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Islamism is the problem

Islamism is the problem

Author: Barry Rubin
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 19, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/177111/Islamism-is-the-problem.html

But the West places the onus on Israel for peace

April, wrote TS Elliott, is the cruellest month of all. But for hopes of peace, freedom, and moderation in West Asia, June will play that role this year. In Iran, Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, backed by the spiritual guide, is about to be re-elected. In Lebanon, a regime backed by Iran and Syria is about to be installed.

It shouldn't be that way. Remember the famous sign in the Clinton for President Headquarters back in 1992, which said, "It's the economy, stupid," as the main issue? Well, in West Asia the equivalent sign would say, "It's the Islamist revolutions, stupid."

And yet instead we see strategies based on a desire to believe or do anything to avoid confronting this great challenge, this uninvited battle that is sure to take up the rest of our lifetimes and very possibly much of this century's first half.

The heads are buried very deep in the sand. For to fit into the mainstream of Western analysis and strategy about West Asia, you must:

Pretend that a two-state solution is possible with a mostly radical Palestinian Authority and a far more extreme Hamas running Gaza, neither having done any preparation for real compromise and a lasting peace.

Pretend that this solution - which isn't going to happen - will solve all other problems, as if personal and state ambition, ethnic conflict, ideological battles, and all sorts of disputes didn't exist in the region which have nothing to do with this. Not to mention the fact that any compromise peace would actually enrage large elements of opinion and galvanise the Islamists into even more violence.

Pretend that Iran's regime will be talked out of having nuclear weapons by either the charm of Western leaders or relatively limited sanctions when Tehran already knows everything is a big bluff.

Pretend that Islamists can be moderated when they think they're winning, believe themselves to be following the will of the deity, and see daily proof that their rivals are eager to make concessions.

Pretend that Syria can be wooed into changing course when it is so dependent on its alliance with the Iranian regime, thinks that it's on the winning side, and tightening its control over Lebanon.

Pretend that Hizbullah and Hamas will settle down into moderation disciplined by the task of governing, the same theory discredited by the behaviour of the PLO, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority over the last 16 years.

Ironically, much of the Western Left seems to think that empowering the most reactionary forces in the world will somehow contribute to its vision of a better world. Much of the Right appears to believe that this strategy will be pushed far enough to lead to a grand sell-out of Israel.

But the West isn't so craven while its enemies aren't so strategically flexible or tactically clever. After all, both theories expect that the radicals will meet the West part-way. It's reminiscent of the expectations for Yasir Arafat and the PLO. One side thinks they'll make a deal and keep it; the other that they'll make a deal and break it. In fact, they see no need to make a deal at all. They'll do what they want and give not an inch.

It would be a mistake to over-estimate the naiveté of Western Governments but it might be an equal mistake to overestimate their resolve. Consider the words of the two Obama Administration appointees to the highest State Department posts focussing completely on West Asia policy in their confirmation hearings.

Mr Jeffrey Feltman, who has been named US Assistant Secretary of Near East Affairs, explained: "When you travelled around West Asia five, six, seven years ago, almost everywhere you went, the first thing that came up was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When you travel around today, what you are going to hear about is Iran."

But then he added: "We want to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to remove one of the tools that Iran uses to distract the region from what Iran is doing."

From this, it sounds like, by his own testimony, his policy is seven years out of date. Even he acknowledged the paradox that Iran is a "spoiler" on making progress. So if Iran, along with Syria, the Gaza Strip regime (Hamas), the soon-to-be Lebanon regime (Hizbullah), and the main opposition groups seeking power in every Arab country (Islamists) are all spoilers, how are you going to "address" this issue effectively? Especially if your friends - especially the Saudis, Egyptians, and others - won't do much to help?

Meanwhile, the nominee for Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs, Mr Robert O Blake, congratulated the Pakistani Government for fighting the Taliban, even while that regime is quite happy to live with them and Al Qaeda as long as they stick to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. "We do think that important progress is being made."

Yes, it is: By the enemies of freedom, democracy, and Western interests. Incidentally, Elliot's poem was called which opens with the line about April is entitled, The Wasteland, which is what West Asia is going to become unless Western policies really wake up and smell the coffins.

- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Jerusalem, and editor of the MERIA journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Truth About Syria.


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