America Is Powerless Due To Its Own Biased Policies
If you’ve never seen chickens come home to roost in real time, turn on your television. Watch the expanding military attacks by Israel, Hamas and Hizbullah, and listen to the background music from the United States, Iran and Syria. The widening war is primarily the result of four decades of failed hard-line policies by the United States and Israel, combined with moribund Arab diplomacy and leadership, and resurgent Iranian influence in the region.
The conflict is only partly about retrieving three captured Israeli soldiers held by Hizbullah and Hamas, or the thousands of Arab prisoners held by Israel. What we’re seeing is the predictable convergence of several popular and official forces in Arab and Iranian society that feel they have no other option than to defy, confront and resist the combined power of the United States and Israel. Mass popular sentiment in the Arab world is increasingly voting in elections for Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Resistance groups like Hizbullah and Hamas have much more effective and ample military means at their disposal than before, along with strong public support. Iran and Syria exploit this situation to fuel anti-American, anti-Israeli sentiments, tapping into global concerns about Israeli-American policies.
Israel is like an aging boxer who packs a mighty punch that is no longer effective, because its intended victims know how to absorb and evade it—and, more significantly, how to counterpunch with blows of their own. Behind their strutting demeanor and boastful threats, Israel’s generals and politicians flail helplessly, disoriented by the futility of their decision to rely primarily on military options to resolve what are at heart political disputes. The core issue remains the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which can only be resolved by mutual recognition and security, by Israeli and Palestinian sovereign states who address the 1948 Palestinian-refugee issue equitably and legally.
Instead Israel today repeats tactics it has used without success at least five times before in Lebanon since 1968, including destroying dozens of bridges, roads and electricity plants as well as Beirut airport, targeting political institutions, and assassinating militant leaders. They have done the same thing to Palestinians for decades, claiming they aim to stop attacks against Israelis. In fact, they’ve generated exactly the opposite effect.
With every new Israeli attack against Hamas and Hizbullah leaders or civilian populations, the Lebanese and Palestinian governments lose credibility and impact, opening the space for other groups to step in. Hamas and Hizbullah garner greater popular support, which enhances their effectiveness in guerrilla and resistance warfare, while they improve their technological capabilities. The anti-Israel, anti-U.S. resistance campaign led by Hamas and Hizbullah generates widespread political and popular support throughout the Middle East and much of the world. This accentuates the diplomatic and military impotence of Arab regimes, strengthens opposition movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, and allows determined, increasingly defiant governments in Tehran and Damascus to mobilize all the weapons available to them in the region.
The United States for its part is strangely marginal, having worked itself out of any significant role in this conflict for the moment. Its chosen policies have lined it up squarely with Israel. It has applied sanctions against, and thus cannot even talk to, Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas, and it has pressured and threatened Syria for years with only modest success. For the world’s only global power, America is peculiarly powerless in the current crisis in the Middle East, due to its own biased policies.
Nor are the Arab countries anywhere to be seen, having long ago lost the capacity or the will to act in a meaningful political manner. The United States and Israel are isolated and alone diplomatically, have less and less impact on their foes militarily and politically have painted themselves into a corner from which they are too vain or incompetent to escape. Therefore Islamist resistance movements and defiant governments appeal to Arab public opinion, but at a terrible cost of continued warfare and mass civilian suffering that will not resolve the underlying political conflicts. Many in the region criticize Hamas and Hizbullah for triggering Israel’s destructive wrath on their societies, but many more others cheer on as they watch Israel use more and more firepower with less and less impact.
While these chickens all come home to roost, one sane approach remains to be tried: a diplomatic negotiation that responds to the legitimate grievances of all parties in the Arab world, Israel and Iran. Instead of a widening regional war, perhaps someone more sensible than the current Arab, Israeli and American leaderships would step forward and propose a regional peace conference? If it is based on the equal rights of all parties, it will succeed; if it is based on Israel having greater rights to security than everyone else in the region, it will only give us more chickens to count.
Khouri is editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star newspaper and a syndicated columnist.
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