Accessibility links

Fall Out From the Middle East Crisis - 2002-04-20


The longer the Middle East conflict lasts, say observers, the greater its impact on other parts of the world. Some analysts' warnings of harmful eruptions resulting from the crisis.

The El Ghriba synagogue in Tunisia is a focal point for Jews of North Africa. On April 11, an explosion tore through it, killing three German tourists.

The incident remains under investigation, but columnist Georgie Anne Geyer says it is an ominous sign of exploding Muslim anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She writes that Tunisia is a moderate, tolerant Arab country with respect for other faiths. The apparent bombing, she writes, is a wake-up call to the Bush administration to get the Middle East violence under control.

Washington seems to view the conflict in isolation, says John Voll of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. Rising Muslim anger is not taken into account. "The American policy makers have tended to ignore those expressions of discontent when they have not been in terms of major demonstrations and violence," he says. "And I think this represents the bursting out of the impatience of a very substantial portion of the Muslims of the world."

Professor Voll finds the anti-American protests in normally calm Bahrain especially alarming. He says it means moderate Arab opinion is turning against the United States with unpredictable consequences. "We can expect a significant increase in the level of harassment of Americans, whoever they are, wherever they are in the Muslim world. What you see with Bahrain is that the threat to our military facility is not nearly as important as the real problem this sets for the significant progress in democratization that the ruler of Bahrain had initiated not long ago," he says.

Let's not overreact, cautions Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New Century in Washington. He says anxious cables are pouring in from U.S. embassies in Arab countries, but those who are closest to the protests are not necessarily the best policy guides. "I think we have overstated the problem with the Arab world. I think when push comes to shove, they will not fall on their swords over the Palestinian issue," he says. "Nevertheless, there would be a lot of short term anger and there would be a lot of short term discomfort with the U.S. position in the Middle East."

In his speech to the Virginia Military Institute, President Bush once again said he is determined to confront the axis of evil, meaning Iran, Iraq and North Korea. He accused them of mad ambitions and ties to terrorist groups.

But Arab outrage may derail U.S. plans for a military attack on Iraq, says Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel. "If you are looking at it from the perspective of phase two of the war on terror, the Arab League summit was a huge setback for George Bush. The embrace by Crown Prince Abdullah of the vice president of Iraq was a very bad signal about the problems the administration faces in prosecuting phase two because unlike, Afghanistan, we do need Arab support," he says.

Some policy makers say the United States can proceed without this support.

General William Odum says the best way to contain the eruptions in the Middle East is to develop a coherent strategy. That depends on the president knowing what he wants and acting on it.

General Odum recalls his experience in the White House when President Jimmy Carter resolved on a firm policy. He communicated his desires to his subordinates who became very supportive. "President Carter took a lot of risks in pressing the Camp David accords, and he was roundly condemned by a lot of groups in the United States, Jewish groups and non-Jewish groups who were very pro-Israel on territory," he says. "But he persevered, and he got a settlement. So I think if a President wants to do that, he can do it, but he will pay some political price in the U.S.."

General Odum says a much higher price may eventually be paid for not persevering in a coherent policy for the Middle East.

XS
SM
MD
LG