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by Martin Kramer


Last September, when I arrived in Cambridge for my fall stay at Harvard, I opened the Boston Globe and saw this headline over an editorial:[1] "The Other Middle East Conflict." I immediately said to myself: well, I know what the Middle East conflict is –– that's the Israelis and the Palestinians. So what is the other Middle East conflict? But as I read through the first sentence, it became clear that I was totally wrong. The editorialist, or the headline writer, assumed that most readers would understand "the Middle East conflict" to be the war in Iraq. By the "other Middle East conflict," it turned out, they meant the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, which was the subject of the editorial.

I began to wonder whether typical students, in a classroom, would know what I was talking about if I started discussing "the Middle East conflict" without defining it. And if I defined it as Israel and the Palestinians, would I be showing my age?

It also reminded me of something else that had surprised me: a 2005 National Geographic survey[2] of 18-to-24-year-olds, asking them to look at a blank map of the Middle East and locate Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. I would have guessed that Israel would have loomed largest on the mental maps of young Americans today.

I would have been wrong. 37 percent can identify Iraq and 37 percent can find Saudi Arabia –– not high percentages overall. But even fewer, 26 percent, can identify Iran, and still fewer, 25 percent, can find Israel on a blank map. Perhaps it isn't surprising when one recalls that war has cycled well over over a million Americans through Iraq and Afghanistan –– as soldiers, administrators, and contractors. It was Ambrose Bierce who once said, "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." Thanks to war, the Middle East of early 21st-century America has been re-centered –– away from Israel and toward the Persian Gulf. That is where conflict commands American attention.

But not everyone thinks it should. The last time I counted papers[3] at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference, about two years ago, there were 85 papers on Palestine-Israel, 30 on Iraq, 27 on Iran, and only 4 on Saudi Arabia. Here, too, the skewing is conflict-driven –– that is, the judgment that the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians should command American attention.

AND it isn't just the specialists. They would be seconded by Jimmy Carter, who was recently asked: "Is the Israel-Palestine conflict still the key to peace in the whole region? Is the linkage policy right?" Carter's answer: "I don't think it's about a linkage policy, but a linkage fact.... Without doubt, the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem." Likewise,[4] Zbigniew Brzezinski: "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most combustible and galvanizing issue in the Arab world."

This is obviously meaningless unless one has weighed all the other issues. Is it more combustible than the Kurdish question? Is it more galvanizing than Sunni-Shiite animosity? How would Brzezinski know if it were? I have broken down all Middle Eastern conflicts into nine clusters, and have appended them below[5]. You decide.

But the bottom line is this: given so long a list, it is obvious that conflict involving Israel is not the longest, or the bloodiest, or the most widespread of the region's conflicts. In large part, these many conflicts are symptoms of the same malaise: the absence of a Middle Eastern order, to replace the old Islamic and European empires. But they are independent symptoms; one conflict does not cause another, and its "resolution" cannot resolve another.

SO THE MORE INTERESTING QUESTION IS THIS: why is the idea of "linkage" so persistent in some quarters? Why are there still people who see one particular conflict as "the Middle East conflict," and who believe that in seeking to resolve it, they are pursuing "the Middle East peace process"?

Some would answer this question by pointing to the world's fascination with Israel. Unlike, say, the future of the Kurds, the future of Israel (and the Palestinians) fascinates the world. A conflict involving Jews, set in the Holy Land of Christianity and in a place of high significance to Islam, is destined to received more than its share of attention. There is also an illusion of familiarity with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No one beyond the specialists can spell out the difference between Sunnis and Shiites, or understand why the (Muslim) Sudanese government is persecuting the (Muslim) people of Darfur. But many people believe (usually wrongly) that they understand the core of the issue between Israel and the Palestinians.

Others might point to the West's self-imposed obligation to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In Europe, but to some extent also in America and even Israel, there is a perceived sense of guilt at having caused the conflict in the first place. There may be other conflicts that are more dangerous, but foreigners did not create the Arab-Persian or Shiite-Sunni conflicts, whereas the international community facilitated the creation of Israel and legitimated it by a U.N. resolution, along with a Palestinian state. Thus, many believe, the world has a special obligation to employ all means to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians, by creating that Palestinian state.

Others might point to the fact that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (and the leftover Israeli-Syrian conflict) still lies just around the corner, because it was once so tantalizingly close. All of the conflicts' protagonists were regular guests in the White House and frequent guests of a succession of Secretaries of State. No one knows what it would take to end other conflicts, but there are "parameters" for ending this one. The United States theoretically has enough leverage on Israelis, Palestinians, and Syrians, and if only it were prepared to use it, this conflict could be ended, along predictable lines.

All of these beliefs are widespread, and they explain why so much attention and effort have been lavished on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But they do not explain the belief in linkage. It is possible to be fascinated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, feel obligated to resolve it, and think it is relatively easy to resolve, and still not believe in linkage –– that is, that the success of your efforts will bring a greater reward across the Middle East, or that an absence of progress will have grave consequences across the region.

THE CONCEPT OF LINKAGE REQUIRES ANOTHER BELIEF: that the Middle East is a system, like Europe, and that its conflicts are related to one another.

Europe in modern times became a complex, interlocking system in which an event in one corner could set off a chain reaction. In Europe, local conflicts could escalate very rapidly into European conflicts (and ultimately, given Europe's world dominance, into global conflicts). And Europe had a core problem: the conflict between Germany and France. Resolving it was a precondition for bringing peace to the entire continent. Churchill put his finger[6] this in 1946: "The first step in the re-creation of the European Family," he said, "must be a partnership between France and Germany."

Linkage, I propose –– and this is my original thesis –– is a projection of this memory of Europe's re-creation onto the Middle East. The pacification of Europe was the signal achievement of the United States and its allies in the middle of the 20th century. It then became the prism through which the United States and Europe came to view the Middle East. From NATO to the European Union, from the reconstruction of Germany to Benelux, Europe's experience has provided the template for visions of the future Middle East.

It was this mindset that led analysts and diplomats, for about three decades after the creation of Israel, to interpret Israel's conflict with its neighbors as "the Middle East conflict." Like the conflict between France and Germany, the Arab-Israeli conflict was understood to be the prime cause of general instability throughout the region, as evidenced by repeated Arab-Israeli wars, in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973.

The flaws in the analogy only began to appear after Egypt and Israel achieved peace in 1979. From that point onward, the Arab-Israeli conflict moved in fits and starts toward resolution. Yet other conflicts in the region intensified. Large-scale wars erupted –– not between Israel and its neighbors, but in the Persian Gulf, where a revolution in Iran, and the belligerence of Iraq, exacted a horrendous toll and required repeated U.S. interventions.

By any objective reading, the reality should have been clear: the Middle East is not analogous to Europe, it has multiple sources of conflict, and even as one conflict moves to resolution, another may be inflamed. This is because the Middle East is not a single system of interlocking parts. It is made up of smaller systems and distinct pieces, that function independently of one another.

The myth of "linkage" persists, then, because many observers cannot shed the analogy of the Middle East with Europe. A good case is Brzezinski, a man who did play a role in reconstructing Europe, and who has said:[7] "The problems of the Middle East are conflated, and certainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq are interactive. That's absolutely a fundamental truth." This is no more than a profession of faith, mere habit and analogy substituting for analysis. In what way are these problems conflated? How are they interactive? Brzezinski offers no substantiation at all.

THE MYTH OF LINKAGE ALSO PERSISTS BECAUSE, PARADOXICALLY, the neo-conservatives embraced it. They, too, made extravagant claims about the likely effects of Iraq's "liberation" from Saddam's regime, which they understood as directly analogous to the destruction of Hitler's dictatorship. Former CIA director James Woolsey, before the war, used[8] precisely this analogy: "This could be a golden opportunity to begin to change the face of the Arab world. Just as what we did in Germany changed the face of Central and Eastern Europe, here we have got a golden chance." But it may have been a realist, Henry Kissinger, who first claimed[9] that "the road to Jerusalem will lead through Baghdad" –– that victory over Iraq would produce a peace dividend for Israel. Saddam's fall hasn't had any such effect, but such claims have tended to validate the idea of linkage as a principle –– that roads from here lead to there.

FINALLY, THERE IS THE DELIBERATE EFFORT BY IRAN, AL QAEDA, AND OTHERS, to create linkage, or at least the illusion of it. In a bid for the sympathy of the fabled "Arab street," they seek to portray the conflict with Israel as a supra-conflict between Islam and evil. The globalized Arab media such as Al Jazeera effectively do the same. Then various Pew and Zogby polls pick up the reverberations, and spread the message to Western elites that nothing interests the "Arab street" so much as Israeli misdeeds and American support for them.

Take, for example, this statement[10] by Jimmy Carter:

There is no doubt: The heart and mind of every Muslim is affected by whether or not the Israel-Palestine issue is dealt with fairly. Even among the populations of our former close friends in the region, Egypt and Jordan, less than 5 percent look favorably on the United States today. That's not because we invaded Iraq; they hated Saddam. It is because we don't do anything about the Palestinian plight.

Carter, of course, has no idea what is in the "heart and mind of every Muslim." He simply picks up sound bites from pollsters and so-called experts on Arab opinion. He then avoids the inconvenient fact that while the United States has been accused for decades of doing nothing for the Palestinians, its popularity in places like Jordan and Egypt has only plummeted since the Iraq invasion –– military action that removed a ruler, Saddam Hussein, who was beloved by the "Arab street" and Arab intellectuals.

I have called linkage a myth, both in past and present. It is a myth because the Middle East is not a single region. But is it destined to remain so?

I still believe Middle East is less integrated than Europe, but it does share one feature with early 20th-century Europe. Until now, the Middle East has had more geography than military power. States have been unable to project power very far beyond their borders. But the spread of missiles and, possibly, nuclear weapons, could change that, leaving states with too little geography and too much power. In these conditions, conflicts that have been localized could become regionalized. In this case, it would not be the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would occupy the place of France and Germany. It would be the conflict between Iran and Israel, and between Iran and the moderate Arab states. Such a conflict could configure the Middle East as one region, collapse the distance between the Levant and the Gulf, produce arms races, spur nuclear proliferation and proxy wars, create tightly-integrated alliances –– in short, make the Middle East very much like Europe in its darkest days.

Whether the United States will act to affirm the pax Americana, by checking Iran's rise, remains to be seen. Whether or not it does, but especially if it does not, the common understanding of "the Middle East conflict" seems destined to shift again. We may then look back with nostalgia to a time when the grandiose title of "the Middle East conflict" belonged to Israelis and Palestinians. The next Middle East conflict could be very different.









6 "Winston_Churchill-_Discurso_en).pdf





Responses to "The myth of linkage"

1. Walter Reich on 12 Jun 2008 at 2:45 pm1

Martin Kramer's post is a superbly-executed and much-needed act of intellectual hygiene about "linkage" and the "Middle East conflict." It's a corrective –– to use a phrase that others, alas, have invented –– to "stinkin' thinkin'" about one of the most important dimensions of international affairs.

There's a constant conflation of the many conflicts going on in the Middle East, and an abiding tendency to link them all. And they're linked because they serve many purposes for many people and many causes.

First of all, they fulfill the needs most of us have to simplify matters in all spheres, whether they have to do with international affairs or anything else in life. The simpler the explanation (or "narrative," as some academics like to put it) of something, the easier it is to remember, and the better we feel about having accounted for a lot of problems all at once and having stored that accounting away in one of our cognitive drawers.

And they fulfill the needs of various parties.

If you're a Palestinian, and you want your cause to not be forgotten, you say that every problem in the Middle East is linked to it, so everyone had better pay attention to your cause and solve it in the way you'd like it solved, because if it's not solved, all of these other problems will not be solved.

If you're Osama bin Laden, then you point to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as he did in a recent pronouncement, in large measure because it makes sense to Western minds, which were left puzzled by the old reasons you used to dwell on in your declarations, which focused more on the miserable and ungodly regime in Saudi Arabia or the need to reform Islam or the war by the West on Islam or the pollution of the Islamic world by Western influences or the need to restore Islam to its rightful historical role and power. These latter sins sound strange if not bizarre to Western ears, while the sin of supporting Israel or of not supporting the Palestinians immediately makes sense.

If you're an academic or ex-academic or ex-National Security Advisor or ex-President or journalist and have developed a theory or taken up a cause that sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as underlying and inextricably linked to all other Middle East conflicts, then nothing –– not logic or even new information –– will dislodge that theory or cause from your thinking. For you –– as Don Quixote said –– facts are the enemy of truth. Nothing will change your mind.

I understand the common human tendency to grasp simple explanations that seem to explain everything. Most of us are drawn to a quick explanation that, if correct, could provide a quick fix. And most of us are, at least at times, a little lazy and prefer simplicity to complexity, which can give one a headache.

I don't blame Palestinians, of course, for wanting their conflict to be seen as being linked to, and underlying, all other conflicts; it helps in their struggle.

But I don't think we have an obligation to believe academics or ex-government officials or preaching moralists or journalists who latch onto and never let go of a theory about the linkage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to every other conflict in the Middle East. That theory constitutes "stinkin' thinkin'." And Martin Kramer's post, as a corrective, offers a fine dose of intellectual hygiene.

Alas, it's a corrective that not all of the parties mentioned above, who so strongly need it, will either see as being in their interest or bother taking it to heart.

Which is too bad.

Walter Reich is a member of MESH.

2. Aaron David Miller on 13 Jun 2008 at 3:17 pm2

The issue isn't linkage. From an American perspective the issue is what are American interests and how best to protect them. Right now and certainly into the next administration, if I had to rank in order what matters most to America in this divided, dysfunctional and rage-driven region, my list would be:

(1) preventing another attack on the continental United States (if you can't protect your homeland, you don't need a foreign policy);

(2) extricating the United States from the trillion-dollar social science experiment called Iraq in a way that protects our interests and credibility;

(3) figuring out how to deal with Iran –– a country right now that sits at the nexus of the things we do care about in this region: nuclear proliferation; Iraq; and the Arab-Israeli issue;

(4) finally, treating the sixty-year headache called the Arab-Israeli issue, for which there is no conflict-ending solution right now.

We need to pursue all of these in a way that's smart and tough, in an effort to repair our image. We have stumbled for eight years under Bill Clinton over how to help make peace; and stumbled galactically for the past eight years under George W. Bush over how to make war. We are a great power in name only; we're neither liked, feared nor respected in a region increasingly critical to our national security. We need a serious strategy that incorporates the four noted above. All are long movies, but we need to find a serious approach for dealing with them.

Aaron David Miller is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and author of A Much Too Promised Land. He served at the Department of State as an adviser to six Secretaries of State.

3. on 14 Jun 2008 at 6:02 pm3 Walter Reich

Aaron David Miller makes some good points in his comment, but only a small part of what he says deals with the fallacious tendency that Martin Kramer identified. That tendency is to claim that every problem in the Middle East –– the "greater" Middle East, which some now define as stretching from Morocco to Pakistan, and others now define, more narrowly, as stretching from Egypt to Iran and emphatically including Iraq –– is linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were somehow solved then all the other problems in the Middle East, however it's defined geographically, would be more easily solved. That's the claim that Martin debunked in his original post.

It's certainly true that such "linkage" isn't the only misconception that needs to be fixed with regard to the Middle East. But it's an important fix. Aaron would be right in responding that "linkage isn't the problem" if Martin did indeed claim that it's the only problem in understanding the strategic situation in the Middle East. But Martin doesn't make that claim. And "linkage" is an endemic problem among academics, journalists and U.S. government officials who deal with the Middle East, which is why I believe that debunking this fallacious idea is an important act of intellectual hygiene.

Walter Reich is a member of MESH.

4. Malik Mufti on 19 Jun 2008 at 3:25 pm4

Reading Martin Kramer's thought-provoking essay brought to mind the archetypal image of my late graduate school professor Nadav Safran, sitting behind his desk with fingers intertwined, explaining how some recent string of regional developments were "all connected." Ever since President Truman's advisers warned him that supporting Israel's establishment would alienate the Arab and Muslim worlds, ever since John Foster Dulles returned from a trip to the Near East complaining that the Arab-Israeli conflict was a "millstone" around our necks as we sought to order the region in line with our geopolitical interests, that linkage has certainly been a truism for American officials and academics alike.

Less thoughtful challengers of this truism set up a straw-man when they argue that defusing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict won't magically solve all the region's other problems –– does anyone serious suggest that it would? The thrust of Kramer's more nuanced argument, as I understand it, is that there is not enough linkage to warrant even the claim that resolving the conflict will have an appreciably positive impact on the region's other disputes. Looked at from the perspective of those other disputes themselves –– Arab-Persian, Sunni-Shi'a, Muslim-Christian, Kurdish-Arab/Turkish/Iranian, etc., etc. –– Kramer is surely right: none of those was caused by the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Looked at from the perspective of the United States, however, Kramer is wrong.

He says, for example, that even though the United States has been blamed for the plight of the Palestinians for decades, its regional popularity "has only plummeted since the Iraq invasion." But does this really suffice to dispel the linkage thesis? Was America's popularity really so high in the Arab and Muslim worlds prior to the Iraq invasion? Didn't that pre-existing alienation have anything to do with U.S. policies toward Israel? In fact, couldn't it plausibly be argued that a major reason for the failure of the United States to sell its vision for Iraq regionally, was precisely that so many people were already predisposed to see it as an attempt to enhance Israel's strategic position? This last observation points to where the linkage really lies –– not in the intrinsic dynamic of the Near East's various disputes, but in the ability of the United States to address those disputes in a manner that advances its own national interests. American foreign policy is the missing link.

Fairly or unfairly, the Near East will continue to be of vital geopolitical importance to the United States for the foreseeable future, and winning the hearts and minds of as many of its inhabitants as possible will therefore remain an important U.S. objective. Fairly or unfairly, Palestine will continue to matter a great deal to Arabs and Muslims in the region and beyond –– indeed, all the more so as globalized media technologies accelerate the homogenization of attitudes around the Muslim world.

Kramer dismisses "sound bites from pollsters and so-called experts on Arab opinion" in this regard. But the opponents of the United States harbor no such doubts, and view Arab and Muslim sentiments about Israel as a gift that keeps on giving. The historical record supports their view. Examples are myriad, but among the most recent and dramatic is the Hezbollah-Israel clash in the summer of 2006, which diverted intensifying American pressure on Syria and Iran and left both regimes in significantly stronger positions.

Neither Assad and Ahmadinejad, nor Kissinger and Brzezinski, err in seeing a linkage between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the success of American endeavors throughout this vital region. Successive U.S. administrations of the last six decades have not been simply misguided or foolish for taking it into account. The linkage will vary in salience, but it is real, and will therefore continue to inform U.S. policy as it always has.

Malik Mufti is a member of MESH.

5. Michael Young on 20 Jun 2008 at 4:31 pm5

If I might disagree with Malik Mufti on one thing. He writes: "Less thoughtful challengers of this truism [of linkage] set up a straw-man when they argue that defusing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict won't magically solve all the region's other problems –– does anyone serious suggest that it would?"

I'm not sure if Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski are "serious" (I think they are, which is often the problem), but I'm afraid that this linear linkage is precisely what many who think about the Middle East, including Carter and Brzezinski, mean when they seek to make a priority of a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Linkage, even "magical" linkage, is in fact not a straw-man to many people, whichever side of the ideological divide they stand on. For example in the Brzezinski piece Martin links to, the former national security advisor draws a direct relation between Iraq and Palestine when he writes: "Without significant progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace, post-occupation Iraq will be both anti-American and anti-Israel."

If such direct linkages are considered legitimate by observers, then it is fair to submit them to the critical analysis that Martin and others do, and that Malik to an extent seeks to avoid by refocusing our attention on how American treatment of the various regional conflicts has affected its own national interests.

Where I agree with Malik is when he asks: "Was America's popularity really so high in the Arab and Muslim worlds prior to the Iraq invasion?" America often seems so obsessed with whether it is liked in the Middle East, that achieving that result has become a vital aim of U.S. foreign policy. Being liked is doubtless important for a state's "soft power," but it should not be the be-all and end-all of American political behavior. Effectiveness is far more important to a state (or "being feared" to use Machiavelli's term), and that was the real problem the Bush administration faced once it got bogged down in Iraq. Suddenly it looked disoriented, inviting scorn, particularly after the high ambitions voiced by the administration prior to the invasion.

But if American popularity was not so high even before Iraq, as Malik affirms, then what amount of interest by Washington in helping resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will ever be enough to "win hearts and minds" in the Arab world? After all, few administrations will ever expend more political capital and time than the Clinton administration did between 1992 and 2000 on the Palestinian-Israeli track, all to no avail. Despite that, Malik admits this effort failed to win the United States very many plaudits in the region.

What disturbs me about the discussion on how America can win Arab hearts and minds is not that it is unimportant; it is just terribly insular, focused entirely on America. Suddenly the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been reduced to a matter of U.S. public relations, even as we ignore the very real structural obstacles to a settlement due to the actions and attitudes of the parties directly involved. That's why I tend to side with skeptics like Martin on linkages. The region is caught up in very different and separate disputes that have structures, a momentum, and a logic of their own.

At the same time, I must say I feel Martin overstates things when he writes "one conflict does not cause another, and its ‘resolution' cannot resolve another." Perhaps he's right when it comes to causes and resolutions, but conflicts can impact on others in less absolute ways. I read Martin's final section in his essay, where he questions whether the myth of linkage will remain so in the future as a sign that he perhaps shares some of my doubts.

Michael Young is a member of MESH.

6. Lee Smith on 24 Jun 2008 at 4:29 pm6

"Was America's popularity really so high in the Arab and Muslim worlds prior to the Iraq invasion? Didn't that pre-existing alienation have anything to do with U.S. policies toward Israel?"

I think the answers are, no and not so much. Malik Mufti notes that Truman's State Department warned him that supporting the establishment of Israel would alienate the Arabs, but the Soviet Union also immediately recognized the establishment of the Jewish state. While the Soviets started arming the Arabs in 1955, the Americans had already been allied with Riyadh for a decade, were close to Amman, were courting Nasser, and in 1958 would step in to protect the Lebanese government. Although the Soviets provided Israel with weapons in 1948 through the Czechs, the United States did not start to arm Israel in earnest until after the 1967 war, during which Nasser nonetheless claimed that U.S. pilots had flown sorties (even though it was the French who sold Israel Mirage fighter jets) –– a fabrication whose effectiveness he could count on, since he as much as anyone had seen to it that the Americans were already hated in the region long before 1967. From Nasser to Nasrallah, the language of anti-Americanism has changed little in the last half century.

Thus the origins of anti-Americanism in the Muslim Middle East are probably dated more accurately by Suez, when, after handing Nasser his only foreign policy success in a career of adventurist disasters, Eisenhower wondered why the Arabs hated the United States. Of course, after helping to ruin the French and the British position in the region, the United States was the only Western power left to hate. And so why the United States is hated has maybe a little to do with Israel, a little to do with American support for certain Arab regimes, and a lot to do with the fact that it is the far enemy ‘other' that helps define Arabism.

Anti-Americanism issues from the same social, political and cultural milieu that gave rise to the idea of linkage: Arab nationalism. Mufti writes that "linkage is real," but perhaps it is more accurate to say that many people believe it is real. Whether it is or not in fact, the regimes used it to consolidate domestic support (as it aided oppositionists in the same fashion), while it allowed them to project power in the region. That U.S. policymakers catered to the demands of Arab regimes from the Persian Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea is partly attributable to clientitis, but is mostly a function of American regional interests, like securing energy resources, and, up until the 1990s, fighting the Cold War.

Perhaps this helps explain why, as Michael Young rightly observes, Washington is so obsessed with being loved in the region: It is not just narcissism, but schizophrenia insofar as the Americans for half a century have understood their regional interests through an ideological prism that also held them to be the enemy of the Arabs. Both linkage and anti-Americanism issue from Arab nationalism, with Palestine and anti-Americanism sealing the Arab nationalist covenant that ostensibly binds the Arabs together while it obscures the other, deeper, inter-regional conflicts that have defined the Middle East for over a thousand years.

The invasion of Iraq changed the balance of power in the Middle East and thus also the nature of American interests there. Since Iraq has exposed some of the other regional conflicts, described by Martin Kramer above, it is no longer makes sense for the United States to operate in accordance with a view of the region that puts Palestine first.

Martin has shown elsewhere that the advantage of the Arab-Israeli peace process was to bolster the Pax Americana by compelling the Arabs to petition Washington if they wanted any concessions from Israel. But it is now difficult to imagine an Israeli government capable of giving up anything at this point, especially since it would be to the immediate benefit of Iran and its regional assets, which are also U.S. rivals or enemies. However, there are plenty of other points of conflict where the United States might strengthen its hand by exacting concessions from its allies –– of course, after forcing supplicants to their knees. Indeed, given the amount of conflict in the region, and the number of players who have good reason to be scared of their neighbors, it is possible to argue that the American position as power-broker, gate-keeper, unmoved mover, etc., has never been stronger. Unfortunately, the Bush administration's Annapolis process shows that Washington does not yet understand what it has wrought in the region, some of it all to the good.

Lee Smith is a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute.

Martin Kramer is Adelson Institute Senior Fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, the Wexler-Fromer Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Olin Institute Senior Fellow at Harvard University.

This article was published Jun 12th, 2008 by the Olin Institute's Middle East Strategy at Harvard (MESH) Martin Kramer presented a version of this post in the Director's Series at Harvard's Center for Middle Eastern Studies on October 24, 2007. It is archived at Kramer's website at


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