Thursday, July 3, 2014


A lot has been said lately about the Sykes/Picot secret agreement of 1916 regarding the post-WW1 "new Middle East."  This macro-regional gerrymandering between France and the United Kingdom received the consent of Tsarist Russia.  Fewer words have been heard about the 1917 Balfour declaration stating that the Allies were committed to Zionism.  From the early start, conflicting promises hallowed stated engagements.  Still, the agreement worked, be it with perverse consequences. It has been said that in Versailles or Sevres reputed diplomats made disreputable mistakes in regions they knew little or nothing about.

With the second invasion of Iraq the game of cards and maps fell apart.  The Bush-Cheney administration favored hubris over temperance, creating the diplomatic blunder of the early 21st Century. They set in motion a lethal spiral of events which led us into today's diplomatic Gotterdammerung.  President Bush has the class instinct to remain silent. Vice-President Cheney continues to defend a lost cause, of his own stubborn myopic doing.

I observe, among other happenings, how little Israel gets externally involved, contrary to the United States, who run from tarmac to tarmac with more jet-lag than ideas.  I prefer not to mention the EU (abonnes absents), China (Cheshire cat), or Russia (actively pursuing its geo-political 
comeback, on its toes, in the Bolshoi tradition).  Of all these parties I guess that, in the end, Israel is the most astute, the better informed and acting for the wiser.

Contrary to the common wisdom three years ago, it would have made sense to convene all parties not in some Annapolis "remake," but discreetly, as soon as the Syrian crisis got out of hand. Instead of giving a rapid deterioration a free-pass, one should have conveyed a gathering en mineur of all regional stockholders, making them co-responsible for reciprocal restraint rather than letting them become the voyeurs of their common demise. The United States followed a boy- scout policy instead, and once the sectarian genius was out of the bottle, hell broke loose. The recently (still?) born Caliphate is already a multiplicative and accelerator which might appeal to the wretched who fail to see the benefit of suffering the corruption of authoritarian regimes. A preemptive initiative was needed instead of a pathetic 911 call.  A meeting for all could have emptied the closets where taboos have been stored for too long:  the sectarian rift, possible land swaps, the Palestinian quagmire, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, the fight against Jihadists and the correction/rectification of past brainwashing (textbooks, historical misinterpretation, reparation), the Saudi plan--supported by ALL Arab states--for recognition of Israel.  As time passes, the situation risks getting totally out of hand and creating flash points (terrorism, Iraq, Kurds, refugees, a possible new Intifada, murky arrangements between Sunnis, Shiites and their respective "patrons", the terrorist sub-Saharan "oil spill", Libya, Maghreb). In the absence of any direction, one is confronted with absurd asymmetries such as the one we are witnessing now:  Iran, Russia, Syria, and the US helping de facto al-Maliki against a Sunni strain, while the same Sunnis are supposedly the bedrock of the US presence in the region.  So was Saddam Hussein, by the way, when it was "convenient."

On most aspects pertaining to security or policy, the West would be wise to follow Israel's indicative savoir faire.  It is naive to imagine that the Jewish state would have no channels open when deemed necessary, or that it is not better informed of pretense and intention.   By pandering to too many opposing priorities, the Obama administration risks yet again another diplomatic hangover.  Better convene all parties fast at a time when "time" might be running out.   Just as the Soviet Union fell apart, so might the Middle East.  The former was closely "monitored" by the Bush senior administration, the latter might implode by neglect.  Running is not the equal of doing. Dr. Kissinger shuttled, he never ran.

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