Wednesday, October 13, 2004

My two pence about the US presidential elections and its effect on the ME (warning long post so for the faint of heart abstain from reading)

I must give credit to my friend W. in California who explained to me all these intricacies and what I have quoted from his emails is in ‘ ----- ‘ form.

Sometime in August I started following the run up to the presidential elections.

Things did not look good for Mr. Bush then, and Mr. Kerry seemed to be ahead. So I thought that Mr. Bush’s only hope would be another major act against the USA ‘ or that cultural issues such as gay marriage etc.. work in his favour.’

Then I noticed that Kerry was courting the American/Arab Islamic vote and ‘he approached every constituency but unfortunately had nothing new or different to say especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’. I mean he cannot alienate Jewish voters either now can he? don’t know what new he could do or say about that matter. ‘So he will end up just sending a new USA envoy to the region to deal with that issue and that will amount to nothing. I say there isn’t much more he could do even if he wanted because what is the basis? There doesn’t seem to be any desire in Israel to move on a settlement-the wall seems very very popular with the Israeli public - and removing the wall would seem the most basic demand of the Palestinians at the moment – so I just don’t see where talks would start up again—Kerry or no Kerry. I mean Kerry might be more concerned than Bush about getting talks moving (Bush is almost totally unconcerned and never was very interested in getting talks going) but I don’t see where he would have anything to offer in talks except another envoy and what good does that do?’ In addition it isn’t even clear how much authority Mr. Arafat has now among his own people. Certainly in Gaza it looks like his authority is almost non existent.

‘On Iraq, again, hard to see where Kerry would do anything different. He isn’t really for pulling out. Of the presidential candidates only the third party candidate Ralph Nader (a Lebanese-American) an old radical lawyer from the 1960s is arguing for immediate withdrawal.’ Kerry and Bush pretty much agree [stay in Iraq for about another 5 years]. Kerry says he would bring in allies to help but doesn’t say how or who. All he can say is that the Europeans like him more.

Interesting however that Z. Brezsinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor back in the 1970s and the architect of the American support to Afghan resistance to the USSR in 1979 recently came out with a report strongly advising USA to normalize relations with Iran. ‘He said, that if USA is waiting for a radical liberal government to come to power before normalizing relations—then forget it: that isn’t going to happen and he has a point. So his point is normalize or don’t but don’t hinge it on a government you like coming to power in Tehran. He also points out that the war in Afghanistan and Iraq has had some unintended consequences chief among them is that the USA had erased the countervailing forces in the region against Iran: The Taliban and Saddam.’
Moreover, the likelihood of a Shiite control over Iraq is very high at some point which would also find some sympathy with Iran. Thus, on the whole the current situation benefits Iran. However, we have seen that Iran is also threatened because of its nuclear programme … ‘Only the USA counterbalances Iran now in the region and the USA can’t stay there forever—politically that just isn’t acceptable in USA and the Europeans aren’t rushing to help either. So his point was under those circumstances, better to come to terms. Now that is an innovative thing Mr.Kerry could do in the Middle East ie follow that sort of recommendation by Brezsinki’ (but I don’t count on it). The anger/distrust in USA toward Iran is still pretty strong and I don’t think he is a guy to take chances even though it would probably enhance USA security and probably stabilize the region a bit. But on the whole I don’t see a stable region for some time to come. Eventually the USA has to leave Iraq….and then the deluge.

One of the funniest or most pathetic things in the current election over the last couple of months is that the only war Mr.Kerry wanted to talk about is Vietnam! He was resting much of his case to be president on his war record in Vietnam. He mentioned it at every chance, rarely speaking of Iraq. It is surreal. There is an actual war underway and all he can do is talk about a war 30 years ago. I mean the way he goes on about it you would think the Vietnam War was still underway.

So far whoever is elected in the white house will never be able to alienate the Jewish .I think it all comes down to that in the end. I wish it were otherwise, but no that is a fact of life. What should the American public do not to be so dependant on the Jewish lobby , people or whatever ?To me it looks that everything is really going according to plan , and now they are all out to get Iran and Syria.

Kerry and Bush won’t differ at all on Israel. They never do, either because they really believe in it or for political purposes or both. In any case, just looked at objectively
I don’t see where there is any room for Kerry to do much more different in
Israel-Palestine without making some radical move and THAT WILL NOT happen.

We know for sure Bush has no interest in it and to extent if he does he is pro-Sharon and we know what that means. And anyway, looked at objectively I don’t see the basis on the ground for much change anyway. The Israelis aren’t in a mood for restarting talks and the Palestinians; they are increasingly involved in a de facto civil war. So who knows who really represents them now? Arafat? Hammas? The Israelis will probably just continue to impose a de facto settlement via the wall.

Of the presidential candidates only the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader has been willing to criticize USA relations with Israel and in fact he called USA a "puppet" of Israel but he won’t be on many ballots and in any case few people will even hear of him I guess. ‘But while the USA Jewish -Israel lobby excerpts a lot of power one can't lose sight of two things:
A. USA public is generally very sympathetic to Israel. Like it or not most Americans like Israel. Sure its attraction has diminished over the years but on the whole people tend to like Israel.
B. Americans on the whole don't like or trust Palestinians. They see them as unreasonable, terror inclined, etc.. Obviously that is just the opposite of general European views. And that is another element: just as in Cold War when Israelis and Palestinians were superpower footballs so they are now with USA vs. Europe.’

Maybe Kerry will initiate a rapprochement with Iran, but he did not strike me as very bright or charismatic. To get elected you have to be pretty dull in order to appeal to a lot of people. That is an irony of USA election. Right now, the sides are so close- about 45 to 45 percent decided that both Kerry and Bush have to appeal to a very small percentage of the voters who would swing the election…say about 5%. But these are the LEAST informed people who RARELY vote. That is why they are undecided! So both candidates have to appeal to people who are among the dumbest in the USA!

It’s time to realize that the big winner in the Iraq war and the overthrow of Saddam is Iran. Iran will basically exercise a huge degree of influence in Iraq and the USA can either go to war with Iran to stop that, which I hope isn’t going to happen (although you never know with Bush) and that only leaves the realistic course of normalizing with
Iran and trying to work out some kind of agreement for Iraq’s future and the future of the region since Iran will emerge as the regional superpower given that Bush has knocked of the Taliban and Saddam—two of Iran’s natural opponents—and given that Iran will almost certainly be a nuclear weapons power soon. ‘But making that kind of argument to USA public is tough.’ The US public (unlike those like you reading blogs etc..) does not go in for complicated and subtle foreign policy agreements. Everything has to be black or white and that is one of the big reasons Americans have never understood the Middle East since as we all know it is very muddles—nothing is black or white. Kerry’s view on Iran would be a big difference with Bush since Bush’s position as you know is regime change for Iran, isolate Iran, no normalization without regime change, whereas the emerging Kerry position although he hasn’t directly said anything about it, his position is regime change isn’t going to happen so be realistic and accept Teheran as it is. Oddly that seems to be the view of most Iranians: regime change just isn’t going to happen. But even if Kerry is elected he would still have to have a political base for a new Iran policy and I doubt he would find one. ‘Actually it would take some one like Bush to pull off normalization with Iran within the USA context of how things are done.’ I assume that the USA will just get frustrated and tired in Iraq in a few more months and the costs will begin to sink in to Americans as in the hundred billion area and USA will just leave let the country sink into another Lebanon of 10 or 20 year civil war and/or a break up of the country and/or let Iran assert de facto authority as a puppet state.

To sum it up Iraq looks bleak; Israel-Palestine looks really bleak; things are only looking good for Iran (and that’s debatable) I would say and maybe Pakistan. Pakistan is now America’s favorite Islamic country because it has had some success in rolling up OBL cells—although not OBL obviously—and is generally very cooperative with USA.

But let me tell you something, it does not matter really who wins, foreign policy will remain the same towards the Middle-East – Blind support for Israel and to hell with everybody else.


AlanK said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
AlanK said...


I think you are being a little harsh on kerry

although he is probably pro isreal, the problem is that both isreal and palestine are not interested in peace enough. Isreal for instance will not support removing the wall because it has helped to reduce suicide bombings in isreal, while even sharon removing settlements from gaza caused major problems in isreal. Also people in isreal seem to have given up on peace after the oslo accords fell through.

while palestinians are completely divided, Hamas has lost its leaders and are not likely to support a ceasefire, yaser arafat even if he wanted peace is too weak and most palestinians seem to have given up

as for iraq, pulling out immediately would probably be a bad idea, the only thing that seems to be viable he could do differently is to try to get support from other anti war countries like russia or france

also what is your view on the lifting of sanctions by the EU, has this made any difference in libya so far

also hope you had a good trip


smokey spice said...

Good analysis about the regional politics, Highlander. You definitely opened my eyes to some new things.

I would like to make some points on a few things though briefly.

First, I disagree with the analysis of the above commenter regarding Palestine and Israel. The Israelis are simply not interested in giving up settled land or control of borders to Palestinians. The Oslo Accords did not change that. The Palestinians realized, as a result of Oslo, that the economic closures were essentially suicidal since the economies of Israel and Palestine were de facto integrated. I'll comment more on this aspect if asked.

Second, I realize that it seems absurd that Kerry is so focused on Vietnam. It is absurd given that a current war is taking place. But the reason behind that is to evade the commen republican attack strategy from the cold war era: democrats aren't tough enough. The evocation of Vietnam does a number of things: one, he demonstrates to the American public that he's tough militarily... which is supposed to lead people to think that he would be good for security; two, he's actually willing to put himself on the line, unlike Bush, so he understands the implications and effects of going to war.
The Iraq project has been compared a lot to Vietnam. The Vietnam war is important because it's the epitome of American military and leadership failure. It was the quinticential wrong war with a high cost. So the war mongers (or Bush supporters, in this case) want to get as far away from that comparison as possible.

Like I said, this is a quick response. There's more to be said about this. I'm not a true Kerry supporter for several reasons, but I'm way more of a Kerry supporter than I am for Bush. Bush has no business being in the White House.

I think you are being a little harsh on kerry

although he is probably pro isreal, the problem is that both isreal and palestine are not interested in peace enough. Isreal for instance will not support removing the wall because it has helped to reduce suicide bombings in isreal, while even sharon removing settlements from gaza caused major problems in isreal. Also people in isreal seem to have given up on peace after the oslo accords fell through.

while palestinians are completely divided, Hamas has lost its leaders and are not likely to support a ceasefire, yaser arafat even if he wanted peace is too weak and most palestinians seem to have given up

as for iraq, pulling out immediately would probably be a bad idea, the only thing that seems to be viable he could do differently is to try to get support from other anti war countries like russia or france

smokey spice said...

sorry for the third re-posting of the other person's comment. i had it copied on my comment so that i could refer to it.

AlanK said...

sorry for the double post, i had a problem with trying to publish it

as for the above person comment, I have to disagree

although sharon is obviously trying to grab as much land as possible, at the time of the oslo accords, isreal was being led by a leader that was willing to negotiate with the palestinians. Also In the end no one can force isreal and palestine to make peace, they need to do it themselves.

also the post on Iran was interesting, but it might be too late, this should have been done when khatami was elected president by the iranian people, when they showed they wanted a more democratic rule than that of the mullahs. Perhaps now it is too late as they have sufferred crackdowns since then and lost power


Heiko said...

There is plenty in your analysis I agree with, in a democratic nation like America the President has not all that much lee way, and a candidate who's too far away from the mainstream just won't get elected.

So, in practise the differences between Clinton, Bush and Kerry are in many respects not all that large.

I am much more optimistic than you are about a resolution of the Israeli conflict. You know that I think that Israel has genuine security concerns. If it gives up military control of the West Bank, 80% of its population will be within artillery range (or half a day's walk) of foreign forces, who in the past have expressed a wish to annihalate Israel.

BUT, those security concerns are a lot less valid now than they were 30 or even 10 years ago.

Furthermore, Israelis are not willing (which I'd say is something they are to be commended for) to throw all Arabs out of Palestine, and to just annex the land wholesale in that fashion. And because they aren't willing to grant all Palestinians citizenship, they cannot annex the land without throwing most or all of the Arabs out.

I do see some hope for a speedy settlement with minor border changes (not more than 5% of Palestinian territory being annexed), and some sort of security guarantee provided by Israel's neighbours in return for a military withdrawal. And a few decades down the line, I expect that the hate will have dissipated and there'll be freedom of residence in the Mid East, like there is now in the European Union. Jews will then be allowed to move into Arab countries, with their rights fully protected and the option of becoming citizens, and likewise muslim Arabs will be allowed to freely immigrate into Israel and become full citizens.

Smokeyspice mentions Vietnam. Now, I think that the world has evolved for the better over the last 30 years, and that includes the US. In the fifties and sixties there was still segregation for example. And up to the seventies, wars of territorial conquest were very common. On the other hand, in the last 30 years, I can only think of two wars of territorial conquest (ie where one established souvereign state attacks another with the aim of gaining territory), Saddam's wars against Iran and Kuwait.

So, I am trying to be careful with historical parallels, WWII and Vietnam took place in a more "backward" world after all (I'd say that the US 200 years ago was in many respects more backward and barbaric than Afghanistan under the Taleban - think slavery, women's rights, analphabetism, slaughter of native Americans here to name a few issues).

But, still, Vietnam isn't for me the quintessential example of a wrong and costly war. An argument can be made that it was the withdrawal of support for South Vietnam that was the real mistake. I think of Pol Pot and the 20% of Cambodia's population who were slaughtered wholesale with the US doing nothing.

Heiko said...

I think of our Catholic priest who is Vietnamese and who was imprisoned just for being Catholic. I think of North and South Korea, with the North Koreans starving and the South Koreans, who were poorer than Zimbabweans in the sixties, now an industrialised democracy. South Korea was not a model democracy in the fifties when the US lost over 50,000 soldiers to push back the North Korean invasion.
South Vietnam didn't fall to an uprising, but to invading North Vietnamese tanks.

Now I've heard the argument that US tactics were terrible and bear responsibility for what happened afterwards. But, I also see the enormous suffering caused by abandoning the South Vietnamese.

The final point I want to make is on Iran. It may be trying to build a few nuclear weapons, but:

1. It has not attacked any other country for territorial gain (excepting some support for Hizbollah, which isn't really about Iran gaining territory). Iraq did, twice over the last 25 years, and in that period, I believe it's the only country that's engaged in that type of warfare.

2. The government of Iraq is an autocratic theocracy with democratic elements mixed in. It's not the kind of dictatorship that Saddam or Pol Pot represented (a million to two million dead, systematic mass torture)

Iran is also doing much better by its people in other ways. The economy is growing, they've brought birth rates down, they are busily reforming their system of subsidies (petrol prices are far too low in Iran, a few cents per gallon or something like that, and they realise that and are going to change it). Furthermore, Iran is much stronger militarily than Iraq was under Saddam.

Iran is also Shiite and much more moderate in its interpretation of the Quran than certain Sunni fundamentalists. I do trust Iran not to hand any nuclear weapons it were to acquire to terrorists to take out London, Kuwait or ... Not to mention that I think Sistani in Iraq is even more moderate, and a Shiite dominated Iraq is, on balance a very good thing.

In sum total, the case for regime change effected by military invasion is piss poor for Iran. The US would get zilch support from anybody, and the President wouldn't get authorisation from Congress either. It's not going to happen, unless Iran (or terrorists supplied by it) were to actually drop a nuclear bomb on one of its enemies, an eventuality I do not deem as likely.

If Iran were to use nuclear weapons, of course, it would be invaded, and with sufficiently little regard to civilian losses to make sure that the invasion would succeed (I think the American military is strong enough to take out Iran without having to resort to nuclear weapons itself, even if Iran has a few, but instead of few civilian casualties, some places in Iran might experience a similar fate as my home town of Dueren did in WWII).

Jane said...

I think the example of a freely elected executive in both Afghanistan and IRaq may have an impact on expectations throughout the region.

Highlander said...

Yes Jane I'm sure you mean well, but it is perceived that the 'freely elected' executives in Iraq and Afhganistan are the 'puppets'of the US regime, plus these elections are almost at the gunpoint of the US forces...still it is encouraging that at least there is a change from the usual faces :)

smokey spice said...

My reference to Vietnam as the quinticential failure of the US war machine was meant to explain why Kerry brings it up repeatedly.
While you, Heiko, may not perceive it that way, I am speaking of the legacy in the mind of most Americans.