- By David RothkopfDavid Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017.
Today Hillary Clinton made a statement in Thailand that the United States would work to create a defensive shield to help protect Gulf allies from a potential Iranian nuclear threat. Her point is that Iran should not think creating nukes will give them a strategic advantage because we will work relentlessly to blunt any edge nukes might provide.
Seems reasonable enough. Not surprisingly though, Clinton’s comments landed in Jerusalem like a dud scud. According to Agence France Presse, Israel’s Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor responded:
I heard without enthusiasm the American declarations according to which the United States will defend their allies in the event that Iran uses nuclear weapons, as if they were already resigned to such a possibility. This is a mistake. We cannot act now by assuming that Iran will be able to arm itself with a nuclear weapon, but to prevent such a possibility.”
I also agree with this view. That’s what I like about the Middle East. It’s rife with complexities and no issue has fewer than three sides. What I don’t like much about the Middle East is when it becomes, as it often does, that magical fantasy land where passions can be applied to fantasies to produce facts … or where the insupportable is often the unshakable foundation of absolute certitude. (Which explains a number of religious developments in the region … but I will gingerly sidestep that discussion for now.)
My recent post on shifting attitudes in Israel and the United States regarding the relationship between the two countries produced among those commenting on it a host of really interesting comments from all over the spectrum … and some of the nasty/loony stuff we could all do without.
Of course, item number one in this latter category is racism or prejudice of any sort against any group. Examples of this were visible in a number of the comments, sometimes boldly, sometimes insidiously. The big winner in the makes-ya-wanna-barf contest came from a guy named “briand” who, in reference to a rather overheated pro-Israeli post by AllanGreen, wrote, “If this is parody, kudos! I think the thing I’ll miss the most about you Jews is your sense of humor. Not so much the apartheid/lebensraum mentality though.” Scroll on through the comments … there’s lots of hatred there, in and among some fairly thoughtful arguments for one side or another.
Another commenting technique that drives me up a wall is imputing views to me (for whatever reason) that I don’t actually hold. For example: I’m no fan of the settlements, think they ought to be dismantled, am not a Zionist, don’t support the views of the Likud, and based on his track record to date am no Bibi fan. I also don’t think that taking a tough stand against the Iranian nuclear program implies the need to attack and lay waste to Iran. Rather, we need an international program of inspections and enforcement that explicitly asserts the right to use force to compel compliance and offers a multilateral guarantee of providing that force. (Not just in the case of Iran, by the way, but in the case of all future signatories of the new NPT we will start negotiating next year … an NPT that should offer the framework within which the deal with Iran ought to be included.)
Another aggravating approach which often undercuts otherwise reasonable arguments is making insupportable assertions. For example, one reader argued that Israel had Iran and Ahmadinejad all wrong, that the Iranian president’s comments about destroying Israel were really a deliberate, unfair misquoting of him and that by extension; Israel had nothing to fear from Tehran. Really? Aren’t we forgetting 30 years of official pronouncements or the guy who chants “death to Israel” at afternoon prayers? I think it was the same reader who argued another reason to chill out about any potential Iranian threat was that Iran has not attacked anyone in 250 years. This overlooked, as another reader pointed out, the fact that the country has for decades been the world’s leading state sponsor of terror…which ought to count for something.
In this vein, one of the most popular insupportable assertions is that somehow solving the settlements problem or even the larger Israel-Palestinian problem will in turn solve or contribute greatly to solutions for all our other problems in the Middle East — this despite the fact that many of the biggest problems in the region antedate the founding of Israel by a number of centuries.
In the interest of dispelling this misconception, here, off the top of my head, are 15 major problems in the Middle East that would not be solved by solving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute:
- The Iranian nuclear program
- The regional arms race that may be triggered by the advancement of the Iranian nuclear program
- The Saudi succession problem
- The problems associated with getting Shias, Sunnis and Kurds to get along in Iraq
- The problems associated with possible Kurdish succession from Iraq and Turkey
- The Egyptian succession problem
- The battle between moderates and hard-liners in Iran
- Our dependency on Middle Eastern oil and its economic, political and environmental consequences
- The efforts of Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremists to assert their influence in Afghanistan
- The efforts of Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremists to assert their influence in Pakistan
- Anti-U.S. and anti-Western terrorism not associated with Israel but with the promotion and expansion of Western cultural values and perceived global inequalities
- The ability of the Palestinians to form a stable, working state with functioning political processes
- The historic competition for resources in the region including, increasingly, water
- The conflict between Hezbollah and pro-Western political groups to gain a foothold in Lebanon
- Israel’s historical tensions with Syria, Iran, and virtually every other major Arab state
This doesn’t include related issues like the tensions between extremist or tribal Islamic groups with roots in the region and Russia, China, and other bordering countries. Perhaps you have others, feel free to add. (Just try to restrain yourself if you feel the impulse to make a comment that uses as its primary source The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.)
Dismantle the settlements. Create two states. Create an internationally monitored buffer between those states. Let billions in aid flow in to help relieve the plight of the Palestinians. Please, do all these things. They are all long overdue. But know this: They may remove an irritant, they may remove an argument from extremists, they may put U.S. relations on a more even footing with other countries in the region. But they won’t make the Middle East appreciably less dangerous or difficult and I guarantee you, they won’t stop efforts by the countries of the region to continue to scapegoat, confront and battle Israel on countless other pretexts.
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