Federica Narancio
The Middle East Times
March 6, 2008 - 7:32pm

The Bush administration's attempt to reshape the Middle East after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks has not only failed but has also deepened existing conflicts and political instability, according to a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The result is a "new" Middle East, though different from what was anticipated. This new Middle East is one in which the threat of nuclear proliferation and sectarianism will pose a serious challenge to the next U.S. administration, argue the authors of the report, published late February.

The tensions between Syria and Lebanon, Palestine and Israel and the influence of Iran in Iraq have also been exacerbated by the confrontational policies of the George W. Bush administration, the report titled, "The New Middle East" stated. If the U.S. government wants to restore its credibility, the study said, it should first recognize that the use of military power in Iraq and Afghanistan were counterproductive and that today Iraq is a collapsed state that depends on the presence of American troops to survive.

"The invasion of Iraq broke the balance of power that existed in the area," said Marina Ottaway, director of the Carnegie Middle East Program and one of the authors of the report. "Bush was worried about the Iranian influence and to some extent he has himself to blame for eliminating the major power that kept that balance."

The study recommends the next administration to adopt a more diplomatic approach that engages all actors in meaningful dialogue. Also, contrary to what the Bush administration intended with their "freedom agenda," democracy in the region should not be aggressively promoted in the short-term, even if in the future the Arab world would benefit from it.

Rather than attempt to present new findings in the report, the experts instead focused on an analysis of how the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent policies of Bush's government worsened chronic conflicts that affected the Middle East, according to Ottaway.

"This administration's signature policy has been the one of confrontation. They have tried to solve all problems by taking a hard-line position and expecting the other side to change," Ottaway told the Middle East Times. "They have done that without having the necessary tools, and have only relied on military power."

The expert noted, however, that the option to use force is no longer effective because the Middle Eastern countries realize that the United States, by being bogged down in Iraq, is unable to effectively mount another military operation.

High oil prices also limit the extent of U.S. power in the region, because producing countries are less vulnerable to sanctions, according to the study.

If the United States wants to fight terrorism in the region and protect the flow of oil, the report recommends the U.S. government to have a dialogue with radical regimes such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's in Iran, because international pressure and U.N. Security Council sanctions will not be enough to curb the regime.

According to the report, a U.S.-Iranian dialogue would also be useful to address the issue of Iraq, because both countries share similar interests in this area.

"Iran now has great influence in Iraq through its relation with various Shiite organizations," the report stated. "Broadly speaking, Tehran is now encouraging a Shiite dominated, Iran-friendly government in Iraq and keeping the United States preoccupied and at bay, but it also wants to preserve Iraq's territorial integrity and avoid complete instability which is, paradoxically, the same thing the United States wants to do."

The use of threats against Syria hasn't produced positive results either. As the report recounts, after Syria opposed the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. government became increasingly worried of the country's continued dominance of Lebanon and its alliance to Iran, Hezbollah and militant Palestinian groups. This drove the Bush administration to pressure Syria to end its control over Lebanon, but the results have not been the expected ones.

"The administration has not understood that there is no way to completely stop Syria from having an influence in Lebanon," according to Ottaway. "It is not a question of whether it would be desirable or not, but realistically it won't happen. The history of the countries is what it is."

One of the solutions proposed by the report is to try to reach a "compromise" between the two parts: the United States should encourage Syria to allow for elections in Lebanon to take place, but at the same time assume that Syria will continue to exert some influence in the country.

In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the report was critical of the Bush administration for taking too long to engage in peace negotiations. It was only until the Annapolis conference in 2007 that the administration reinitiated diplomatic efforts to encourage Israel and the Palestinians to reach a compromise.

A two-state solution is the only one viable to resolve the divergences, according to experts of the study, but it is highly improbable that both parties will reach any agreement soon.

Other experts in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are also skeptical that the two parts will be able to negotiate a solution.

"The clashes between Israelis and Hamas will significantly affect formal negotiations between [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas and Israelis," said Gad Barzilai, professor of international studies, law and political science at the University of Washington.

Barzilai said that Israel and the Palestinians have reached a deadlock in negotiations and he is skeptical that either will concede.

"Israelis and Americans declared after the [Palestinian] elections that Hamas was unacceptable. But on the other hand they declared it because Hamas stated that Israel is an illegitimate entity in the Middle East," he said, and added that "they are playing a double-blind game in which one side is not very sensitive to the other side."

Under these circumstances, Barzilai said that "a war is a very realistic scenario. The probability of an armed conflict between Israelis, Hamas, Syria, and indirectly Iran is 50 percent."

He considers, however, that regardless of the Bush administration's intervention the problems between Israelis and Palestinians will continue because theirs is an endemic conflict that goes beyond what any U.S. government can do.

"Notwithstanding, the invasion of Iraq has been a catalyst in generating more conflict in the Middle East, and obviously this makes it harder to resolve conflicts in the region. But I don't think blaming the Bush administration directly would be the only explanation for what is going on," he said.

Muhammad Abu Nimer, an international peace and conflict resolution professor at the American University in Washington, D.C., was more critical of the role the Bush administration has played in the Middle East.

"Their notion is that by using bombs, airplanes and missiles they can eventually open their way to [install] democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine," he said. "But their policy has failed because using this can never convince people on the ground that the intention of the United States is genuine."

Abu Nimer said that even though the U.S. leadership are promoting democracy in the region, they contradict themselves by, for instance, opposing the Palestinian election of Hamas.

"They've been using a double-standard policy [by which they] promote democracy but use weapons. When the people elect different groups that they are not interested in they oppose it," Abu Nimer said.

Marina Ottaway, on the other hand, said that the report is not intended to be presented as a "conspiracy" against the Bush administration, because indeed there are radical leaders and difficult conflicts in the Middle East.

She said, however, that U.S. policies in the region were far from being successful.

"After seven years the Bush administration won't change at the very end. We really see our recommendations as something to be used by the next administration," Ottaway said, "but I do not have great illusions right now."


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