June 30, 2008

Southwest Asian Distractions

Yup. “Middle East” was always a colonial term, forever changing with the demands of the powerful. Nope, not about to use Arabic terms like al-Jazeera or Mashriq either.

1.O Palestine

I am not sure how many people saw this, but Vanity Fair recently had an interesting article where it said it had obtained documents showing American plans to supply Fatah with weapons so that they could “take out” Hamas. Having written about the Palestinian split last year, I thought I’d bring this to my readers’ attention. It would now appear that Hamas sensed the arms build-up and struck first. Just goes to show that arms do not solve domestic crises, simply breeds more insecurity.

I don’t know much American history, but rarely has there been an American President who got EVERYTHING wrong during his term in office.

Please note, Hamas won an election in the Territories, an election which the Bush administration pushed for, despite Fatah saying repeatedly that it wasn’t ready. In other words, the Bush administration does not even know how to press “selective” democracy properly. Yet another lost American art I suppose. After the election, having gotten a result they did not like, they tried to instigate a coup d’etat. Lesson for Bangladesh: true democracy is home-grown, not ambassador-delivered. On a related note: here’s Shirin Ebadi on her recent speaking tour through the US.

Moral of the story: Thou shalt not take American advice to take their arms to point at thine own countrymen. No, wait, I’m still thinking of Yahya’s Butchers in ‘71. My bad.

2. The Road to Damascus Leads Through Tehran

Turns out that last year’s mysterious Israeli airstrike inside Syria was indeed aimed at a nuclear facility, mimicking the attack on a similar Iraqi facility in the 80’s. The U.S. administration tried to establish links between Syria and the North Korean regime, saying they had actively helped each other with their nuclear programs. The Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. had a lovely reaction to that, which could be summarized as “Fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again!”

The week after this news broke, the Israelis signaled that they were ready to talk to Syria about the status of the Golan Heights, which they took in the ’67 war. The Heights are of immense strategic value to both sides. What Israel expects in return is for Syria to stop supporting groups such as Hizb’Allah and to expel people like Khaled Meshaal, the head honcho of Hamas who’s holed up in Damascus (couldn’t resist the alliteration).

Now this is a bit of a pickle for Assad Junior, or AJ as I like to call him. While experts and post-Nasser Arab Nationalists talk about how Syria will “never abandon the Palestinians”, it is worth remembering that his father was a Machavellian “realist” who made and broke alliances at will, especially during the Lebanese Civil War. Towards the end of his rule, Hafez al-Assad would now and then exclaim that he wanted to retire and soak his feet in Lake Tiberius, which is part of the Golan, a clear signal to the Israelis that he was ready to talk about the area. (Hafez al-Assad was alive the last time these two sides spoke on the issue). I am not sure whether AJ is in any position to do so. For one, there is the increasing isolation of Syria following the Hariri assassination which led to a further alignment with Iran. Iran will most likely veto any attempt at peace, even if peace is in Syria’s own interest. As a result, I think they will be able to get Meshaal, but not cut out Iranian aid to Hizb’Allah. In any case, I really have no great hopes for peace in the region without Americans/Israelis talking (once again) to Iran.

And guess which American president presided over and partially caused Iran’s star to rise in the region?

3. Iraq Me, Dave Petraeus … Or Not

Sadly, Jon Stewart will not be able to use that song again.

Dave Petraeus has been promoted to U.S Central Command, which oversees the U.S. military operations not just in Iraq, but throughout North Africa, Southwest Asia and Central Asia. He is replacing William Fallon, who was known to have disagreed with the George “I Lissen to Mah Gen’rels” Bush administration on a number of key matters (Good thing Fallon was an Admiral, not a General. Otherwise I’d think Bush was some sort of hypocrite). In any case, both Afghanistan and – more ominously – Iran fall into Petraeus’ purview right now. We know him to be a student of famous insurgencies and how the Western Empires “dealt” with them. I hope he is enough of a student still to note the causal connections between how the “natives” were “dealt” with and the mess parts of the post-colonial world are in at the moment.

Somehow, not optimistic on that score. Would appreciate anyone else’s view on what difference this appointment might make.


Fariha said...

I have absolutely no knowledge of the political ethos of South West Asia, but I just wanted to say I liked how you phrased it --South West Asia--...and I also really liked this line :

' Lesson for Bangladesh: true democracy is home-grown, not ambassador-delivered.'

So true! And onek nicely put! Beshi joss!!!

Unknown said...

Ho ho, good one, DS.

"head honcho of Hamas who’s holed up in Damascus" - very nice.