WaPo columnist: democratization, not a U.S. peace plan, should be administration goal

With talk continuing about a possible U.S. Mideast peace proposal, the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl has a thought provoking analysis suggesting this is exactly the wrong policy for the current situation.

Diehl argues that there are “three big strategic challenges in the Middle East”- the threat of a nuclear Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “the corrupt and crumbling Arab autocracies of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and half a dozen other states, which fuel Islamic extremism and provide almost all of al-Qaeda’s recruits.”

While Washington can have an impact on the first two, it can’t impose solutions. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders want peace process progress enough to take political risks to attain it. And conditions in the region “make anything more than delay and containment of Iran’s nuclear ambitions similarly far-fetched, unless military force is used or a domestic revolution takes place,” he writes – a line that’s certain to raise the ire of pro-Israel leaders.

While there are opportunities in the realm of Arab democratization, he argues, “the Obama administration is pressing ahead on the first two issues, setting impossibly ambitious goals and ignoring the unfavorable conditions. And it has put on a distant back burner the one place where opportunity beckons.”

His main focus: Egypt, where “an 81-year-old strongman, Hosni Mubarak, is ailing; where a grass-roots pro-democracy movement has gained hundreds of thousands of supporters; and where a credible reform leader has suddenly appeared, in the form of the Nobel Prize-winning former nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei.”

That’s a potential game changer in the Middle East, but “Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton have shown almost no interest… Instead, Obama has focused most of his personal energy and diplomatic capital on the Arab-Israeli conundrum — where, for a variety of reasons, there is no immediate opportunity.”

Maybe he overestimates the potential for democratic change in Egypt, and there are few hints of similar opportunities in other critical regional powers, including Saudi Arabia.

His analysis also ignores the reality that so many regional governments use the Arab-Israeli conflict as a safety valve to vent public anger about corruption and repression. As long as Israel and the Palestinians are stalemated, these governments will feel less pressure to implement democratic change.

Still, Diehl puts the talk of a new U.S. peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians in perspective, and suggests a more pragmatic course of action that may be more in tune with regional realities.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.