal end. States, big and small, are often part of the problem, and all need to be challenged and pushed in the right direction.

No, I am not speaking here as an anti-globalization activist, but as a pro-globalization activist, a reality that illustrates just how complex a mission we have ahead of us. There are simply too many ideologies and movements and personalities involved, and too many internecine clashes to allow for a smooth and speedy transition. Harmonizing them all into a solid pragmatic movement, rather than an ideological one, will take time, a lot of time.

Meanwhile, we have no choice but to work in tandem on our little projects in the hope of achieving one little breakthrough here or there to help build a momentum for change.

For me, a peace accord between the Assads and Israel outside the regional context outlined above will constitute an unmitigated disaster for the cause of human rights and political reform in Syria and will have major repercussions on our ability as activists to push for any kind of meaningful participation in the decision-making process in the country. Still, I am not overly worried about that, for the current talk in the Israeli side reflects nothing but an Israeli dilemma centered on the inability of the current Israeli leaders to provide the needed leadership and vision for the future of their country.

Still, even should talks end up taking place one day, I wouldn’t be worried, because I know the other side of the equation all too well, and I know that I can always count on their stupidity not to do the right thing, even for themselves.

Moreover, the Assads are no longer in a position to do any deals by themselves these days seeing that their decisions are now made on their behalf in Tehran. The Assads have irrevocably tied their fortunes to Iran, without it they have no leg to stand on. And the Iranians are not so stupid as to supply weapons and arms to a regime that is not securely in their pocket. On a related note, if people really want to drive a wedge between the Syria and Iranian regimes, they should be more quiet about it. Such goals cannot be pursued in full light of day. But in the absence of back channels to either regimes speculations might be the only alternative that the Bush Administration has.

Peace has no chance in these circumstances.