The researchers Robins and Post have advanced the theory of political paranoia to deepen our understanding of the psycho-politics of personality. They outline seven elements of a paranoia syndrome. It is characterized by: a) suspiciousness; b) centrality; c) grandiosity; d) hostility; e) fear of loss of autonomy; f) projection; and e) delusional thinking.
All these can be attributed to political leaders, especially patrimonial ones, whose operational code is conservative and closed. This syndrome, very much typifies and explains Abu Mazen personality and his political behavior, as well as his approach towards the circles of activists that he operates in and interacts with: the inner circle (Palestinian), the regional (inter-Arab), the policy towards Israel.
Suspiciousness. The paranoid leader’s personality, according to Robins and Post is typified by suspiciousness of others, both relatives and strangers, and by pervasive distrust and lack of cooperation. He suspects that others are exploiting, deceiving, and conspiring against him. He is preoccupied with doubts about others’ friendship or loyalty, and he is reluctant to confide in others. To the paranoiac, things are never what they seem. He does not permit himself to be distracted by innocent facts, and searches for hidden meanings according to pre-existing ideas and conclusions reached in advance, that support his conspiratorial thesis. Events do not simply occur, they are deliberately caused. There is no room for ambiguity, and the classifications made are black and white, good/bad, friend/enemy, and have no balance among them.
Abu Mazen is chronically suspicious towards everyone, his loyalists and allies in his close environment, and enemies in distant environments. He does not rely on anyone. His paranoia is in everything and have to do even with his personal security. His decisions have always been in accord with his own judgment, while he has often changed them without warning. Like Arafat Abu Mazen is very sensitive to his place in the Palestinian history, and identifies himself as an important part of the Palestinian revolution. Therefore he will never compromise with Israel and will not allow any freedom of action to his assistants or to those who negotiate in his name.
In fact, he prevents the growth of an alternate leadership or the possibility of revolt against himself, or even a blow at his authority. He deeply believes in conspiracies, in attempts to liquidate him, hence, his tendency to create myths about him being a possible victim of his enemies’ schemes. This situation leads him to act through crisis management. He is at his best in times of crisis. Energetic and eager for battle, his face wears a smile from ear to ear, as he has great love for situations of heroism.
Centrality. The paranoid leader’s world is populated by all sorts of enemies, of whom he perceives himself to be the focus of attention. All their actions and remarks are taken as directed against himself. He is totally sure that he is the object of great interest on the part of everyone around him. At the same time, he constantly surveys his surroundings, carefully watching how he is being watched. These beliefs and behaviors lead to a dynamic sequence of close relations, intense feelings of persecution, and vindictive retaliatory rage in the paranoid leader.
Violently angry, the paranoid leader defends himself by posing as the victim of outside enemies. Being extremely sensitive to criticism, his interpersonal relationships are disturbed. The world of politics is the best source for enemies of the paranoid leader. This is the “warfare personality” which exhibits extreme traits of focusing on demonic enemies and conspiracies, and on how to defeat them. The profound feelings of persecution lead to attempts to put the blame on outside enemies in order to overcome one’s sense of inferiority, insecurity, and unlovability. He is busy with himself, so self-centered and arrogant that he shows very little concern for the needs and feelings of others. Indeed, he is not at all bothered by the wretched situation of his people, socially, economically, or educationally. He does not care about their well-being.
Abu Mazen’s style has an exceptionally centralized character which is typical of a Byzantine court as well as of patrimonial leadership. He does not grant any authority to anyone, and decides everything himself, down to the smallest details. The structure of his government is personal, hierarchical, rigid, and closed in, despite its not being alienated. He brings up subjects for discussion only as a formal gesture, without any operational meaning. And he always has the last word.
Everyone must report to him, and in very detailed form. On the other hand, he does not convey current information, nor does he share it with others, except very selectively. No one has decision-making authority, even over the smallest details, unless he has received Abu Mazen’s authorization. This is a central part of his capacity to control different environments. Patrimonial rule does not make possible creation of an institutionalized opposition. Formally, the centralized framework does not make possible any qualitative change. The opposition is always viewed as a disruptive factor “in this stage of political development.”
Abu Mazen’s leadership style is extremely centralized. He is the exclusive source of authority and makes all the decisions on all matters, through hierarchical management. This may be described as “information management to obtain control,” as he is sure that no one will dare oppose him. He controls all the information, and this control is part of his power over his people, and over all the Palestinian organizations. Together with his complete control over the finances, makes him irreplaceable and invincible.
He is one-dimensional personality. He does not spend leisure time, nor personal friends, and he is addicted chiefly to the communications media. Being a workaholic, the Palestinian case occupies his time all day long. He knows how to be affable and is the perfect host, according to the Arab tradition, but he also knows how to hurt and insult. He has a gifted ability to impress people in personal meetings, and to win hearts as the victim of the situation.
On the other hand, he is impatient and exemplifies this in his agenda. He shouts at his advisors and screams at those close to him, and at the same time, weeps over his bitter fate of not being understood. He expresses his sorrow and apologies for hurting his advisors, and then repeats what he has done. Above all, he an actor of skill, who acts out of “calculated spontaneity”. Abu Mazen is a craftsman who controls his reactions, as they are part of his exceptional theatricality. This reflects the need for personal recognition of his honor, his lack of affection and sympathy, his obsessive need for recognition and esteem.
Abu Mazen rules the whole financial structure, and everything is done through his decisions. By that he confirms the old saying: He who controls the money holds the power. He purchases everyone, enemies and friends alike, enabling them to have a life of corruption so that they will not intervene in his activities. The PLO is the greatest and richest terrorist organization in history. Its capital is estimated in billions of dollars. Its sources of money are: “protection” funds paid by Arab oil states; pan-Arab and international monetary aid. All these funds are under his control and expenditure.
The huge amount of money the Palestinians get is by no means the greatest sinful act in the record of human beings. To make it very short:
According to the United Nations data, there are more than one billion people around the world that earn less than two dollars a day. You will not find even one Palestinian among them.
According to the United Nations data, at least 25 percent of world population, that is almost two billion, are in severe shortage of water to drink, and the drink water the highly risk their health, to the brink of death. You will not find even one Palestinian among them.
According to the United Nations data, 35 percent of world population have no toilets and other basic hygienic means at home, and they do it outdoor or in the field. Very few if any can be found among the Palestinians.
Most of the third world countries in Africa, Asia, and South America, including some Arab states, would have been extremely happy and satisfied to have the Palestinian standard of living, Gross National Product and monthly income.
Only in the Philippines, there are, according to the UN data, four million children, almost the size of all the Palestinian people that live in horrible inhuman conditions, in hunger and misery, with terrifying health conditions that is a disgrace to any human being. Yet, the Palestinians continue to get billions of dollars every year and huge assistance from the donating states.
Above all, the Palestinians are the only gifted among world population to have a monthly economic parcel of existence. The UN gives to 4.25 million Palestinians a monthly assistance of food products, the only ones on a regular basis from 1950 to the end of history. That is why they continue with the victimology strategy, to get more and more, at the expense of those billion of people in the world that really need it.
One has to personally visit and investigate the real situation of the Palestinians in the PA territories and in Gaza, and then to go to most of African, Asian and South American states to make the comparison. He will be embarrassed, astonished, bewildered, and at the same time with the highest guilt and shame of the injustices done by world hypocrisy and evildoing injustices. Yet, the international money donations continue to flow heavily. This is a shame, a huge black hollow on the conscience of humanity.
Grandiosity. The paranoid leader is notorious for his arrogant grandiosity through which he boasts of his feats and triumphs. The paranoid leader relies on the primitive psychological defenses of denial and distortion. They are his tools for looking at the world. Through them, he assumes great importance. The grandiosity acts as a shield for a fragile ego, highly sensitive and insecure. The result of his unbearable shame is outside rage and aggressiveness. He knows the real and only truth, and this leads to a high likelihood of exaggeration and falsification.
Abu Mazen identifies himself with the Palestinian revolution, being busy with national symbols. From his viewpoint, the world must understand the situation of the Palestinians, and must compensate and support them without asking questions and really investigating their real situation. He is very sensitive about his honor and takes pains to ensure that he is treated as a world esteemed leader.
He does not accept dictates made in public, even at a high price, since he feels that it means that someone is trying to humiliate him. Personal gestures influence his mood to gain honor and recognition. He is capable of breaking the rules of the game if he feels that he is not getting due respect. He always reacts very angrily and goes on the attack if he is not treated as President of Palestine, though he is the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.
Abu Mazen is an absolute liar who believes in his own words, and presents false data as solid facts. He makes frequent use of exaggerate detached from reality declarations, and utilizes all the features of the Arabic language: overemphasis (Tawqid), through repeating words and sentences; verbal exaggeration (Mubalaghah); and boasting of deeds and successes (Mufakharah). Being a professional liar, Abu Mazen has declared that the map of Greater Israel is inscribed on the Israeli 10 agora coin, and turned it into a symbol as if the Israeli scheme was already being discussed in a concrete way.
He is capable of lying without blinking his eye, without outward or inward signs, and without changing the line of his emotions. Very often he slides into megalomania and the mythical self-image. Above all, he is anti-Semite, a holocaust denier, an extremist that will never give up any part of the entire territory of Palestine, “from the sea to the River,” in fact including Jordan.
Even if his deceitful accusations are groundless and ridiculous, Abu Mazen uses them without any problem, persistently. He has a dramatic talent which he makes frequent use of, in speech and in body language, in code terms and in allusions. He is an actor who suits his style and messages to fit his target audience. In meetings with the Israeli and international publics, he appears as a sensitive moderate man, capable of accepting a “logical political arrangements,” who pleads to reach diplomatic arrangements.
At the same time, he refuses to accept any proposal, even those that give him almost all the 1967 borders. See his extreme stand in Camp David II, with Barak and Arafat; his refusal to accept Israeli proposal in January 2001 (made to Arafat) and his refusal of Olmart proposal in 2009 and to the Israeli Minister, Zipi Livni, in 2012.
In hundreds of blunt declarations he utterly said that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He also refuses to accept the American proposal of Jewish and Palestinian states living together side by side. In his declarations he refers to this as “the Two States Solution,” meaning a Palestinian state and a none-Jewish state, “a state of all its citizens,” or “a secular states,” as the Jews have no national ingredients and they do not deserve a state.
Abu Mazen is against full-fledge terrorism, like a national Intifada. But this not on a moral or political basis, but because he believes that a full-fledge Intifada unites the Israeli people, make him stronger in resistance, and mainly because it threatens the Palestinian case in the world and alienates it from world public opinion.
Hostility. The paranoid exhibits a highly hostile attitude towards the world. He is belligerent and irritable, humorless and extremely sensitive in an ever-growing need for love. The hostile paranoiac – suffused with suspicion and distrust – is ready for rejection, and he perceives it as a way of life. Thus, he is never disappointed. He is chronically angry, and senses hostility all around. He reacts viciously, savagely, to any perceived threat, and does not forgive insults, psychological wounds, or slights. He reacts by quick, cruel counterattacks. Above all, he is a loner, a solitary leader, who creates escalating social conflicts. He very accurately detects any hostility towards him, but is oblivious to his own role in creating and promoting it. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy which provokes hostility. The men around him, even his most loyal aides, must behave as if always walking on eggs, and absorb his rage.
Arab conspiracy thinking has a powerful value. Its aim is to remove responsibility from the Arab person or group by believing that one is the victim of a conspiracy. Arab-Islamic culture aims to explain why the Arab or the Arabs are in a specific situation in the political, social, or economic fields. The Arabs are not to blame for their plight, but only outside factors. They externalize the guilt. They are always right. Furthermore, their reaction is aggressive and totalistic, as we can see in the Return to Islam phenomenon, especially in its new, more murderous form exemplified by Bin Laden’s movement.
Arab-Islamic political culture is a fertile field for political paranoia. The Middle East is bound to conspiracy thinking. It starts with a psychological process uncommon and unrecognized in Western culture, externalizing guilt. In Jewish and Christian culture, one takes responsibility and internalizes guilt. In contrast, the opposite is true in Arab-Islamic culture. The main question is: “Do I have a problem? You are guilty!” There is no tolerance for the rights and justice of the other. There is no conscience and no guilt or remorse. They are always right.
The need for enemies has socio-biological and psychological roots. In the Middle East, enemies are those outside Islam, and the politico-cultural adversaries of the Arabs. To the paranoiac, enemies are chosen because they have assumed roles, acquired traits, and displayed behavior that the paranoiac wishes to describe as fitting enemies. The Jews/Israelis fit the pattern of accusation perfectly, not only because of their historic role in the Diaspora and as a “protected people” (Dhimmi) in Islam, but because of Arab self-interest, both symbolic and material.
Fear of Loss of Autonomy. The paranoid leader is always prepared for an emergency, and in a state of readiness to flee. He is a man on the run, constantly worried about attempts by outside superior forces to impose their will on him. This is why he manifests exaggerated independence. At the same time, he puts himself in danger, precisely because of the fear of losing control. Subordinating and accommodating oneself to the will of others is necessary in political life. But the paranoiac cannot tolerate and accept compromise, and he finds himself in constant conflict with both real and imaginary situations and adversaries.
One of the first decisions Arafat made on his political road, and Abu Mazen continues his track, was that his organization would preserve its full independence of action. It would not be subject to the patronage of any Arab state, in order to ensure that it would act on behalf of Palestinian interests alone. He has zealously preserved this principle to this day. Nevertheless, knowing that the activities of his organization depended on the aid, support, and backing of Arab states, he made use of all possible manipulations and provocations, in order to drag them into war with Israel.
Abu Mazen, like Arafat, sought to bring about the deep involvement and active intervention of the Arab states in “the Solution to the Palestine Question”, however, without imposing patronage on the Palestinians. They are committed to independent action in conformity with their interests. From Arafat’s vantage point, and Abu Mazen follows, “independence of decision” (Istiqlal al-Qarar) is one of the three central strategies of the Palestinians. This is the right way from which there must be no retreat. This means that they need to make decisions independently, without dependence on alien interests. They must be the masters of their fate.
This is on the political level. On the personal level Abu Mazen absolutely refuses to accept domination by others. He is very sensitive to his independence, and does not tolerate any challenge to his status. He has partners on his way, but he is very sensitive to any criticism of himself. In this sense, Abu Mazen created a link and full integration between the ego, the personal, and the Palestinian collectivity.
The sense of betrayal enables Abu Mazen not only on account of the externalizing Arab culture, to lay the guilt on Israel for all the wrongs that the Palestinians have carried out, as well as for the harsh terrorist attacks against Israel itself. In his mind, this is a legitimate response of the weak, being the victim. The dehumanization of Israel and the Jews as such, are central in Abu Mazen’s worldview.
Projection. Projection is an aberration of the normal state of shame. The paranoiac externalizes his painful feelings to his environment, thereby transforming intolerable internal threats into more manageable external threats. This is the result of presuming that internal changes or states are due to external causes. At the same time, the purpose of projection is to be a device by which the paranoid leader externalizes threatening internal states to his surroundings. The personality style is characterized by hypersensitivity, loneliness, and aggressiveness. The paranoid leader does not withdraw from the world. Rather, he is concerned with the hidden motives of others lying behind appearances.
Abu Mazen has a powerful need to dominate his surroundings up to the smallest details, and to direct events. He is characterized as possessing low emotional stability, and this explains his deep emotional need to demonstrate superiority, a profound aspiration to earn the admiration and respect of others, but at the very same time, profound suspicion towards them. He is constantly in competition, constantly aspiring to win and prove his superiority to others. His speeches rampant with contradictions. He uses ambiguity both inwardly and outwardly, both in Arabic and in English, towards the Israeli “peace camp” and towards hostile factors opposed to him.
He is ready to sacrifice many others of his own people for the sake of achieving the goal, without any emotion or regret. He never did any soul searching or expressed regret or had any doubts about the price. He sees this as an advantage, presenting the Palestinian distress to the world. The sacrifice in lives is the most successful means of attaining the goal, and the Palestinian victims mandate resoluteness in the struggle. From his vantage point, the end justifies the means. For that reason he has never been concerned about the social-economic-employment-health situation of the Palestinians. With all the billions of dollars that he has received, not one refugee family has been rehabilitated from their refugee state.
Abu Mazen is addicted to the communications media, and brilliantly uses them as a tool of manipulation. The exaggerations, the lies, the total distortions are tools central in importance in the media’s openness to him. Even when he appears ridiculous, he succeeds in transmitting his messages. These skills show in his unique negotiations management. The bargaining is in the spirit of an Oriental bazaar, by which only the cunning wins. In all discussions he displays impressive dramatic ability, though his suspicion is obsessive. Whenever he has come to negotiations, it has been difficult for him to believe assurances, and he has brought the talks to a dead end.
Delusional Thinking. The paranoiac holds strong, false beliefs about his surrounding reality that represent the crystallized expression of projective thinking. Of all the paranoid delusions, those of persecution and grandiosity, in particular, form part of his political world. The paranoiac expects to be treated in a special way, and when he thinks he is not receiving his due, he reacts with hurt, anger, and vindictive rage. Delusion leads to the distortion of actual events and of rational beliefs. At the same time, the paranoid leader expects to receive special treatment, as a manifestation of his narcissistic pathology. This means he cannot trust anyone, nor confide in anyone. Indeed, intimate personal friendship is a luxury that he cannot afford. On the other hand, delusional thinking may be politically helpful, since political failures confirm his suspicions while political success seems to confirm his grandiosity.
Abu Mazen’s behavior is impulsive, with a strong inclination to outbursts of rage that are difficult to anticipate, while his moods change quickly and often. He was and remains unpredictable in his reactions. He reacts impulsively and sharply out of proportion to any criticism. This is the reason why it is not clear how he will react to proposals for a settlement or accord. At the same time he has an astonishing ability to impress and win over people in personal meetings. He leads people to empathize with him, to feel sympathetic, to see him as a vulnerable man deserving protection and defense.
Summing up: he who really believes that Abu Mazen is a reliable partner for peace negotiations – think again. He is the embodiment of stubbornness, like Arafat, with other means. He does not recognize Israel and he is not willing to reach a territorial compromise with Israel. Unfortunately, the international support he gets and the huge benevolent monetary donations the Palestinians get makes him more stubborn. That is why, paradoxically, the first step to bring the Palestinians to the negotiation table and to have an endurable solid peace is that the international donations will be cut off, and the Palestinian leadership will be opposed by harsh options. Continuation of the current circumstances is a guaranteed formula to conflicts and violence, never to peace.
Politics by Other Means: A Case Study of the 1991 Gulf War
War has been around since the dawn of man and is spawned by innate human characteristics. Often, when efforts at resolving conflicts fail diplomatically (be it at the nation or international level), war is what follows and seemingly the only other option. As Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military commander and military theorist, once said, “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce” and, despite the horror and destruction of war, war is necessary for the conduct of foreign policy. War and physical combat allows for resolutions that cannot come about from any other way, once all legitimate foreign policy tactics have been exhausted. With the U.S. there are an abundant amount of examples showing how direct military conflict has solved a foreign policy problem. The 1991 Gulf War is a prime example.
The Gulf War began in August of 1990, when Iraqi tanks rolled over the Iraqi-Kuwait border, claiming vast oil reserves and annexing the country. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had just come out of the Iran-Iraq War, an almost eight-year, prolonged war of attrition which ended with, “an estimated quarter of a million dead…over 60,000 Iraqis [as] prisoners of war…[and] had run up a debt of over $80 billion…[with] the collapse of world prices meant that Iraq’s oil revenues in 1988 amounted to $11 billion, less than half its 1980 revenue”. Not only this, but Iraq had been fighting what was essentially a civil war in Iraqi Kurdistan, which involved the use of chemical weapons against civilians. The hundred year plus dispute between Iraq and Kuwait about sections of the border with essential waterways leading to the Gulf, the economic hardships and falling price of oil, the U.S. severing ties with the Middle Eastern nation due to war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the fear of decreasing power and influence in the region, and the desire to attain the funding for nuclear weapons programs were all central factors in Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.
International outcry was swift and critical of Saddam’s actions. This was largely due to the fact that Iraq was now closer to Saudi Arabia and the threat of him and Iraq controlling a substantial portion of the world’s oil reserves was very real. Richard Kohn, a professor of military history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, discussed this with NPR, stating, “The stakes in 1990 and ’91 were really rather enormous. Had Saddam Hussein gotten control of the Saudi oil fields, he would have had the world economy by the throat. That was immediately recognized by capitals around the world”. Immediately following the invasion, on August 03, the United Nations Security Council demanded that Iraq withdraw from the country and, when Iraq did not abide by this demand, the UN “imposed a worldwide ban on trade with Iraq (The Iraqi government responded by formally annexing Kuwait on August 8)”. The U.S. too engaged and tried to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait by placing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, utilizing this military presence as a deterrent.
Despite such action by the most powerful international foreign policy and diplomatic body in the globe, and diplomatic action on the part of the U.S. and other foreign nations, war still occurred in January of 1991, which eventually pushed Saddam out of Kuwait via aerial and naval bombardment and, by February, had armor and infantry troops rolling towards Baghdad. The question that remains is, was the war necessary to solving the situation in Iraq and did such military action further international foreign policy goals of the United States?
War was the only other option that the United States could take when dealing with Saddam. The United Nations, the Arab League, and the United States had all vitriolically and openly opposed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. When Iraq tried to open diplomatic channels to resolve the crisis (while not complying with the UN’s order and keeping troops in Kuwait), the U.S. requested that the Iraqis comply with the decree and pull out of Kuwait, following Margaret Thatcher and Britain’s line of thought that concessions to a dictator would strengthen the Iraqi influence and desire for more power.
While the fact that the United States did not try to pursue a diplomatic avenue with Iraq in this matter is certainly an interesting method, it is also understandable. Giving in to Iraq’s desires and granting them concessions when they had flagrantly disregarded international law and violated the sovereignty of a fellow nation state (in addition to committing horrendous crimes against their own population), capitulating to the Iraqi government would have been a mistake. It would have solidified their power and their influence within the region and would have seemingly legitimized their standpoint.
Not only would negotiating on such terms have legitimized their view and stance, but it effectively would have been negotiating with a terrorist. The former Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad from 1989 to 1991, Joseph C. Wilson, (who would later play a key role in the Plame Affair during the Iraq War), discussed how, “several hundred hostages were held by Saddam, 150 Americans as well as another 70 in our care to keep them out of Iraqi hands…There is no doubt that our personnel and our families were at risk, in considerable danger in fact,”. Hussein’s motivation for holding these Americans and others of varying nationalities (notably British) was most probably to utilize them as a deterrent to an attack from the West. Engaging in capitulation and trying to negotiate with someone who was essentially a terrorist (utilizing terror and violence, or the threat of such action, to attain a political goal) was not something that the United States nor the United Kingdom was willing to do under any circumstances.
The United States, in this instance, was dealing with a terrorist and a dictator, a megalomaniac who was determined to reclaim what he believed was rightfully Iraqi territory and gain access to further wealth through illegal means. The potential of his army in securing what were important and essential global financial centers in the Middle East was serious and it is possible he was planning to invade Saudi Arabia at some point. Saad al-Bazzaz, the former head of both the Iraqi News Agency and the Iraqi Radio and Television Establishment in addition to being an aide to Saddam, alleged in 1996 that, “the Iraqi leader ordered the elite Republican Guard to be ready to launch an offensive…nine days after the invasion of Kuwait…The invasion plans called for four divisions, or 120,000 troops, to thrust into the desert to capture oil fields more than 180 miles away”. The fact that Iraqi troops also, in January of 1991, after the initial aerial bombardment, captured the small, Saudi Arabian coastal city of Khafji, lends credence to the idea that Saddam may have been planning something larger. al-Bazzaz also alleged that Saddam again began planning an invasion of Saudi Arabia while the Battle of Khafji was ongoing, but resorted to defense when it was apparent he would lose Kuwait.
Upon the conclusion of the Gulf War, what did the U.S. gain? One of the most significant achievements in the aftermath of the conflict was that the United States was able to create a coalition of military forces (including those from Middle Eastern nations like Syria and Egypt) to side with other nations (former colonizers like France and the United Kingdom) who are often opposed to their conduct of foreign policy or have fraught relationships. As well, the State Department’s Office of the Historian notes, “Although Russia did not commit troops, it joined the United States in condemning Iraq, its long-time client state”. The Office goes on to describe how Secretary of State Baker and his staff went about gathering allies and were instrumental in assisting in diplomatic and coordination efforts for the eventual air and ground campaign. The U.S. gained improved relationships that bonded by the pursuit of an enemy and the removal of a foreign power from a sovereign nation and were further solidified in the UN’s policing of Iraqi airspace and nuclear deproliferation programs.
Often, wars can be prevented and all out avoided through the use of diplomacy and foreign policy. The Vietnam War, the 1898 Spanish-American War, and the Chaco War of the 1930’s between Bolivia and Paraguay are prime examples of when diplomacy should have been utilized to the fullest effect and in which foreign policy officials and avenues for conflict resolution were not fully considered or utilized. However, in this instance, war was the only viable option for removing Saddam from Kuwait and returning the country to its rightful citizens. Negotiating or trying to work with the Iraqi government on the terms they had decided (meaning working with them in a foreign territory they have illegally acquired) would have given their actions an aura of legitimacy and possibly emboldened Saddam to further push the boundaries of international law. By giving Saddam an ultimatum and proceeding with physical combat and engaging in a war, war with Iraq was the correct decision when considering the person and government being dealt with.
Middle Eastern interventionism galore: Neither US nor Chinese policies alleviate
A recent analysis of Middle Eastern states’ interventionist policies suggests that misguided big power approaches have fueled a vicious cycle of interference and instability over the last decade.
Those approaches are abetted, if not encouraged by US and Chinese strategies that are similar, if not essentially the same, just labelled differently. The United States has long opted for regime stability in the Middle East rather than political reform, an approach China adopts under the mum of non-interference in the internal affairs of others.
As a result, both the United States and China de facto signal autocrats that they will not be held accountable for their actions. This week’s US response and Chinese silence about the suspension of democracy in Tunisia illustrates the point.
The policies of the two powers diverge, however, on one key approach: The US, unlike China, frequently identifies one or more regimes, most notably Iran, as a threat to regional security. In doing so, US policy is often shaped by the narrow lens of a frequently demonized ‘enemy’ or hostile power.
The problem with that approach is that it encourages policies that are based on a distorted picture of reality. The Obama administration’s negotiation of a 2015 international nuclear agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program proved that amending those policies constitutes a gargantuan task, albeit one that is gaining traction with more critical trends emerging in both the Democratic Party and among Evangelists.
The recent study, ‘No Clean Hands: The Interventions of Middle Eastern Powers, 2010-2020,’ published by the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, suggests by implication that China has at the vey least allowed instability to fester in the Middle East that is fueled as much by destabilizing Iranian interventions as by similar actions of various US allies.
The study was authored by researcher Matthew Petti and Trita Parsi, the Institute’s co-founder and executive vice president and founder and former president of the National Iranian American Council.
To be sure China may not have been able to influence all interventionist decisions, including the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, but potentially could have at times tempered the interventionist inklings of regional players with a more assertive approach rather than remaining aloof and focusing exclusively on economic opportunity.
China demonstrated its willingness and ability to ensure that regional players dance to its tune when it made certain that Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries refrained from criticizing Beijing’s brutal attempt to alter the ethnic and religious identity of its Turkic Muslim population in the north-western province of Xinjiang.
Taking Syria as an example, Li Shaoxian, a former vice president at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, articulated China’s approach in 2016 as Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first visit to the Middle East. “China doesn’t really care who takes the presidency…in the future—as long as that person could stabilize and develop the country, we would agree,” Mr. Li said.
To be fair, the Quincy Institute study focuses on the interventionist policies of Middle Eastern states and recommendations for US policy rather than on China even if the report by implication has consequences for China too.
A key conclusion of the study is that the fallacy of US policy was not only to continue to attempt to batter Iran into submission despite evidence that pressure was not persuading the Islamic republic to buckle under.
It was also a failure to acknowledge that Middle Eastern instability was fueled by interventionist policies of not just one state, Iran, but of six states, five of which are US allies: Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The US allies, with the exception of Turkey and to a lesser degree Qatar, are perceived as supporters of the regional status quo.
On the other hand, the United States and its allies have long held that Iran’s use of militant proxies in Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen; its intervention in Syria and support of Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip; and its armament policies, including its nuclear and ballistic missiles programs, destabilize the Middle East and pose the greatest threat to regional security.
They assert that Iran continues to want to export its revolution. It is an argument that is supported by Iran’s own rhetoric and need to maintain a revolutionary façade.
Middle East scholar Danny Postel challenges the argument in a second paper published this month by the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies that seems to bolster the Quincy Institute’s analysis.
“The view of Iran as a ‘revolutionary’ state has been dead for quite some time yet somehow stumbles along and blinds us to what is actually happening on the ground in the Middle East. A brief look at the role Iran has played over the last decade in three countries — Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria — reveals a very different picture: not one of a revolutionary but rather of a counter-revolutionary force,” Mr. Postel argues.
The scholar noted that Hezbollah, the powerful Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian armed groups in Iraq responded in similar ways to mass anti-government protests in 2019 and 2020 in Lebanese and Iraqi cities that transcended sectarian divisions and identified the Iran-aligned factions with widespread corruption that was dragging their countries down.
They attacked the protesters in an attempt to salvage a failed system that served their purpose and suppress what amounted to popular uprisings.
“Do they really think that we would hand over a state, an economy, one that we have built over 15 years? That they can just casually come and take it? Impossible! This is a state that was built with blood,” said an Iraqi official with links to the pro-Iranian militias. A Hezbollah official speaking about Lebanon probably could not have said it better.
Iranian support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal suppression of a popular revolt is no less counter-revolutionary and illustrative of the length to which Iran is willing to go to protect its interests.
“Indeed, for all the talk of Iran’s ‘disruptive’ role in the region, what the cases of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon reveal is instead an Islamic Republic hell-bent on keeping entrenched political establishments and ruling classes in power while helping them quell popular movements for social justice, democratic rights, and human dignity,” Mr. Postel concludes.
“The idea that Iran is a revolutionary power while Saudi Arabia is a counter-revolutionary power in the region is a stale binary. Both the Islamic Republic and the Saudi Kingdom play counter-revolutionary roles in the Middle East. They are competing counter-revolutionary powers, each pursuing its counter-revolutionary agenda in its respective sphere of influence within the region,” Mr. Postel goes on to say.
Counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt appeared to contradict Mr. Postel in a paper published this week that asserted that Hezbollah remained a revolutionary pro-Iranian force in its regional posture beyond Lebanon.
“Hezbollah’s regional adventurism is most pronounced in its expeditionary forces deployed in Syria and elsewhere in the region, but no less important are the group’s advanced training regimen for other Shi’a militias aligned with Iran, its expansive illicit financing activities across the region, and its procurement, intelligence, cyber, and disinformation activities,” Mr. Levitt said.
Mr. Postel’s analysis in various ways bolsters the Quincy Institute report’s observation that tactics employed by Iran are not uniquely Iranian but have been adopted at various times by all interventionist players in the Middle East.
The Quincy Institute study suggests further that a significant number of instances in the last decade in which Middle Eastern states projected military power beyond their borders involved Turkey, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar on battlefields that were as much related to competition for regional influence among US allies or the countering of popular movements as they were to rivalry with Iran.
“Iran is highly interventionist, but not an outlier. The other major powers in the region are often as interventionist as the Islamic Republic – and at times even more so. Indeed, the UAE and Turkey have surpassed in recent years,” the report said.
The report’s publication coincided with the indictment of billionaire Thomas J. Barrack, a one-time advisor and close associate of former US President Donald J. Trump, on charges of operating as an unregistered foreign agent in the United States for the UAE, widely seen as another case and form of intervention by a Middle Eastern state.
By implication, the study raises the question whether compartmentalizing security issues like the nuclear question and framing them exclusively in terms of the concerns of the West and its Middle Eastern allies rather than discussing them in relation to diverging security concerns of all regional players, including Iran, will lead to a sustainable regional security architecture.
There is little indication that thinking in Washington is paying heed to the Quincy Institute study or Mr. Postel’s analysis even though their publication came at an inflection point in negotiations with Iran suspended until President-elect Ebrahim Raisi takes office in mid-August.
That was evident in a proposal put forward this month by former US Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross on how to respond to Iran’s refusal to discuss its ballistic missiles program and support of armed proxies as well as Mr. Al-Assad as part of the nuclear negotiation. Mr. Ross suggested that the United States sell to Israel the GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a 30,000-pound mountain-buster capable of destroying hardened underground nuclear facilities.
Members of Congress last year offered legislation that would authorize the sale as a way to maintain Israel’s military edge as the United States moves to reward the UAE for its establishment of diplomatic reltions with Israel by selling it top-of-the-line F-35 fighter jets.
The administration is expected to move ahead with the sale of the jets after putting it on hold for review when Joe Biden took office In January.
The Quincy Institute and Mr. Postel’s calls for a paradigm shift in thinking about the Middle East and/or Iran take on added significance in the light of debates about the sustainability of the Iranian clerical regime.
Contrary to suggestions that the regime is teetering on the brink of collapse as the result of sanctions and domestic discontent, most recently evidenced in this month’s protests sparked by water shortages, widely respected Iran expert Karim Sadjadpour argues that the Iranian regime could have a shelf life of at least another generation.
Mr. Sadjadpour draws a comparison to the Soviet Union. “Post-Soviet Russia… didn’t transition from the Soviet Union to a democratic Russia, but it essentially became a new form of authoritarianism which took Communism and replaced it with grievance driven Russia nationalism—led by someone from the ancient regime and a product of the KGB, Vladimir Putin,” Mr. Sadjadpour argues.
“Likewise, if I had to make a prediction in Iran, I think that the next prominent leader is less likely to be an aging cleric—like an Ayatollah Khamenei or Ibrahim Raisi—and more likely to be someone who is a product of either the Revolutionary Guards or Iran’s intelligence services. Instead of espousing Shiite nationalism, they will substitute that with Iranian nationalism—or Persian nationalism,” he goes on to say.
An Iranian nationalist regime potentially could contribute to regional stability. It would likely remove the threats of Iranian meddling in the domestic affairs of various Arab countries by empowering Shiite Muslim groups as well as support for political Islam. Iranian nationalism would turn aid to groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon militias in Iraq, and the Houthis in Yemen into a liability rather than an asset.
Mr. Sadjadpour’s prognosis coupled with the Quincy Institute report suggests that the Biden administration has an opportunity to reframe its Middle East policy in the long-term interests of the United States as well as the region and the international community.
The nuclear talks are one potential entry point to what would amount to the equivalent of turning a supertanker around in the Suez Canal – a gradual process at best rather than an overnight change. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan may be another.
Concern in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran about the fallout of the withdrawal suggests that stabilizing the greater Middle East in ways that conflicts can be sustainably managed if not resolved creates grounds for China, Russia and the United States to cooperate on what should be a common interest: securing the free flow of oil and gas as well as trade.
China, Russia, and Iran may be bracing themselves for worst case scenarios as the Taliban advance militarily, but the potential for some form of big power cooperation remains.
China scholars Haiyun Ma and I-wei Jennifer Chang note that in the case of Afghanistan “despite the Taliban’s advancement on the ground and its call for Chinese investment, the current military situation and the political process have not yet manifested a power vacuum created by the US retreat, which makes Chinese entry and gains…largely symbolic in nature.”
The Russian bear in Lebanon
It turned out that the Biden-Putin summit on May 16 has established a wider effect than anyone would expect.
It exceeded by far political analysis, especially in Lebanon. The summit almost coincided with the Russian economic delegation’s visit to Beirut on the 18th of the same month and the announcement of its study results to initiate investments projects in Lebanon.
The results revealed the Russian delegation’s future plans in rebuilding the oil refineries in Zahrani and Tripoli and rehabilitating the latter’s port. Regardless of the projects, the Russian companies intend to deal with, if they are approved and encouraged by good signs changes can be relied upon. It means that Lebanon has taken an important leap in its economic policies by gradually moving towards the East.
Naturally, Lebanon’s orientation towards the East “if it happens” will not be absolute and definitive, but rather principled and partial. This is an important matter by itself. It is marked as a qualitative leap that may minimize the private companies’ monopolization of energy imports, which will be directly reflected, firstly, in electricity production in Lebanon, and secondly in facilitating the provision of petroleum products in Lebanon. Such projects became a necessity, in particular, after the collapse of the Lebanese lira against the American dollar.
Logically, changing the reality of the production of electricity will reveal immediate results. It will be reflected in the change in the rehabilitation of the economic infrastructure fields in Lebanon. It will also positively reflect in other vital areas, such as determining the prices of food commodities, which became outrageously high.
Accordingly, one of the most important reasons for the obscene rise in food prices is related to the high costs of transportation in the last month alone. It is almost above the purchasing power of the Lebanese. For example, the prices of vegetables and fruits, a non-imported commodity, which is not supervised by government support, remained within reasonable prices; however, once the diesel prices started rising, it directly affected the prices of the seasonal vegetables and fruits.
In addition, there are unseen accomplishments that will go with the entry of Russian companies, which is creating new job opportunities in Lebanon. Lately, it was reported that unemployment in Lebanon will reach 41.4% this year. It is a huge rate, which the Lebanese media, in general, use to provoke people against the current resigned government. However, it neglects to shed the light on the importance of the Russian investment in creating new job opportunities, which will affect all social groups, whether they were transporters, building workers, porters, cleaners, or university graduates.
The companies coming to Lebanon are directly supported by the Russian state. However, they are private companies, a fact that has its advantages. They are familiarized with dealing with other Western international companies. Russian companies have previously coordinated with French and Italian companies in Lebanon, through contracts concluded for the extraction of gas in Lebanese fields and in other fields outside Lebanon. Russian- European coordination process is also recognized in rebuilding Beirut’s harbor. A German company will rebuild the docks, while the French will rebuild the containers or depots, and the Russian companies will rebuild the wheat silos.
It seems that the process is closely related to the future of Lebanon and the future of the Chinese project, the New Silk Road, [One Road, and One Belt]. However, it is not clear yet whether the Russian companies will be investing in Tripoli’s refinery and in regenerating and expanding its port or it will be invested by the Chinese companies. If this achievement is accomplished, then Tripoli will restore its navigating glorious history. Tripoli was one of the most important ports on the Mediterranean. Additionally, there is a need for the Russian and the Chinese to expand on the warm shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Secondly, the project will boost Tripoli and its surroundings from the current low economic situation to a prosperous economic one, if the real intentions are there. The results in Tripoli will be read as soon as the projects set foot in the city. Of course, this will establish another Sino-Russian victory in the world of economy and trade, if not in politics as well.
The entry of the Russians and the Chinese into the Lebanese field of commerce has international implications. It will come within international and global agreements or understanding. Nevertheless, it is a sign that the Americans are actually losing their grip on Lebanon. This entry will stop the imposition of a limited number of European-oriented Lebanese monopolizing companies, which have dominated the major Lebanese trade of oil and its products. Dominance is protected with the “illusion” of meaningless international resolution. It is true that the Americans are still maneuvering in several places; however, this is evident to the arbitrariness of decisions making in the U.S. today. It is the confusion resulting from ramifications of the “Sword of Jerusalem” operation in Palestine; it seems that they do not have a clear plan towards policies in the region, other than supporting “Israel”.
If the above is put into action, and the Russian companies start working within a guarantee agreement with the Lebanese state. This means a set of important issues on the international and regional levels. And it also means that the Americans would certainly prefer the Russians to any Chinese or Iranian economic direct cooperation in Lebanon.
Firstly, it is clear that in their meeting Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin reached a kind of consent to activate stability in the region. Two years ago, the Americans had a different plan. According to an established source, the Americans actually intended to strike internal stability in Lebanon and ignite another civil war round, before finalizing stability in Syria. This assertion tunes with David Hale’s, an American envoy to Lebanon, a declaration about the American anger over the $10 billion spent in Lebanon to change the political reality and overthrow Hezbollah from the government. Consequently, the American project is behind us now. Russia and China need to invest in the stability of Lebanon, in order to secure their investments in the process of rebuilding Syria.
Secondly, the Lebanese state guarantee, which the Russians require, is directly related to the lack of confidence in the Lebanese banking policies, which have lost their powers as a guarantor for investments after the role they played since November 17, 2019 till today. It proved the inefficiency of the financial policies of the Lebanese banks, which was based on the principle of usury since the nineties of the last century. In addition, a state guarantee will enable the Russian companies to surpass the American sanctions.
The state guarantee increases the value and importance of the Lebanese state as an entity in the region, and this can be understood from Macron’s statements after the explosion of Beirut port last August when he said that Lebanon’s role in the region as we know it must change.
Thirdly, if we consider the history of international unions in the world, including the European Union, the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council and others, they started as economic alliances before they end as political alliances. Therefore, at this historical stage and in order to work on the economic recovery of Lebanon, which needs more investments instead of falling under the burden of more debts. Lebanon needs to head East towards economic unity with Syria. In cooperating with two superpowers, Lebanon and Syria can form an economic bloc on the Mediterranean shores, a bloc that can get Lebanon out of the vortex of Western absurdity and expand its alliances and horizons to be a real economic and cultural forum where the East and the West can meet.
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