Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Arab Initiative and the New US Administration | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Was it incorrect to wage upon or have trust in the promises made by a certain team within the American administration? Did some Lebanese officials or Palestinians feel that they were exploited by that American team? They believed the promises made by US Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and the accompanying pledges made by US Deputy National Security Advisor, Elliott Abrams.

After situations intensified, both the Lebanese and Palestinian parties had high expectations because their opponents in Lebanon and Palestine were receiving open support from Iran and Syria. The Lebanese side, specifically, has paid a high price involving assassinations and there was serious concern for its future. It needed to cling to any international support that it received despite the numerous accusations [against it].

However, the major problem is that amid all its sufferings and hopes, it did not realize that it was being used not to topple the Syrian regime but to pressure Syria to stand by Washington with regards to Iraq.

In the aftermath of America’s “fiasco” in Iraq, the United States is no longer able to attack any other country. The Pentagon’s top military officials will not execute Vice President Dick Cheney’s frequently renewed plan to attack targets within Iran. The recently broken silence of J. Scott Carpenter, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs revealed that the US Chief of Staff rejected a plan proposed by Cheney last summer to bombard Iranian nuclear installations.

Iran, not Syria, remains America’s biggest problem. The mistake is that both the Lebanese and Palestinian sides believed Abrams’ promises; yet he delivered nothing but sugar-coated words. The other mistake was that the Lebanese and Palestinians sought the attention of the American president via an assistant who was indifferent to Lebanese and Palestinian interests. Consequently, they failed to open channels of communication with the president directly or with individuals who have links to the president.

Abrams exploited his close ties to the White House and as a result of the weakness of National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, Abrams’ influence on the Lebanese and Palestinian teams increased. Not only did these two teams err, many Arabs were unaware of the channels through which they could reach the American president in an objective manner. What adds to the confusion is that when they contact them, American officials openly state, “Our interests in the Arab world are not threatened, so why should we change our policies?”

Abrams made every effort to cause problems between Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United States. The speech that was delivered by President George W Bush at the World Economic Forum in Sharm el Sheikh entailed Abrams’ ideas and advice.

A US veteran official recounted Abrams’ culpable methods and told me, “During President Bush’s first visit to the Middle East last January and during the preparations for it, Abrams suggested to Bush that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak be invited to Riyadh to meet him there. This suggestion caused a storm within the administration. A number of former officials intervened and informed the president that such behavior would be considered an insult. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also played a part in persuading Bush to travel to Egypt with the help of some former officials from his father’s administration.”

According to my source, Abrams wanted to cause problems “because if this had happened, Egypt would have reacted strongly and this could have led to problems between it and America.”

However, what would prompt him to act in such a way? The American official said, “Abrams does not want there to be strong ties between Egypt and America or America and Saudi Arabia so that the two Arab states would not be able to affect Israeli policy in the Palestinian Territories.”

In the interests of America, Rice has made the most of good ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia and she fought hard to persuade the president to intervene in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Rice sought the help of some influential American activists to persuade the president to play a more active role. But at present, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is politically paralyzed and the Palestinians have postponed heeding to Egypt’s call to launch a dialogue between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.

Rice did not evade an attack launched against her by neoconservatives. At the last AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Elizabeth Cheney launched a vehement attack on Rice and her efforts to achieve a framework for peace between the Palestinians and Israel before Bush leaves office. She considered the Annapolis conference a waste of time where as it is “important to focus on Iran.” She said: “When we focus on [Israeli-Palestinian peace talks] we don’t have time to focus on Iran.” Cheney added, “If the Iranians do not heed UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment, they will face military action.”

This attack was embarrassing for Condoleezza Rice so she was forced to defend herself in a speech she delivered at the AIPAC conference. She also expressed her doubts about the possibility of drafting a framework for a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis before the end of Bush’s presidency.

Bush’s term is drawing to a close, and after the next president has been selected in November, the incumbent president is supposed to seek the advice of the elected president in any decision that he takes. My source played down the threat put forward by the prominent neocon Daniel Pipes that if Barack Obama, the candidate for the Democratic nomination, is elected, President Bush will launch a war against Iran before leaving the White House. He seems confident that John McCain will launch this war!

The Arab world should think about activating the Arab Initiative adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002 to convince the new American administration that the strategic goal of the Arabs is peace because if Obama is elected, his priority will be to find a way out of the problem of Iraq. Since he must find a solution by the beginning of 2010, he needs Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Iran and Turkey…so should the Arabs deal with him in a realistic manner?

On the other hand, if the Republican presidential candidate John McCain comes to power, he would appoint Joe Lieberman as secretary of state and a large number of Lieberman’s advisers are neocons or traditional Republicans. Even if McCain was elected he would not completely follow President Bush’s policy although he has hinted at a “permanent occupation.”

My source drew my attention to the trend of easing tensions in the Middle East rather than solving all strategic crises. Both the Lebanese and Palestinian sides that had faith in Abrams’ promises should remember the words of former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: “What is lost on the battlefield cannot be regained at the negotiation table.” He insists on advising the Lebanese against repeating the same mistakes since they had the chance to reach an agreement many months ago prior to the events that took place in Beirut (7 May) through which Iran, Syria and Hezbollah proved that they do not fear America.

The Lebanese must hasten to find a political solution and form a government as stated in the Doha Agreement. They also should realize that what the Qataris are doing is in agreement with some influential American circles that believe it is necessary to settle the acute crises that threaten peace in the region in preparation of launching a different diplomatic approach “that could help bring Iran back into its traditional role of strategic cooperation with the United States in stabilizing the Gulf region,” (Zbigniew Brzezinski, Washington Post, 27 May 2008).

With regards to Syria, it is not in its interest to cause any problems because it looks forward to the next American administration and because the election of General Michel Suleiman, who is not anti Syria, in Lebanon, opened the gates of the Elysée Palace to it. Consequently, the Lebanese should know that the Bush administration, despite its daily supportive words to the government, continues even now to hesitate in flexing its muscles.