So where are we now in the Middle East? Don't ask

Géopolitique du Proche-Orient



Before and after the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration and its journalistic/political allies insisted that "regime change" would demoralize extremists throughout the Middle East and Muslim countries generally, encourage moderates, and get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track.
So where are we now?
An almost unspeakably vicious Sunni-Shia civil war has erupted in parts of central Iraq. On Sunday, about the same number of people were killed or wounded in the Iraqi civil war as in Israel's bombing of Lebanon.
One day last week, more than 100 people were killed in Iraq. People were dragged from their cars and shot, abducted from their homes and shot, yanked off a bus and shot. Neither the U.S. occupying force nor the Iraqi authorities knows how to stop the war.
Militant Shia paramilitary and political groups are running Iran and parts of Iraq. Hezbollah rules southern Lebanon, and is allied (in the sense of wishing to hurt or destroy Israel) with Hamas, the duly elected government of the Palestinian Authority whose military wing started the latest spasm of violence in Gaza by kidnapping an Israeli soldier.
Occasionally, someone speaks about a "road map" for peace between Palestinians and Israelis, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper did in London before the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg. Hello?
There isn't a road map, and there hasn't been one for a long time - not since the Israelis made a strategic political and military decision, based on its assessment of Palestinian intentions, to go it alone, unilaterally setting a border by building a wall and withdrawing from territory, thereby essentially announcing terms for a settlement.
And then there's Afghanistan, where fighting against the Taliban and al-Qaeda has intensified throughout the south of the country, bedevilling efforts by U.S., British and Canadian soldiers to bring order.
Afghanistan is unsettled, to say the least. Iran is governed by a more militant anti-Western regime than the one in power before the last Iranian "election." Israel is conducting a low-grade (by its standards) two-front war.
The Palestinian Authority is run by the militants of Hamas. Palestine itself, especially Gaza, is an economic misery beset by violent clashes between security agencies of Hamas and Fatah.
Hezbollah's military wing in Lebanon has obviously prevailed over its political one by launching the raid that killed Israelis within Israel. The nasty Syrian government, bruised by its forced withdrawal from Lebanon, is stirring up trouble wherever it can. And Iraq, or at least central Iraq, is a cauldron of violence.
So-called moderate Arab regimes such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia - the ones that were supposed to quake lest the example of democracy in Iraq infect their societies - are modestly critical of Hezbollah and Hamas. But these regimes can't go far with their criticisms because, for a lot of people in their countries, Hezbollah and Hamas are the only ones willing to stand up to Israel and the United States, and to defend the Arab cause.
Of course, these so-called moderate regimes fear their own people, or at least the militant groups among them, which is among the reasons why they do not favour democratic elections.
The Sunni leaders of these regimes dread the appearance of militant Shiites in the world, aided and provoked by the theocratic Shia regime in Persian Iran that, by the way, is going to get nuclear weapons one way or another in the fullness of time.
To the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict that lies at the heart of so much Middle East turmoil, we can now add almost universal anti-Americanism, an upsurge in the historic enmity between Sunnis and Shiites, the spread of radical jihad ideology, continuing economic stagnation, and the return of Lebanon as the tragic playground of others' designs.
Seeing all this, the G8 leaders issued a Middle East declaration blaming "extremist elements" and those that support them. The "extremists" must immediately halt their attacks, while Israel should be "mindful of the strategic humanitarian consequences of its actions."
Like all G8 communiqués, this one was dead on publication. The signatories couldn't even agree on what the words meant. Not much time was spent parsing it at Israel Defence Forces headquarters, among the theocrats of Tehran or the sectarian militia forces tearing Iraq apart, or by the terrified civilians fleeing Lebanon.
jsimpson@globeandmail.com


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