It is not only casual observers who are somewhat confused over US Middle East policy. Even those who study the region intensely admit to confusion. But, if one looks at the policy through certain lenses, the political landscape begins to clear.
The Bush Administration came into office with the Uprising in full swing. Their initial policy was considered to be laissez faire. But there was a method to this “hands off” approach. One State Department official described the policy as, “let them bleed.” Who was to bleed? Israelis and Palestinians.
Looking at US political moves (or lack of them in many instances) through the prism of “let them bleed,” we then gain an insight into a carefully constructed policy. This is a policy of pain. In the amoral world of Real Politik, it is not sadism that animates the Bush Administration. They have made the calculation that both Israelis and Palestinians could never reach a peace as long as they both had hope. As long as both sides spoke of the “price of peace” instead of the “costs of war” there could be no solution. So, a carefully constructed policy to make the cost of Occupation overwhelming, and this required both the Israelis and Palestinians to feel desperation.
In fact, senior Bush officials have suggested that the Clinton peace process broke down because both sides held out HOPE of making a better deal. Further psychological profiles of Arafat and Sharon fed the notion that each would not make a deal as long as they felt that they held the upper hand. US policy would soon disabuse both sides of this notion. In the Bush team’s assessment, neither side had reached the point where the ONLY solution is peace. Each administration official would have its role. Some would dispatch despair to Israelis…others to Palestinians. It would appear that there was a rift in the administration, but the overall plan has been executed almost without flaw.
Resulting actions have had but one goal since the Bush Administration team took office; to create a matrix of circumstances that would lead to a US imposed peace plan. In order to gain compliance from both sides, a maddening campaign of despair has been thrust upon the region. This Machiavellian approach resulted in feigned indifference while Palestinians and Israelis engaged in the inevitable escalation. The body count mounted.
So, Zinni’s mandate in the region was to create a situation that the US knew Arafat could not accept. This involved a deal over Israeli security and had no political objective. When confronted with political objectives, Zinni in fact stated, “That is beyond my mandate.” The US therefore maneuvered rejection of the Zinni proposal and Sharon was free to do his part in upping the desperation factor on Palestinians.
When Powel took his leisurely stroll through the Mediterranean, many people took this as an incredible lack of caring. But he and Bush insiders knew the real goal; give more time for Sharon to create despair. Bush calling Sharon a “Man of Peace”, a moniker that few inside Israel would dare say, also was designed to dash hope in the heart of Palestinians, signaling that the US would never be an honest broker in a peace deal.
Palestinians have endured over 50 years of disenfranchisement… exile…refugee status…occupation…and yet hope still pursed the lips of almost every Palestinian. The election of Sharon offered the US a chance to further its strategy of despair. They would give a wink and a nod to the age-old Palestinian nemesis to flex Israel’s overwhelming military might against the civilian population. To date, over 35,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been injured. That is one percent of the ENTIRE PALESTINIAN POPULATION living under Occupation. That is the equivalent of over 2.8 million Americans should the same percentage be applied to the US population.
US “disengagement” from the political process threw Palestinians further and further into despair. The invasion of Israel into almost every West Bank town and the eventual house arrest of Arafat was of course done with US under- the-table knowledge all the while allowing the Bush team to maintain “plausible deniability.” The Bush team ignored Arafat, one of the worst things you could do to him. Israel declared him “irrelevant”, and the despair increased. And yes…the body count mounted.
But the Bush policy was also calculated to throw Israel into despair. Without US intervention and a peace deal on the horizon or even articulated, the cost of Occupation for Israel began to soar. Suicide bombings increased. The general feeling of security eroded. But the military ability of Palestinians to create the kind of desperation necessary to bring Israel in line is rather limited. Economics would have to be used to make Israel toe the line. And the Israeli economy began to sink. Unemployment is at a 54-year high. The shekel has devalued almost 25% in 18 months. The US has refused a supplemental aid package for Israel… voted for several anti-Israel resolutions in the UN…condemned the invasion publicly. The US has been a party to Israel’s precipitous slide, and warnings issued in private to its leaders have been maintained in silence. The widening rift or threat and actual distance between Israel and the US was designed to create despair. The US strategy has been to make the cost of Occupation be a heavier toll to pay than the price of peace.
The US has canceled joint military operations… issued travel warnings from the beginning of the Intifada, exacerbating the decline of tourism… and even canceled the US Sixth Fleet docking at the Israeli port of Haifa, which brings in a lot of money to the city. To further Israel’s economic woes, military deals between Israel and China were canceled by the US under the guise of transferring sensitive technology. A $750 million tank deal between Turkey and Israel was canceled when the US promised to lease tanks to Turkey at favorable rates. Israel is now facing a severe financial collapse and the US is not stepping in to help as they have traditionally done. Every Israeli is feeling something new: despair. And yes, the body count mounted.
The fits and turns, some say “flip-flops” of US policy are designed to create despair. Not allowing Israel to “finish off Arafat” was designed to instill frustration for Israel. Much of the US pressure on Israel is under-the-table. Threats that if this pressure is made public and Israel’s lobbying and PR machine put to use would lead to a cataclysmic break between Israel and the US. Each action undertaken by the Bush team is designed to extract the last bit of hope from both sides.
And now, Palestinians beg for US active engagement. Europe begs for engagement. The Arab nations beg for engagement. The UN begs for engagement. Republicans in the House and Senate beg for engagement. Democrats in the House and Senate beg for engagement. Everybody is looking for the US to impose a solution. Behold, a peace born of D-E-S-P-A-I-R.