The U.S. Empire and the Peace Process


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry couldn’t hide his frustration anymore as the U.S.-sponsored peace process continued to falter. After eight months of wrangling to push talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority forward, he admitted while on a visit to Morocco on April 4 that the latest setback had served as a reality check for the peace process. But confining that reality check to the peace process is hardly representative of the painful reality through which the United States has been forced to subsist during the last few years. The state of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, but also around the world, cannot be described with any buoyant language. In some instances, as in Syria, Libya, Egypt, the Ukraine, and most recently in Palestine and Israel, too many calamitous scenarios have exposed the faultlines of U.S. foreign policy. The succession of crises are not allowing the U.S. to cut its losses in the Middle East and stage a calculated pivot to Asia following its disastrous Iraq war.

An Empire Beyond Salvation

For the Obama administration, it has been a continuous firefight since George W. Bush left office. In fact, there have been too many reality checks to count. Per the logic of the once powerful pro-Israel Washington-based neo-conservatives, the invasion of Iraq was a belated attempt at regaining initiative in the Middle East and controlling a greater share of the energy supplies worldwide.

Sure, the U.S. media had then made much noise about fighting terror, restoring democracies, and heralding freedoms, but the neo-cons were hardly secretive about the real objectives. They tirelessly warned about the decline of their country’s fortunes and they labored to redraw the map of the Middle East in a way that they imagined would slow down the rise of China and the other giants that are slowly, but surely, standing on their feet to face up to the post-Cold War superpower. But all such efforts were bound to fail. The U.S. escaped Iraq, but only after altering the balance of power and creating new classes of winners and losers.

The violence of the invasion and occupation scarred Iraq, but also destabilized neighboring countries by overwhelming their economies, augmenting militancy and creating more pressure cookers in political spaces that were, until then, somewhat “stable.”

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The Iraq war left America fatigued and set the course for a transition in the Middle East, although not the kind of transition that the likes of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had championed. There was no New Middle East, per se, but rather an old one that is in much worse shape than ever before. When the last U.S. soldier scheduled to leave Iraq had crossed the border into Kuwait in December 2011, the U.S. was exposed in more ways than one. The limits of U.S. military power were revealed—by not winning, it had lost. Its economy proved fragile—as it continues to teeter between collapse and recovery. It was left with zero confidence among its friends. As for its enemies, the U.S. was no longer a daunting menace, but a toothless tiger. There was a short period in U.S. foreign policy strategy in which Washington needed to count its losses, regroup, and regain initiative, but not in the Middle East. The Asia Pacific region, especially the South China Sea, seemed to be the most rational restarting point, and for a good reason.

Writing in Forbes magazine, Robert D. Kaplan described the convergence underway in the Asia Pacific region. “Russia is increasingly shifting its focus of energy exports to East Asia. China is on track to perhaps become Russia’s biggest export market for oil before the end of the decade.”

The Middle East is changing directions as the region’s hydrocarbon production is increasingly being exported there; Russia is covering the East Asia realm, according to Kaplan, as “North America will soon be looking more and more to the Indo-Pacific region to export its own energy, especially natural gas.” But the U.S. is still being pulled into too many different directions. It has attempted to police the world exclusively for its own interests for the last 25 years. It failed.

“Cut and run” is essentially an American foreign policy staple and that too is a botched approach. Even after the piecemeal U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, the U.S. is too deeply entrenched in the Middle East region to achieve a clean break. The U.S. took part in the Libya war, but attempted to do so while masking its action as part of a larger NATO drive, so that it shoulders only part of the blame when things went awry, as they predictably have.  Since the January 25 revolution, its position on Egypt was perha
ps the most inconsistent of all Western powers, unmistakably demonstrating its lack of clarity and relevance to a country with a massive size and influence.

However, it was in Syria that U.S. weaknesses were truly exposed. Military intervention was not possible—for reasons none of which were moralistic. Its political influence proved immaterial. And, most importantly, its own legions of allies throughout the Middle East are walking away from beneath the American leadership banner. The new destinations are Russia for arms and China for economic alternatives.

President Barack Obama’s visbaroud-extrait to Saudi Arabia in late March might have been a step too little too late to repair its weakening alliances in the region. Even if the U.S. was ready to mend fences, it neither has the political will, the economic potency or the military prowess to be effective. True, the U.S. still possesses massive military capabilities and remains the world’s largest economy. But the commitment that the Middle East would require from the U.S. at this time of multiple wars and revolutions is by no means the kind of commitment the U.S. is ready to impart. In a way, the U.S. has “lost” the Middle East.

Even the pivot to Asia is likely to end in shambles. On the one hand, the U.S. opponents, Russia notwithstanding, have grown much more assertive in recent years. They, too, have their own agendas which will keep the U.S. and its willing European allies busy for years. The Russian move against Crimea once more exposed the limits of the U.S. and NATO in regions outside the conventional parameters of western influence.

If the U.S. proved resourceful enough to stage a fight in the South China Sea and the East China Sea, the battle—over energy supplies, potential reserves, markets and routes—is likely to be the most grueling yet. China is not Iraq before the U.S. invasion— broken by decades of war, siege and sanctions. Its geography is too vast to besiege, and its military too massive to destroy with a single shock and awe. The U.S. has truly lost the initiative in the Middle East region and beyond it.  The neo-cons’ drunkenness with military power led to costly wars that have overwhelmed the empire beyond salvation. And now, U.S. foreign policy makers are mere diplomatic fire-fighters from Palestine, to Syria to the Ukraine. For the Americans, the last few years have been more than a reality check, but the new reality itself.

Martin Indyk’s Galloping Horse

To understand how thoughtless the latest U.S. “peace process” drive has been, one only needs to consider some of the characters involved in this political theater. One particular character who stands out as a testament to the inherently futile exercise is Martin Indyk.
Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel, was selected by Secretary of State John Kerry for the role of Special Envoy for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Under normal circumstances, Kerry’s selection may appear somewhat rational. Former ambassadors oftentimes possess the needed expertise to navigate challenging political landscapes in countries where they previously served. But these are not normal circumstances and Indyk is hardly a diplomat in the strict use of the term.  As the U.S.-sponsored peace process began to falter, Kerry made a peculiar move by dispatching his envoy Indyk to Jerusalem. On Friday, April 18, Indyk took on the task of speaking to both sides separately. International media depicted the event as a last ditch effort to revive the talks, and to help bridge the gap between the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s Benja min Netanyahu. The envoy visit took place a day after intense and difficult talks were reported to have taken place between Israeli and PA negotiators. “No breakthrough was made,” an official Palestinian source told AFP of the Thursday meeting.  It was not that any progress was expected. Both sides are not talking about resolving the conflict per se, but the deliberations were mostly concerned with deferring Kerry’s deadline for a “framework agreement,” slated for April 29.

The Americans want to maintain the charade for reasons other than peace. Without a “peace process” the U.S. will be denied an important political platform in the Middle East. U.S. administrations have bestowed upon themselves the title “honest broker.”

Of course, it takes no particular genius to realize that the Americans were hardly honest in their dealings with both parties. In fact, the U.S. was not a third party at all, but was and remains steadfast in the Israeli camp. It used its political and financial leverage as a platform that allowed it to advance Israeli interests first, and their own interests second. Indyk is an example.

Martin Indyk, the prospective harbinger of peace, worked for the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC in 1982. AIPAC is a right-wing outlet that has invested unlimited funds and energy to impede any just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. It has such a strong grip over U.S. Congress, that some have suggested that Capitol Hill has become, in a sense, an occupied territory by Israel and its allies. Indyk’s  most important contribution to Israel, however, was the founding of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in 1985, another Israeli lobby outlet that has done tremendous damage to the credibility of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East by using “intellectuals” and “experts” as mediums. Writing in Mondoweiss last year, Max Blumenthal recalled some interesting statements made by Indyk at J Street’s first annual convention in Washington, DC in 2009.  J Street is another Israeli lobby group that has cleverly distinguished itself as pro-peace, thus deceiving many into believing that AIPAC’s dominance in Washington is being seriously challenged.

However, its cleverly worded statement and the colorful past of its honored guests and speakers, indicate otherwise. Indyk, the right-wing Israel lobbyist, was indeed among friends. “I remembered stumbling into a baroud-2huge auditorium to hear Indyk describe how he made ‘aliyah to Washington’ during the 1980’s to ensure that U.S. policy remained slanted in Israel’s favor and go on to blame Yasser Arafat for the failure of Camp David,” Blumenthal recalled.

He quoted Indyk: “I came to that conclusion 35 years ago when I was a student in Jerusalem and the Yom Kippur war broke out. I worked as a volunteer there in those terrible days when Israel’s survival seemed to hang in the balance and I witnessed the misery of war and the critical role that the United States in the form of Henry Kissinger played through activist diplomacy in forging a peace out of that horrendous war.” These were not passing comments made by Indyk, but a reflection of the man’s undying commitment, not to peace, but to Israel, or, more accurately, to “peace” as envisioned by Israel, which is the core of the ongoing crisis. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu never ceases to talk about peace, as does his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Even the Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett, leader of the extremist party, The Jewish Home, who is known for his bellicose rhetoric, is an ardent advocate of peace. But it is not peace that is predicated on justice or that envisaged by international and humanitarian laws. It is specifically-tailored peace that would allow Israel to maintain an unmistakably racist agenda and a colonial policy of land grabbing. Unsurprisingly, this is the same kind of “peace” that the Americans envision as well. Kerry’s new peace agenda is not entirely a rehash of old agendas. Yes, it is that too, but it almost completely embraces the once far-fetched ideas of Lieberman and rightwing groups, that of annexations—the Jordan Valley—and “land swaps” in exchange of main settlement blocs. When Lieberman floated these ideas a few years ago, he sounded like a deranged politician. Thanks to Kerry, it is now part of mainstream thinking.

So Indyk, who dedicated a lifetime to securing an Israeli style “peace,” is now magically branded as the one attempting to revive talks and exert pressure on both sides like any good “honest broker” would do in these situations. But Indyk is not the only lobbyist-turned advocate for “peace.” He is one of many. Dennis Ross, one of Washington’s essential political hawks for many years and a strong supporter of the disastrous Iraq war, served as a special Middle East coordinator under Bill Clinton, and was handpicked by President Barack Obama very early on to continue to play the same role in the new Administration. Aside from the diplomat’s strong links to neocon- servatives, especially those involved in the now defunct pro-war group, the Project for the New American Century. He also served as a consultant to the same lobby club founded by Indyk, WINEP.

It was no coincidence, of course. WINEP, like other hawkish pro-Israeli groups, has served as an advocacy platform for Israel and also fashioned Israeli styled “peacemakers.” Interestingly, both Dennis and Indyk blamed Palestinians for the failure of previous peace talks. Blu- menthal astutely highlighted Indyk’s J Street tirade blaming late PLO leader Arafat with “that big shit-eating grin of his” for the failings of the so-called Clinton peace parameters, despite the fact that Arafat had indeed accepted them.

Indyk reminisced: “I remember Shimon Peres saying to me at the time when Arafat had to decide whether to accept the Clinton Parameters, he said, history is a horse that gallops past your window and the true act of a statesman is to jump from the window on to a galloping horse. But of course Arafat let the galloping horse pass by leaving the Israelis and Palestinians mired in misery.”

Now, it’s Indyk, the die-hard Israel lobbyist, being sent along with another galloping horse outside Abbas” window. We all know how this is going to end and we can imagine Indyk giving another speech at an AIPAC or J Street conference deriding Abbas for failing to jump.

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Ramzy Baroud is managing editor of Middle East Eye. He is a syndicated columnist, media consultant, author of My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story, and founder of PalestineChronicle.com.