Monday, July 17, 2006

Learning lessons

The continuing Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Gaza have been causing a severe identity crisis for me. I have always believed that Jordan’s priorities for development and prosperity were honorable goals that should not constitute a source of tension between us and our Arab brothers. In fact, the ideal situation would be for all of us to look inward and try to fix the monumental challenges that we as Arabs and Muslims face. Strong individual Arab countries should ultimately translate to a strong Arab nation.

While I still believe this, what is new is the question of what our role should be when other Arab countries are faced with external challenges, such as the current state of affairs. Many people are demanding that something be done to stop the death and destruction being meted out by Israel. The current response by Arab leaderships is totally inadequate, as most people see it.

Starting from a simple premise, it seems clear that all Arab leaderships are looking out for their own interests (as leaders or as states). This has always been the case, as most shows of Arab solidarity, such as the Arab summits, are viewed as farces, or at best avenues to shape individual interests in an Arab context. The sad truth is that Arab leaderships trust outside allies more than they trust other Arabs. This has opened the door for Israel, the US, the Europeans and Iran to meddle heavily in our affairs, to the point that we have little say as to what goes on in the Arab world.

Lebanon is a prime example of this. It is quite clear that neither the Lebanese nor the Arabs will have much to say as to how this situation will be resolved. One can be sure that the resolution will not have the welfare of Lebanon as a primary objective, no matter what anybody says.

So, the first question that should be asked is if Arabs allying themselves with foreign powers will guarantee their long-term stability. Certainly the former Iraqi regime didn’t benefit from not having any strong foreign patrons, with disastrous consequences. On the other hand, the pro-western Lebanese leadership has little to show for it’s alliance with the US and France, as these countries are more interested in the welfare of Israel than that of Lebanon.

Will the Arabs do better to ally themselves with Iran? The Iranians have clear territorial and strategic ambitions in the gulf and in Levant, as well as in Iraq. Moreover, the question of siding with the losing team pops up. Some Arab countries siding with the old Soviet Union (such as Iraq and Libya) ended up in bad shape after allying themselves with what was seen as the world’s second super power. Iran is not a super power, and is looking for American approval to expand it's influence in the region.

Arabs have long extolled the idea of the now defunct joint Arab defense pact. Of course, this pact only existed in the archives of the Arab League, and meant nothing. Should it be revived?

I believe that the Arabs should soon reach the conclusion that nobody can do anything for them except themselves. Waiting for the UN, the US, the quartet or whoever to swoop in and fix our problems is a sign of what a pathetic state we are now in.

What can Arabs do? Right now, close to nothing. We are destined to sit by and watch in horror. The only good thing that can come out of this is if we learn a lesson we should have learnt a long time ago.

In theory, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia can pick up the phone and call Bush. He only needs to say that he won’t be able to sustain current oil production levels for very long. Of course, because the Saudis are so dependent for their security on the US, this will not happen. The first step would be to convince the Saudi leadership not to count on US support if things get tough. The second would be to provide the Saudis with a viable defense alternative to the Americans. This would mean bolstering their own military and that of Jordan, Yemen and Egypt. The Saudis have enough money to implement such a strategy, and Egypt, Yemen and Jordan have the manpower. Of course, current thinking in the Gulf would be that the poor Arabs are looking for a new way to take their money. If they think they are safe now, I would submit to them that their American allies are not as sincere as they might seem (Dubai Ports?).

Such an ambitious project would mean creating a Saudi sphere of influence to counter that of the US and Iran. If the Saudis are willing to pay, then a real Arab center of gravity can be created to counter the helplessness we are now in. As individual countries, we will not be able to do much. To try would be suicide.


At 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that we cannot rely on any foreign on international bodies to help us. The US will never be fair, and the UN will always be weak and toothless.
But what is the solution? I'm deeply convinced that we need to build ourselves, to build our economies, and get stronger. But we also need to stop relying on oil. Far from being a gift, oil money has been a curse, it's been wasted, and will never work.
We need a period of stability, during which we build ourselves. We cannot build our economy, our military if we're at war. If this stability requires that we make deals with the US and israel, then so be it.
Our problem is that we expect instant gratification, instant progress, instant victory, but these are not possible. We need to plan for the long term, which is why we need time.

At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf : Arabs need to unify their response and take actual steps toward resolving the problem using what ever means necessary. We should get out of the speeches business that we are accustomed to. And stop tossing accusations when ever a different opinion arises. Arabs must start utilizing their resources and stop depending on foreign countries for their security. I don't see how we can’t sustain our food security and why we don't have our own defense industries or any advanced industries for that matter. We can't keep waiting for the Saudis or the gulf stats to provide financial support for this project, if they are not willing to join let's start with any body how will.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Omar said...

I have to say that this analysis has to be one of the most decent and precise.

What is it that could trigger these leaderships to unify? Unfortuenetly, a unified attack on them, an attack that will start against Syria, and might go even further. As individuals, the most obstructive act anyone can embrace is to criticize Hezbollah's resistance, for the time being, we shall line up with Nasrullah no matter what, if Hezbollah is destryed, it's literally the end.

At 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arab people will sooner or later take matters in their own hands.

At 11:23 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: I agree with almost everything you are saying. I disagree that oil is a curse. We have not used it to our advantage, but that is our fault, not the oil's. I would emphasize your point on needing to plan for the long term. The question is if we have a common long-term goal.

Habchawi: Eliminating the oil states from the equation is unrealistic. Nobody else has the financial resources to make it work, and is willing to invest in building the strength of the Arab countries. If you are referring to Iran when you say "let's start with any body who will", I would also say that the Iranians have no interest in seeing the Arabs strong. I would emphasize the point that we either rely on ourselves or ferget about the whole concept.

Omar: I understand your excitement about Hezbollah. In reality, if people criticize them or not has no bearing on how things will transpire. Moreover, even if Hezbollah is desroyed, it is not over. Our advesaries should know that unless there is real peace, it will never be over.

Hamede: The Arab masses can do nothing, even if they take power. The tools needed to defend ourselves are not available. Jumping into the fire will do more harm than good.

At 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post Khalaf, but I disagree on your last comment to Hamede somewhat. There most be more we can do then nothing, and maybe it doesn't have to involve fire power, seeing as we, as people, can't defend ourselves against f16s and rockets. But maybe we can have some economics influence in a world that is so economically integrated, maybe we can do something with that. I think there's things we can do, we dont know what it is yet, but all we need is a first step. Maybe that first step was finally getting acknowledgement by our leaders at the summit that the middle east peace process is dead. Or maybe we still need more to get moving as one people.. but there must be something we can do!! remember.. "where is the millions" :)

At 1:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I have always believed that Jordan’s priorities for development and prosperity were honorable goals"

Really? what development are you talking about when the average monthly income in Jordan is 150 dollars, circa 1970s, when cost of living is sky high? You and me and less than 5% of Jordan are benefiting from what you are calling development. the rest continues to sink into poverty. We need to be more sensative to the reality the majority of jordanians continue to wrestle with from poverty to unemployment to poor healthcare to poor schools. we need to stop measuring national performance by our individual well-being. For some reason, Jordan First often translates into Me First.

At 6:21 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

El: The implication of Hamede's comment, as I understood it, was that people would soon move to remove their leaderships. I frankly don't think that would be useful. On the other hand, popular movements to convince the concerned parties that we are unhappy and would like to change things (like economic boycotts, demonstrations or even blood donation drives) would be great.

Anon: Sure. Economic develoment should be fair and strive to help everybody. I wouldn't disagree.

At 1:34 PM, Blogger Rami said...

The question is, who is this alternative "security structure" going to be targeted against? Saudi-Jordan-Yemen-Egypt axis will remain a dream for many reasons:

1. Saudi is not interested in sponsoring neighbours who could turn into rivals (who buys a dagger for their rival?)
2. Some regional players will not agree to be excluded from the game/arrangement
3. The people might view this structure as another Baghdad Pact. You really have a precedent here to factor in
4. The Arab regimes are not facing as grave a threat from the outside as they are from the inside. So they might be less excited about dissipating their limited resources to fight a proxy war (on behalf of Iran against the USA, or on behalf of the USA against Iran)
5. Israel will not allow Arabs to rebuild armies again except for internal policing (Wadi Araba agreement insinuates that I believe). You must be crazy to suggest America will allow this

I mentioned the need for self-reliance and to provide a deterrent force for Israel in my blog a while ago. The devil is in the details and you gave a formulation that many would stand diammetrically opposed to. But let's try to first establish that this structure is badly needed.

Regarding (4) above, I think the internal challenge is not caused by anyone except Israel and the US policies in Iraq, Palestine and the increasing impact of the economic agenda on people's livelihoods. The Iranian nuclear file is sort of the embodiment of the unfairness we endure, and is not what causes internal turbulence in our countries

Finally, I also think that the Arabs have been sleeping for too long to allow them to take on such a monumental task anyway. Their educational systems are doing down the drain, their economics are (save for the oil boom) oscillating in their place for a long time, and their armies

There are fundamental issues that we need to sit down and solve first though before starting to talk about details. One of them being unity (Islamic/Arabic, whichever suits your taste and if indeed it can exist), mistrust amongst us...etc

Anyway, good article. Keep them coming.

At 3:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rami, I think the problem of mistrust can be solved by emphasizing on the presence of common enemies. The problem of what Irsael and America doesn't allow can be alleviated by China and Russia's interest in the Middle East. And the Arab regimes will continue to face grave inside problems as long as Israel continues to get away with bombing this and that while Arabs watch helplessly; then we will never see stability in our lifetime. So maybe it IS in Arab best interest to start worrying about "outside" threats because they create inside threats. I think the "Saudi-Jordan-Yemen-Egypt axis" will remain a dream only because it is something we people want, so it would be too good to be true for our culture of misery.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger El. said...

Khalaf, How do we go about starting a movement? I really want to!

At 6:22 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Rami and El, I agree mostly with El's responses. I would add that the US is not in a position to prevent anything at this stage. They can barely muster up a case against Iran, let alone a group of peaceful moderate Arab countries that want to develop a joint defense program.

Israel spends about 9 billion dollars a year on it's military. Any serious attempt to counter this would require the involvement of Saudi Arabia. If not, the only option is continued policy of each one for himself.

What sort of movement are you suggesting, El?

At 7:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's interesting that it took the bombing of Lebanon to make Khalaf rethink geopolitics.

Like the rest of the world, you seem to have numbed to the continuous killing of Palestinians, which is just as tragic and as illustrative of Arab impotence.

I think your assumption that the Saudi leadership may strive to develop a local and regional consituency is faulty.

The Royal family recognises that it needs external support to assure that it remains in power. This is primarily a military calculation: it needs to buy the best arms and be the friend of the world's sole superpower or else face internal and regional threats to its existence.

If it or other Arab states or allies could offer military technologies and production at a level of superiority similar to that of the US and Israel, the Saudi leadership could realign its alliances accordingly.

As this is not the case, other alternatives are needed if Arab impotence is to come to an end.

Few if any such alternatives are in the hands of the Arab leaders.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger El. said...

Nothing violent or drastic, but just to make some stronger support. Boycotts, donations.. anything..

At 9:27 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: Advanced weapons are on the market and can be purchased. Do you think that the US gives them away for free? There are other sources as well.

I think that reliance solely on the US for Saudi defence is a big mistake. If the US turns on them (not unlikely), they will be all alone. If they are willing to risk that, this is their choice. We will simply keep playing the same game we are playing now, simply because there is no other alternative.

El: Sounds good.

At 11:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(2) If you read my post carefully you will see that I said "buy the best arms". Indeed they have turned to Europe but the fact is that the US has the military edge, both in quality and quantity, cost and in their being able to back sales with military alliances that are effective. As long as Saudi makes the kind of statements it is making these days, and as long as its response is to calls for peace with Israel while Israel bombs its neighbours, the US will not turn away.

(3) The alternative is to stop counting on these regimes to find a better strategy because they wont.

The only way that the Arabs can stand together is if we ensure that power is in the hands of democratically elected governments with checks and balances. This is completely missing in our region, except for one lone and oppressed people in Gaza and West Bank, where you can see the tension between the Presidency, the Government and the Parliament that is due to (at least a limited number of) checks and balances.

At 12:21 AM, Blogger El. said...

"the US has the military edge, both in quality and quantity, cost and in their being able to back sales with military alliances that are effective"

I am no military strategist or anything, but I still feel confident in saying that if the US had any military edge at all right now they would be in Iran as we speak. However, after they went into Afghanistan, and after the unexpected high costs of Iraq (now they think it cost between $500 billion to over one trillion depending on who you listen to), the US forces are too widespread and the America is not in a good position, military nor economically - relative to the time before Bush. I think they are facing their own "impotence" issues now as well.

At 2:39 AM, Blogger Rami said...

I agree with Anon here, Khalaf. The Arabs have no where near the level of disobedience to the USA required to estbalish such a structure on their own.

Plus, there is not a single security structure/arrangement that exists in the world that I can think of that the USA is not part of. Independence is forbidden at all costs and Norman Schawrzkopff said in 1991 that the reason for going to Iraq was simple: it was not in our alliance and no one should exist outside it.

If the Arabs involve America then, Israel needs to tag along. That is exactly what has been in the making for 10 years with the joint maneuvers of the Arabs with Israel-USA under various names and excuses.

To exclude Iran from the arrangement will upset it, and this is why Iran has been acting the way it did. Upsetting Iran is a problem from our point of view, because when the American finally leaves in 5 decades or less, we will have a neighbour to deal with who will likely be a heavyweight by then. Not only that, Iran has bought good cards, and is buying more while the Arabs are watching Nansi Ajram on TV.

I am sorry to say this, but saying that we buy weapons from anywhere is also a dream. At best we will get the type of weapons the Soviets sent us all the time: second hand or downgraded. Even China wont sell us its best (which is far worse than American hardware). There are somethings than money does not buy.

And about Saudi, the leaders there have decided to put all their eggs in the American basket and kept them there for too long. Escaping this dependency cannot happen overnight. So yes, its a mistake, but it is what the situation is.

In fact, the Americans DO NOT want the Saudi burden anymore. They have been rethinking their energy supplies and portfolio. Now it is the Saudi themselves who somehow seduce the Americans to keep coming back to the Saudi bed, with oil mainly. You know that Saudi sells the Americas oil at subsidized costs just to keep the Americans addicted to their oil? I compare it to a prostitute who keeps giving the pimp services for free so he doesn't neglect her and still offers her the level of protection needed for her job.

The Arabs are in a dire situation. They really left this for too long and are, again, not understanding history. Well, that is a bit of rhetoric for you.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger layal said...

أتمني ان نتبنى جميعا كمدونين كلمه واحده بتاريخ واحد نحدد فيه رأينا للعالم اجمع
اتمني ان ندون مدونه واحد بتاريخ 27/07/2006
كلنا كمدونين نكرر عباره واحده
كلنا مع لبنان وفلسطين ضد اسرائيل والمحتلين
بالعربي بالانجليزي المهم نسمع صوتنا للعالم
وان لم نستطيع حمل السلاح فالنحمل الكلمه
وبأي لغة نستطيع نشرها
We are with Lebanon and Palestine against Israel and occupiers
Nous sommes avec tous le Liban et la Palestine contre l’Israel et les occupants
Wir sind zusammen mit dem Libanon und Palästina gegen Israel und Besatzer
Somos todos con Líbano y Palestina contra Israel e inquilinos
تحياتي للجميع

At 9:36 PM, Blogger lisoosh said...

I'm an outsider here but I am very curious about something. With all of the talk of Arab unity - unite behind what? The actions of Hizbollah do not seem to have been very well thought out and they have led to a war which is destroying the democratic gains that Lebanon worked so hard to achieve.
To an outsider it appears that there are two or three different streams in the Arab world, one seems to see its goal as some form of democratization with an increase in the standard of living of all Arabs. Another seems to be the spread of a stricter following of Islam. Yet another seems to favor the status quo, with the power in the hands of elites.
What do the Arab nations unite behind? And do Arabs unite behind anyone who takes any action, no matter what that action is and how much it works?

Forgive me if I offend. I just want a better understanding.

At 4:42 AM, Blogger El. said...

I know I keep commenting here, but the thing is I really liked this blog post :)

I think there are more than three general streams, lisoosh. Like for example those who are not content with the status quo of our power structure but dont hold a high regard for democracy either. Look at the US for example, their democracy is merely a civil war between republicans and democrats. There are so many forms of democracy that the word on its own carries little meaning to me. Ancient Greece was democratic, but only male heads of household, over 33, born of both a greek mother and father had citizeship, and thus the right to vote. They even call Israel a "Democratic Jewish state". How one can have a democracy yet privelege one group of people over another is beyond me.

Instead, some (me) would prefer to have an open government and accountability while keeping the monarchy in place. From this, the power will be in the hands of the people because they can keep an eye on everything their government is doing and be content or discontent with it and be able to hold it accountable. Its kind of like how you work a lot harder when you know your boss is in the office.

Of course, I am only speaking of what I would like for my own state, rather than looking at us all as the "arab world", I think it is important to keep the different nations in context.

As for what we unite behind, that also is gonna find you several streams :)
I, for example, unite behind a shared identity that is the Arab language.

At 5:25 AM, Blogger El. said...

Lisoosh: As for the rest of your comments/questions, I couldn't really answer them as they weren't very clear. I hope you can clarify what you're saying so I can understand what you mean:
(and forgive me Khalaf for occupying your blog)

"destroying the democratic gains that Lebanon worked so hard to achieve."
what work did Lebanon do? As far as I know, their democracy was granted to them by France and the US putting pressure on Syria, pressure that Syria did not need at the time.

"do Arabs unite behind anyone who takes any action, no matter what that action is and how much it works?"
Do you mean like choosing our leaders based on which colour tie they are wearing?

"The actions of Hizbollah do not seem to have been very well thought out and they have led to a war"
I haven't heard of anyone who would have expected this would happen just from hizbollah's actions, so I think this statement needs more explanation (why do you think their actions were not thought out? And why do you think these actions specifically have led to a war rather than, for example, an underlying motive from the attackers?)

At 7:16 AM, Blogger lisoosh said...

el. Thank you for your answer.
While democracy in the US is VERY messy, I would not describe it as a civil war (although it appears pretty rough right now), it tends to swing to the left and then to the right but rarely to real extremes. The system they have whereby the Judicial branch keeps a check on things and allows regular citizens to challange the govenment in court seems to be the real cornerstone. I think a strong and independant court system and judiciary is the most admirable part of its system.
Your next portion is complicated so I will take time to think it over and then respond (its late).


Post a Comment

<< Home