This was an excellent article entitled What Now in the Middle East? in the Chroncicle for 30-Nov. It is in Open Forum on the Opinion pages. The author is Joschka Fischer, Germany's foreign minister and vice chancellor from l998 to 2005.
Here are some excerpts:
The political and security situation in the vast region between the Indus Valley and the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean is a cause for grave concern. When the United States intervened militarily in Iraq in 1991, the intention was to effect fundamental change in the entire region. Today it is clear that hardly any aspect of this policy has succeeded. Even the success of free elections in Iraq is threatening to divide rather than unite the country.This came out ahead of the Iraq Study Group's report, and bears it out.
The existing power relations in the Middle East have indeed been permanently shaken and, indeed, revolutionized. The effect however, has not been a domino-like democratization; instead we are threatened with a domino effect of descent into chaos.
The decision to go to war against Iraq to liberate Kuwait, back in 1991, marked the beginning of America's role as the sole hegemonic military power in the region. The decision to go to war against Iraq for a second time, and then to occupy the country in March 2003, transformed this hegemony into direct U.S. responsibility for the future of the Middle East.
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The very character of the war in Iraq has been transformed from a democratizing mission into a stabilizing mission high in casualties and in cost. Instead of the intended radical realignment of power relations in the region, the aim is now to simply maintain the status quo.
The most the United States can hope for at this point is a withdrawal that saves face. The November elections in America were a referendum on the war in Iraq. Their results, in fact, set a timetable for the "Iraqization" and U.S. withdrawal -- before the next presidential election.
Behind the all-too-foreseeable end of the American stabilizing mission lurks a civil war in Iraq, which threatens to turn into an Arab-Iranian proxy war for dominance in Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and beyond. Moreover, there is an acute risk that the power vacuum created in Iraq will fuse the Israeli-Arab conflict, Iraq and Afghanistan into one regional mega-crisis.
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Washington's realization that Iraq can no longer be won or even stabilized unless the regional framework changes, has come late -- perhaps too late. . . .
If this policy shift had taken place a year ago or even early last summer, the prospects would have been better. And with every passing day, America's position in the region is weakening further and the chances of a successful new political strategy become more remote.
. . . . there remains a chance to stabilize the situation. . . it will be necessary to offset, or at least balance, the interests of the most important actors in the region. This means a strategy based on political leverage not a threat of military intervention or regime change. In their stead must come direct talks, security guarantees and support in political and economic integration.
A new Middle East policy will thus have to concentrate primarily on four aspects:
- a comprehensive offer to Syria to detach the country from Iran and settle open conflicts;
- an offer to Iran for direct talks about the perspective of a full normalization of relations;
- a decisive and realistic initiative to resolve the Israeli-Arab conflict
- a regional security architecture that centers on stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan.