Saturday, January 17, 2009

There is also a conflict between Arab nationalists and Islamists being played out in the M.E.

In Iran, elements from within the regime are reportedly offering a $US1 million ($1.5 million) reward for the assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak because of his opposition to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In Lebanon, the leader of Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, merely calls for the Egyptian Government's overthrow.

In response to this, the editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, Tariq Alhomayed, describes Hamas as Tehran's tool and argues: "Iran is a real threat to Arab security." Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit agrees, and he is not alone. When Arab states met to discuss the Gaza crisis, Saudi Arabia vetoed any action. Even the Palestinian Authority blames Hamas for the fighting. Activists in Hamas's Palestinian rival Fatah, which runs the authority, make no secret of their hope that Hamas loses the war.

Welcome to the new Middle East, characterised not just by the Arab-Israeli conflict, but by Arab nationalists versus Islamists. Recognising this reality, the Palestinian Authority and virtually all the Arab countries other than Iran's ally Syria, want to see Hamas defeated in the Gaza Strip. Given their strong interest in thwarting Islamist revolutionary groups, especially those aligned with Iran, the Arab states are not inclined to listen to the "Arab street", which is far quieter than it was during previous conflicts, such as the 1991 war in Kuwait, the 2000-04 Palestinian uprising or the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

Today's Middle East is very different from the old one in many significant ways. First, the internal politics of every Arab country revolves around a battle between Arab nationalist rulers and a radical Islamist opposition. In other words, Hamas's allies are the regimes's enemies. An Islamist state in the Gaza Strip would encourage those who seek to create similar entities in Egypt, Jordan and every other Arab country.

A tremendous price has been paid in lives and treasure for this nationalist-Islamist conflict. The violence has included civil wars among the Palestinians and Algerians, massive bloodshed in Iraq and terrorist campaigns in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In the Palestinian case, after winning an election victory and making a deal with Fatah for a coalition government, Hamas turned on its nationalist rivals and drove them out of Gaza by force. In return, the Palestinian Authority has been repressing Hamas in the West Bank.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah has been trying to bully its more moderate Sunni Muslim, Christian and Druze rivals into submission. And because the Arab states confront an Iran-Syria alliance that includes Hamas and Hezbollah, in addition to the internal conflicts there is a regional battle between these two blocs. A major aspect of this power-struggle is that the largely Sunni Muslim-led states face a largely Shia Muslim-led competitor for regional hegemony. These two struggles pose far greater dangers to the existing states than does any (largely fabricated) Israeli threat, and the region's rulers know it.

On the other side of the divide, Iran and its allies have put forward the banners of jihad and "resistance" to the US and Israel. Their platform includes Islamist revolutions in every country; Iran as the region's dominant state, backed up by nuclear weapons; no peace with Israel, and no Palestinian state until there can be an Islamist one encompassing all of Israel as well as the West Bank and Gaza Strip; and above all the expulsion of Western influence from the region. This is a highly ambitious program and probably impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, it is a prescription for endless terrorism and war. Both pro-Iranian and anti-Iranian Islamists believe that because God is on their side and their enemies are cowardly, they will win -- and they are quite prepared to spend the next half-century trying to prove it.

Although this seems to be a pessimistic assessment of the regional situation, the radical Islamist side has many weaknesses. Launching losing wars may make Islamists feel good, but being defeated is a costly proposition, because their arrogance and belligerence antagonises many who might otherwise be won over to their cause. And the situation provides a good opportunity for Western policy makers.

The emphasis should be on building coalitions among the relatively moderate Arab states threatened by radical Islamist forces, and on working hard to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, a goal that is in the interests of many in the region. The worst mistake would be to follow the opposite policy, making an inevitably futile effort to appease the extremists or seek to moderate them. Such a campaign actually disheartens the relative moderates who, feeling sold out, will try to cut their own deal with Tehran.

The crisis in Gaza is only one aspect of the much wider battle shaking the region. Helping Hamas would empower radical Islamism and Iranian ambitions, and undercut the Palestinian Authority and everyone else, not just Israel. Arab states don't want to help their worst enemy, so why should anyone else?



The difference


Obama the Bushite

By Charles Krauthammer

Except for Richard Nixon, no president since Harry Truman has left office more unloved than George W. Bush. Truman's rehabilitation took decades. Bush's will come sooner. Indeed, it has already begun. The chief revisionist? Barack Obama. Vindication is being expressed not in words but in deeds -- the tacit endorsement conveyed by the Obama continuity-we-can-believe-in transition. It's not just the retention of such key figures as Defense Secretary Bob Gates or Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner, who, as president of the New York Fed, has been instrumental in guiding the Bush financial rescue over the past year. It's the continuity of policy.

It is the repeated pledge to conduct a withdrawal from Iraq that does not destabilize its new democracy and that, as Vice President-elect Joe Biden said just this week in Baghdad, adheres to the Bush-negotiated status-of-forces agreement that envisions a U.S. withdrawal over three years, not the 16-month timetable on which Obama campaigned.

It is the great care Obama is taking in not preemptively abandoning the anti-terror infrastructure that the Bush administration leaves behind. While still a candidate, Obama voted for the expanded presidential wiretapping (FISA) powers that Bush had fervently pursued. And while Obama opposes waterboarding (already banned, by the way, by Bush's CIA in 2006), he declined George Stephanopoulos's invitation (on ABC's "This Week") to outlaw all interrogation not permitted by the Army Field Manual. Explained Obama: "Dick Cheney's advice was good, which is let's make sure we know everything that's being done," i.e., before throwing out methods simply because Obama campaigned against them.

Obama still disagrees with Cheney's view of the acceptability of some of these techniques. But citing as sage the advice offered by "the most dangerous vice president we've had probably in American history" (according to Joe Biden) -- advice paraphrased by Obama as "we shouldn't be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric" -- is a startlingly early sign of a newly respectful consideration of the Bush-Cheney legacy.

Not from any change of heart. But from simple reality. The beauty of democratic rotations of power is that when the opposition takes office, cheap criticism and calumny will no longer do. The Democrats now own Iraq. They own the war on al-Qaeda. And they own the panoply of anti-terror measures with which the Bush administration kept us safe these past seven years.

Which is why Obama is consciously creating a gulf between what he now dismissively calls "campaign rhetoric" and the policy choices he must make as president. Accordingly, Newsweek -- Obama acolyte and scourge of everything Bush/Cheney -- has on the eve of the Democratic restoration miraculously discovered the arguments for warrantless wiretaps, enhanced interrogation and detention without trial. Indeed, Newsweek's neck-snapping cover declares, "Why Obama May Soon Find Virtue in Cheney's Vision of Power." Obama will be loath to throw away the tools that have kept the homeland safe. Just as he will be loath to jeopardize the remarkable turnaround in American fortunes in Iraq.

Obama opposed the war. But the war is all but over. What remains is an Iraq turned from aggressive, hostile power in the heart of the Middle East to an emerging democracy openly allied with the United States. No president would want to be responsible for undoing that success.

In Iraq, Bush rightly took criticism for all that went wrong -- the WMD fiasco, Abu Ghraib, the descent into bloody chaos in 2005-06. Then Bush goes to Baghdad to ratify the ultimate post-surge success of that troubled campaign -- the signing of a strategic partnership between the United States and Iraq -- and ends up dodging two size 10 shoes for his pains. Absorbing that insult was Bush's final service on Iraq. Whatever venom the war generated is concentrated on Bush himself. By having personalized the responsibility for the awfulness of the war, Bush has done his successor a favor. Obama enters office with a strategic success on his hands -- while Bush leaves the scene taking a shoe for his country.

Which I suspect is why Bush showed such equanimity during a private farewell interview at the White House a few weeks ago. He leaves behind the sinews of war, for the creation of which he has been so vilified but which will serve his successor -- and his country -- well over the coming years. The very continuation by Democrats of Bush's policies will be grudging, if silent, acknowledgment of how much he got right.



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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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