Democratic Values and a Failed Middle East

The stability of the Middle East has been a vital US security concern since the end of WWII. It revolves around the price of oil. Whoever controls the flow of oil coming out of the strategic Persian Gulf controls the very destiny of the global economy. From May of 1948 until June of 1967, Israel was neither a strategic partner with the US nor in any way significant to the flow of oil headed toward Japan, Europe or the US. Forty-eight years ago today, however, everything changed. In six breathtaking days, Israel went from being a nation on the brink of annihilation to a victorious Middle East power player.

The US had not sided with Israel during her hour of need, sending instead a spy ship to relay her significant military configurations to the Egyptians. Earlier before the war had started, the same Democratic Party administration (Johnson) had misplaced an important memorandum of understanding involving the Egyptian military and the removal of UN peacekeepers from the Sinai peninsula. Instead of coming to Israel’s aid (diplomatically at the UN) the US and Egypt were indeed cooperating in an effort to stymie Israeli advances and, in Egypt’s case, certainly defeat the Jewish state. But with its back against the wall, Israel sank the US spy ship and preempted the Egyptian air force, leaving not only the Sinai but also Gaza and the Golan occupied, and liberating Jordanian- occupied eastern Israel. It was at this very moment that Israel became a “strategic ally” of the US. Forget democratic values; for the Johnson administration, power projection meant everything, and Israel proved her worth on the battlefield, not in the Knesset.

Skip forward another ten years to another Democratic Party administration (Carter), and once again oil and power projection were the guiding principles of the administration. This time the US found itself on the outs, with a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of a pro-American tyrant in Iran. What better way to appease the Arab and Muslim world than to use the UN in order to punish the Jewish state for its “crimes” against the Palestinians in the so-called Israeli-occupied “West Bank of Palestine”. Notice how the geographical designations had changed. UN Security Council 242 (1967) established that Israel had lawfully come into possession of the Jordanian-occupied territory (an occupation that no American administration had ever accepted as legitimate) by virtue of a defensive war. Resolution 242 makes no reference to Palestinians, because in 1967 all of the residents of the so-called West Bank were (according to international law) considered either stateless or citizens of Jordan. Palestine didn’t exist as an entity in international law, because the strongest claim to the West Bank was Israel’s — through the League of Nations Mandate of 1922.

But Jimmy Carter never worried about international law; he was on a mission of higher “justice”. In fact he and his top advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, were geopolitical warriors whose concern for the justice of UN 242 was constrained by the same Cold War considerations that had motivated Johnson ten years earlier. That is, to show the Muslim world that the US was really on their side (wink, wink) by pushing back the Jewish state to a nine-mile-wide border that would make her indefensible over time. Of course, Carter would do this all in the name of justice and the values of international law, not US power politics involving the control of the oil-rich Persian Gulf. But by this one action, the separation of Jordan from so-called Palestine, Carter fed directly into the plans of the terrorist PLO who had established the concept of “phased struggle” (first the West Bank, then the rest). The PLO used “phased struggle” as their ticket to so-called “moderation”. But true moderation was never their real game, and Carter’s action set back, by forty years, any hope for peace.

To this very day, the collapsed two-state solution lies moribund, but still the failed Carter and PLO stratagem is maintained by its flat-earth supporters as “the only game in town”. The so-called two-state solution (sometimes called “two states for two peoples”) can’t work, and it will never work because it is based on three failed premises. First, that Arabs can only live under authoritarian monarchies or dictatorships; second, that Jordanians and Palestinians represent two distinct peoples; and third, that Israel would ever agree to relinquish the vital security area of the Jordan River Valley and its highlands. These notions are all dead wrong. But premise number one represents the greatest failure of US policy. After fifty years of US hegemony in the region, the lack of democratic institutions in the Arab Middle East has significantly contributed to the utter failure of the nation-state system. The US bears a great deal of the responsibility. Its policy of support for absolute monarchs and police-state tyrants (and every variation in-between) has now come full circle as the region finds itself mired in political chaos and proxy war.

Jordan has been an island of British and US penetration since it was established under the mandate system by the League of Nations in 1922. But the great majority of its people neither identify with its absolute monarchy nor subscribe to its minority tribal identity. Yet for reasons of geopolitics, the US and its European allies feel an indebtedness to this CIA-supported kingdom whose various leaders have been on the Mclean, VA payroll for years. But desperate times require new thinking. The Sunni Arabs of the Levant need an example of something other than dictatorship and failed states. They need democracy, and they need it now. This is especially true in all the failed states of the Levant — Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan. I include Jordan because, with the failure of US policy in the region under the Obama administration, Jordan is also stuck between the rock of Islamic Sunni radicals and the hard place of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Obama has failed miserably in the Middle East, and his nuclear deal with Iran cannot possibly bail him out. In fact, it will probably make matters much worse. The same is true if he tampers with UN Resolution 242 by once again punishing Israel with a new Security Council resolution involving the so-called two-state solution. The last time such a strategy was tried it set back peace for decades. Obama needs to start thinking about out-of-the-box proposals that can capture the imagination of Arabs. Whether he likes it or not, the last president (Bush 43) was on the right track toward democratic values. And Iraqis voted in droves, standing in line for hours. In 2010 the prospect of a secular Iraqi leader (whose dedication to democracy and pluralism was exemplary) was squandered by President Obama to the detriment of the entire region.

But democracy and pluralism are the only things that can save the Middle East. It is now or never for the US. Obama must choose between Iran, a failed peace paradigm, or a nuclear-free Middle East with new thinking involving democratic values at the forefront. If Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are not to be lost causes, then Jordan must begin to show the way forward. Ten years from now, Obama’s final legacy will be known for certain. The Jewish people are watching Obama very closely. An unverifiable (bad) nuclear deal with Iran can’t be followed by an equally bad UN resolution that places Israel in diplomatic jeopardy as well. Similarly, an Arab Middle East without a democratic and pluralistic champion will probably continue to deteriorate. This will also be a part of the Obama legacy. Unless the president acts in support of America’s democratic values, the most likely scenario will probably involve an expansion of the war against ISIS and/or al-Qaeda leading to the regional domination of Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran. In other words, the nuclear deal cannot be separated from the region as a whole. It’s crunch time, Mr. President. The king of Jordan must be given an ultimatum, to democratize or face the consequences.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).