If you threw a dart at the map of the Middle East and North Africa, you almost couldn’t miss hitting a spot where an historic event was unfolding.
In the headlines of just last Saturday and Sunday (normally slow news days), one could read of Syrian tanks slaughtering the rebellious civilians of Daraa; NATO bombs killing Gadhafi’s son and grandchildren (with the U.N. pulling out its staff from Tripoli as a result); 80 percent of Jordan’s gas supply taken off line by sabotage; the Taliban starting its spring military offensive in Afghanistan and President Saleh of Yemen refusing to sign a transition deal involving his removal from power, threatening to derail efforts by the Gulf states to control months of unrest in that key U.S. ally. The Washington Post headlined the question “Will Pakistan erupt like Egypt?”
Or perhaps you saw the headline that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian officials on the unity deal between Hamas and Fatah, where Hamas officials reiterated Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Or perhaps you didn’t.
With so much going on simultaneously, neither the world’s statesmen nor the leading editors of worldwide journalism can agree on what to focus the world’s limited attention. This provides a golden opportunity to the world’s nefarious leaders for the foreign policy equivalent of getting away with murder in broad daylight — unnoticed.
And it brings to mind the observation in 1864 of Europe’s most brilliant diplomat, then-Prussian Chancellor Prince Otto von Bismarck, that the practice of diplomacy “teaches that one can be as shrewd as the shrewdest in the world and still at any moment go like a child into the dark.”
Last week’s news that the Egyptian government has brokered an agreement between the main Palestinian factions — Gaza-based terrorist Hamas and Fatah’s West Bank-based Palestinian Authority regime — should be shedding more light in the United States than it so far has on the darkness that is current Middle East events.
The U.S. identifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, thus by including Hamas in the PA regime, almost a billion dollars in yearly U.S.-led aid will presumably have to be cut off (and should be).
Already, Israel has cut off its prorated $80 million annual contribution.
Also, already, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Al-Arabi said that the critical Rafah Crossing from Egypt into Gaza will be permanently opened, marking the biggest breach in the Gaza blockade, which was imposed by Israel and backed by the West since 2007. This fact alone ought to be seen as a storm warning.
An ever more highly armed Gaza Strip makes Palestinian/Israeli military engagement more likely. And the reduced economic activity that the loss of Western money to the West Bank is likely to cause may both increase unrest and undermine the recently reduced corruption there.
But the greater significance of these events rests in what it may tell us about the nature of Egypt’s post-Mubarak foreign policy.
It suggests that Cairo is feeling tremendous urgings from broad Arab sentiment to return, after 30 years, to its traditional Middle East foreign policies as the leading Arab nation, rather than the ally of the United States and Israel.
It has certainly been an historically odd fact that — with Egypt and Saudi Arabia allied with the U.S. and taking our lead on policy — the structure of Middle East policy has been driven by non-Arabs: United States, Turkey, Iran and Israel. While this has worked (except for Iran’s role) powerfully to our advantage, those days may be ending.
Turkey has been slipping away (first slowly, now faster) from an American alliance since 2003. Saudi Arabia — appalled by our undercutting of Mubarak — is beginning to forge its own path, as evidenced by its unprecedented decision to cut rather than expand oil pumping during this current oil price rise.
Now Egypt expedites the terrorist Hamas into Palestinian leadership and wantonly prepares to permit the re-arming of the Gaza strip: Target Israel.
It is reported that the Egyptian-brokered deal was a “surprise” to the world. Can it really be the case that the U.S., with our well-earned closeness to the Egyptian army (which currently governs Egypt), was genuinely unaware of this quite shocking development? Or did we know and not try to stop it? Or did we know and try but failed to stop it?
Congress (both the Democratic Senate and the GOP House — this is beyond partisan politics) should promptly hold hearings on this reversal of American long-term interests.
Who dropped the ball: State, Defense, the White House, CIA?