By Sami Khiyami, the Syrian ambassador in London (THE GUARDIAN, 13/03/07):
America’s strategy in the Middle East, devised by Washington’s hawks – the ultra nationalists, neocons and Christian Zionists – smells of oil and domination. It has been based on two objectives. First, US global dominance must shape further globalisation; while the present rules of the world economy left open opportunities for rising stars like Russia, China and India, it was clear to some Washington extremists that, in addition to technology, the US would need to control the world’s oil. The second is to give paramount importance to Israel while sidelining the interests of the Arabs.
Such objectives can only be achieved if the coherence of Middle Eastern societies is undermined. So the aim is not confined to toppling regimes, but extends to questioning the foundations of nation states. A policy has been designed to encourage sectarianism, ethnic divides, regional xenophobia, and the eventual Balkanisation of the Arab Middle East. Sadly, the outcome may be the partition of several states, producing smaller entities, regarded as easier to manage and dominate.
It was necessary for the US administration to sugarcoat its policy with promises of freedom and democracy, long awaited in the region. The hawks needed an excuse to implement their plan, and the tragic attacks of 9/11 provided it. Ironically, US retaliation seems to have faded as a priority, with those responsible enjoying impunity while the Iraqi people continue to pay the price.
But the US has slipped into a ruthless Iraqi swamp. President Bush has now come up with a new initiative. Apparently disregarding the recent Baker-Hamilton report, it divides the Middle East into two categories: the so-called moderate states abiding by American rules, and the extremist “renegade” states. It also seeks to escalate tension with Iran in preparation for a possible all-out confrontation. And it is about increasing the US military presence in Iraq in the short to medium term.
The initiative appears to be a last attempt to maintain exclusive control over Iraq. It is not unreasonable to think that this could lead to the tearing apart of the country. To move forward, two questions need to be addressed: is America’s final goal domination, partition or an honourable exit? And why are al-Qaida terrorists and other death squads attacking innocent civilians exclusively, whereas legitimate resistance forces are restricting their operations to military targets?
The weekend conference in Baghdad over the future of Iraq, attended by the US, Syria and Iran, could be a prelude to more fruitful negotiations. Syria was able to impress upon the US that it can’t afford to be as biased in dealing with highly sensitive conflicts. The US must help create a climate of understanding between the west and the Arabs. A stable, secular and prosperous Middle East is the best way to undermine terrorism.
Syria also made clear that it will spare no effort to safeguard the integrity of Iraq, based on these steps: a timetable for the evacuation of foreign forces without causing a security vacuum; recall units of the Iraqi army whose loyalty is towards a unified Iraq; review the Iraqi constitution to strengthen the central authority; reverse the banning of the Ba’ath party; a national reconciliation conference engaging the countries of the region; a subsequent international conference to sponsor reconstruction.
Any collapse of Iraq would threaten the coherence of societies in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon and the whole Gulf region. The nations ruling the world need to be wiser, fairer and more determined than in the past to find both a solution to the Iraqi conflict and also the Arab-Israeli conflict.