Thursday, December 14, 2006

A shortened, much improved version of the following article ( which is a translation of the Dutch original ) appears today in the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad ( see today's first posting ).
A Helping Hand
"Better late than never" was my first thought when I read the Iraq Study Group Report. Not that I necessarily agree with all conclusions and recommendations of the report, but when an American bipartisan committee proposes a coherent comprehensive policy for the Middle East progress is being made. If only this had happened right after George W. Bush's first election or after 9/11: that would have saved the US, the Middle East and the rest of the world a lot of trouble. Instead, the Middle East policies of the Bush administrations resembled a blind bull in a china shop. Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinians were left to their fates, Iran and Syria were allowed to do as they pleased, and in Iraq the centralised regime of one horrible dictator was replaced by a dangerous anarchy. The list of American, Iraqi and foreign officials, opinion makers, academics, political and military experts who were consulted by the study group's members is impressive. That same list makes clear that it is stupid to claim that Israel and its supporters determine American policies in the Middle East. James A. Baker III is not exactly Washnington's best friend of the Jewish state and people, and it shows in 'his' report. This, and the fact that some of Israel's worst enemies have welcomed the report, can nevertheless not be a reason for Israel to ignore the report. Israel, like the Palestinians and Americans, should realize that it will never be able to bend reality entirely to its will, particularly since the country's governments have failed too often to take any determined positive steps on their own initiative. On the other hand, no one can expect Israel to cooperate or any peace plan to succeed if, as James Baker supposedly suggested, peace negotiations are held behind Israel's back in order to prevent "Jewish pressure". The Baker-Hamilton report offers a good basis for a renewed peace process. Especially because it is not fixated only on Iraq or on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but rather offers a more holistic approach. The report's compilers do not try to justify any terrorist's action or fool anybody by pretending that an end of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and stability in Iraq will end ( Islamist ) terror alltogether. They do realize, though, that peace and quiet in Israel-Palestine and Iraq will remove the breeding ground and the major 'excuse' for most of today's terrorism. The dangers of Iran's nuclear plans and of Teheran and Damascus supporting terror groups are not underestimated, but at the same time it is acknowledged that blind faith in military confrontations is naïve. One of the main conclusions of the study group is that America's (non-)policy in Iraq until now has failed, and that a new approach is inevitable. Two words that were basically missing in Washington's foreign policy since 2000 were cooperation and consensus. Those two words appear all through the report, often preceded by the adjective 'international'. As I said before, better late than never. Let's hope we can look forward to similar studies on, for example, Afghanistan, Sudan/Darfur and North-Africa. It is not clear yet what the Bush administration will do with the report. Will most or all of the recommendations be implemented, will George W. Bush use the latter days of his presidency to launch a renewed and comprehensive peace process in the Middle East, or will the report serve mainly as some kind of academic excuse for an accelerated American retreat from Iraq? Europe can play a decisive role here. The leaders of the EU and of its member states need some courage and wisdom for that. They will have to set aside their pride and their loathing for Bush, and to try and bring their foreign policies into line. As far as the Middle East is concerned that line should somehow be coordinated with the Americans. If Washington and Brussels ( and Paris, Madrid, Berlin etc. ) manage to coordinate their MidEast policies, we have a political, economic and military alliance that will be able to force and seduce Israel and the Palestinians towards the negotiating table; to save Lebanon and Iraq; to call Iran and Syria to order through some sort of dialogue; to incapacitate ( Islamist ) terror. If the Europeans do not bother to take this report seriously and to seize the opportunities that it offers, there is a chance that it will become nothing more than a figleaf for the Americans' withdrawal from Iraq and from the whole region. In that case Jews, Palestinians, Lebanese and all other peoples here will be left to their own non-leaders and unenviable fates, and the world will have become an even more dangerous place than it is today.

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