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Friday, February 2, 2007

Should America follow the linkage theory?

Posted: February 02, 2007
Should America follow the linkage theory?
For a long time it was believed that solving the Arab-Israeli conflict would help bring stability to the Middle East - but is it really so?
No, says Amir Taheri, formerly the executive editor of Kayhan, Iran's largest daily newspaper and a well known columnist, in his recent Commentary article: "Far from being the root cause of instability and war in the wider Middle East, one could argue that the Arab-Israeli conflict is rather peripheral, and that the region's deeper and much more intractable problems lie elsewhere. And one would be right. In the last years we have all become acquainted with televised images of the brutal carnage that Shiites and Sunni are capable of inflicting on each other in Iraq, the ghastly work of Baathist death squads, the steady rhythm of political assassinations, and the laying waste of civilian life. And that is just within one country. For our purposes here, however, it may be more instructive to look at the Middle East at the regional level, and to examine in particular the huge number of inter-state conflicts that have bedeviled this area in the modern era - conflicts that have nothing whatsoever to do with the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians."
The question of linkage between Middle East stability and solving this conflict returned to the headlines following two events.
The first: remarks made by then-counselor to the Secretary of State Philip Zelikow a couple of months ago. "For the Arab moderates and for the Europeans, some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is just a sine qua non for their ability to cooperate actively with the United States on a lot of other things that we care about. We can rail against that belief; we can find it completely justifiable, but it's fact. That means an active policy on the Arab-Israeli dispute is an essential ingredient to forging a coalition that deals with the most dangerous problems."
The second: The Baker-Hamilton report, asserting that "the United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict."
But like Taheri, many experts dispute this so-called linkage theory. In this Friday's Forward, Nathan Guttman is quoting several experts who advised the Baker-Hamilton group, saying they were "shocked that the Israeli-Palestinian issue was included in the final report." Many staff members, he writes, "found the language of the final report disturbing, especially in the direct linkage it made between resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and reaching stability in Iraq."
However, Baker defended his decision Tuesday in a hearing on the Hill, telling the Senators that "It is difficult to establish regional stability in the Middle East without addressing the Arab-Israeli issue. We want other countries, especially the Sunni Arab countries, to help us. When we go to talk to them about Iraq, they will want to talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict." This, in essence, is the same argument Zelikow made: you need to tackle this issue if you want cooperation from Arab countries on other issues.
So is there a linkage or isn't there? I guess it depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is. Rob Satloff of the Washington Institute wrote recently (I quoted this article in the past) that "the evidence is piling up: The linkages simply don't exist." But he is talking about a "real" linkage - the notion that solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem will somehow improve the situation in Iraq, or that neglecting the peace process might bring about a war. Dennis Ross, former peace maker for both the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration made the same argument writing that "terror and those who carry it out are going to be a threat whether or not peace becomes possible again between Palestinians and Israelis."
yesterday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack answered a question about the Arab-Israeli conflict maneuvering between an official rejection of the linkage - but at the same time affirming that the Arab position may be different: "Trying to make progress on resolving the dispute between the Israelis and the Palestinians is something in its own right that we have an interest in, that other states in the region have an interest in."
Thus, one has more difficulties arguing with Baker when he says that that the Arab countries keep telling him - or the Bush administration - that they see this conflict as central to Middle East stability. In that sense, there is, indeed, a linkage. The man made linkage of Arab rulers.
Thus, a question arises: should America buy the Arab (and maybe European) linkage?
It's not an easy question to answer as the U.S. has many interests in the region and should carefully consider them all. But here's another question with which the first one can be answered: Do you think these Arab leaders - linking the Israeli-Palestinian issue to the other issues - are serious? Do they mean business? Will they really help solving the other problems if this one condition is followed?
Teheri, for one, is not such a believer: "The notion that all of these problems can be waved away by "solving" the Arab-Israeli conflict is thus at best a delusion," he writes. Arab leaders are pushing America to deal with Israel first, because they want the attention away from the real problems. It's an excuse, not a reason. And excuses are what people make when they want to fool you - not when they want to help.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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