Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Middle East Crisis Remains the Same in 2009 as 2006

This radio commentary was prepared during the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer, 2006. Its portrait of the main actors in the tragic circumstances of Middle East peoples remains unchanged today.

The commentary hints at the fundamental role the United States has played in the Israel/Palestine conflict, the Israeli vision of a “Greater Israel” empire, and the need for a movement of progressives, particularly among Democrats, to mobilize to end US complicity with Israel’s violent policies which victimize Palestinian peoples while continuing to expose Israeli citizens to terrorist retribution. Unfortunately, none of these core features of the Middle East catastrophe have changed.

This time the peace movement must expand its militancy demanding that the incoming Obama administration end its support of Israeli militarism and promote two independent and economically viable states in the region. HT
Harry Targ

The Crisis is Upon Us

The current Middle East crisis has emerged with shocking rapidity. We have seen a seemingly unending escalation of violence against expanding civilian targets in Lebanon, Gaza, and Israel. Neoconservatives such as Newt Gingrich, Bill O’Reilly, Shawn Hannity, and William Kristol, proclaim that the war in the Middle East constitutes the onset of “World War III,” a view that is in keeping with their vision of why the United States needs to exert military power globally.

Key Actors in the Middle East Drama

To better understand the immediate causes of this Middle East crisis and its relationship to United States foreign policy the major actors in the tense drama must be examined.

First, “Political Islam” refers to those movements, primarily in the Middle East, the Gulf, North Africa, and Asia that fuse the drive for political power with religious fundamentalism. In the main, Political Islam is profoundly reactionary in terms of democracy, human rights, and economic justice. Paradoxically, Political Islam drew much of its initial support from US global policy. For example, the United States provided massive aid and training to rebels fighting against the pro-Soviet government of Afghanistan in the 1980s, including today’s enemy icon, Osama Bin Laden. In fact, President Carter began funding the creation of Political Islam in Afghanistan before the Soviet Union sent troops to that country.

Hamas and Hezbollah, allied with outside actors Syria and Iran, formed in the 1980s. They sought to capture the support of Palestinians and their allies in response to growing Israeli brutality against the Palestinian people and the corruption of the Palestine Liberation Organization. These two formations have represented terrorism and religious fundamentalism and yet at the same time have provided significant social services and a political voice for the repressed Palestinian population.

Second, we need to reflect more systematically on Syria and Iran as regional political actors with ties to Political Islam. Both countries seek to expand their influence in the region and sympathize with local Islamic militants to do so. It is clear that both Syria and Iran are targets of the US. Israel receives huge military support from the United States and the two share an interest in destroying Syria and Iran: the US wants to control oil, and Israel territory and people.

Third, the Israeli government is driven by a vision of regional hegemony and the elimination of the Palestinian people as a political force. As Noam Chomsky has argued, Israeli governments (and the United States) have always envisioned a region based on a “Greater Israel,” that is Israeli control of the politics and economics of Southern Lebanon, Western Syria, and Palestine. Crushing the growing popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah is a necessity from the vantage point of this vision and ultimately as well destroying their base of support in Syria and Iran. Like the assassination attempt of an Israeli politician in London in 1982, the recent capture of Israeli soldiers in Gaza and Lebanon provided the excuse for Israel’s brutal and massive military escalation of violence causing the deaths of hundreds of men, women, and children with no connection to Hezbollah.

Fourth, the Middle East crisis has profound consequences for the United States and the Bush administration. President Bush by word and deed has given the green light to Israel to expand its violence in Gaza and Lebanon. He has forestalled diplomatic activity to bring a halt to the violence. He even has been slow to remove US citizens trapped in the war zones of Lebanon. Further, the six month escalation of tension between the United States and Iran suggests that the former would not oppose an Israeli strike on the latter. The US would get its war on Iran without having to carry out the war itself. In the end, this Middle East crisis could give renewed intellectual justification for the neoconservative vision of a globalization of American power.

Finally, this administration seems to be increasing support for militarism in the face of growing danger of war in virtually every region of the world: the Korean, Peninsula, East and South Asia, the Middle East and the Gulf, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The Bush administration, more than every other administration since World War II, seems wedded to the unlimited use of military force as opposed to diplomacy.

It remains to be seen whether the growing worldwide protest against the Israeli war on Lebanon and US acquiescence to it will bring a desperately needed ceasefire soon and, in the future, whether the election of anti-war candidates in the fall, 2006 US congressional elections will change United States policy in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf.