UNITED STATES POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST:
HOW TO CHANGE IT
by Dr. Laura Drake
Address at Al-Hewar (Arab Dialogue) Center
September 5, 2001
I. Introduction: two ways to change policy
I would like to preface these remarks by saying that the ideas that I am going to present here are controversial for this audience, but fortunately, Abdulwahhab as the moderator has said that he welcomes and encourages my constructive rocking of the boat a little bit. I present this analysis and these suggestions in the spirit of finding constructive and realistic solutions for what currently ails us.
I would like to start out by saying that, in any given country, there are two inputs that contribute to the making of foreign policy: (1) internal or domestic inputs; and (2) international or geopolitical inputs. Therefore, the key to influencing a country's foreign policy is to affect these inputs. Ethical and logical argumentation are not of any consequence at all in terms of actual policy inputs; they only come into play in the areas of legitimizing the existing national mission, the existing day-to-day policy, and for propaganda purposes after the important decisions have already been made.
I should also note that the generally accepted theory in international relations is that in the foreign policy arena, the impact of these two inputs are weighted differently - that as a contributor to political decisionmaking, the international, geopolitical, the strategic component far outweighs the domestic. So although we have to be in a position to affect both of these inputs, the externally-generated or geopolitical inputs are by far the most important. And there, historically, the Israelis have had the upper hand as well.
That might surprise some people, that despite the Arab oil asset, the Israelis have had an advantage over the Arabs in terms of their potential role as a strategic asset for the United States, and that is in objective terms, and not only because of their successful propaganda effort. I will explain.
First of all, the Cold War against the Soviets was going on, and the United States objectively needed a strong military ally it could count on as part of its contingency planning, to help stop a potential Soviet invasion of the region if needed, and to help the United States protect the Gulf oil fields from Soviet conquest in case of invasion. The Arabs could not do that.
The assessment of the US generals at the time, back in the 1950s, was that the Arab states, as Third World countries, and even in their combination, were not at all capable of mounting any meaningful resistance to an all-out Soviet invasion, whereas Israel and Turkey were. Therefore, the Arab states were seen as being of relatively low strategic value. You can find this in all the de-classified documents of the period. In fact, what they did conclude was that the only contribution the Arab states, either separately or in combination, could make would be to offer their enormous land mass for defending troops to cross over and use as a battlefield, and as a supply depot for the fighting forces from other countries, including, ironically, Israel.
All in all, the United States obviously would have preferred that there be no Arab-Israeli conflict, to avoid having to choose between them, to avoid that contradiction, and to avoid having Arab states do the unthinkable, which was to become satellites of the Soviet Union and maybe even welcome Soviet troops into the region. That is why the Americans have been so desperate in their efforts to settle the conflict all these years, so that they could have all Middle Eastern states as allies, and so they could construct a full-blown regional defense perimeter under their own sponsorship, and not have anyone distracted by what they, insultingly enough, thought of as a stupid local conflict, given what they saw as the high global stakes involved.
But, if they were forced to choose one or the other, they would have to choose Israel, even if there were no such thing as the Zionist lobby, simply because of the larger geopolitics involved - in this case, Israel's military value even in its infancy - trumped everything else. Now, despite all that, the Zionists mounted a monster lobbying effort anyway, and in doing so they managed to gain control of both inputs - the external, which was already in hand, and the domestic one to back it up.
Now that the Cold war is over and the Soviet threat is gone, you might say that geopolitics has ceased to be on the side of the Zionists insofar as US interests are concerned. But not really. Because the Zionists with their military power are still the best choice to maintain the US concept of world order, and the Arab leaders, at least most of them, are so much easier to control, which means that their interests can easily be disregarded. So the old policy still stands, partially for this reason, partially by virtue of precedent, and partially because the domestic Zionist forces have become so strong by now that they even have an impact on how Washington analyzes and interprets the external geopolitical inputs.
For these reasons, anyone who thinks they are going to change foreign policy by domestic means alone - solely by working on domestic public relations and voter coalition campaigns - and neglecting the external inputs in their totality, is sadly mistaken. In order to do that, to overcome by domestic means alone a multifaceted domestic and foreign adversary that has become so entrenched, plus overcome Israel's advantage through precedent in the external/strategic arena, the Arabs and the anti-Zionists in general would have to mount a domestic political campaign so powerful, so overwhelming, that it would be able to negate and undo the effects of all the Zionist lobby's accomplishments, handicapped all the while by the negative effects of the unconditional co-operation of some Arab countries with the US regional agenda. We are talking about such vast sums of money - in the millions of dollars every year - plus the organization of millions, not thousands, of voters into strategic blocs within the most important electoral regions of the country. In other words, we would have to be able to outdo the Zionists in California, Texas, New York, and Florida.
To succeed, an Arab or anti-Zionist lobby operating solely on the domestic plane would have to become more powerful than the NRA and the senior citizen's lobby combined, to even be able to think about dislodging the entrenched enemy, the power of the Zionist forces in this country, or neutralizing its accomplishments. Because, to use my favorite military analogy, it takes twice the amount of offensive force to dislodge an opposing military force from an entrenched position than it does to simply set up shop in an empty battlefield. And in a political warfare situation - unlike a military situation where there are no rules - there are not any asymmetrical warfare techniques at our disposal to change that equation. What kind of company would it take, for instance, to make even the slightest dent or inroad into the market share of a Microsoft, for example? Who among us is capable of competing domestically with the lobbying equivalent of a Microsoft?
The truth is that we have to affect both inputs, but with the emphasis on the all-important external input. The domestic effort should complement and act as a supplement to the external inputs, not act as a substitute for them. And even on the domestic side, we still need external help from the region itself.
For one thing, even to mount a more realistic lobbying effort than the one outlined above, the representatives over here would have to have access to a hundred times better information and intelligence on the daily affairs of the region, and on the larger regional trends, to be capable of presenting these issues with the degree of intimate, cutting-edge, and timely knowledge that would be credible with the Washington foreign policy elite. There would also have to be a total commitment by the organizers of that effort to stick to the foreign policy side of things, to the exclusion of all secondary issues, and to have enough self-discipline not to take the easy way out by choosing issues that are easier to deal with than those that directly concern the US foreign policy in the Middle East.
Not only that, but the people over here will have to be able to demonstrate that they have the power to influence the thinking and the foreign policies of Arab leaders in the region. Only this will give them the degree of leverage over here that they would need in order to be listened to, in lieu of those decisively overwhelming huge and committed voting blocks I talked about, which we do not have and which we will never have. In fact, it will probably diminish with every new Arab-American generation that assimilates itself out of any politically significant level of interest in the politics of the Middle East, and fully into the busy routines of American life. That by no means implies that we give up; to the contrary. It only means that to succeed we have to move in a new direction, to be more strategic, more international in our approach, more creative and innovative, to mobilize our latent and totally untapped sources of strength and power, and not waste too much time on the areas where we are at such a severe disadvantage. It means that whoever wants to launch such an effort is going to need to have something approaching the level of financial and informational resources, and the political leverage, of a sovereign state at their disposal. For nothing else - certainly not ordinary people either here or over there - can provide anything even close to what is needed in terms of the strategic elements (high finances, intelligence about daily interstate and diplomatic exchanges, geopolitical leverage, etc.) that are required for us to succeed.
II. What do the pro-Arab/Muslim forces over here have to do?
So, what the pro-Arab/Muslim forces over here have to do is to mobilize the vast potential for leverage that would be inherent in their close relations and co-ordination with Arab states, if only they would build those relations at the levels and intensity that are required. I say that because we do not have to copycat the adversary in an area where it is strong and we are weak. For that is both unimaginative and one-dimensional thinking on our parts. What we need is not necessarily huge voting clout, but the generic equivalent of leverage. We have to be creative as to how we get it; we have to improvise. It does not have to come from here, it can come from overseas, and that is much more practical. We cannot afford to ignore the potentially huge source of leverage that is sitting right in front of us. All we need is a power source, and it does not necessarily have to be of the same type as the power wielded by our adversary.
So the first thing that the people over here need to do is to get everyone, over here and in the region, on the same page. And, as an aside, I want to say that am not preaching anything for others that I do not already do myself. It means that we have to go to the region - very easy in this small, postmodern world of ours - and start telling Arab leaders the truth about the real situation over here and why their help is needed, because unfortunately, right now, the type of commitment from over there that would be necessary to launch an effort on the high level that is needed, does not exist. And that is only because Mideast leaders are still depending on the people here, which is because they have been misled about the real situation over here in terms of the true balance of forces, both in the present - and in the future.
Recently, when President Mubarak of Egypt told a group of Egyptian university students that it was up to the "Arab lobby" in the US to confront the Zionist lobby and solve the problem of the US bias toward Israel, he did not realize the he was in effect asking a tiny platoon of soldiers to go into battle against a far stronger enemy without any weapons, without any instructions, without any maps, without any supplies, without any two-way communications apparatus, without any co-ordination on overall strategy, without any intelligence about where and how to strike, without any clue as to where to look for weaknesses, where the enemy's weak points are located, and so forth.
So the people over here, thinking the same way, that they do not need anyone's help, end up grasping blindly at straws because they lack the resources of a sovereign state, which their enemy enjoys. And when they get tired of doing that, they do other things, like de-emphasizing US Middle East policy altogether and switching the agenda over to domestic issues that are easier to w in. In fact, many of the Arab-American leaders over here have hurt themselves by purposely distancing themselves from the Arab states in the region, while the Zionist lobby continues to enjoy the full force and backing and informational/intelligence resources of the Israeli government, including daily contact and co-ordination of strategy which helps them to stay on the cutting edge of the constantly changing events and trends that are hidden underneath the surface of the regional landscape.
We cannot allow ourselves to succumb to wishful thinking, we have to have a realistic concept about the type of effort that would be required to mount anything other than a paper lobbying apparatus. Because, realistically, right now there is no lobby, Arab or otherwise, that has made even a single dent, a single change, in the general course of US Middle East policy, not a single tangible accomplishment in a major policy area. I am not trying to discourage anyone, but rather, I am trying to be realistic in saying that what we have now, while it is not doing any harm, is no substitute for what we need to build if we really care about achieving our goal - which is to change policy - we have to keep our eye on the ball and not imagine that we are getting closer to the goal just because we are spending our time. Because all we have to do is look at the record, look for even a single positive thing the US has done in its foreign policy in that region that could be credited to a specific intervention by anyone over here. For instance, you can credit the advent of the now failed policy of dual containment under the Clinton administration, as well as the instigation of sanctions against Iran and Libya, directly to the Zionist lobby. But through all the twists and turns, from administrations Republican to Democrat and now to Republican again, we as pro-Arab forces over here are functioning, in the real world of elite foreign policymaking, merely as interested onlookers, with a modest public relations effort. We have to realize that public relations isn't everything, because strategy is so much more.
And besides all that, we are not always even true to the people that we are supposed to be helping to protect from Zionist-inspired US policies. Where were we when Syria came under attack from the US Congress a few years ago? And when an Arab country needed us most, when Iraq came under siege by a Zionist-inspired US effort intent on bombing it back into the last century, most, though not all, of the associations over here - instead of using their meager resources to try to stop it - were mostly silent, and a few even went so far as to actually jump on the Zionist-led bandwagon.
So we need something authentic, something credible, something not vulnerable to corruption, something not hindered by timidity, something with world-class financial and informational resources, something that has enough political clout in the Middle East region itself that it can credibly threaten to influence Arab leaders in a direction unfavorable to the US administration if it continues to pander unconditionally to the Zionist interests, and finally, something that is true enough to itself and to the people of the region whose interests it is supposed to represent. That could be expressed in terms of the Arab and anti-Zionist common denominators, akin to the positions of the Arab League, for instance, that should be forever embedded in the political positions of any serious Arab lobbying apparatus.
It has to be that way, our source of power has to come from the Middle East and therefore must be co-ordinated internationally, because, domestically speaking, we simply do not have and will never have enough totally committed, single-issue voters in the correct distributions, or who are both committed enough and knowledgeable enough about the region to be able to affect the congressional side of things in any meaningful way. Even if we did, we still have to deal with the executive branch anyway, because Congress does not make foreign policy, the executive branch does. For that we have to be able to exert leverage at a strategic level, not at merely a public relations level, and the only potential and tangible source of leverage at our disposal that would matter to the makers of US foreign policy, that would be taken seriously by Washington at the highest levels, lies in the region itself, not over here.
That means we have to first establish a good co-ordination with the strongest Arab states, tell them what we need from them and how they can help us. Right now, they think we do not need or want their help, yet many of them are still, for some reason, relying entirely on the people here. That comes from a distorted understanding on some of their parts of the actual domestic power relations over here, and a misunderstanding about how US foreign policymaking really works as opposed to domestic policymaking, which works differently. And that is partially our fault.
So the first thing the people over here have to do right now, really, is to go to the region and ask the governments over there to stop relying on the people over here to solve the problem of the US bias for them, since there are none capable of doing the job without their financial commitment, informational and intelligence input, and strategic co-ordination. Unfortunately, it is wishful thinking on some of their parts, mainly in the countries already allied with the US whose own internal stability is now being threatened by the contradiction of supporting a US regional agenda that is, in turn, supporting Israel unconditionally in time of war. With the regional exceptions of Iraq and Syria, Iran, and the Palestinian resistance, and perhaps a few others, almost everyone else over there is still operating under these unfortunate illusions, and it is up to us to set it right.
The reason for this wishful thinking is partially a function of distortion caused by the large geographical distances involved, as well as the exaggerations of some of the Arab world mass media editors regarding the ability of these existing membership associations/coalitions to serve as actual pro-Arab lobbies for change in US foreign policy at the highest levels of state. It is a general problem with reporters to exaggerate the importance of the subject they are reporting on, but in this case, it only serves to mislead Mideast leaders as to the real situation over here.
The other thing the people over here have to do, in my opinion, is to encourage Mideast leaders to act in their own best interests, in order to directly affect the geopolitical or external inputs to US foreign policy, which as I said before are much more consequential than any domestic effort could ever be when it comes to foreign policy. That is the most direct way to force change in Washington's chronic pandering to the Zionists. In other words, we have to let the people over there in on that one truth that they do not want to hear - that the most important instrument of change is in their hands, and that if they want to see change, they have to be willing to use it.
We have to tell them that if they really want to see an end to US favoritism to Israel, they have to be willing to exact a political price for that favoritism. In other words, they have to stop co-operating. They have to stop co-operating on issues important to the US, they have to stop co-operating on Iraq for example. They have to stop co-operating in the UN. They have to start supporting the Palestinian Intifadah in real terms, and stop begging the US to re-start the peace process, which only makes them look desperate. They have to stop depending on US foreign aid, because then their own foreign policies are held hostage to the threat that it might be cut off. They have to be willing to use their vast reserves of oil as the form of strategic leverage that they truly are. They have to be willing to stop co-operating with a US regional agenda that favors their enemy, or they will get nowhere. Because if they do not weigh in with the geopolitical leverage at their disposal - and they have to be told this - then they are not only not helping but are actually working at cross-purposes with the people over here and directly undermining and negating all their efforts, however inadvertently, while simultaneously relying exclusively on the efforts of the very same. That won't get us anywhere, that is why we all have to be on the same page.
We have to advise them that if they really want US policy to change, then they have to use their political clout as it was meant to be used. To supplement their own efforts, they can offer up that same political clout to designated individuals or leaders over here who will be taking up a supporting role in the main effort, which is their own responsibility. It is not as if the United States is going to bomb them all just because they gradually stop being as co-operative as they have been, they just have to be subtle and make these changes carefully and discreetly and diplomatically and not in a military way or in a way that is sudden or alarming or that seems overtly adversarial or in any way threatening. To make full use of the leverage that they have, they have to strive for objectivity in their relations with Washington, to pursue their own national interests, as do the countries I mentioned earlier. Syria, for instance, as a country that views the United States objectively, has fared much better than any regional ally of the United States in terms of preserving its national independence and making the absolute maximum use of the geopolitical leverage available to it. But this the rest of the Arab countries have to do, especially Egypt and the countries with the oil, if they really want to create pressures for change.
Even the United States will respect them more if they demonstrate the political will to act in their own national interests, instead of taking their support for granted and disregarding their interests as unimportant, as it so easily does now. If these leaders can be told by the people here that the main instrument of change is in their hands, and if they can muster the will to just use it, Washington will have to calculate the geopolitical risks of its current policy and adjust it accordingly. Even if the adjustment is relatively slight, it will make a huge difference in real terms.
In other words, the main contribution the people over here can make, right now, initially, is to say to the leaders over there: 'Don't depend on us. Don't depend on us, unless you're willing to do your part. We can't do it without your direct and committed positive involvement. This means co-ordinating with us on a strategic level, and giving us the financial and political clout that is required for us to be taken at all seriously over here in the real-world day-to-day construction of foreign policy - and it also means not neutralizing any efforts we might make on your behalf in the making of your own foreign policies.' Once that has been done, we can follow it up, in the form of real co-ordinated strategic planning with them.
We cannot give up and they cannot give up either, and that is why we must work together; if we insist on working separately or unawarely at cross-purposes, we will all continue going nowhere fast. We have to start thinking strategically, and internationally. Thank you very much...
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