In her latest visit to the region, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brandished the slogan “A New Middle East” and indicated that a ceasefire in Lebanon would be futile, unless it was part of a sustainable long-term solution that will bring peace to the region.
This slogan has been expressed several times in the last two decades, beginning with the war to liberate Kuwait, which President George Bush senior believed would pave the way for a New Middle East, to the Oslo Agreement in 1993 which the Democratic administration saw as a first step to create an integrated Middle East, ending with statements by the current president and his senior advisers, after the Iraq war, in which they preached a free and democratic region, built on the rubble of despotic regimes.
However, Rice’s latest pronouncements necessitate further analysis, given the Secretary of State’s pivotal role in the current administration.
The Secretary of State is known for maintaining a distance from the neo-conservatives, as she attempts to renew the tools of traditional US strategic discourse, built on pragmatic realism. From this perspective, in the last two years, she has put forward two main notions: The “constructive chaos” notion expressed the dilemma surrounding the Arab world’s transition to democracy, due to the division between US strategic interests and the forces of changes in the region who have benefited from this transformation. The second notion was that the internal make-up of the political regime took precedence over its foreign policy, whereby democratic governments are the only ones that can guarantee international peace and protect the US interests.
The relationship between the two notions is clear and does not require further explanation, even if they oppose two central prominent principles of traditional US strategic thinking: maintaining the existing status quo, which usually favors the dominating powers, and separating the nature of a regime from its foreign policy. Unlike the neo-conservatives, Rice abides by the standards and the rules of the international strategic game and has successfully employed international alliances to confer “legitimacy” on US stances. This method has proved its effectiveness in managing a number of complex issues, including the situation in Lebanon following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, whereas the crisis in Iraq has exposed the problems a unilateral strategy, devoid of international legitimacy, leads to.
Clearly, the model Rice is proposing is based on the East European model, where anti-American dictatorial regimes were transformed into allied and peaceful democratic regimes.
According to Rice, an expert in Soviet Studies, the collapse of totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe lead to a period of chaos and conflict but, ultimately, brought about stable democratic regimes, most of which have joined NATO and adopted a pro-American foreign policy.
Of course, the Arab and Muslim worlds differ intellectually, culturally and socially from the Eastern European world, which belongs to the same cultural and moral sphere as the West. Yet, in a famous speech at the American University in Cairo in 2005, Rice said that “the fundamentalist threat” which on many occasions was used as a pretext to justify hampering the democratic process in Arab countries can only be defeated in the democratic arena.
Does Rice still believe in this theory, after the her administration gave its blessing to the Israeli open war on the Hamas government, which was democratically elected, and the Israeli aggression on Lebanon, which will perish if the government of Prime minister Fouad Siniora collapses?
Despite Rice repeating, on her last visit, the slogan of a new Middle East and her revolutionary theory about democratic transformation, the outlook for the region remains well within the principles of traditional US policies in the Middle East:
1- Support the destruction of the military capabilities of the Islamic resistance movements in the Occupied Territories , in order to force Hamas to negotiate with Israel , without identifying what the final solution will be or adopting a precise timeline.
2- Disarm Hezbollah, eliminate its ability to confront Israel and settle its political position inside Lebanon as “a sectarian party that represents some of the Shiaa community”.
3- End Syria’s regional role in Lebanon and Iraq and isolate Damascus from Iran and push it to severe its relations with radical Palestinian factions (opposed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict with Israel ).
4- Contain the political and security crisis in Iraq , by working to gain the confidence of the Arab Sunni community and including regional powers ( Saudi Arabia , Turkey and Egypt ) in drawing an alternative modus operandi.
5- Isolate Iran and oppose its nuclear plans. Form a large regional coalition to oppose its strategic maneuvers in the region and its exploitation of sectarianism to further its regional role.
All the above plans bring back US strategy to the logic of realistic equilibriums and distance it from the logic of constructive chaos and the dream of a Middle Eastern spring.