With 200,000 American troops committed to two wars in the greater Middle East and the U.S. president leading a major international effort to block Iran’s nuclear program, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become a strategic imperative.
— Martin Indyk, New York Times, April 19, 2010.
Martin Indyk is a long-time friend of Israel who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Tel Aviv. He also directs foreign policy programs for Brookings, an institution with close ties to the Obama administration. And so when Indyk argues that there is a link between failed peace making and US security, and when our own Secretary of State makes a similar case, is it any wonder that the Israelis are worried? Never mind that Rahm Emanuel has declared that “our bond with Israel is… unbreakable.” Writing in Haaretz, one Israeli pundit attributed these multiple signals to a “good-cop, bad-cop” strategy.
Whatever the degree of coordination animating the White House’s efforts, it is clear that the administration not only believes that that Palestinian-Israeli conflict is harming U.S. security interests, but that the time has come to make this diagnosis public. Israel’s leaders have openly rejected this linkage, as expected. But in so doing, they are spurning a key part of the conceptual framework through which Obama and his advisers view the Middle East. We are now living through a profound and fundamental crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations. Anyone who says otherwise is swimming in denial.
Arab leaders may very well celebrate this crisis. But as I suggested in my last (and its seems, widely read) post, the U.S.-Israeli breach is bad for the Palestinians.
Part of the problem lies in the ripple effect spreading from the epicenter of conflicting U.S.-Israeli perceptions. The widening trust gap between Jerusalem and Washington has not provoked the usual –and perhaps useful– flood of Israeli worry about the costs of estrangement between these two old friends. Instead, a growing sense of siege has reduced the pressure on Netanyahu to broaden his coalition to include parties that, apart from Labor, actually favor a two-state solution! Rather than take bold steps, the prime minister is stalling by offering a familiar batch of “confidence building measures” for which there can be little long-term confidence.
Such maneuvering will not assuage the diplomatic wounds both sides are nursing. Nor, to say the least, will matters be improved by hurling accusations, such as the suggestion –made by no less than the World Jewish Congress– that Obama is alienating Israel in a bid to dialogue with Muslims.
However silly, the mere fact that the WJC would advance this view suggests the depth of the problem we are facing. Instead of ceding the ground to a myriad of theories and conjectures, it is time for a serious look at the complex intersection between the Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking and U.S.-Muslim world engagement.
On this score, we must grasp an elemental reality: the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein ushered in a sea change in U.S.-Muslim world relations. Since then, the U.S. has become entangled in a maze of political, diplomatic, economic and even philosophical relations with governments and civil society actors in the Middle East and far beyond. Whatever its misgivings about the legacy bequeathed by the Bush administration, the Obama administration must build upon the mesh of institutional, political and personal relationships that now define the U.S.-Muslim world landscape.
That this landscape includes some 200,000 U.S. troops fighting Afghanistan and Iraq is certainly true. But their presence has political implications that extend far beyond any military mission. Over the last decade, the role of the military has moved from an exclusive focus on “fighting bad guys,” to helping the “better guys” reconstruct failed or failing states. Thus, one purpose of U.S. boots on the ground is to provide security, logistical and institutional help to a growing army of U.S. democracy, governance and development experts.
Numbers tell part of this nation-building epic. As a recent Project on Middle East Democracy report notes, for Fiscal Year 2011, the White House’s international affairs budget request stands at $58.5 billion– nearly a 12% increase over FY10. True– 75% of this for “peace and security,” whereas only 6% is devoted to democracy, rule of law and governance. But given that the cost of feeding, supplying and arming our military far exceeds the cost of political development programs, the 6% set out for governance-democracy represents a huge financial commitment.
Moreover, the U.S. military –along with several huge private sector defense firms–has become deeply involved in the development business. When you add the proportion of U.S. military aid spent on nation-building to the funds set out specifically for democracy/governance assistance in Muslim majority countries, you can only marvel at the ongoing transformation of U.S. aid policies.
Indeed if the Obama administration realizes its quest to double U.S. foreign aid by 2015, by this date U.S. aid efforts will be inextricably intertwined with any broader engagement of the Muslim world.
The policy analysts, academics, aid workers, diplomats and security specialists who constitute our democracy and development troops labor closely with their Muslim colleagues throughout the world. Whether working for the United States Agency for International Development, the United States Institute of Peace, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, Management Systems International, Democracy International, KARAMAH or the National Democratic Institute–to name just a few of the players, big and small–these Americans are part of an expanding global partnership.
This partnership cannot be divorced from war and peacemaking in the Middle East. The link has already been made by governments, who readily exploit the Arab-Israeli issue to deflect pressures for reform. Seeking to undercut this strategy, democratic activists from Morocco to Baghdad have insisted that their struggles are too important to hinge on the choices of Israelis and Palestinians, or for that matter, on the readiness of Washington to push both parties towards a two state-solution.
Alas, that hasn’t worked. On the contrary, the globalization of communications has brought the bloody images of Palestinian-Israeli conflict into the daily lives of millions of young people. Caught between the efforts of governments and their radical opponents to manipulate this dynamic are our present (and would-be) Muslim-world partners. If they remain silent they are accused of treason, but if they speak up for peace they are painted “as a fifth column of U.S. or Zionist imperialism.” They are practically in a no-win situation, and for this reason, they desperately want a reasonable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Whether they get it or not remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: Secretary of State Clinton clearly appreciates the impact of failed peace making on our Muslim-world colleagues. Grasping the bull by the horns, she made the following observation last week:
Every step back from the peace table and every flare-up in violence undermines the positive players …who seek to turn the page… It undercuts the reformers attempting to develop…accountable governments, the entrepreneurs…trying to foster broad-based growth, and the civil society organizers…working for common ground and mutual understanding.
How then can the U.S. help “turn that page?” For one thing, the onus cannot be purely on Obama administration. While a successful peace process would enhance the political leverage of our Muslim world partners, we must also challenge them to make their own case for peace on the home front. This is a point I look forward to making as USIP and its co-hosts prepare for a major conference on U.S.-Muslim world relations–an event that will showcase the very transformation I have outlined in this essay.
Daniel Brumberg is Co-Director of Democracy and Governance Studies at Georgetown University and Senior Adviser to the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the United States institute of Peace.
By Daniel Brumberg |
April 27, 2010; 2:12 PM ET
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