Freeze-Out of the Arabists | The Nation


Freeze-Out of the Arabists

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The Arabists are used to watching from the sidelines as events unfold. Under Richard Nixon, the United States cemented its pro-Israel bias despite State Department warnings that it would fuel growing anti-Americanism in the region. Their frustration grew during the Middle East peace process of the 1990s, which became a policy colossus that smothered Washington's other interests in the region.

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Stephen Glain
Stephen Glain is a freelance journalist and author based in Paris. The paperback edition of his second book, State vs....

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On the eve of the presidential runoff, a once-molten political landscape has hardened into a handful of rival camps.

Seemingly within reach of unprecedented power in a post-Mubarak Egypt, the group faces the prospect of implosion.

The Arabists' nemeses are familiar to anyone concerned about the integrity and direction of US foreign policy: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Bill Luti, National Security Council senior director Elliott Abrams, former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle--all of whom have since the Reagan years counseled a get-tough approach to the Arabs and unconditional support for Israel that explicitly excludes input from the State Department.

Officially, the State Department disputes that there is any tension between the Near East desk on one side and the White House and Pentagon on the other. Adam Ereli, the department's deputy spokesman, said it would be "splitting hairs" to suggest Iraq would be more stable today had the Future of Iraq Project's report been given a serious hearing.

Arabists acknowledge that the Pentagon and White House have been belatedly reaching out to the same diplomats they so recently undermined. With Washington isolated diplomatically, US troops mired in Iraq and the November presidential election around the corner, Bush aides have been frantically plundering the Near Eastern desk for advice, with some positive results. At the State Department's urging, Iraq's interim Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, was given the authority to divert reconstruction funds away from large contracts tendered to big US firms and toward smaller projects to boost employment (that authority has been seriously impaired, however, by the US government's decision to allocate $3.5 billion in reconstruction funds to training and equipping Iraqi police and other security forces, protecting oil supplies and preparing for the January elections). Iraq's minority Sunnis now have a larger voice in the interim government after months of ill-advised Pentagon backing of Ahmad Chalabi's Shiite-dominated factions. Yet Arabists harbor few illusions about the future. A second Bush Administration would mean another four-year quarantine for the Arabists, at least on the policy-making level.

True, the State Department is the primary US representative in newly "sovereign" Iraq. But just as Bush aides neglected postwar Afghanistan to focus on its real priority--Iraq--they now seem to be resetting their sights on the gold ring: Iran. Widely overlooked in the investigation of alleged Pentagon espionage involving Israel is that it reportedly revolved around a presidential directive that prescribes a tougher posture toward Iran. The Bush Administration's call for a Security Council resolution to short-circuit Tehran's nuclear ambitions looks ominously like the force majeure it triggered for regime change in Iraq.

Paul Hughes, a US Army colonel, remembers a remark made by senior Pentagon official Harold Rhode, prominent among the neocon faithful, as the two men were on a flight to Kuwait just before the US invasion of Iraq. The battle for Iraq, Rhode de-clared to Hughes and a detail of British officials, was the first step in the battle for Tehran. "We all exchanged glances and rolled our eyes," said Hughes. "The Brits couldn't believe it." Rhode denied through a spokesman he has ever made such a remark, though State Department and Pentagon officials say the neocons have made it clear they would target Iran in a second Bush term--particularly if Wolfowitz or Condoleezza Rice runs Foggy Bottom.

The Arabists' biggest fear is that a re-elected Bush would not call for the customary resignation of his senior-level policy-makers, which would allow them to remain in government without having to go through the Congressional confirmation process some of them would not survive. That, say officers on the Near Eastern desk, would all but extinguish the last line of official dissent against the Administration and its ruinous agenda for the Middle East.

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