Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Tragicomedy of Errors!

Voices are being raised on a daily basis tying progress in resolving the current situation in Iraq and the standoff with Iran to a peaceful conclusion of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. The most recent such call came from none other than Graham Fuller writing in the Winter issue of the Washington Quarterly (not available on the Internet). But, and while Fuller makes many excellent arguments with regard to the current dynamics in the region, his perspective, albeit far more nuanced and inclusive than most, is still too narrow.

Solving the Arab-Israeli Conflict is not a cure-all for the region’s myriad problems and will not denote the end of conflicts therein. The situations in the Sudan, Somalia and Algeria did not emerge as a result of the AIC, nor did the sectarian problems in Lebanon and Syria, nor the specific conditions that prevailed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. The claim by many in the region that the US went into Iraq and Afghanistan to execute an Israeli agenda is a reflection of the usual conspiratorial mentality so prevalent in the region and that reduces the complex dynamics of the American decision-making process to a single often over-inflated cause.

This is not meant to argue, however, that the AIC should be ignored. On the contrary, like all other conflicts in the region, it begs to be effectively addressed and resolved now. In fact, if regional stability and mounting an effective anti-terrorism campaign are really what is at stake here, the AIC can no longer be treated in isolation from other conflicts and challenges in the region, for these conflicts have now become intermeshed.

Indeed, ever since the establishment of the HISH (Hezbollah-Iran-Syria-Hamas) Alliance, the ability to address the AIC in isolation from other outstanding issues and conflicts in the region has become a well-nigh impossible task.

Can the Golan Heights issue be tackled in isolation from the issue of the Shebaa Farm? Can the Assads regime be engaged while avoiding to address the issue of the UN inquiry into the Hariri assassination and Syria role, old and new, in Lebanon? Can the issue of the Shebaa Farm be tackled in isolation from Hezbollah, its leaders and their particular vision and personal ambitions? Can any of these issues be tackled in isolation from Iran’s regional influence and interests, not to mention its relation to the world’s powers? Can they be addressed in isolation from Saudi interests? Can the role of al-Qaeda and other extremist and terrorist groups in the region be ignored? Can the fact that a new Taliban seems to be emerging in Somalia at this stage not have an impact on regional developments, especially when Somalia becomes a new training grounds and shelter for terrorists, just like Iraq is fast becoming as well and Afghanistan has up until recently been? Wouldn’t the main goal of the new wave of terrorists be to waylay any kind of peace talks, not to mention talks about peace talks taking place in the region?

The answers, I believe, are all too obvious, and all too ominous.

So, what can be done? Well, considering the nature of the actors involved on all sides, no realistic policy alternatives can frankly be recommended at this stage. The sorely needed international will to hold a new and expansive conference on the challenges posed by regional developments is simply nonexistent. Yet, even should such an event take place today, the powers involved are likely to opt to fall back on the usual “realistic” arrangements that empower regimes and betrays peoples, leaving the real issues unresolved. As a result, the Development Gap separating the two worlds will continue to increase, and so will popular frustration, anger and resentment as well as communal tensions – that is, the very things that fuel the current conflicts and ongoing terrorist activities.

There is a need for major international conference to draw the outlines of a new international system that takes the post-Cold War realities in mind and allow for the emergence of new regional and international powers in a peaceful manner. We have seen something along these lines after WWI and WWII, but not after the Cold War, and as a result, we slipped back into a multi-polar Cold War, a fact that is preventing any realistic peacemaking from taking place, anywhere. The few “success stories” that some might flaunt here, namely developments in the Balkans, have come at a high price, have not been easy to achieve, have been the results of a concerted effort by a real multilateral coalition that was painstakingly put together over a period of many months, and sometimes years, and the final results themselves are still all too fragile.

Indeed, if no new international arrangement is worked out, and soon, no peacemaking efforts are likely to prove effective (and no peace making can be effective without emphasis on developments, human rights and democratization), and the best that can be accomplished will be a hudna of sorts, – a temporary reprieve or cessation of hostilities that will not last long enough to satisfy anyone or to help accomplish anything tangible, other than the ability to create more mayhem.

That is what I believe to be the only realistic policy alternative that I can make at this stage. Until there is an international will to adopt such a comprehensive approach, which is likely to pose as many new challenges as it offers to resolve, though, hopefully, it will also least introduce a mechanism for dealing more effectively with these new challenges, we will continue to inch, if not occasionally leap, our way towards regional, if not global, implosion.