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21st February 1999

Middle-east to Wild West

By Mervyn de Silva

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If I forget O Jerusalem let my right hand lose its cunning," says the Holy Book. With the death of King Hussein the western alliance, once led by Britain and now the United States, the sole superpower, has lost its most trusted ally in the strategic Middle-east.

Apart from the oil resources, and the colossal revenues, to the western corporation, American more than European, there is the Suez Canal, the gateway to India and East Asia.... trade.

The Arab-Israeli conflict remains the most intractable in the post-war half a century, despite Israel's accord with Egypt, the most important member of the Arab League. While Kashmir in our region is as long-standing, it involves only two countries, though India and Pakistan are the region's major powers.

The Suez Canal is the gateway to an ocean named after a country, India.

With the Islamic revival, these regional conflicts, (the post-war world's longest), have been aggravated. With the end of the Cold War, and the Soviet implosion, however the chances for "conflict resolution" have markedly improved. For many reasons, the sole superpower, the United States, was right in spotting a window of opportunity. As a professional "oil man" from the west, the home of the American oil cartels, George Bush was eminently suited for the task, the role of mediator. To borrow a word from Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, "contacts, contacts". But the American voter had other ideas. He chose not to buy the G.O.P. salesman's goods, and voted young Bill Clinton to the White House, twice, the maximum permitted by the Constitution.

The Washington Post's Barton Gellman was carried away by Mr. Clinton's reaction to the sad news from Amman:

"Only twice in the fractious part of the world has President Bill Clinton formed a truly personal bond, the kind that crossed from statecraft to something like love." Three years ago, he wept with one of those friends as they helped bury the other, the slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, probably the most decorated Israeli General after Moshe Dayan.

Prime Minister Rabin was addressing an election rally when a young Israeli shot him pointblank. The killer was no "nut". He was a member of a secret cell of "Jewish fundamentalists" - a necessary answer to Islamic revivalism in the "Holy Land?"

The creation of Israel in 1948 was seen as the boldest move by the western imperialists, "The map of the Muslim world after World War I" revealed the extent of foreign dominance - the French in the north, west and equatorial Africa and the Levant (Lebanon and Syria), the British in Palestine, Transjordan, Iraq, the Arabian Gulf and the Indian sub-continent; and in South-east Asia; Malaya, Singapore and Brunei; and the Dutch in Indonesia.

"Lord Cramer could complacently conclude that Islam's gradual decay cannot be arrested by any modern palliatives, however skilfully applied" observes Prof. John Esposito, Loyala Professor of the Middle-east Studies Association and a consultant to the State Dept.

New challenges

It is the Islamic revival, the formidable new challenge, which has led to a re-assessment of Washington's Middle-east policies but only because there is a dangerous convergence - the economic uncertainties and signs of decline, oil income notwithstanding. And of course the impeachment crisis and the sharpening party battles particularly the GOP's aggressive challenge on the Lewinsky issue have already ruined what he had been quite certain would be a quiet, successful four years. On the contrary, an opinion survey conducted by Reuters has shown a steady decline in American influence in Asia.

Nasty affairs

By a quaint coincidence, President Clinton's day has been darkened. It is Vernon Jordan Jr. I have in mind. And it has nothing to do with foreign affairs but the Monica Lewinsky affair. Fleet St. is comparatively well-behaved, the tabloids included. If we can rely on the 'idiot box' Mr. Clinton has weathered the storm rather bravely.... surprisingly self- assured in the circumstances.

Arab-Israeli battles can wait.

Hulftsdorp Hill

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