What Bush's reelection meant for the Middle East
By Ehsan Ahrari
Global Beat Syndicate
NORFOLK, Va--In the eyes of many in the Middle East and Arab world, President George W. Bush's reelection was a victory of the rhetoric of fear-mongering; a victory for a policy of hubris manifest in the occupation of Iraq in the name of transforming that country--and by extension--transforming the rest of the Muslim Middle East into America's image, no matter what the cost in blood and treasure.
It is also seen as a national endorsement for the view that the United States takes the use of military force for granted as the key instrument in the global war on terrorism. By the same token, Kerry's defeat is widely blamed on his inability to portray himself as a better alternative over what Bush has stood for during the past four years.
The election is history, so the key question now focuses on what U.S. policies will be for the next four years toward that most troublesome of areas, the Middle East, which promises to be even more bloody and turbulent in the near future. It is a region where we will be heavily involved, if for no other reason, than to try to win Bush's war on terrorism.
Middle Easterners were struck by the double-whammy of difficult news: Bush's reelection and the coma of Yasser Arafat--both developments required considerable rethinking and reflection about the future. At present, there is a palpable feeling of depression and desolation, seemingly with no future hope, in the so-called "Arab streets." At this writing, people in the region also see one more tragedy in the making in Falluja, where they fear even greater casualties, just a week after news in the British medical publication, Lancet, that the civilian death toll in Iraq is already hovering around 100,000.
The rationale underlying the attack on Falluja is to "pacify" it, so that those who survive may exercise their "free choice" by voting for Iyad Allawi, prime minister of the soon-to-be defunct interim Iraqi government, and a man who wants to become the lasting Iraqi face of the American occupation of his country. Most likely, however, the results will be similar to the operation in Samarra a few weeks past, where the insurgents knew better than to fight the U.S. military head on. They absorb minimal casualties and and slipped away to resume their hit-and-run tactics once our troops left the area. They are likely to do the same in Falluja.
The still unknown part of the Iraqi saga is what kind of a government the citizens of that country will chose in January, assuming a respectable semblance of election is held.
Important also is the question as to who will now head the Palestinian government. The long-held desire of Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon--to make Yasser Arafat irrelevant to the negotiating process--is being fulfilled with the seemingly certain death of the father of the Palestinian nation. But there is not likely to be any cowing of the Palestinians with leadership change, even though Palestinians have had no powerful interlocutor since the implosion of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
The U.S.-Iran tug-and-pull over the nuclear issue will continue, with improved chances that Iran would try to retain its option of enriching uranium; but no one in Tehran wants to give George Bush any reason to consider the option of "regime change."
With Syria, it will be interesting to see whether Mr. Bush pushes for the withdrawal of Syrian occupation forces from Lebanon, or works behind the scenes for compromise: Syrian support for continued U.S. occupation of Iraq in exchange for Washington's blind eye about Syria's sustained occupation of Lebanon. No Arab government would object to such a potential U.S.-Syrian compromise involving Iraq.
But who will object to the heightened U.S. hegemony in the Middle East for the next four years? The immediate actors will be the Iraqi insurgents, Islamists, Baathist, and especially al-Qaida, which is currently fighting the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. So, in all likelihood, war on terrorism will continue to drive America's presence in the Middle East for next four years.
Right now in Washington, it is not at all clear whether this war will be fought by relying primarily on the military as the primary instrument of national power, or other whether diplomacy, information and economic assistance will also be extensively used. Many in the Middle East are hoping the second Bush administration will be as determined to establish a positive legacy as the Bush team was in first term to instead use military force to tackle Middle Eastern terrorism. Otherwise, Mr. Bush's war on terrorism promises to be bloody, with little prospects of even Pyrrhic victory.