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Date posted: March 23, 2013
By Rami G. Khouri

Following U.S. policy in the Middle East is a dizzying endeavor, as I was reminded this week while monitoring President Barack Obamaís visit to the region, the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the start of the Anglo-American invasion and war in Iraq, and the dynamics around Iranís nuclear work. This is a dizzying exercise because one is constantly thrown back and forth between two contradictory extremes that capture the best and worst of that arena where American values and policy cohabit uneasily. The fundamental tension is between, on the one hand, the ringing, repeated assertion of the democratic spirit that defines the U.S. and its self-appointed role as the purveyor of democracy and the rule of law for others around the world; and on the other hand, the United Statesí refusal to apply those values to many of its own foreign-policy decisions.

Obamaís visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan has been a low-key affair, with perfunctory speeches that repeat established positions and do not break any new policy ground. I thought the most noteworthy aspect of Obamaís visit was the new emotional zing in his articulation of the need to end Israelís occupation and settlements, and instead promote justice and statehood for the Palestinians, a position he expressed in a speech to young Israelis in Jerusalem. He correctly noted that Israel can only enjoy solid peace and security once the Palestinians enjoy freedom, sovereignty and democracy.

Obama should be praised for clearly taking this message to the Israeli public, but one also wonders how much we should value rhetoric when the actions of the speaker fall short of the message in his words. Obama and the U.S. represent the single greatest accumulation of power in the hands of a single country and leadership in history. That power includes moral, economic, military, diplomatic and cultural dimensions, comprising numerous instruments that Obama could use to make it clear the U.S. sees justice and sovereign statehood for the Palestinians as real strategic assets for the U.S. and Israel, as well as for everyone else in the region.

Obama could easily initiate various measures Ė substantive and symbolic, unilateral or multilateral Ė to put his policy where his mouth is, and to use Washingtonís substantial leadership abilities to bring the many other regional actors on board to work together for a lasting and fair peace. The United Statesí acquiescing in the unstable status quo and relying on laudatory and deeply principled rhetoric as a primary policy tool for asserting Israeli and Palestinian rights contrasts sharply with its response to the Iran and Iraq issues.

Washington has taken numerous initiatives in the past decade to pressure, sanction and threaten Iran over its nuclear energy activities, repeatedly saying that war is always the last resort option. It has marshaled impressive global coalitions and used all available tools Ė military threats, economic sanctions, rhetorical appeals, diplomatic coercion, and negotiations Ė to push for its stated goals. In doing so, however, it has conveniently disregarded the stubborn reality that its demands on Iran are all based on heartfelt but totally unsubstantiated, mostly American-Israeli-European accusations, suspicions, concerns, fears and expectations of possible eventualities in Iranian nuclear behavior.

So on the one hand the U.S. totally disregards its own foundational democratic principles of obeying the rule of law (in this case the global rules for Iranian peaceful and internationally monitored nuclear energy production). On the other hand the U.S. and its allies trash another foundational democratic principle by assuming Iran is guilty and must be sanctioned and threatened before it has had a chance to be engaged or prove its innocence.

On this 10th anniversary of the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, the American people and government still broadly refuse to implement perhaps the single most significant and operational element in the kind of democracy the U.S. says it wants to promote around the world: accountability of public officials according to the rule of law. The massive destructive consequences of the American-led Iraq war and occupation will reverberate around the region for many more years, yet very few voices are raised in the U.S. about whether anyone should be held accountable for all this.

A few Americans, including former officials like George W. Bushís national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, writing in the Washington Post, admit the war was long and costly, but they conclude it was all worth it. Accountability is nowhere to be seen today on the American horizons of governance and power, but it continues to drive U.S. demands for answers from Iran or Arab parties. No wonder most people around the world, especially in the Middle East, find interacting with Americans both exhilarating and dizzying.

Read More ...

By: Phoebe Greenwood
Date: 27/05/2013
By: Jillian Kestler-D'Amours
Date: 27/05/2013
By: Sam Bahour
Date: 27/05/2013

Source: The Daily Star
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