Friday, December 08, 2006

Is the ISG another 9/11 Commission Report?

Is the ISG another 9/11 Commission Report?

Ghassan Rubeiz December 7, 2006

The Iraq Study Group that was released on December 6 was surprising in its boldness. It offers good advice to US policy makers: change the course, reach out to Iran and Syria, pull out in 2008, pressure Iraqis to improve security, governance and national unity and approach the Middle East countries collectively. The authors recommended improved training to Iraq armed forces and conditional support to enhance local responsibility. The ISG called for establishing an International Support Group that would include all stake holders within the region and outside it. Finally and perhaps, most importantly, there was a request for the revival of the buried Arab-Israeli peace process.

The report is expected to shock the US President and test his ability to process a new and sobering message on his misadventure in Iraq. He would need pastoral counseling to swallow his pride and start rethinking.

The strongest threat is to the right wing legislators who do not know what to do with such “inconvenient truth” about the Middle East. Neocon lobbyists have turned furious at James Baker for leading the ISG into breakthrough policy. Frank Gaffney, president of the neoconservative Center for Security Policy accused Baker (one of the leaders of the ISG) of anti-Semitism. William Kristol, a crusader for the US invasion of Iraq, called the ISG report a “disguised surrender”. His Weekly Standard has launched an op-ed campaign to discredit a report that leaves Israel worried about its image as a leader in psychological warfare against Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim world.

The Jewish state has been following a short sighted path of unilateralism in dealing with occupied territories that it should return to a future Palestinian state, to Syria and to Lebanon. Similarly, Arab terrorism has made Israel’s case for procrastination on peace easier.

Since September 11 Israel has been on a political high. The terrorist tragedy has alienated Arabs from the White House and created an arena of warfare between Arabs and Americans. Israel had thought that it had an open field and ample time to dictate policy on Palestine in a political climate that confused Palestinian and Lebanese resistance with international terrorism. The Jewish State has gone ahead with rapid annexation of occupied territories and suppressed Palestinian and Lebanese revolt with brutal force, in the name of security and war on terror.

But wise friends of Israel, like Congressman Chuck Hagel, former President Jimmy Carter and former distinguished Senator George Mitchell have been calling on Israeli politicians to realize that Palestine can not be pacified through air power, annexation, settlement building, exclusion walls and with smart diplomacy in Washington.

Most Israelis dream peace but their politicians practice war. About a third of Israeli society is embarrassed about the policy of their government and about two thirds are ready to trade peace for land. Ironically, but understandably, perhaps more Israelis than Palestinians fundamentally wish for a lasting peace. But the proportion of Israeli killing of Arabs is several times higher than Arab killing of Israelis. Yet Arabs carry the image of the “killer” and the Israelis carry the halo of “peacemakers”. We count on Channel Fox and other conservative media to perpetuate the myth that Western democracies are wired to be peace makers.

The fate of the ISG report, despite its courage, may not be better than the 9/11 Commission Report that raised high expectations but reaped minimum fruits. The country is of two minds about the Middle East. There is so much misunderstanding of the culture and politics of this region that stand in the way of the ISG. The neocons will do their best to lead Americans to believe that a confrontational and unilateral approach to the region is right. Regrettably, they argue, that for Arabs the language of force is second only to Arabic.

In this crossroad stage of foreign policy that the ISG provides the Arabs can either help or hinder future diplomacy. In fact, Arabs can “help” neocons by continuing their negative rhetoric and their fratricidal domestic wars and by not controlling religious fanaticism.

Arabs and Iranians may wish to respond creatively to this new opportunity of improving relations with America. It would be unwise for Middle East diplomats and policy makers to misread this rare opportunity of possible dialogue and rapprochement with Americans.

Iraqis, Iranians, Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians may want to coordinate a new diplomatic offensive with America. Putting pride and rhetoric aside the Arabs and Iranians may desire to negotiate all issues on moderate terms with the US.

Could Iran soften its rhetoric against Israel in order not to give this regionally isolated state a chance to become paranoid about its future security? Could Iran and Syria support Hamas and Hezbollah to be flexible in their domestic politics?

Would Iraqis realize that the IRS is behind their national unity, albeit conditionally? Reconciliation and fair resolution of inter Iraqi issues is crucial if aid from the international community is to continue in the urgent rebuilding of Iraq.

If the peace process is opened up with Israel the Palestinians must be unified and ready. It would be prudent for Hamas to soften its stance and hasten the creation of a new government that would challenge Israel to exchange land for a lasting peace. There seems to be irrational rhetoric about recognition of Israel’s existence, a regional super power that holds 10,000 Palestinians in jail and can hunt political enemies like ducks.

In contrast, Syria today seems to need no incentives to be rational in its negotiating with Israel. The current government is eager to start the Golan-for-peace dialogue, if only Israel could respond.

Would the Seniora government in Lebanon appreciate the ISG report and change its course to listen better to the opposition? Will this state put its national security first and the international tribunal second? If America can swallow its pride about Iran and Syria, may Lebanon do the same?

In sum, the IRS recommendations will not be applied unless the Arabs and the Iranians reciprocate the initiative. Within US society there are not many friends for the Arabs and Iranians. Out of exhaustion and fear of quick-sand politics American realist bipartisan policy makers have admitted failure in their approach to the Middle East. The ISG will take time and serious effort to make its way to the American hearts and minds. Opponents of the ISG are very powerful. They are mobilized to prove that their distrust of Arabs and Iranians is justified. May the Middle Eastern people turn the tide to make peace for their region a win-win game. True friends of Israel would also agree that peace is not a zero sum game.

Author’s blog is and his email is


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