Islamism and US Policy :THE GULF BETWEEN TWO OPPOSITE AGENDAS
Executive Summary :
With the toppling of Saddam Hussein regime, a little over three years ago, the Bush administration has started a process of regional political and strategic reconfiguration, which met a large amount of resistance and objection from local and international actors. The Gulf region appears quite sensitive to this process, at least because, with the best intentions in the world, it does not seem emanating from within, although at some moment, it appeared tuning up with a general wish: to get rid of Saddam and his brutal regime, which had caused so much sorrow to the Iraqis and to the neighbours. Today, while Saddam faces his fate after being sentenced to death by an iraqi lawcourt, Iraq sounds falling apart and with the threats emanating from Iran, Israel, the Hamas government, and the Islamist extremists, the question is: was it worth?
Just some time after the invasion, in early 2004, the Presidential study group, - a bipartisan commission of statesmen, diplomats, legislators, scholars, and experts— was conveyed to examine the state of the Middle East and the effectiveness of U.S. policy in advancing U.S. interests in that region. According to the report it has published 1, “the United States is facing an extraordinary moment of challenge in the Middle East, one that demands an integrated U.S. strategy built on a set of three pillars: security, reform, and peace. The security agenda is the most pressing, but it alone is not sufficient. If the United States wants not just to combat the threats it faces in the region but also to change the regional dynamic which produces such threats, the administration should also pursue political, social, and economic reform in Middle East countries and the promotion of a secure Arab-Israeli peace”.2
We can recognize the great lines of concern of the Bush administration in the linkage between these “three pillars”, which has never reached in previous administrations such systematization in the thought. Indeed there is a particular focus on Iraq in the paper, but this is only a result of a process that started just after 9/11, in which Iraq – like Afghanistan- were seemingly the first experiences of change that have involved a huge effort from the USA. Some topics are thus maintained together in a kind of “package” for the “Greater Middle East”, to use the new expression:
1° speeding the training and fielding of new Iraqi security forces while building the structure of a free and representative Iraqi government;
2° coordinating strategy on Iran’s nuclear program with key European and Security Council powers;
3° developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy to fight the ideological war against Islamist extremism;
4° injecting presidential leadership into calls for political reform, and
5° investing in Palestinian political and security change and a peaceful and orderly Israeli disengagement from Gaza…
Such were the “Bush administration most pressing Middle East priorities for 2005”, as described by the report.
With hindsight, we may today try to answer the question: how much of this “program” has been accomplished? And we would not be far away from the reality if we say that the action has been slightly achieved, and only on a small scale. Not to be unfair however, we have to consider that the process – at least in Iraq - is still in progress. Maybe for that reason, maybe for the day-to-day basis of tackling, new problems appear; and these latter create their own concatenation. At the end, and after over three years of this struggle3, we can hardly say that the region is more stable, safer, and pacified: all the purposes for which, the Bush administration mobilised American and allies potentialities.
Key findings :
We do not pretend to answer all the questions in such a concise paper. Yet, the analysis led us to some statements and conclusions we summarize as follows :
- So far, the situation seems blocked in Iraq, where the USA faces two bitter choices: if the administration under pressure agrees to withdraw the troops, this will be an acknowledgment of policy failure. On the other hand, if M. Bush doggedly chooses to stand the course, he will face more critics from various sides making America responsible for every terrorist operation resulting in numerous casualties.
- Even if the Bush administration agrees to withdraw troops from Iraq, that will not result necessarily into a stabilization of the security situation. There are today in Iraq so many interests in the game that foreign and Iraqi companies will be forced to recruit “private security forces” to get protected, which will contribute to the increase of militias.
- There is an increasing concern about the ability of the Iraqi government to contain the “Iraqi problem” inside its boundaries. The Gulf region is quite sensitive to what happens inside this country.
- If we add the Iranian question (the nuclear) and the Hamas government to the Iraqi issue, we will see the USA dealing presently with a matter so complicated that in order to cope with it, a review of the US political priorities has become a necessity.
- For indeed, the Americans cannot be everywhere, at any time, to give help or to play to the “policemen”. They cannot either continue to elude some important political issues while pretending that they need security settlements. Not all the Gulf – and the Middle East - region problems are related to security, as the American administration pretends. Questions of reform, social change, welfare, democracy, human rights, self-rule and autonomy of decision are more related to fundamental political choices than to the security agenda of any party. Now, these choices cannot be performed by the Americans but by the citizens of the concerned countries.
- Where the Americans are really needed, we do not find them. In the Palestinian territories, they feel today challenged by a democratic popular choice, and they cannot convince themselves of the necessity to act positively acknowledging responsibility for what is happening.
- The faltering American steps in the pompous democracy-building project, encourage their Islamist opponents to occupy the ground. Either with the new Iranian pretensions, or with the Islamist victories in other countries (in Egypt indeed, and in Iraq…), the USA is today challenged. The point is that the military option is not always the best. Sometimes, it may even lead to the worse.
- If the USA needs to review some of its political choices with respect to the Middle East, the Arab and Muslim governments are not exempted of such a task. After all, if there is such a bad situation in the region today, which threatens the entire order, would it be exaggerated to say that this is also their responsibility? Indeed, it is the choice of Arab and Muslim authoritative governments that led sometimes to war (as in Iraq) and sometimes to a political impasse. The Middle East governments may be even the first to be blamed for their undemocratic behavior that engendered radical reactions inside their countries and abroad.
The author of this paper has published in french in 2005 : L’après-Saddam en Irak (Post-Saddam Iraq), Paris , l’Harmattan. And in 2006 with the same publisher : Où va l’Arabie saoudite? (Where is Saudi Arabia Heading?)
1 2005 Presidential Study Group Report, Security, Reform and Peace: The Three Pillars of U.S. Strategy in the Middle East, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
3 If we consider it starting with the toppling of Saddam regime in April 2003.