Michael Totten

The Mother of All Myths

Dennis Ross, Special Advisor on Iran for the Secretary of State, has a book coming out next month that “inconveniently takes issue with the Obama Administration’s thesis”:http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2009/05/dennis-ross-my-job-is-futile.html of “linkage.” “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East,” Ross writes in a chapter titled “The Mother of All Myths,” “one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away.” Meanwhile, the Obama Administration — which Ross currently works for — is pressuring Israel in part because the president hopes progress toward the resolution of the Palestinian conflict will help derail Iran’s drive for the development of nuclear weapons.
Ross finished the manuscript and “sold it to Viking Press”:http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1088479.html before the president hired him, but he was right when he wrote it, and he’s still right today. The biggest problems in the Middle East — and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons surely is one of them — have little or nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Iranian regime’s hatred of Israel is real, to be sure, and nuclear missiles in its arsenal would pose a serious threat, but Iran, in all likelihood, would wish to arm itself with the world’s most powerful weapons even if Israel did not exist.
“Scholar Martin Kramer”:http://sandbox.blog-city.com/the_myth_of_linkage.htm identifies nine regional “conflict clusters” and argues that “these many conflicts are symptoms of the same malaise: the absence of a Middle Eastern order, to replace the old Islamic and European empires. But they are independent symptoms; one conflict does not cause another, and its ‘resolution’ cannot resolve another.”
Ross almost sounds like he’s debunking a strawman when he says believers in the theory of ‘linkage’ think “all other Middle East conflicts would melt away” if only the Palestinians had a state. I don’t know if President Barack Obama would go that far, but former “President Jimmy Carter nearly does”:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-gardels/jimmy-carter-takes-on-isr_b_36134.html. “Even among the populations of our former close friends in the region,” Carter said, “Egypt and Jordan, less than 5 percent look favorably on the United States today. That’s not because we invaded Iraq; they hated Saddam. It is because we don’t do anything about the Palestinian plight. Without doubt, the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.
The populations of Egypt, Jordan, and other Arabic countries have a nearly inexhaustible list of grievances against the United States. Many are based on “phantasmagoric and state-manufactured conspiracy theories”:http://www.mideastnews.com/Antiamericanism.html that have nothing to do with the West Bank, Gaza, or anything else in the real world. And their populations certainly were inflamed by the invasion of Iraq regardless of what they thought of Saddam Hussein. American support for Israel aggravates a huge number of Arab Muslims, but most of the region’s “conflict clusters,” as Kramer calls them, have little or nothing to do with either Israel or the United States.
Former President Carter, like most Westerners, has a Western-centric view of the world. It could hardly be otherwise. Most Chinese have a Chinese-centric view of the world, Indians an Indian-centric view, etc. One of former President Carter’s problems here is a Western-centric analysis.
Of the Middle East’s five most serious problems aside from the Arab-Israeli conflict, only one — the war in Iraq — was caused in any way by Israel or the United States. And Israel is not involved in the war in Iraq. The other four — radical Islamism, the dearth of democracy outside Lebanon and Iraq, Iran’s push for regional hegemony, and the conflict between Sunnis and Shias — simply can’t be blamed on the United States, Israel, or the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/67801.