Saturday, January 6, 2007

New Year Reflections

January 6, 2006

Ramzy Baroud

2006 was yet another year of tribulations in the ever tumultuous Middle East. It defied all early expectations that 2005 would be the worst for many years to follow. It ended on a sad note in Palestine, and left wide open the chance for many appalling possibilities that stretch from Baghdad, to Lebanon, to Mogadishu, and elsewhere.

Like January 2005, January 2006 brought about momentous elections, the former in Iraq, and the latter in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; both occasions, which had the potential of becoming icons of democratic experiences, led to unmitigated disasters, exposing the American democracy charade for what it truly was, a farce, pure and simple.

The 120 Iraqi parties that fielded candidates in the country’s 2005 first nationwide elections since the toppling of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, revealed the country’s sectarian divisions; expectedly, Iraq’s Sunni population boycotted the elections, fearing that their participation was a rubber stamp in a highly suspicious US experiment aimed at dividing the country by stripping it of any national cohesion, thus smoothing the progress of a more manageable occupation. Sadly, many Iraqis allowed the US plan to fester civil strife bordering on civil war, which left countless innocents dead or maimed; The outcome of those divisions never expressed itself as clearly as it did in 2006, which left even the most optimistic amongst us anticipate nothing less than a full-fledged civil war morphing out of the current chaos.

Meanwhile, most Americans, as articulated in the Congressional elections of November 2006, expressed resentment for their country’s war in Iraq like never before on any foreign policy issue. Though their rejection of the Republican Party’s candidates was an illustration of their refusal of the Bush Administration staying the course mantra, the election brought back a divided Democratic Party that is equally supportive of the war, but wishes to convey its position in so clever a way so as to appear in disagreement of Bush’s war management style, but without offering any substantial policy shift. The elections will also likely position Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona at the helm of Presidential candidates to follow the current lame duck president. Clinton is a staunch pro-war and pro-Israel savvy politician, and the latter wants to see a dramatic increase in the number of American troops in Iraq, as a way out of the quagmire. Using his constant opposition of President Bush’s foreign policies, McCain is unlikely to pay the price of Bush’s past failures, which, to varying degrees have damaged the credibility of most Republican politicians.

Like Iraq in the passing year, Palestinians embarked on 2006 on a hopeful note. Occupied and facing the most intense Israeli state terror regime, they delivered an awesome blow to those who contended that Palestinians were morally inferior to Israel for failing to espouse democratic governance. Though no occupied nation should be subjected to such cruel judgement, Palestinians prevailed, voting in what was described by former US President Jimmy Carter as the 'most transparent’ and democratic elections in that region in many years. The outcome of the vote was equally spectacular, for it defied all expectations by sidelining the ruling elite – despite generous financial and political backing from the US, of which they were and are still inundated - and bringing to power a political movement, Hamas, who despite it militant reputation, was clearly more in tune with the aspirations of Palestinian voters.

Soon after, Hamas found itself utterly isolated, and Palestinians were subjected to cruel collective punishment for their democratic choice, all with the backing and support of the US, Israel and President Mahmoud Abbas.

The year 2006 has closed with the dreadful shadow of civil war hovering over Gaza closer than ever before, as 17 people were killed and many more wounded in past weeks, following an assassination attempt orchestrated by some Fatah faction against Palestinian Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh. Unconditional US support of Abbas is strengthening the latter’s position, who has declared, in defiance of all democratic principles, his intent on dismantling the Palestinian Parliament and call for early elections.

Lebanon didn’t fair much better in 2006, as a 34-day war, which was clearly premeditated at least a year in advance, brought the country’s thriving economy into a total state of paralysis. The war, which followed Hizbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers at the Lebanon border wreaked havoc in southern Lebanon, but destroyed much of the civilian infrastructure throughout the country as well, as far as its northern border with Syria. The July-August Israeli assault on Lebanon killed over 1200 Lebanese civilians and an unspecified number of Hizbollah fighters; Hizbollah, which not only managed to shock Israel, but the world with its military preparedness and steadfastness, fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, killing 157 Israelis, mostly soldiers. As many members of the international community demanded an immediate end to the fighting, the US cheered Israel on, upholding its tired slogan of Israel’s 'right to defend itself’; the delay in ending the war however, wrought disaster on America’s ongoing plan to coerce Iran – the main backer of Hizbollah - into abandoning its nuclear program, giving Tehran instead a stronger bargaining position as it was indicated in the Baker-Hamilton report, a culmination of incessant deliberation and research by the Iraq Study Group (ISG). The report recommended that the US must engage Iran and Syria to escape its terrible fate in Iraq.

The ISG which was formulated at the behest and urging of the US Congress to decipher and thus conceive a new American outlook on the 'deteriorating’ situation in Iraq presented its recommendations to President Bush in December. Though the report had the courage to address the Iraq fiasco in the most honest depiction possible, and also the audacity to openly link the Iraq war to the absence of peace in Palestine, it failed to set a clear course of action out of Iraq and into a new era of realistic, thoughtful and inclusive foreign policy in the Middle East, denying 2006 that jolt of hope needed to offset some of its dreadful disappointments.

With Iraq left with no positive scenarios, hopes for a lasting Palestinian democratic experience turning into daring predictions of a civil war, coupled with bloody Israeli onslaughts against Gaza and the West Bank, Lebanon still bleeding under the outcomes of war and its own political mayhem, Bush’s 'vision’ for a democratic Middle East of 2005 has enlivened factionalism, sectarianism and the prospect for a regional civil war in 2006; this is yet another reckless American-Israeli experiment that if fully actualized, shall harvest untold political instability, debase America’s reputation even further and expand the list of innocent victims who have fallen as profusely as ever in this passing year.

One is only left with the hope that 2007 may bring some comfort and a moment of peace to the poor, the dispossessed and the resilient masses all around the world, who cannot afford to surrender their genuine hope, humble prayers, and whatever price necessary to achieve peace and freedom for themselves, for all of us.

Ramzy Baroud’s latest book is The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press) is available at and also from the University of Michigan Press.

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