America's Mideast Military Policy


February 11, 1993|By RAMI KHOURI

Two years after the U.S.-led Gulf War, the Middle East is far more unstable, troubled, militarized, violent and tense than before. Arabs here blame these dismal conditions not so much on the actions of people in the region as on a deliberate U.S. policy of militarism.

As the Clinton administration confronts the crisis posed by Israel's deportation of over 400 Palestinians, it must also decide whether to continue this militarist policy or try for a new era of American-Arab-Muslim cooperation.

If peace and stability were the aim of this policy, in Arab eyes the balance sheet of the past two years of U.S.-led militarism is grim:

Iraq has been evicted from Kuwait, but Iraqi defiance of Western diplomacy is stronger now than it was two years ago.

Grass-roots Arab and Islamic solidarity with the Iraqi people and their leadership's defiance of the West is stronger today than two years ago.

Many Arab governments that joined the U.S.-led ''cash register'' coalition of 1991 -- such as Syria, Egypt, Morocco -- are now nervously watching or openly criticizing the recent U.S. military attacks on Iraq, aware that the vast majority of their own people do not support them.

The threat of Iraq's armed forces in the region has been reduced, but Western militarism has only enhanced the real source of Iraqi, Arab and Islamic anger -- revulsion over Western militarism and the ills it has spawned in the last two centuries.

The politics of Islamic activism and defiance throughout the region are much stronger today than they were two years ago, as evidenced by the victory of the Islamist candidates in the Algerian parliamentary elections in 1991. The Algerian Islamists were subsequently thwarted by a military coup, while fellow Islamists have been severely hounded in other North African countries such as Tunisia and Egypt.

Sudan is in the grip of a novel Islamist-military combine that is viewed as terroristic and inhuman by the West but is viewed positively by many Middle Easterners as a harbinger of better things to come.

Iran has emerged as a stronger regional power today than it was two years ago, and it continues to arm itself and to extend its political and religious influence in Africa and Central Asia. The Arab states in the Gulf area are more militarized, scared, fragile, insecure, in debt and dependent on the West today than they were two years ago -- likewise the Kurds the West once sought to save from Saddam Hussein.

The Palestinians are far less willing to make diplomatic concessions today than they were two years ago. At the same time, as the Palestinian intifada continues unabated, some Palestinians are adopting violence as a routine tactic, and the strength of the Islamist Hamas faction is on the increase.

The Russian leadership has stopped its two years of kowtowing to the West and -- along with China -- is questioning Washington's renewed military attacks on Iraq. The fiction of good, obedient, tamed coalition Arabs (Egypt and Syria) working together with the Persian Gulf states and the U.S. to protect the Arab oil in the gulf has been shown to be just that -- fiction.

When Kuwait held a general election in October 1992, a majority of the winners were opposition candidates whose platforms attacked the predominant government ideologies and policies. The old ways, and the old Arab power structures that U.S. militarism seeks to preserve, cannot hold for much longer, either in the Persian Gulf or in any other parts of the Middle East.

These are only some of the consequences of Western militarism during the last two years, and they should be appreciated by the new Clinton administration that is now reassessing U.S. policy in the region. The problems here -- autocrats such as Saddam Hussein, pan-Arab fragmentation, social instability, economic stagnation, income disparity, exaggerated militarism, resource depletion -- must be addressed first and foremost through a political dialogue with the people in the region, with an eye to balanced and mutually beneficial relations with the West and other global powers.

Rami Khouri is a Jordan-based Arab journalist and former editor of the Jordan Times. He wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

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