Here’s a little secret, if you want to know the standing of the US in eyes of Sunni Arabs just check the grain markets. As a barometer, winter wheat is the best. When harvests are strong not only does the price drop but the list of global suppliers increases. What does this have to do with Sunni Arab animus toward Washington? Just check out Egypt. As of yesterday, the Egyptians (the largest Arab buyers on the global grain market) have shunned their traditional source, the US, in favor of Russia, France, Ukraine and Romania. For nearly forty years the US and Egypt have been allies and trading partners. Now, the diplomatic atmosphere between the two countries has so soured that the farmers in Kansas are feeling the pain. What gives?
The Egyptian government is ticked-off at the Obama administration for a number of reasons: the ease by which they abandoned an ally (Mubarak), the direct interference they projected into sovereign Egyptian affairs by support for the Muslim Brotherhood in its initial tilt toward Iran, the lack of criticism for the Brotherhood’s shameless anti-democratic policies and finally the portrayal of the mass revolt against the incompetent Morsi as a coup. But Egypt is not alone. The entire Sunni Arab world senses the shift in US policy toward Shiite Iran.
Obama’s retreat from Iraq is another prime example. By the end of 2011, the US withdrew from its Iraq commitment without leaving behind any residual forces. This left the field wide open for Iran and its designs on the entire Levant. On a near daily basis Iranian cargo planes fly over Iraqi air space with much needed military troops and supplies for the murderous Assad regime in Syria. The US could have easily demanded action (or taken it themselves) to stop this flow of material. But without any troops in country, US leverage and support for the Iraqi government was limited. In the face of legitimate Shiite fears of Sunni oppression; Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah have formed a solid alliance with apparent American acquiescence. The perception of a US tilt against the Sunni Arabs could have been altered if only administration policy had been more thoughtful. The 2010 Iraqi election should have produced a democratic outcome. But US support for Ayad Allawi’s Iraqiya Coalition was never forthcoming and it was Iran and the Ayatollah not Obama who set the direction for Iraqi political history.
Next comes Lebanon. The US has branded Hezbollah as a terrorist organization but has done next to nothing to prevent its growth and now its direct involvement in the Syrian civil war. How is this possible? Hezbollah and Iran have the blood of hundreds of US marines on their hands. Yet the US has done absolutely nothing to interdict their supply lines or to damage their training centers. Under President Obama the projection of American power in the Middle East as a crucial element of diplomatic leverage has become next to nil. Just like Chairman Mao of China used to say: “The US is nothing more than a paper tiger.” In the 1960’s under President Kennedy every one in the world understood this description to be nonsense. However now, in the Middle East, the Chairman’s phrase appears apt. As the Far East heats up, let us hope there is not a colossal miscalculation because false perception and mistake go hand and hand in geopolitics.
For instance, there is the perennial question of the lands of the old Palestinian Mandate. On this front the US administration clings to an old policy that has not borne fruit for over twenty years, the so-called two state solution to end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Yet if you listen to the liberal intellectuals in their post-modern think tanks, they would have you believe that the solution to a stalemated hundred-year war was a forgone conclusion. Talk about false perception and miscalculation. After ten visits to the region in slightly less than a year, US Secretary of State John Kerry also holds this liberal view. But the Arab-Israeli conflict has become vastly superseded by a Sunni-Shiite war that involves the entire region including Iran and Turkey. The future of the entire post-Ottoman Levant and beyond (Iran, Turkey and the Kurdish question) is now in doubt. Arab nationalism has become passe. Islamism (both Sunni and Shiite variations) compete with secular liberty, monarchy and the ancien regime (the secular fascists) for power. Palestinians ride the opportunist fence. Although they are Sunnis, they are not necessarily pro-Saudi or pro-Hashemite. At this very moment, Hamas is in consultation with Iran as it also searches for a rapprochement with Fatah.
How can Israel be expected to decide its very future in this kind of chaotic environment? And how can the Obama Administration have a peace policy so completely out of sync with a region at war? The short answer is: It can’t. The entire operation makes little sense. What if the Sunni Arabs are correct and the US has tilted toward Iran. Does this mean that the Islamic Republic will moderate its view of Israel, Saudi Arabia and Jordan? If you believe that I’ve got some ocean-side real estate in Nebraska (right next to Chuck Hagel’s place) I’d like to sell you.
And what about the future of Jordan? Just a few days ago in Kfar Saba, Meir Dagan, ex-chief of Mossad, suggested that the Jordan Valley was unnecessary for the future security of the State of Israel. With Iran on the ascendancy, this man must be living on another planet to make such a statement. The future of the Hashemite Kingdom has always been a shaky proposition. If the Palestinians were to achieve control of the Trans-Jordan outside a formal peace process with Israel (either through the help of Iran or some other way), they could have an army. This army could become fully equipped with advanced weaponry from Iran, Iraq and Syria. Of course there is an eastern front. And as long as there are nation states operating in an international environment of war and anarchy, Israel must remain vigilant through the generations. Normalcy isn’t perfect, but as Jewish history has shown, it’s better than being defenseless. Isn’t that the whole point of having a state?
Finally besides the regional quagmire, for Kerry’s mission to make any progress he must also solve the issue of the triangle. However, no one in the liberal establishment in the US seems to understand the nature of the triangle. And its nature is shifting. The triangle, of course, is Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians. All three players must be satisfied before any real progress can be made. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Israel have had a tacit alliance since 1920. Ben-Gurion cemented it when he acquiesced not to take the West Bank during the 1948 War. However in 1967, the continuation of the tacit alliance would have exposed the Hashemites to a hostile Arab world. Without their participation in a war of annihilation against the Jewish State, Jordan’s regional position would have been untenable. The Arabs lost the war and the Hashemites lost the West Bank.
By gaining the West Bank and then losing it; Jordan became a bi-national state with a large Palestinian majority. For Kerry, there is no getting around this reality. That’s if he understood the reality. Last week the ex-Prime Minister of Jordan, Ma’rouf Bakhit, explained it to the world quite well. In a rare lecture the Jordanian politician forcefully suggested that the US cannot be allowed to achieve a two-state solution against the strategic interests of the Hashemites. He was referring to the long held demand of the Palestinians to the “right of return”. Of course, for Israel, this so-called “right” is a non-starter. But as the Palestinians have appeared to have backed off this band wagon (the “right of return”), the Jordanians have remained adamant in their support. For the Hashemites, a Palestinian majority does not play into the concept of either a constitutional monarchy (a near certain demand of the king’s Bedouin constituency) or a Jordanian-Palestinian economic confederation (a future necessity for the economic viability of a West Bank state). In other words, in order to maintain a Bedouin majority, Jordan plans to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Jordanian-Palestinians (to the West Bank and Israel proper) once a peace plan comes to fruition. The crazy thing is that the Hashemites are dead serious. The democratic revolution has come to Jordan, for real.
But what if the Palestinians agree to the US design? Jordan would have little to worry about on the peace front if the “right of return” were still in play. But Palestinian President Abbas has accepted that this “right” will probably never be in play. So the Palestinians have now become a wild card. They could challenge the Hashemites on many fronts. They could accept the Kerry formula and take “the right of return” completely off the table. Israel would be under great pressure to accept the US framework.
This would back the Hashemites into a corner with no place to put their “refugees”. Also a successful peace process could lead to a non-violent East-Bank Palestinian demand for democracy. A democratic Jordan could eventually make for a “Greater Palestine”. Or the Palestinians could reject the US initiative to see how the regional war plays out with hopes of establishing closer relations with Iran. A Fatah-Hamas deal would point toward this strategy. Finally, there is always the UN.
As I said earlier, the house of the Hashemite King has always been a shaky proposition. However US incoherence is not making the King’s situation any easier. Like all Sunni Arab monarchs, he is at risk with Iranian hegemony. But an ill-informed peace process also places the king in jeopardy. What the King needs is a strategy of his own. Bi-nationalism (Bedouin vs. Palestinian) has run its long historical course. A progressive constitutional monarchy, embracing both banks of the river, with a historic compromise on Jerusalem and a political condominium for the disputed territories, will prevent the fall of the Hashemites. Arab democracy needs a champion. Why not King Abdullah II of Palestine-TransJordan?