Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Monday, July 23, 2007

Ambassador suggests re-framed U.S. policy plans for Middle East

While a discourse about the threat of “radical Islam” and the worsening crises across the Middle East resounded among representatives, witness to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, Ambassador Dennis Ross, articulated a clear set of objectives and methods that he believes should be applied in Iraq, Iran, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.

During Thursday’s hearing, entitled “Beyond Iraq: Envisioning a New U.S. Policy in the Middle East,” Ambassador Ross suggested a re-framing of the U.S. policy approach. He said that, “we have the right objectives”—democratic transformation and good governance—“but we aren’t using the right tools.”

Statecraft, Ross said, doesn’t only mean implementing the right diplomatic, coercive, economic, intelligence and informational tools, or only mean having the right objectives. Good statecraft requires both.

In Iraq, we need to alter both our short-term objectives and our tools, or means, according to Ross. Our objective now should be “to prevent the worst” or to pursue “containment,” Ross said. “Jihadists go to and leave Iraq easily,” and having de facto control of the border would stop, or at least stymie, these movements.

The U.S. should also look to political means rather than a military surge. “We should say to the Iraq government: We are going to negotiate a timetable for withdrawal with you,” Ross said.

Right now, the “Shi’a majority act as if they fear they can lose power at any moment, so they won’t share power. The Sunnis intellectually know they won’t have the majority power anymore, but don’t know yet emotionally.”

With a timetable they have a role in deciding, there is a serious consequence in place that might achieve a “change in the mindset and behavior” of both groups.

Ross also suggested that the U.S. politically engage surrounding countries to aid in Iraq’s containment.

“None of the neighbors will agree on what they want for Iraq, but they will agree on what they fear in Iraq—no one wants it to fall apart; they all have they all have their own interests in containment,” Ross said.

In Iran, according to Ross, the U.S. has the right objective—preventing their nuclear acquisition. But our means—“a slow motion economic squeeze”—is all wrong. “What is missing today is a sense of urgency… by the end of the year, Iranians will cross the threshold” in obtaining a nuclear weapon, Ross said.

“I would frame this issue differently [especially to Europe, which is in favor of international regimes such as the non-proliferation treaty],” Ross said. “We talk about Iran having nuclear power being ‘destabilizing’. But if Iran goes nuclear, the entire Middle East goes nuclear. Saudi Arabia would go next… they probably have a deal worked out with Pakistan even today. Then Egypt must…”

“If Iran goes nuclear, it will be the end of the non-proliferation treaty and the world as we know it will change—it would be a tipping point, 30 countries will have nuclear weapons,” Ross said.

Ross suggested three paths the U.S. could take with Iran. We could approach the Saudis, who “have a stake in preventing” Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, and suggest that they say to Europe: “you, Europe, can either do business with us or with Iran.”

Or we could show Europe that the use of force is nearly unavoidable once Iran is armed because of Iran’s readily expressed target, Israel. “Israel should say [to Europe], ‘this path [we’re on now] will not avoid the use of force. Don’t put us in a position where the only choice we have is to use force,’” Ross said.

Or, the U.S. could offer to Europe: “We will join you at the negotiations table with Iran now if you cut [Iran’s] economic lifeline,” Ross said.

“Iran has profound economic vulnerabilities,” Ross said. “I would engage Iran because I’m trying to change their behavior and increase pressure on them now,” but “I want to talk to them after they concentrate their minds, after they see what they’re actually losing”—after they’re suffering under real economic sanctions.

Ross, who just returned from a trip to Jerusalem and Ramallah, also said that “our strategic objective” in Palestine “should be to put Fatah and Hamas in a larger frame.”

“Don’t frame these movements as extreme or moderate; those terms don’t mean anything in the Middle East, the terms Islamic or nationalist do,” Ross said. We should recognize that “Fatah is a secular nationalist movement, which may be negotiable, whereas Hamas represents a religious conflict, which is not negotiable.”

Ross said that the members of Fatah and independents he spoke with were all willing to support the new prime minister, Dr. Salam Fayyad, “for now”—meaning he needs to deliver soon. U.S. policy should be to figure out how to help him deliver—to build his authority, so that he can “do more in the security realm.”

Two of the most significant grievances of Palestinians that Fayyad could potentially affect are mobility and employment, Ross said. But mobility can’t be altered soon enough because of Israel’s staunch stance, so that leaves employment; “we should do something here,” Ross suggested, “to buy time.”

Similar to his timetables in Iraq and Iran, Ross stressed the urgency of this opportunity to aid Fayyad.

“We’re still in the business-as-usual mode, but we don’t have the luxury of standing still; the secular nationalists [Fatah] need to prevail… when you miss moments, you miss opportunities and the whole world as you know it changes,” Ross said.

Regarding Syria and Lebanon, Ross also suggested adopting a more serious means to achieving our objective. “We must stop the rearming of Hezbollah,” Ross said, so “we should focus on the border between Lebanon and Syria, make it a real border… Lebanon can’t police itself.”

The “worst of all worlds,” Ross said, prompting immediate action, is our policy with Syria, in which we are “tough rhetorically and soft practically.”

Ross’ statecraft frame, which focuses on both objectives and means, suggests that, across the Middle East, U.S. policy should pay closer attention to our objectives and how, exactly, we may achieve them. One or the other is not enough.

Thus, in President Bush’s Middle East peace conference planned for this fall, we “must focus on a clear agenda, rules and follow-up steps,” so that the conference isn’t “one more thing to discredit diplomacy,” Ross said.

“There no such thing as diplomacy that’s episodic… you have to have an objective and work toward it” with the appropriate means and urgency, Ross said. “You can’t meet once every two months and expect to make a difference.”


Post a Comment

<< Home