Saturday, February 19, 2011

Washington Can't Fake It Any Longer

The United States seems determined to undermine whatever credibility it still holds in the Middle East.  It got caught napping on Tunisia.  It tripped and stumbled and damned near fell flat on its face on Egypt, lurching awkwardly as it transferred its support from Mubarak to the demonstrators.  Now that unrest is spreading to the Gulf States the US has turned catatonic.

America is watching its once powerful hegemony in the Middle East fade and crumble.  For all the pretence, it never was more potent than the fear that once kept Arab people enslaved to their despotic, usually pro-American masters.  Once that fear goes, the game's up - for tyrant and Washington alike.

The White House did nothing to help America yesterday when it stood against the 14-other members of the UN Security Council and vetoed their resolution condemning all Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory since 1947 as illegal.   The US didn't just abstain.  It vetoed the resolution, killed it dead.  The by now standard Obama mealy-mouthed explanation was that, while America agrees the settlements are illegitimate, the resolution harmed chances for peace talks.

What peace talks?  There aren't any and there won't be any.  There was the dodgy, backroom deal Fatah was willing to make with the Israelis that essentially sold out the people it purports to represent.   Even that ridiculous capitulation was unacceptable to Netanyahu.  There are no peace talks and for Washington to pretend otherwise only further undermines its credibility with the Arab population.

If a widely liberated Middle East emerges from the current turmoil, "pro-America" may no longer be the default option.  Other interests may rise to displace American hegemony, quite likely a basket of influences ranging from pan-Arabic nationalism to stronger ties to China, Russia and Europe.

America may be about to learn a hard lesson, that the first criteria to be an "honest broker" is honesty.   That's a quality that has been gravely discounted in Washington for years, decades, an era.   America came to believe it could substitute military prowess for diplomatic honesty and, for a good long time, it worked.  But it's not working any more and from Latin America to Africa to the Middle East the American way is being rejected.  It is in decline.  The US is no longer the only game in town.  Bush/Cheney showed the world that even its gargantuan military machine can be brought low by small numbers of Lilliputians armed with Korean-war vintage assault rifles.

America can't fake it any longer.  It either has to bring Israel to heel or watch its influence in this it's most strategically critical region bleed out onto the floor.

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