Editor's Note: Major Pine recently lost his security clearance and command from the US Army with no real explanation except that he was "too close to Israel."
US - ISRAEL QUAGMIRE
By Major Shawn Pine
The arrival in Israel of retired General Anthony Zinni to broker yet another cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians underscores the fatally flawed, and arguably morally bankrupt, US foreign policy in the region. The events of September 11 should have been a final wake-up call that the United States is pursuing a dangerous and fatally flawed strategy in the region. Unfortunately, the approach of the United States in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, reflect the Kafkaesque nature of US policy and decision making in the Middle East.
The public pronouncements of the President and Secretary of State underscore the hypocritical and myopic nature of US foreign policy in the region. Only a little over two months prior to September 11, Secretary of State Powell, in responding to the Israeli policy of targeting Palestinians terrorist leaders that were responsible for a myriad of terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, stated that the Israeli policy "is too aggressive and it just serves to increase the level of tension and violence in the region." Ironically, less than two months later Powell, in reference to Al Queda, was saying "it will not be over until we have gotten into the inside of this organization, inside its decision cycle, inside its planning cycle, inside its execution capability, and until we have neutralized and destroyed it."
Unfortunately, this double standard extended to the Presidency. In the days immediately following the September attacks, President Bush proclaimed "our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them, from this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime." The President went on to proclaim in his September 20 speech "by aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder. Deliver to United States authorities all of the leaders of Al Queda who hide in your land. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating. These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: either you are with us or you is with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime."
Given these public US statements towards Islamic terrorism, we should expect greater US - Israeli cooperation and understanding of the challenges confronting Israel. Yet, rather than support Israeli actions against Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the US is calling for Israeli restraint and saying that their war against Islamic terrorism is unjustified, notwithstanding that on a per capita basis Israel has suffered three times the loss as that of the US. All of this while the United States pursues an unfettered war against Al Queda.
The United States acts as if the Tenet and Mitchell reports were created in a vacuum. These reports were developed as a result of Islamic terrorism and Arafat's unwillingness to fulfill his commitments agreed upon under the Oslo Accords. Any rational and objective observer of the Middle East understands that Arafat's tolerance and support of Hamas and Islamic Jihad is no different than the Taliban's support of Osama bin Laden and Al Queda. Moreover, while each Islamic terrorist group has nuances unique to their location and immediate objectives, they share the same long-term goals. The goals of Islamic Jihad and Hamas are first and foremost the destruction of Israel and then the West. The goals of Al Queda are first and foremost the destruction of Western influence in the region and then the destruction of the West. Given the US strategic position, its stance towards Islamic terrorism is very simple, kill Americans and we will come after you, kill Israelis and we will use our influence to squeeze more concessions for you. However, this should come as a surprise to anyone. It is not by accident that countries have common interests not friends. The US is formulating its regional policy in pursuit of what it perceives to be its own strategic interests, at the expense of Israeli regional interests.
Israel now finds itself confronted with the same dilemma it faced a decade ago. During the Persian Gulf War Israel was asked to absorb Iraqi SCUD attacks without response. This was done in deference to US security interests in the region and US perception that an Israeli response would weaken the "coalition" it had built to expel Iraq from Kuwait. The United States was not concerned that Israel's acquiescence dealt its deterrence credibility a deleterious blow and served to embolden and increase terrorist attacks from Hizballah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This deterioration in Israel's deterrent credibility has increased as Israel continued to participate in the peace process, under pressure from the US, despite the clear surety that Arafat had not undergone a metamorphosis and increasing attacks on Israel's civilian population. Now, once again the United States is asking Israel to subservient the safety and security if its citizens so that it can retain the ephemeral support of its Arab allies in its war against Osama bin Laden.
One thing should be obvious. It is the responsibility of the Israeli leadership to protect its citizens. Today Israel is being pressured to makes its security interests subservient to the US strategic interests as the US tries to maintain a worldwide "coalition" in its war against Al Queda and Osama bin Laden. Consequently, the United States will compel Prime Minister Sharon to sign yet another agreement and continue the "peace process." All this in exchange for yet another declaration by Arafat renouncing terrorism and expressing his support for the peace process. Yet Arafat's actions have belied all of his public declarations and this one will be no different. This cycle will continue until a final agreement is reached and the United States can proclaim that peace has been achieved between Israel and the Arabs. It would behoove Israeli leaders to review the history of the US brokered peace treaty between North and South Vietnam before agreeing to be led down this road.
There has been a subtle but discernible shift in US foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Israel is no longer perceived as a strategic asset in the region. During the Cold War the US saw Israel as a manifestation of Western strength and a projection of US power in the region. The Persian Gulf War and the current conflict in Afghanistan has shown Israel to be an albatross to US strategic interests. This view has always been that of the State Department and is growing within the US intelligence community and Defense Department, not to mention the current administration. As the US continues to export vast amounts of weaponry and train the Arab forces this shift will be exacerbated.
Unfortunately, the United States is pursuing a very myopic and ultimately destructive policy. It appears that Lenin's famous dictum, that the capitalists would sell the communists the rope in which to hang the West, is coming to fruition. Since the Gulf War the West, mainly the United States, has provided the Arab states in the region with nearly a trillion dollars of the most sophisticated Western armaments. These include F-16's., M1A1 tanks and cruise missiles. While the United States has been involved in a decade long reduction of its military the Arabs have embarked on an historically unprecedented military buildup. Combined, the Arab countries of the Middle East can field a military more than twice the size of the United States in most areas and can field a military force approaching it in quality. Many of the largest recipients of Western military aid, specifically Egypt and Saudi Arabia, face formidable challenges to their rule. It is not unthinkable that these countries could go the way of Iran. Indeed, the CIA expressed such a concern in 1995. Should this happen the United States would be facing a formidable enemy. One that is Western trained and equipped with sophisticated Western armaments.
Even if these regimes are able to retain power indefinitely their regional interests are antithetical to many US regional strategic objectives. Egypt is already balking at the notion of the US bringing its 'war" to Iraq and Somalia. At some point the US will have to acquiesce to the demands of its Arab allies or confront them. The Arab league has already announced its objection to any US attacks on Iraq. It is important to note, the Arab countries do not need to field an offensive military force. They need merely to field a strong enough force to thwart any Western attempt to seize control of their oil reserves should they decide to embargo the West and Japan. There is a precedent for this and as the Arab countries increase their military strength they will be embolden to challenge the West to modify their positions, especially concerning Israel, or face economic devastation. Given the evidence of the US conduct in their "war" against terrorism the US will probably capitulate diplomatically.
The United States is in a unique historical position to use its power to cement its position in a unipolar world. Unfortunately rather than exerting leadership the United States is succumbing to an international political correctness in which it is almost apologetic in its position as the worlds only remaining superpower. Rather than boldly supporting its only democratic ally in the Middle East the United States has essentially proclaimed that Israeli lives are subservient to US political interests in the region. Rather than developing a coherent military plan to destroy Islamic terrorist organizations the United states is involved in diplomatic double speak in which only certain Islamic terrorists are bad while the motivations of other terrorists "need to be addressed." Such a policy will serve to ensure that Huntington's warning of an impending Clash of Civilizations will surely come to fruition.
Shawn Pine is a Major in the active US Army Reserves specializing in counterintelligence and is a military/strategic analyst. He has published a number of articles concerning the prevailing political, military, and strategic environment in the Middle East and is a research associate of the Israeli-based Ariel Center for Policy Research and the US-based Freeman Center For Strategic Studies.