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And Patrick Habis

The Middle East : Proxyhood Rejected// Proche-Orient : de la tutelle à l’autonomie

Roger Heacock:
9 juin 2008
Recent events in the Middle East suggest that the traditional view of regional actors as essentially proxies for global powers needs to be revised. In Lebanon there was first an upsurge in violence caused by imprudent governmental decisions, clearly inspired by Washington and affecting Hizballah’s security structures (at Beirut airport and in its communications system) ahead of the summer (a favored period for Israeli attacks on its Arab neighbors). In view of the rapid, short-lived and devastatingly effective response of Hizballah, designed to prove both its tactical superiority over Lebanese rivals and its loyalty to the nation (areas swiftly conquered were immediately turned over to the army), political leaders of alls stripes and, more significantly, Lebanese public opinion, brought about a swift end to the long-lasting stalemate, crowned by the Doha agreement whereby a President (General Michel Suleiman) was finally elected, the composition of the government defined, and rules for next year’s parliamentary elections established.

Notable is the fact that the Doha agreement was a ‘draw’, not an all-out victory for the Lebanese opposition : the latter gets one third of cabinet seats (giving it a potential veto power over governmental decisions) but the electoral law favors the loyalists. Clearly, in this instance, one cannot speak of global forces having been at work to plot for the reinstatement of Lebanon’s institutional arrangements, but rather an indigenous reaction (supported, for once, by Arab states) which brought about a solution, however imperfect, to immediate problems.

Another event was the revelation of ongoing and no-longer secret talks between Israel and Syria, mediated by Turkey, over the occupied Golan and the broader issues of peacemaking between these two parties. While they were no secret to the United States, there is no reason to believe that the latter had encouraged them, nor indeed, that it approved. In fact, there had been rumors that an adventurist Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, was entertaining contacts with Damascus against the advice of the US administration. These rumors were thus confirmed and it is now public knowledge that negotiations are advanced, the stakes high, and medium-term prospects not too dim, other things being equal (which is not in any way guaranteed). Why were these talks revealed ? It would seem that internal political factors played a role in the form of Olmert’s multiple scandals, in two respects : he hoped that they would strengthen his hold on power long enough to wiggle through in the short run, and, in the longer run, that his successors would be bound by a policy that seemed to offer hope for a break in Israel’s regional isolation, or rather, encirclement. Again, it is local, regional and only in the final instance, global politics that have played the key role in political events.

Clearly, the downward shift in levels of decision (and in theoretical terms, levels of analysis) as between global, regional and local elements is caused by the dismal and bloody failures of US policy in the region, and the shattered dreams of a New American Century, embodied by Bush, Cheney, and the initial version of Condoleeza Rice (now, with the decline of the Bush administration, moving, albeit hesitantly, into the traditional realists’ camp). This coincides with the remarkable shift in American political realities, of which the emergence of Barack Obama as the likely next President is the most vivid symptom. Just as he has given hope to millions of people in the United States and the world that the nightmarish interventionism, cruelty and highhandedness of the current administration are drawing to a close, the actions of regional powers and most of all, the intervention of the Lebanese public, afford a glimmer of hope that the peoples of the Middle East and the world are reaching out to empower themselves once again.