For the U.S., the old Middle East was much better

During last summer’s Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the world that the scenes of death, destruction and human misery in Beirut were: “the birth pangs of a new Middle East”.

Rice may have been right. But this new Middle East reflects the U.S.’s increasingly waning influence, which reaches out to other parts of the world as well. 

Consider the results of the U.S.’s congressional elections last month, when voters’ dissatisfaction with the Iraq War led to a Democratic victory.

Last week’s scathing assessment by a top U.S. panel of the U.S.’s strategy in Iraq underscored Washington’s inability to curb the raging violence in the war-ravaged country.

Violence continues to claim the lives of thousands of Iraqi civilians each month. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are fleeing their country, and Kurds are carving out their own country, including Kirkuk, in anticipation of a breakup.

Vice President Dick Cheney was summoned to Riyadh last month to assure the Saudi King that the United States was not going to scuttle Iraq — or else the Saudis would have to intervene to save the Sunnis in the event of a civil war that could spill over into the whole region. The visit was also aimed at ruling out the possibility of opening dialogue with Iran, one of the Iraq Study Group’s recommendations that the Bush administration has ruled out.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki stiffed Bush by refusing to join him and the king of Jordan for dinner after a White House memo questioned his ability to rule the war-torn country and insulted him as ignorant and incompetent.

The New York Times published a memo submitted by the former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in which he voiced doubts about President Bush’s policies in Iraq. And the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, recently said that the United States is not winning the war.

U.S. allies announced the impending withdrawal of their troops, with Britain saying it would pull out thousands of its 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of next year, while Poland said it would withdraw its remaining 900 soldiers by the end of 2007. Italy withdrew all its troops last month. 

Jordan’s King Abdullah warned of three possible civil wars in the Middle East – in Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. The king did not include the five-year war in Afghanistan, where NATO allies refused to send more troops.  

In Lebanon, Israel’s deadly offensive to crush Hezbollah ended in killing more than 1,200 civilians, the destruction of parts of southern Lebanon and a moral victory for Hezbollah, which withstood five weeks of air strikes and a feckless Israeli invasion. This boosted the resistance group, enabling it and its allies to rise against the U.S.-backed government to pressure it to give more powers to the opposition or resign. 
As for the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” it is as close to comatose as it has been since before Oslo. The Western aid embargo against the Hamas-led government is suffocating the Palestinian economy. The Israeli army continues its military operations in the occupied territories, despite a fragile ceasefire imposed last month.

In Sudan, the government opposes the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur, despite U.S. and UN pressure. In Bahrain, home to the U.S. Gulf fleet, Islamist candidates swept to victory in the Nov. parliamentary election, splitting the vote between Shia and Sunni Muslims. And in Somalia, the Union of Islamic Courts is consolidating control.

Diplomatically, America has never been weaker in the Middle East. Israel has never been more beleaguered. The Hezbollah-Syria-Iranian alliance has never been stronger, and Washington’s allies in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states have never more apprehensive.

“For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in … the Middle East, and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all the people”, Condoleezza Rice hubristically declared in Cairo in 2005.

Since then, those elections that Rice demanded have brought to power the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Shias in Iraq and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. 

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CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Remarks With Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas After Their Meeting 05/10/2006
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Democracy Discussion With Print Media 05/10/2006
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Interview With Amal Roushdy Hammady of Nile Television 05/10/2006
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Remarks With Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit After Their Meeting 04/10/2006
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: Remarks With Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal 03/10/2006