Global Policy Forum

Is America Planning New Imperial Adventures?


By Patrick Seale*

Daily Star
December 18, 2004

President George W. Bush's foreign policy in his second term is an enigma. It will no doubt remain so until the struggle inside the administration between neoconservatives and traditional conservatives is resolved, one way or the other, over the coming months. Both sides are marshalling their forces and their arguments - in the press, in think tanks, in Washington drawing-rooms and in debates inside the great agencies of government. In the State Department, the National Security Council and the CIA, key posts are being fought over. How they are filled will provide clues to the future direction of American policy, in particular regarding the most hotly-contested region of all - the Middle East. Bush's closest foreign policy adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is the incoming Secretary of State, but no one knows what line she will take on the major Middle East issues, or whether indeed she has any views of her own. Rumour in Washington has it that she may appoint Eliott Abrams to head the Near East bureau of the State Department. He worked under her at the National Security Council as director of Middle East affairs and is well known as a passionate supporter of Israel and a virulent opponent of Palestinian aspirations. Were he to join her at state, hopes for a more balanced U.S. policy would almost certainly be dashed.

One might have thought that the neoconservative Likudniks, who dragged the United States into a disastrous war in Iraq, might now lie low in the hope of escaping blame for the mess. On the contrary, they are pursuing what the French call a fuite en avant - brazenly pushing their hard-line agenda in the evident belief that attack is the best means of defence. They are demanding that the "crusade" against "Islamofascism" - their newly-coined term for America's Islamic opponents - must continue. To falter, they say, is to risk defeat.

Colin Powell, the outgoing Secretary of State, was the most prominent traditional conservative in Bush's first administration. His departure is the neocons' biggest victory so far. Last weekend, at a forum in Morocco on the "Greater Middle East," Powell delivered his swan song. Everyone was agreed, he said, that change in the Arab world had to come from inside . To defeat the terrorists, the West had to attack the causes of despair and frustration which the extremists exploited for their own ends. Such language runs counter to the whole neocon philosophy, which can be summed up in the phrase, "democracy by conquest." Change, neoconservatives argue, must be imposed on the Arabs from outside, if necessary by force. Military pre-emption must remain an option. Arab and Muslim frustration over the Arab-Israeli conflict can be safely ignored. Anti-Americanism is pure "hot air" which will dissipate once America's enemies are crushed.

Douglas Feith and William Kristol are two leading neocons who, in their different ways, exemplify the thinking of the whole group. Feith is Under Secretary for Policy at the Defence Department, number three in the Pentagon hierarchy, just below his friend Paul Wolfowitz. He is widely credited with having fabricated and manipulated the intelligence which led America into war. Yet, astonishingly, he remains in office and seems likely to keep his job in Bush's second term.

In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post on December 12, Feith, described as "a staunch friend of Israel," suggested that military action against Iran's nuclear sites could not be ruled out, if Iran did not follow Libya in abandoning its nuclear program. "I don't think that anybody should be ruling in or ruling out anything," he said. He predicted that democratic reform in the Arab world - including in such U.S. allies as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - would be the linchpin of Bush's foreign policy in the next four years.

Not being in government, William Kristol can afford to be blunter still. He is the "Osama Bin Laden" of the American press, forever calling for an American jihad against the Arab world and Iran. He does not believe in dialogue, diplomacy or half-measures: his technique is blatant incitement to violence. As editor of The Weekly Standard, the strident organ of the neocons, he campaigned relentlessly for Saddam Hussein's overthrow. He is now urging the U.S. to attack other countries in the region, and Syria in particular.

In an article due to be published on December 20, but already available on the Internet, Kristol thunders: "Syria is a hostile regime. We have tried sweet talk and tough talk. Talk has failed. We now need to take action to punish and deter Assad's regime." To justify such radical action he accuses Syria of "permitting and encouraging activities that are killing not just our Iraqi friends but also, and quite directly, American troops." What does Kristol recommend? "We could bomb Syrian military facilities; we could go across the border in force to stop infiltration; we could occupy the town of Abu Kamal in eastern Syria, which seems to be the planning and organising center for Syrian activities in Iraq; we could covertly help or overtly support the Syrian opposition."

He concludes his article on a robust note: "It's time to get serious about dealing with Syria as part of winning in Iraq, and in the broader Middle East." Such hectoring by neocons - who use the royal "we" and claim to speak for the American people - is typical of the irresponsible discourse heard in several of Washington's right-wing think tanks. Clearly, this is no way to promote U.S.-Arab understanding, but that is not the neocons' intention. On the contrary, their aim is to burn bridges with the Arabs in the belief that this will serve Israel's interests and consolidate its position as Americaíµs closest ally. President George W. Bush has been under considerable pressure from British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but also from other European leaders and moderate Arabs, to pay serious attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict in his second term. In Washington this week, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier repeated the message that, if trans-Atlantic differences were to be healed and terrorism defeated, the Arab-Israeli problem had to be addressed. President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan conveyed the same message to Bush a week or two earlier.

But has Bush listened? Has he heard? He has spoken of his wish to see the emergence of a democratic Palestinian state in the coming years, but he has resisted calls for an international conference or for the appointment of a special envoy armed with firm presidential backing, who might succeed in pushing the peace process forward. There is no sign yet that Bush intends to turn his words into deeds or put any sort of pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The fact that he has kept prominent pro-Israeli neocons in key positions in his administration suggests that he has no real appetite to wrestle with one of the most intractable conflicts of our time.

Above all, he may not be convinced that there is an organic connection - any phenomenon of cause and effect - between U.S. policies in the Middle East and the hostility America is facing from a worldwide Islamic insurgency. The neocon line is that there is no such connection.

Toward Iran, the U.S. appears to be totally intransigent. It has just blocked for the 20th time, Iran's bid for observer status in the World Trade Organization and remains profoundly sceptical of European diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for a package of commercial, technological and political benefits.

In Iraq, the killing continues and seems likely to continue after the January 30 elections. No one can predict what the post-election scene will look like, except that the Shiites are likely to dominate the future Iraqi government for the first time in centuries. The U.S. has given no hint that it intends to withdraw its troops in the near future or forego its ambition for a permanent military presence in that unfortunate country.

About the Author: Patrick Seale, a Paris-based political analyst and commentator, wrote this article for The Daily Star.

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