Grasping the Nettle

Grasping the Nettle

Mini Teaser: As strange as it may seem, now is the best time to push for peace in the Middle East.

by Author(s): John C. Hulsman

It may also be objected that the Europeans would never agree. Well, a secondary motivation for this strategy from a U.S. point of view would be precisely to take some of the weight of responsibility-and blame-for the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio off the shoulders of the United States and place it where, after all, it ultimately belongs historically. If the European Union did ultimately refuse to accept even the possibility of Israeli and Palestinian membership, the Europeans would have demonstrated their hypocrisy and irresponsibility towards the Middle East. And European criticisms of U.S. policy would go very quiet for awhile. However, shifting blame onto the Europeans is not of course the goal of such an ethical realist approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The point is to solve the problem.

Though both a clear U.S. decision on the contours of a final settlement and strong U.S. pressure on Israelis and Palestinians would be essential to bringing about peace, in the longer run a European role would also help the United States to step back from its present level of embroilment in the region, and to qualify-or at least veil-its present domination of the Middle East. As Robert Pape and others have demonstrated in The National Interest and elsewhere, America's present overt domination is bitterly unpopular in the region and serves as a principal recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda.

Given the unstable and violent nature of the Middle East, any power attempting to exercise this kind of hegemony is also bound to be drawn into repeated wars-with potentially disastrous results for America's wider global leadership. It is highly desirable therefore that the United States take a step back, and seek both to limit its power and to veil it as far as possible behind that of regional states and regional and international agreements. We should help Israel and Palestine to become a bridge between Europe and the Middle East, rather than a bloody, embattled and permanently endangered outwork of the United States.

For the United States to take a step back in this way would immensely further U.S. goals in the whole region. As T. E. Lawrence said of his Bedouin allies during the Arab revolt in the First World War, "while very difficult to drive, the Bedu are easy to lead; if you have the patience to bear with them. The less apparent your interferences, the more your influence."1

Speaking at a forum organized by The Nixon Center in New York City this past September, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf closed his remarks with a piece of advice for policy-makers in Washington. The United States cannot hope to be successful in achieving its strategic goals in the larger Arab and Islamic world of the Middle East and South Asia without making progress toward a resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. "The time is right", he said. We wholeheartedly agree.

John C. Hulsman is the first von Oppenheim scholar in residence at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. He is a contributing editor to The National Interest. This essay expands and develops points raised in Ethical Realism: A Vision For America's Role In The World (Pantheon Press, 2006), co-authored with Anatol Lieven.

1 For more on the central role of legitimacy in the region see, John C. Hulsman and Alexis Y. Debat, "In Praise of Warlords", The National Interest, No. 84 (Summer 2006).

Essay Types: Essay