FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Kerry and the Middle East

by NEVE GORDON

As Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry formulates his Middle East policy, he would do well to learn from the mistakes of both the Clinton and Bush administrations.

Former President Bill Clinton began his tenure after the demise of the Soviet Union, and thus he was the first president to enter office following the establishment of U.S. hegemony around the globe. Accordingly, maintaining the status quo became the cornerstone of his foreign policy, which meant that U.S. interests would best be served so long as the Middle East remained stable. Recently, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk pointed out that the Clinton administration promoted the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians not for its own sake, but rather as a means to uphold stability. Thus, stability was the goal and peace became merely the instrument to achieve it.

After 9/11, Clinton’s Middle East policy was radically transformed. Instead of stability, the Bush administration wanted change. The existing American hegemony was deemed insufficient by Bush’s advisors, who sought to expand and strengthen U.S. control over the region’s oil and natural gas resources. Bush accordingly decided to change the configuration of a few Middle Eastern countries so as to advance these objectives, camouflaging his actions with noble terms like “democratization” and “freedom.”

If for Clinton the peace process became an instrument to promote stability, Bush has employed war as a means to bring about change. Whereas Clinton was content with the hierarchical power relations created following the end of the Cold War, Bush set out on a crusade to extend U.S. control. The wars waged in Afghanistan and Iraq are the most evident manifestations of this policy transformation.

Despite apparent differences distinguishing the two administrations, Clinton’s and Bush’s Middle East policies share a few common denominators, which are ultimately inimical to vital long-term U.S. interests. Rhetoric aside, the two administrations have mistakenly conceived authentic democratization of the Middle East as a threat to U.S. hegemony, both in the domestic and international spheres.

This, more or less, is why both administrations have opposed grassroots democracy. A democratic Saudi Arabia, for example, might ask the U.S. to dismantle all American military bases operating on its soil, or may even curtail the business of U.S. oil corporations stationed in the country. Such actions would, according to the prevailing logic, endanger U.S. control over the world’s resources and therefore should not be tolerated. The solution, therefore, has been to support authoritarian regimes, simply because they appear to be more predictable and easier to handle.

Along the same lines, both administrations have been against the democratization of the international realm, excluding such bodies as the United Nations and the European Union from playing a meaningful role in the Middle East. Again, the rationale is that the international democratization of power would threaten U.S. hegemony.

The anti-democratic strain informing U.S. foreign policy is, however, shortsighted for it does not take into account what Cornell University political scientist Susan Buck-Morss has called the “dialectic of power.” In her book, Thinking Past Terror Buck-Morss shows how power actually produces its own vulnerability. The ongoing occupation and control of Middle East countries, alongside U.S.’s unflinching support for brutal military dictators, oppressive feudal kings, and the occupation of Palestine, will eventually engender violent forces that will end-up attacking the U.S. Think of Osama Bin Laden, who was initially trained by the U.S. to attack Soviet troops. Isn’t he a clear manifestation of the idea that power creates its own vulnerability?

The U.S.’s long-term goal should not be to violently control the Middle East, but to help it go through a process of democratization, which will ultimately lead to the promulgation of egalitarian values, human rights, and freedom.

Democracy, though, must come from below and not from above, if only because at the root of all definitions of democracy lies the idea of popular power, a situation in which power, and perhaps authority too, rests with the people. So if, for example, the Turkish citizenry oppose taking part in the war against Iraq, it is a critical mistake to bribe and pressure their government until it acts against its own constituency’s will. In due course this constituency will wind up directing its anger against the U.S.

Finally, the democratization of power in the international sphere may seem at first to limit the U.S., but from a long-term perspective this is surely not the case. Consider President Bush’s unsuccessful attempt to enlist countries to help the U.S. find a way out of the Iraqi debacle. One can now appreciate the shortcomings of his soloist approach.

Thus, to make a meaningful difference in the Middle East, John Kerry would have to reduce the gap between words and deeds, and actually pursue democracy. Such a policy might limit U.S. hegemony in the short term, but in the long run will make the world a better and safer place and in this way strengthen the U.S. itself.

NEVE GORDON teaches politics at Ben-Gurion University, Israel. He is currently a visiting scholar at the Human Rights Center and Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. His book From the Margins of Globalization: Critical Perspectives on Human Rights is scheduled to appear next month (Rowman and Littlefield). He can be reached at neve_gordon@yahoo.com

 

Neve Gordon is a Leverhulme Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics and International Studies and the co-author of The Human Right to Dominate.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 30, 2017
Kenneth Surin
Can the Impossible Happen in Britain?
W. T. Whitney
Why Does the United States Beat Up On Capitalist Russia?
Patrick Cockburn
We Can’t Let Britain Become a Vast ISIS Recruiting Station
Michael J. Sainato
Leaks and Militarized Policing: Water Protectors are Proven Right
Ted Rall
What Do the Democrats Want? No One Knows
David J. Lobina
The Israel-Palestine Conflict and Political Activism
Martha Rosenberg
Once Again, Mainstream Media Does Pharma’s Bidding
David L. Glotzer
Social Security: Clearing Up the Financial Nonsense
Edward Hunt
If They are Wrong the Planet Dies
Lawrence Wittner
How Business “Partnerships” Flopped at America’s Largest University
Michael J. Sainato
Leaks and Militarized Policing: The NoDAPL Water Protectors Keep Getting Proven Right
Guillermo R. Gil
Poems Must Never be White
Martin Billheimer
Strategies of Rose and Thorn in Portland
Tony Christini
What isn’t Said: Bernie Sanders in 2020
Chandra Muzaffar
Fasting for Palestinian Justice and Dignity
Clancy Sigal
Even Grammar Bleeds
May 29, 2017
Jim Kavanagh
No Laughing Matter: The Manchester Bomber is the Spawn of Hillary and Barack’s Excellent Libyan Adventure
Vijay Prashad
The Afghan Toll
Melvin Goodman
The Washington Post’s Renewed Attack on Whistlblowers
Robert Fisk
We Must Look to the Past, Not ISIS, for the True Nature of Islam
Dean Baker
A Tax on Wall Street Trading is the Best Solution to Income Inequality
Lawrence Davidson
Reality and Its Enemies
Harry Hobbs
Australia’s Time to Recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Sovereignty
Ray McGovern
Will Europe Finally Rethink NATO’s Costs?
Cesar Chelala
Poetry to the Rescue of America’s Soul
Andrew Stewart
Xi, Trump and Geopolitics
Binoy Kampmark
The Merry Life of Dragnet Surveillance
Stephen Martin
The Silent Apartheid: Militarizing Architecture & Infrastructure
Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail