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Empire’s Reach

Bilal El-Amine
Date Published: 
October 01, 2007

To say that the United States is on the brink of a critical failure in the Middle East is not so controversial anymore. Despite the latest attempts at some kind of military solution in Iraq by increasing troops, Washington seems to be getting nowhere fast. With thousands of US troops tied down in Iraq and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, Bush has certainly been forced to limit his “New Middle East” quest, with the completely lunatic schemes like attacking Iran taken off the table for the time being. Yet the Iraqi quagmire has not significantly eased Washington’s heavy-handed intervention in the region as a whole. In Lebanon and Palestine, for example, the US is actually making some headway with equally dangerous consequences as those in Iraq. The administration is also testing out new, softer approaches such as working through local clients to achieve the same goals by other means. Unfortunately, Bush’s self-immolation in Iraq has yet to reverse empire’s march on the region. In Iraq itself, the US continues to hold on for dear life despite all odds. And those who believe that a future Democratic administration will reverse course will be sorely disappointed. The damage to US credibility is far too great for anyone in Washington to be courageous enough to make such a decision. The occupation will probably continue well into the next administration, and barring a united Iraqi resistance, US troops will be withdrawn slowly over an excruciatingly long period of time with the hope that no one will interpret it as a defeat. Formidable foe In Palestine, Washington has been desperate to strangle the democratically elected Hamas government—resorting at times to the starvation of Gaza—but with little success. Finally, under the guise of assisting the Palestinian Authority in unifying its security forces, the Pentagon and CIA conspired with anti-Hamas elements, particularly those loyal to Fatah, to take over by force. Hamas managed, however, to fend them off in Gaza but lost the West Bank. For the US, and especially for Israel, even this partial success is more than agreeable as the Palestinian national movement is effectively broken in half. In Lebanon, it is a similar picture. Here resides perhaps Washington’s most formidable foe, Hizballah, a mass popular movement with an armed resistance that has twice now humiliated the supposedly invincible Israeli military. Last July, in what seemed a last ditch effort to wipe Hizballah off the map, the US prodded Israel to continue fighting, rushing it planeloads of ammunition to no avail. Having failed through Israel, Washington has turned to Hizballah’s Lebanese opponents to squeeze it from within. So far, this strategy has been ineffective in weakening Hizballah, politically or militarily, but what is frightening is that it relies heavily on exacerbating the sectarian divisions that have repeatedly driven the Lebanese to butcher one another in bloody civil wars. So, resistance movements are locked in a terrible logic whereby if they resist effectively, empire’s response is to prey upon every possible social division to fragment and weaken them. The people of the region are given the option of either submitting to Washington’s will or risk having their societies torn apart. Now the US administration is in the process of dividing the whole of the Middle East into “moderate” and “radical” forces, pitting its clients (regimes like Saudi Arabia and Egypt as well as groups like Fatah in Palestine and Harriri’s Future Movement in Lebanon) against those who oppose US meddling (i.e., Iran and Syria along with Hamas and Hizballah). To turn up the heat particularly on Iran, Washington recently agreed to arm the Arab Gulf monarchies facing Iran to the tune of $20 billion over the next ten years, sparking another round of armament by all sides in a region that is drowning in weapons. (Of course, for its part, Israel gets a $30 billion package over the same period, including far superior weapons, paid for by the US taxpayer.) Bush, perhaps to take the edge off a bit, has also declared that he will host an international conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is almost guaranteed to go nowhere but may serve to create the appearance that Washington actually has a heart somewhere. Given the amount of weapons the US is pouring into the area, we are more likely to see another round of wars in the region before we get the slightest whiff of peace. Bush crusade The saving grace comes from two important elements that have brought ravenous empires like the US to their knees: one, of course, is the inevitable resistance that arises in the face of intervention and the other is opposition at home in the heart of empire. Both of these elements have been alive and well but have fallen short in some important respects. The anti-war movement in the US grew quickly, particularly in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, but never managed to become the kind of sustained mass movement necessary to stop the Bush crusade. There are many reasons for this, which have been amply discussed in the pages of Left Turn. Nevertheless internal pressure remains a necessary component of stopping imperial adventures. As for the resistance here in the region, the results have been mixed at best. Washington’s ability to play factions off one another and cause internal havoc has undermined the effectiveness of local resistance groups. Even Hizballah, which easily repulsed an Israeli invasion last summer, has now been mired internally by way of US allies in the Lebanese government. In Iraq and Palestine also, internal divisions and disunity have also seriously crippled any effective response. What has worked to our advantage is that Washington continues to approach the region with arrogance and incompetence, failing at every turn to make the necessary adjustments to please even its allies. Slowly the tide is turning against the US and anyone associated with it, and after the Iraq fiasco, few Arabs believe that Washington has anything to offer them. So the wind is at our backs, we have that going for us, but we cannot be complacent about empire, especially when it is facing ruin. About the Author Bilal El-Amine is a former editor and founding member of Left Turn Magazine. Bilal returned two years ago to his native Lebanon, where he now lives and works.