30 March 2009 -
THE NEED IS FOR OVERALL STABILISATION OF THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST
On its knees financially and militarily the US cannot exit Iraq and Afghanistan alone. International cooperation must be forged. And the start must be resolving Israel/Palestine. Will Obama spend political capital? Can the EU even on just Israel/Palestine, rise to having a united policy?
It's far too early to start blaming Obama for not going about 'fixing' the two "Vietnams" (in Afghanistan and Iraq) that we and others predicted in 2002 would result from a go-it-alone invasion of Iraq.
As we and other witnesses saw in Vietnam, extrication is all the more difficult if one went in without an exit strategy - and Bush intended the US to stay in Iraq in one form or another.
Two things Americans must come to realise:-
1. The "surge" hasn't ended the spectre of a "Vietnam" in Iraq - it has merely bought some much needed time. There remains a possibility of catastrophic collapse accompanying American withdrawal.
2. The neo-conservative dream of a unipolar "New American Century" died the day Bush occupied Iraq. After 8 years of Bush, the world sees clearly what many Americans still don't - that the US is on its knees now, both militarily and financially. The prerequisite for international cooperation is America's clear abandonment (albeit tacit) of Bush style 'Amerika uber alles'.
Fortunately the signs are that Obama knows this full well and will do all he can to lead the world towards the era of cooperation which became possible after the Cold War ended. He also appears to recognise that the widest possible internaional help will be needed to get out of Iraq and Afghanistan without unacceptable loss.
Both Afghanistan and Iraq have one big thing going for them - virtually every country has a major interest in their stabilisation and their denial to those who would use them as a platform for terrorism or other forms of confrontation.
This means that a major exemplary diplomatic campaign has the potential to get together major and minor powers (from the EU, Russia & China to Iran, Pakistan and the Arab countries) to focus immense pressure in favour of the stabilisation of the whole Asian region from the Indian frontier west to Lebanon, and from Turkey south to N. Africa.
A starting point has to be the resolution of Israel/Palestine. The Obama administration knows this - but is Obama prepared to risk his "political capital" to overcome America's pro Israel opposition sufficently to force the Israelis to remove the bulk of their illegal settlements? That is of course the sine qua non for a viable two state solution.
Certainly the US cannot seek a two state solution as the first step in all-area stabilisation without EU support. But can the EU even at this moment of crisis, get a unified policy just on Israel/Palestine to support, and at times even lead, the US towards resolving Israel/Palestine?
If Europe and America demonstrably begin to act together on this, the other states - including Russia and China - have sufficient national interest in real overall regional stabilisation to join in curing the decades long runnning sore of Israel/Palestine, so opening the way to real cooperation for such ambitious but essential stabilisation.