Old Wine: Not Even in New Bottles

Old Wine: Not Even in New Bottles

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

David Remnick in his approximately 17,000 word piece article on President Obama in this past week’s New Yorker, shows the President reiterating what his goals for the Middle East are during the next three years. (See the end of section VII.) Obama seeks to find a solution to the Syrian bloodshed; the cessation of the Iranian nuclear weapons program; and a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  All three goals are laudable and desirable, but there are huge differences between them. This is true with respect to the character and conditions of the confrontations, as well as to the possible modalities for solving them. It is precisely in this regard that the President and Secretary Kerry once again continue to trip into the same trap that all in the West continue to fall. 

Syria is a bloodbath in which over 130,000 people have been killed over the past three years with no end in sight; in addition casualties to wounded, innocent, homeless and refugees run into the millions. Regardless of what valiant progress is might be made now in the conference in Switzerland—beginning to aid Homs–no one has a genuine solution of how to bring the two or three or four belligerent sides together to form a functioning political/security situation to create stability and peace to Syria. The U.S., despite the success achieved in removing the chemical weapons from Syria, has not demonstrated a credible approach to a foreign policy in Syria since reneging on the infamous red line.

Similarly the President himself admits that an actual agreement with Iran on scaling back its nuclear weapons’ ambition has a less than 50% chance of succeeding. Should the P5 +1 negotiations with Iran indeed fail, no constructive option has been presented. As a result a nuclear Iran will be a reality with all the dire consequences to Israel in particular and to nuclear proliferation in the region in general. Here like in Syria, there are no rational actions on the ground and ratcheting up sanctions against Iran will not have the practical consequences to address the root problem.

So that returns the U.S. to buying into the myth again that solving Israel’s problems with the Palestinians will be a major leap forward for regional peace. Certainly there is much that Israel can and ought to do to create a more hospitable and productive negotiating environment without all the rhetoric and hardline vitriol that the Netanyahu Government persists to proclaim. The Palestinians as well could take serious steps to improve the current climate so perhaps some progress could be made in negotiations; but Israel certainly is in a positive security situation at the moment; absent the Iran threat. For the U.S., however, any suggestion that the character of the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is as dangerous and potentially explosive as Syria and Iran is grossly mistaken. Solving it would be very constructive, but focusing on this conflict is nowhere equivalent to addressing the other problems. This is without even discussing what is transpiring in Egypt, Turkey, and Iraq where the U.S. also does not appear to have a coherent policy direction at the moment.

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