The following is a translation from a recent Arabic political analysis Q&A.
Question: It has been observed in the aftermath of the Democratic Party’s victory in the mid-term elections to the US Congress (Senate and the House of Representative), there is an apparent shift in the style of them addressing the Middle East Conflict concerning Palestine, as well as towards Iraq. This was marked during the visit of Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives visit to the region. It is also evident from the stand taken by the Democrats on the funding of the Iraq war. Does all this mean that a definite shift has taken place in the US policy for the region?
Countries like the US have an institutionalised policy-making apparatus in place and they do not indulge in ad-hoc, off-hand and short-term policy making. Their policies, especially the broader policies and fundamental frame works are adopted after exhaustive studies and due contemplation, therefore, though the men in political parties may change, the basic policy remains the same, even if they may differ in the ways to implement them.
This is why Pelosi clarified in her statement at the end of her visit to Damascus on 4th April, 2007 saying: “President Bush and the delegation are not divided on the issue of the matters we discussed (in Syria).” Just before this in her statements in Beirut on 1st April, she had linked her visit to the US national security, she had said: “We shall explore ways to make the world a safer place and we will fight terrorism.”
During her visit to the region covering the entity of the Jews’, the West bank, Lebanon and Syria, her statement did not indicate any shift in the US view of the region, following is an account of her tour:
On 1st April, 2001 during her visit to the occupied Palestine in the West bank, she called upon the Arab countries to recognise the Jews’ state, renounce violence and terrorism, release of the Jew prisoners and to negotiate with the Jews’ state for a small state on part of the lands occupied in 1967 C.E etc. She praised the proposal put forward by Olmert in a press conference on 1st April, the same day Pelosi traveled to the region, wherein he expressed his willingness to participate in an Arab-Israeli summit on the Arab Peace Initiative. This was also echoed by the US State Department on 3rd April, 2007 which called the Olmert initiative as “Positive Response”. Certainly Pelosi was aware that the Bush administration has been backing the Arab Peace Initiative. She was also aware that it was the Bush administration that set up their brothers Fatah and Hamas in power to agree to the Arab Peace Initiative just as the Arab rulers had done in order that the solutions to the Palestinian and the Syrian problems are found simultaneously. Since earlier it was only one of the power centres in Palestine (Fatah) that had agreed to the initiative while Hamas had remained opposed to it, but now that both have agreed, progress on the Palestinian issue can be made simultaneously with the Syrian issue. This has been America’s old method in finding a solution and it was why the Arab League constituted a committee to sell the initiative to the Jews state as well as the rest of the world.
The talks are indeed under way between the Jews’ state and Syria; Ibraheem Suleiman, a journalist of Syrian origin, while addressing the Israeli Knesset said that Assad is for peace and is looking for real peace with Israel and that it was Assad who refused to open another front against Israel during the war with Lebanon. As per the recently released report of the Crises Group (with head quarters in Brussels), wherein it mentions that it has proposed a solution between Syria and Israel and it reassures that the officials of the two countries have indicated that willingness to accept the same. Since the Arab Peace Initiative is already accepted by the Arab rulers as well as the Palestinian Authority and the govt., the US is keen to see quick negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian govt. and both of them negotiating with the Jews’ state. All this is aimed at achieving simultaneous solutions for both the Palestinian as well as the Syrian dispute. Pelosi was also concerned with this issue as she carried a letter from Olmert to al-Assad on the subject of negotiations. She announced that Syria’s response to Olmert’s letter was positive. This clearly means that Pelosi was treading the American path in Palestine and Syria.
Pelosi was certainly of the fact that Lebanon is a dispute with an international dimension to it between the US and the Europe (France and England), where the US has a strong influence provided to it by Syria for the past 15 years since it signed the Taif agreement, and Europe which has found the Hariri assassination as a real chance to force Syria out and restore European influence in Lebanon. It was for this reason that Pelosi referred to the talks with Syria as ‘very good’ and stated in Lebanon before undertaking the Syrian journey that: “We are aware that solution to some of the problems in Lebanon lies in Syria.”
When she visited Syria on 3rd April, Pelosi clarified that her visit was part of the Baker-Hamilton Plan. This was an experts committee from the Democrats as well as the Republicans and the plan calls for contacts with Syria and Iran regarding the regional issues, especially to urge them to play a more active role in rescuing America from its current doom in Iraq. She used to occasion to discuss the Israeli-Syrian issue and while commenting to the Olmert letter, she said that the Syrian response was positive.
Before the visit of Pelosi, a delegation of the Republican senators led by Sen. Frank Wolf had visited Damascus on 1st April, 2007 and had held talks with Assad and Walid al- Mu’allim two days before the arrival of Pelosi heading a delegation of six representatives including one Republican David Hughson. The official spokesman said that the talks covered Iraq and the regional situation in general. The delegation of the US Congress urged the Syrian officials to take certain confidence building measures with Israel including returning the remains of the Israeli spy Ellie Cohen in order to please their friend President Bush and to enable him to be receptive about Syria, as the delegation put it.
As for the issue of Iraq, although did she did not visit Iraq, but intended to travel later, the purpose of her visit to region was in essence part of the Baker-Hamilton Plan to protect American interests in Iraq and the Gulf. There is agreement between the Bush administration and the Democrats on the issue and this is in essence what the Baker-Hamilton Plan envisages, though they may differ on the details of its implementation. And the difference of opinion between the Republicans and the Democrats on the subject of linking of funds allocated for the US military in Iraq to the its pull-out schedule, is to be seen as adopting the best possible means to achieve or secure the US’s interests in the region, ensuring America’s continued influence in Iraq and the Gulf, securing America’s continued exploitation of the vast oil resources. The Republicans envisage gradual implementation of the Baker-Hamilton Plan; therefore do not agree to the withdrawal plan at this time, while the Democrats want an immediate pull-out implementation of the same plan and insist on scheduling the withdrawal now! Having said that, both, the Democrats and the Republicans want continued presence of their strike forces to ensure securing of American interest and its continued hegemony and supremacy as envisaged in the Baker-Hamilton Plan on which we have already issued a detailed statement.
All this indicate clearly that there is no shift in their basic view for the Palestine and the surrounding region (Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq), they both share the same stance. They differ on the ways and means to be adopted for securing their interest in the region, their control of the oil resources and to ensure their continued military presence in the region.
It is possible for us to say that Nancy Pelosi’s visit is an early election campaign visit by the speaker of the house majority. The Democrats realise that the Americans want an exit from the Iraq quagmire, and that the US wants Iran and Syria to rescue it from Iraq, Bush wants the same as well as the Democrats and Syria and Iran have not refused it. Bush and the Democrats concur on the basics but differ on the means. Bush has held on to a policy of stick since assuming the presidency and he can only renounce it step-by-step. The Democrats are aware that the Baker-Hamilton Committee is a high-level one and it will not be possible for Bush to wish it away but is compelled to implement the plan gradually and change his stick-wielding position to a carrot-dangling position step by step. When the Democrats realised this, they hurriedly arranged Pelosi’s visit before Bush and the Republicans could prepare an atmosphere to shift from their policy of wielding the stick to that of dangling a carrot. This is why Pelosi’s visit was hastily arranged and this frustrated the Republicans who saw her visit as a set back to them, therefore the Republicans hastily arranged a tour of their delegation in order to pre-empt Pelosi’s visit and to deny her the credit of being the first to comply with the plan of the Baker-Hamilton Committee.
In short: The Democrats correctly gauged the sentiments of the people towards a settled withdrawal from the Iraqi imbroglio as required under the Baker-Hamilton Plan. The Democrats are aware that Bush and the Republicans are treading its path but in a gradual manner. Therefore the Democrats want to seize the opportunity from the Republicans.
The incentive for the Democrats is to garner crucial public opinion ahead of the presidential polls later next year. It may be said that they have launched an early election campaign. Instead of beginning the campaign in mid-2008 which is the norm, they have done so now because they foresee that the Republicans can thus be cornered.
This does not mean that the Democratic and the Republican parties differ on extending their supremacy over Iran and Syria; it is just that they prefer separate views to achieve this. Even on the crucial Baker-Hamilton Plan they only differ on the manner of its implementation and its timing. As Pelosi herself announced, her visit was in accordance with Baker-Hamilton Plan. The Bush administration on the other hand has initiated gradual execution of the plan and its results reflected in the Baghdad Conference of 10th March, 2007 C.E and the Sharm el-Sheikh scheduled for 3rd & 4th May, 2007 C.E. It is clear from these that the main participants i.e. the US, Iran & Syria and the outcome of the meetings between the representatives of these countries, especially at Sharm el-Sheikh where the US Secretary of State is meeting the foreign ministers of Iran and Syria, are all aimed at getting these two countries to come to the rescue of the US from Iraq.
[Before these replies were dispatched, the US Department of State announced that the meeting of the ‘quartet countries’ with the ‘Arab Committee’ will be held on Thursday-Friday night, 3rd & 4th May, 2007 to ‘sell’ the Peace Initiative and that Syria will be a part of this ‘Arab Committee’. It also announced that Condoleezza Rice will meet Walid al- Mu’allim, the Syrian Foreign Minister. Similarly Tehran also announced that its foreign minister is willing to meet Rice at the Sharm el Shaikh conference but only to discuss and not to negotiate.]
13th Rabee’ ul akhir, 1428 A.H
30th April 2007