After the Guns of August

The Middle East is a place where the dust hardly ever settles. When it occasionally does, even for a short interval – as UN Resolution 1701 for cessation of hostilities in Lebanon seems to be holding – it is time to take stock of events in the hopes that a responsible debate may influence those in power.

Let’s start with the United States. President George W. Bush has been short on neither initiatives nor catchy slogans and acronyms. Recent years are littered with them: “Global War on Terror” (GWOT), “Road Map,” “Middle East Partnership Initiative “ (MEPI), “Broader Middle East and North Africa” (BMENA) – originally “Greater Middle East Initiative (GMEI) – Democracy Assisted Dialogue (DAD), and so on. His latest reverie, envisioned in the thick of the recent fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, was the New Middle East (NME), with US clients Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia serving as the pillars of regional order.

But like all his previous initiatives since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington almost five years ago now, the NME ran into trouble from the outset. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced its birth while rejecting an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. Her poor timing made the initiative appear heartless, as thousands of civilians were being uprooted, killed, or maimed by Israel’s efficient but ruthless artillery and air force.

This so embarrassed the three Arab NME partners that each raced to distance itself from the US-sponsored initiative. Saudi Arabia, which had remained silent for nearly two weeks, did so with a $500 million contribution to rebuilding devastated areas of Lebanon and another billion to support Lebanon’s threatened currency.