American Vanity and Ambition Plays the Fool in Middle East Political Culture

I’ve posted some items on the upcoming “negotiations.” Here I just want to draw your attention to three recent analyses on key American players in this charade of negotiations: Kerry and Indyk, both of whom consider messing with the only relatively stable situation in the Middle East an extremely short-sighted career “win.” Talk about making others pay for your fifteen minutes of fame.

Indyk: Noah Pollak, “What does Martin Indyk Believe

Between 2006 and 2009, no relevant facts on the ground in the Middle East had changed: Iran was still pursuing nuclear weapons, Bashar al-Assad was still the dictator of Syria, and Hezbollah was still entrenched in Lebanon. Only one fact had changed, and it was a Washington fact: Barack Obama had become the president, and he had made “engagement” with Syria a pillar of his Middle East policy. Indyk dutifully discarded his previous objections to the idea.

Give him his due: His shameless positioning and audacious reversals have been successful where they were intended to count – not in making “the cause of peace his life mission,” as Kerry said about him yesterday, but in advancing his career. Step one was showing his loyalty to Obama after betting on the wrong candidate in 2008; step two was burnishing his image as a tough-minded veteran of the Middle East who understands why things went wrong in Obama’s first term and can be counted on to get it right in his second term. On the substance, it’s been an awful, tawdry display. But as a matter of Washington careerism, Indyk’s press conference yesterday, where he was introduced and praised by the secretary of state, is inarguable proof of success.

Kerry: Lee Smith, “Requiem for the Peace Process

The peace process has entered its mannerist phase—it is nothing but a series of empty elegant formalisms. Does Martin Indyk, Kerry’s newly named Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, really need to add a sequel to his memoirs of the peace process, Innocent Abroad—Again?

This is among the most cynical initiatives in the annals of American diplomacy, for Kerry sought a peace process against the wishes of the White House he serves. As the AP reported last month, “Some U.S. officials have scoffed at the notion that Kerry is getting anywhere [on Mideast peace], though they allow that the White House has given him until roughly September to produce a resumption of negotiations.” In other words, the administration gave Kerry a deadline, and if he couldn’t get it done by then he would have to drop his peace process and move on to something else.

Under normal circumstances, if the president of the United States says you have a few months to solve the region’s most famously thorny issue, you’d walk away from the meeting understanding that the president wants you to drop it. The last thing Obama wants is a reprise of the peace process to remind the world that this was one of his first-term failures, and that by repeatedly beating up on Israel he alienated many supporters. Under normal circumstances, the secretary of state would find another venue in which to exercise his diplomatic energies, but not if it’s John Kerry, for the peace process is his destiny.

To get the Palestinian Authority to the table, Kerry needed to sweeten the pot and made Israel release 104 prisoners responsible “for the deaths of 55 civilians, 15 soldiers, one female tourist and dozens of Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel.”  As Elliott Abrams writes: “My question is why the United States asks a friend to do what we would not do—release terrorists…Israel has at times undertaken huge prisoner releases, for example letting a thousand men out to get back the kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. But that was their own sovereign decision, taken after long national debate. Here, we are pressing them to release prisoners.”

While watching Kerry enjoy his moment in the sun, it’s perhaps useful remembering some of the victims of those crimes, like Adi Moses, whose mother and brother were killed in 1987 when one of the newly liberated prisoners threw a firebomb at the family’s car. Earlier this week, she wrote an article pleading with Israeli authorities, and their American allies, to keep her tormenter in jail.

“I was 8 years old when this happened. While my father was rolling me in the sand to extinguish my burning body, I looked in the direction of our car and watched as my mother burned in front of my eyes….With your decision to release the murderer you spit on the graves of my mother and my brother Tal. You erase this story from the pages of the History of the State of Israel. And in return for what?”

For what indeed. This may go down in history as one of the greatest follies of modern diplomacy. But then again, it’s got (and, alas, will have) lots of heavy-duty competitors.

One Response to American Vanity and Ambition Plays the Fool in Middle East Political Culture

  1. Nalliah Thayabharan says:

    Arab Politics is very complex. Iran supports Hamas and Hamas backs Muslim Brotherhood. President Barack Obama supports Muslim Brotherhood but Hamas is against President Barack Obama. Turkey and Gulf States including Saudi & Qatar are against President Bashar Hafez al-Assad. But Turkey supports Muslim Brotherhood and is against General Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi . But General Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi is backed by Gulf States including Saudi & Qatar. Gulf States including Saudi & Qatar support President Barack Obama but President Bashar Hafez al-Assad and General Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisiare are against Muslim Brotherhood. Welcome to Arab Politics

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