A Year of Tragic Defiance
I admit that I find myself struggling to find a way or a phrase to summarize the sorry state of affairs in the Middle East in 2006; they seem to defy not only logic but the instinct to survive. How do you describe a region that has gone mad, setting itself on a self-destructive path and racing headlong toward the precipice? How, when, and by whom can this madness be stopped, where can we begin, and what is to be done?
We can seek comfort by accepting that the Middle East has its own logic and that we simply do not understand the peculiar forms of the social, religious, and political combustion now occurring there. One thing is clear, however, the blind arrogance and self-absorbed righteousness of the policymakers has brought the region face-to-face with the abyss. From the absurd to the sublime, there is no shortage of contradictory policies that have all led to the same place: The use of human beings as pawns or shields in a deadly and ultimately futile game. Leaders have lost direction, demagogues have seized the stage, the clergy has betrayed its tenets, and criminal bullies are having their way. Death is glorified, hope is dashed, and the masses are despairing, wondering what in the name of God has engulfed them and why.
In Lebanon, we see shameless audacity reach new heights. Hezbollah's brazen summer attack against Israel brings ruin to the Lebanese people, including a tragic loss of many innocent lives, yet Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Nasrallah, Iran's puppet, becomes a hero in the eyes of so many Arabs inside and outside Lebanon, thirsty for even a glimmer of self-salvation, however costly and illusionary. What a sad commentary and one that is becoming even sadder as Nasrallah is poised to topple the nascent Lebanese democratic government, thereby edging the country closer to another disastrous civil war. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush's refusal to engage Syria has done nothing but further aggravate the overall volatile environment in the region. Syria still has heavy stakes in Lebanon and in Iraq and seeks to regain the Golan Heights. Feeling marginalized, Syria plays the role of a spoiler or helper depending on what best serves its national interests.
For the Palestinians, the year is marked by a tragic loss of perspective. Sickened by pervasive corruption and saddled by the utter ineptitude of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, the people elected Hamas to deal with their plight only to realize that worse was yet to come. The Palestinian treasury is bankrupted, violence is rampant, and anarchy is the order of the day. Hamas' leaders still cling to their pipe-dream of destroying Israel instead of seeking a national unity of purpose. It does not matter that the Palestinian community is disintegrating; clinging to a blind faith that lost its relevance on the day of Israel's creation; a tragic reality for the Palestinian people that Hamas remains unwilling to accept the reality that Israel is here to stay.
In Israel, this is the year when political incompetence becomes a virtue and paralysis is invited in. The newly formed political party Kadima that came to power under Olmert's leadership quickly finds itself on the defensive following the Lebanon debacle. Although withdrawal from much of the West Bank, unilaterally or through negotiations, is the party's principle tenet, no withdrawal is currently contemplated. Instead, violence between Israel and the Palestinians escalates, especially following the abduction of the Israeli soldier Shalit. Meanwhile, the occupation continues to dehumanize both sides, with no new initiative or prospects for any major breakthrough in the offing to end this consuming conflict.
In Iraq, a failed policy brings the country to its knees. Both the insurgency and the sectarian killing reach new levels, coupled with an insatiable thirst for blind revenge and mindless retribution. There is no military solution and repeated failure of the Bush administration to change course finally plunges the country into civil war claiming the lives of thousands each month, and there seems to be no face-saving way out. Clinging to a disjointed and weak coalition government will simply make the situation worse. The administration's stubborn refusal to provide the Sunnis an opportunity for self-rule and its failure to defang the Shiite militias will ultimately culminate in the country's disintegration. Moreover, the bloody conflict between Shiites and Sunnis is bound to spill over far beyond Iraq's borders, with ominous global implications.
For Iran it is a beautiful year filled with fruitful defiance, from which Tehran emerges as the only real regional winner. The Iraq war offers an historic chance to pursue Persian aspirations for regional hegemony, and the clergy is hard at work to master the nuclear weapon technology to consolidate Iran's regional dominance. What a feat for a nation subject so long to U.S. sanctions and threats of regime change to nevertheless emerge as a regional power that not only its neighbors but America, must reckon with. While continuing to support terrorists and extremist Islamic groups in undermining American efforts, Tehran wins handedly its brinkmanship game with the United States, and the administration is left with very little it can do to foil Iranian ambitions.
The Middle East on the whole is up in arms about these events; they look to the United States for answers, only to realize that the administration remains mired in a deadly war, having lost its bearings and the moral compass to lead.