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New Year Reflections


2006 was yet another year of tribulations in the ever tumultuous Middle  East. It defied all early expectations that 2005 would be the worst for many  years to follow. It ended on a sad note in Palestine, and left wide open the  chance for many appalling possibilities that stretch from Baghdad, to  Lebanon, to Mogadishu, and elsewhere.

 

Like January 2005, January 2006 brought about momentous elections, the  former in Iraq, and the latter in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; both  occasions, which had the potential of becoming icons of democratic  experiences, led to unmitigated disasters, exposing the American democracy  charade for what it truly was, a farce, pure and simple.

 

The 120 Iraqi parties that fielded candidates in the country’s 2005 first  nationwide elections since the toppling of former Iraqi President Saddam  Hussein, revealed the country’s sectarian divisions; expectedly, Iraq’s  Sunni population boycotted the elections, fearing that their participation  was a rubber stamp in a highly suspicious US experiment aimed at dividing  the country by stripping it of any national cohesion, thus smoothing the  progress of a more manageable occupation. Sadly, many Iraqis allowed the US  plan to fester civil strife bordering on civil war, which left countless  innocents dead or maimed; The outcome of those divisions never expressed  itself as clearly as it did in 2006, which left even the most optimistic  amongst us anticipate nothing less than a full-fledged civil war morphing  out of the current chaos.

 

Meanwhile, most Americans, as articulated in the Congressional elections of  November 2006, expressed resentment for their country’s war in Iraq like  never before on any foreign policy issue. Though their rejection of the  Republican Party’s candidates was an illustration of their refusal of the  Bush Administration staying the course mantra, the election brought back a  divided Democratic Party that is equally supportive of the war, but wishes  to convey its position in so clever a way so as to appear in disagreement of  Bush’s war management style, but without offering any substantial policy  shift. The elections will also likely position Democratic Senator Hillary  Clinton of New York and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona at the  helm of Presidential candidates to follow the current lame duck president.  Clinton is a staunch pro-war and pro-Israel savvy politician, and the latter  wants to see a dramatic increase in the number of American troops in Iraq,  as a way out of the quagmire. Using his constant opposition of President  Bush’s foreign policies, McCain is unlikely to pay the price of Bush’s past  failures, which, to varying degrees have damaged the credibility of most  Republican politicians.

 

Like Iraq in the passing year, Palestinians embarked on 2006 on a hopeful  note. Occupied and facing the most intense Israeli state terror regime, they  delivered an awesome blow to those who contended that Palestinians were  morally inferior to Israel for failing to espouse democratic governance.  Though no occupied nation should be subjected to such cruel judgement,  Palestinians prevailed, voting in what was described by former US President  Jimmy Carter as the ‘most transparent’ and democratic elections in that  region in many years. The outcome of the vote was equally spectacular, for  it defied all expectations by sidelining the ruling elite – despite generous  financial and political backing from the US, of which they were and are  still inundated – and bringing to power a political movement, Hamas, who  despite it militant reputation, was clearly more in tune with the  aspirations of Palestinian voters.

 

Soon after, Hamas found itself utterly isolated, and Palestinians were  subjected to cruel collective punishment for their democratic choice, all  with the backing and support of the US, Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas.

 

The year 2006 has closed with the dreadful shadow of civil war hovering over  Gaza closer than ever before, as 17 people were killed and many more wounded  in past weeks, following an assassination attempt orchestrated by some Fatah  faction against Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh. Unconditional US  support of Abbas is strengthening the latter’s position, who has declared,  in defiance of all democratic principles, his intent on dismantling the  Palestinian Parliament and call for early elections.

 

Lebanon didn’t fair much better in 2006, as a 34-day war, which was clearly  premeditated at least a year in advance, brought the country’s thriving  economy into a total state of paralysis. The war, which followed Hizbollah’s  capture of two Israeli soldiers at the Lebanon border wreaked havoc in  southern Lebanon, but destroyed much of the civilian infrastructure  throughout the country as well, as far as its northern border with Syria.  The July-August Israeli assault on Lebanon killed over 1200 Lebanese  civilians and an unspecified number of Hizbollah fighters; Hizbollah, which  not only managed to shock Israel, but the world with its military  preparedness and steadfastness, fired hundreds of rockets into Israel,  killing 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers. As many members of the international  community demanded an immediate end to the fighting, the US cheered Israel  on, upholding its tired slogan of Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’; the  delay in ending the war however, wrought disaster on America’s ongoing plan  to coerce Iran – the main backer of Hizbollah – into abandoning its nuclear  program, giving Tehran instead a stronger bargaining position as it was  indicated in the Baker-Hamilton report, a culmination of incessant  deliberation and research by the Iraq Study Group (ISG). The report  recommended that the US must engage Iran and Syria to escape its terrible  fate in Iraq.

 

The ISG which was formulated at the behest and urging of the US Congress to  decipher and thus conceive a new American outlook on the ‘deteriorating’  situation in Iraq presented its recommendations to President Bush in  December. Though the report had the courage to address the Iraq fiasco in  the most honest depiction possible, and also the audacity to openly link the  Iraq war to the absence of peace in Palestine, it failed to set a clear  course of action out of Iraq and into a new era of realistic, thoughtful and  inclusive foreign policy in the Middle East, denying 2006 that jolt of hope  needed to offset some of its dreadful disappointments.

 

With Iraq left with no positive scenarios, hopes for a lasting Palestinian  democratic experience turning into daring predictions of a civil war,  coupled with bloody Israeli onslaughts against Gaza and the West Bank,  Lebanon still bleeding under the outcomes of war and its own political  mayhem, Bush’s ‘vision’ for a democratic Middle East of 2005 has enlivened  factionalism, sectarianism and the prospect for a regional civil war in  2006; this is yet another reckless American-Israeli experiment that if fully  actualized, shall harvest untold political instability, debase America’s  reputation even further and expand the list of innocent victims who have  fallen as profusely as ever in this passing year.

 

One is only left with the hope that 2007 may bring some comfort and a moment  of peace to the poor, the dispossessed and the resilient masses all around  the world, who cannot afford to surrender their genuine hope, humble  prayers, and whatever price necessary to achieve peace and freedom for  themselves, for all of us.

 

 

Ramzy Baroud’s latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle  of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press) is available at Amazon.com and also  from the University of Michigan Press. His website is ramzybaroud.net

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