The United States has languished for almost three decades in what Chas Freeman calls "enemy-deprivation syndrome." The Soviet Union, which could have snuffed out life as we know it in a nuclear Armageddon, ran out of funds and wised up. During Russia's traumatic post-1989 adjustment to new facts, America seemed ambivalent about foreign policy. Should it maximize the mono-polar opportunity to control the world, or at least the Middle East? It was tempting, but an inciting element had to be found or ginned up. Saddam Hussein obliged in 1990 by invading and looting Kuwait. President George H.W. Bush took the opportunity to show the Third World upstart what was what, expelling Iraqi troops and then trying to fix the region by means of an international conference. Calling it a new world order was a bit hasty; Bush's overreaching was part of what cost him a second term.
No peer competitor rose up, but an omen prefigured a new dis-order: the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center, inspired by a blind Egyptian sheikh and engineered by a Pakistani malcontent. Then, in 1995, white-nationalist misfits blasted the front off a federal building in Oklahoma City. Three years later, simultaneous bombings occurred at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and in October 2000, terrorists blew a hole in a U.S. destroyer off the coast of Yemen. That year's U.S. election season ran into 2001; the Supreme Court finally had to choose the president. No wonder George W. Bush and his people did not hit the ground running. How could they have imagined that, nine months later, the next strike would claim nearly 3,000 lives in New York and Washington and prompt them to start a "forever war" we can't win and won't stop? We destroyed Iraq, enhancing Iran's power. It's as if the United States gave the Islamic Republic the antidote to the metaphorical poison Ayatollah Khomeini said he'd been forced to drink in 1988.
There is, of course, the danger of a real war and an American responsibility to make it unlikely. Ironically, President Trump has just relabeled the U.S. troops he is leaving in Syria "peacekeepers" (see our article by Jett, p. 89). Despite his stated desire to put the Middle East behind him, though, Jared Kushner's peace plan for Israel is still hanging fire. Many opinions are being expressed, usually the one that "everybody" knows: the two-state solution is moribund if not worse (see Lustick, p. 141). But suddenly, at the end of February, the Saudi insider Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, in an "unprecedented" interview with the London affiliate of Israel's Channel 13, said, "Israeli public opinion should not be deceived into believing that [Palestine] is a dead issue." Prince Turki was alluding to the grand bargain Crown Prince Abdullah offered Israel in 2002, and convinced the 22 states of the Arab League and the 57 Muslim-majority countries of the world (the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) to sign on to:
The Arab peace initiative — take it on, make it yours…. Basically, it's a quid pro quo: Israel withdraws from occupied Arab territories, in return for Arab recognition of Israel, an end of hostilities, and normal relations.
King Salman himself reaffirmed the commitment at the EU-Arab summit February 24, calling the Palestinians "the first concern" for Arab countries. To date, the Israelis have never responded.
Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was also trying to "do something" this February, convening a meeting in Moscow of 12 Palestinian factions. He is apparently also of the opinion that Washington's "deal of the century" must involve "the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital." He cited the endless series of UN resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative. Basic to success is Palestinian unity, still missing in action. The Israelis seem to hope it can be elided, that skipping a step won't hurt, and they can move on to peace and harmony with fellow enemies of Iran. None of the Gulf countries seem willing to go that far, however. At a meeting in Warsaw convened by the United States, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu bragged about being in the same room with the foreign ministers of 10 Arab countries. They were not impressed; the Yemeni diplomat seated next to him said it was a faux pas by the hosts.
Fear and loathing of Iran is apparently not enough to bring the Gulf Arabs to abandon Palestine, but the issue of Iran's missiles is prominent as the Islamic Republic turns 40 (see Baghat, p. 31). The New York Times (February 13) charges the United States with "reviving its secret program to sabotage Iranian missiles and rockets," apparently "slipping faulty parts and materials into Iran's supply chains." Tehran claims to be engaged in a space program, not a war effort. Of course, if the U.S. military had not been interested in the war-fighting prospects of space travel back in the 1950s, NASA would have been stillborn. Trump tweets regularly about "his" Space Force.
Just when we're reminded that the Palestinian issue is not being buried under a new Mideast realpolitik, the Democratic Party seems divided on the matter of Zionism. Newly elected Representative Ilham Omar (D-MN) has criticized the Israel Lobby and not been struck mute for it. Of course, she was severely chastised by the political class — the president advised her to resign — and she was forced to apologize. Her flippant bluntness had undermined the message, though a great many Jews agreed with her and praised her bravery. The Forward even ran an opinion piece in solidarity with her views. Back on planet Earth, the New York Times (February 24), careful not to agitate its base, reported on the problem of statelessness, sympathizing with ISIS widows and orphans, and even Haitian Dominicans and Bidoon in Saudi Arabia. It did not mention the Palestinians, stateless since the founding of Israel more than 70 years ago.
Peggy Nalle, our journal's peerless copy editor from 1988 to 2008, passed away December 13 at the age of 93. She was her witty and charming self to the end, though in her 80s, declining eyesight had forced her to give up not only editing, but tennis. Peggy was fun-loving, though her serious pursuits were very impressive: the Madiera School, Smith College, The Washington Evening Star, service with her diplomat husband David (USIA) in Iran and Russia, and managing the office of Senator Charles Mathias (R-MD) during his final term. It was an honor and a pleasure to have known this brilliant woman.
March 10, 2019