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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bush's Middle East legacy

Wed, 16 Jan 2008 13:35:23
An interview with Scott Lucas by Afsaneh Ostovar,
Press TV, Tehran

Scott Lucas has been on the staff of the University of Birmingham since 1989 and has been Professor of American Studies since 1997. He is the Executive Director of Libertas: The Center for the Study of US Foreign Policy, Adjunct Professor of the Institute for North American and European Studies at Tehran University and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for American Studies and Research at American University of Beirut. He is also the Associate Editor of the Journal of American Studies.

He began his academic career as a diplomatic historian but, believing the approach was now narrow, began considering the role of "propaganda", "culture" and "ideology" in the history of US and British foreign policy.

Here is an interview with him about The US President George W. Bush's tour to the Middle East.

Q. What were the goals of US President, George W. Bush's Middle East tour?

A. I think Bush's trip should be seen in three contexts: 1) the public priority --- a settlement between Israel and Palestine; 2) the priority of the past --- remaking the Middle East through regime change in Iraq; 3) the priority of the present --- remaking the Middle East through "containment" of Iran.

Anyone with "a lick of common sense," as my grandfather would say, can see that there is no realistic prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. President Clinton spent almost eight years pursuing this without success; President Bush is proposing to achieve this within 12 months. Still, the pretence has to be maintained. It has to be maintained for US domestic opinion, which needs to see a Presidential commitment to "peace" rather than further military operations/occupation in the region, and for Arab governments who cannot maintain support for American policy without the appearance that there is some movement on Israel/Palestine.

Beyond this public appearance, the Bush Administration is trying to hold up the idea that --- after almost five years --- they are on the brink of success in Iraq. This is an illusion, of course. However, having spent so much money and ended so many lives (American and Iraqi) in the quest to replace Saddam Hussein with a suitable pro-American government and to demonstrate American power to all in the Middle East, there cannot be an admission of failure.

This brings us to the current Bush Administration goal. Having failed to remake the Middle East through a suitable, stable post-Saddam Iraq, the US Government needs another core issue to hold together its political, economic, and military strategy. This strategy continues to rest upon Israel as a "pillar" in the Middle East but also has to safeguard the American position with Arab states. The answer to this, diverting attention from Palestine and indeed Iraq, is to portray the necessity of an anti-Iranian coalition.

Q. What is your speculation on the seriousness of the United States' commitment to peace in Palestine?

A. Any serious attempt at an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would have to offer possibilities --- to each side --- on the issues of Jerusalem [al-Quds], right of return, Israeli occupation, and borders. The current Bush initiative offers little to the Palestinian side on any of these issues.

1) Bush avoided the question of Jerusalem [al-Quds] on his trip. He did not, for example, confront the issue of the extension of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem [al-Quds], even though the Israeli Government had offered a token "pullback" of some (but not all) of the illegal settlements.

2) Bush announced the need for compensation of displaced Palestinians without any consideration of who would provide that amount (estimated at $100 to $150 billion). At most, this is an indication that the right of return is off the American (and, of course, Israeli) agenda.

3) On borders and occupation, some in the US and British press highlighted Bush's call for an end to occupation. Significantly, however, he did not specify that Israel would have to withdraw from all of the territory it seized in 1967 nor did he address the issue of a contiguous Palestinian state without the interruption of Israeli fences, settlements, and checkpoints.

And, of course, Bush did not refer to a settlement that included Gaza, which I suggest is a pretty significant omission.

Q. What do you think Bush will offer in his Middle East trip?

Publicly he will offer rhetoric about an American commitment to stability based on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Privately, he will be offering a lot of economic and military aid to those Arab governments who continue to back an approach ensuring an American presence through the isolation of Iran.

Q. Why is Bush taking his first trip in the twilight of his presidency?

A. Because, having failed to succeed in his primary goal of establishing US power through a post-Saddam Iraq, he has to be seen to be doing something. Otherwise, he is just a "lame duck."

Q. Why does Israel continue its offensive against Palestinians after the Annapolis conference?

Because Israel will seek to negotiate with Abbas from a position of strength and will continue to try to isolate and, indeed, break Hamas. My belief is that a "Palestinian state" for Israel and the US means a compliant state based on a relatively weak leadership. Hamas is a challenge to that approach.

Q. How do you see the future of Israel's plans for occupying more regions of the West Bank? What prompts this regime to continue its expansionist policies?

A. My belief is that the Israeli notion of security rests upon a need for a permanent "superiority" over any Palestinian entity. Thus occupation is not an end in itself to expand the borders of Israel but to ensure that there is never sufficient Palestinian strength to challenge Israel's political/economic/military position.

Q. How has the United States contributed to the realization of Israeli ambitions?

A. At this point, US and Israeli interests are largely convergent. That is, the maintenance and projection of American power rests upon support for Israeli power --- political, economic, and military.

Q. Can the US be a peace broker to the Palestine-Israel conflict while it is the main supporter of the Israeli regime?

A.The issue is whether, given the US relationship with Israel, others (Arab governments, the European Union, Russia, the United Nations) continue to defer to Washington as the primary broker of discussions.

Q. What is the Bush's legacy for the Middle East?

A.In light of what has happened in Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, the legacy of the American attempt to remake the region has been destruction and instability.

The more important question for me is how those in the region try to pursue political, economic, and cultural development --- including the pursuit of "freedom" and "democracy" --- which is not dependent upon being either "with" or "against" the United States.

Further thoughts on this can be found in the talk "Shifting the Gorilla: De-Centring America in the Middle East"(
http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/analysis/index.htm at http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/analysis and http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/analysis/index.htm.)

Q. Do you believe Bush has been successful in rallying the regional countries against Iran?

A. I doubt that the United States will succeed in forging an anti-Iranian coalition, at least to the extent of enforcing economic sanctions and political isolation. In my opinion, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States are not convinced that attention to Iran should come before, for example, stability in Iraq and a meaningful resolution of the Israel/Palestine question. At a practical level, Persian Gulf States are far too dependent upon trade with Iran to bear the economic cost of supporting American sanctions.

If I was being cynical, I would suspect that some Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are happy to listen to the American song of isolating Iran as long as the outcome is more military assistance and arms sales.


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