Of Grand Visions & Miniscule Leaders!

Many Israelis seem to be interested in advocating talks with Syria these days, including my former colleague at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, Avi Dichter, not to mention my other former colleague, but always the friend, Flynt Leverett, who wrote quite an analysis of US foreign policy in the latest issue of the American Prospect calling for the adoption of a new vision and a new approach, especially to the Middle East.

Now this might come as a surprise for some, but I actually have no problem with the resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace talks provided certain conditions are met, namely that they take place within the framework of a wider regional initiative that includes Iran, and that the issues of internal reforms is put on the table.

In other words, I want a combination of the Barcelona and Madrid processes, and I want some monitoring mechanism to be included as well and some manner of holding states accountable to their failure in living up to their commitments, especially with regard to internal reforms. This development will still not deliver democracy, I know, but it will give us a real chance to work it out peacefully from within, or so I hope.

Indeed, I started my career as an activist exactly by advocating the necessity for launching such an initiative, with both European and American involvement and sponsorship, and I have attended more conferences that I can remember where my colleagues from across the region and I sat down with European and American policy advisors and wrote papers upon papers and proposals upon proposal and commissioned studies upon studies, then sent them up the ladder using all appropriate channels, only to get saddled with vague declarations and initiatives such as the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative and the Foundation for the Future, which, as significant as they are, remain woefully insufficient and fall far short of what is really needed. Follow through has always been lacking as well. The will to wage peace is not as present as that to wage war. Key people got easily distracted, and the powers that be continue to have conflicting agendas and interests.

So, we, the liberal activists, slowly drifted away to focusing on smaller initiative based on the political situation in our respective countries in the hope of bringing about a small change there that would help us advocate our agenda on a more national level. To no avail. Our leaders were all too idiotic and corrupt, and too mired in their own intenral calculations and particularistic interests to be able to deliver on promises of reform.

Leadership and vision. The world seems all too lacking in both, at a time when these two qualities are needed most. This is the essence of our contemporary dilemma I guess. Rather than managing the New World Order and building it ourselves, the New World Order is managing us and introducing itself upon us and at our expense, especially with regards to the peoples of the developing world.

But in reality, politicians do not seem capable anymore, if they have ever been, of formulating the grand visions needed today. In our hope to democratize the world and to bring greater harmony to it, and for the sake of introducing and supporting liberal and liberating ideals, the relevant visions and leadership need to be provided by independent civil actors and organizations working across boundary lines, just as in the case with transitional fundamentalist movements and terrorist cells. Non-state actors and movements working for the sake of radical causes can only be effectively combated through a parallel development on the liberal end. States, big and small, are often part of the problem, and all need to be challenged and pushed in the right direction.

No, I am not speaking here as an anti-globalization activist, but as a pro-globalization activist, a reality that illustrates just how complex a mission we have ahead of us. There are simply too many ideologies and movements and personalities involved, and too many internecine clashes to allow for a smooth and speedy transition. Harmonizing them all into a solid pragmatic movement, rather than an ideological one, will take time, a lot of time.

Meanwhile, we have no choice but to work in tandem on our little projects in the hope of achieving one little breakthrough here or there to help build a momentum for change.

For me, a peace accord between the Assads and Israel outside the regional context outlined above will constitute an unmitigated disaster for the cause of human rights and political reform in Syria and will have major repercussions on our ability as activists to push for any kind of meaningful participation in the decision-making process in the country. Still, I am not overly worried about that, for the current talk in the Israeli side reflects nothing but an Israeli dilemma centered on the inability of the current Israeli leaders to provide the needed leadership and vision for the future of their country.

Still, even should talks end up taking place one day, I wouldn’t be worried, because I know the other side of the equation all too well, and I know that I can always count on their stupidity not to do the right thing, even for themselves.

Moreover, the Assads are no longer in a position to do any deals by themselves these days seeing that their decisions are now made on their behalf in Tehran. The Assads have irrevocably tied their fortunes to Iran, without it they have no leg to stand on. And the Iranians are not so stupid as to supply weapons and arms to a regime that is not securely in their pocket. On a related note, if people really want to drive a wedge between the Syria and Iranian regimes, they should be more quiet about it. Such goals cannot be pursued in full light of day. But in the absence of back channels to either regimes speculations might be the only alternative that the Bush Administration has.

Peace has no chance in these circumstances.

18 thoughts on “Of Grand Visions & Miniscule Leaders!

  1. I echo your sentiments wholeheartedly. Who is a great visionary today? A great leader who can work across economic/cultural/religious divides? One who understands them all. I can’t think of anyone. And this leads me to believe that propects for the near future are dim.

  2. One of the major byproducts of Globalization is the whithering away of the state. In a cosmopolitan world the function of the state is no longer as important and as seminal especially in a neo liberal world based on privatization, unencumbered flow of goods, services and even human resources. In such a world there is no place anylonger for a major visionary politician in the traditional sense of the word because if this experiment is to succeed then a strong central government becomes an anathema. Whther globalization is to prevail or not the trend towards a less obtrusive state and one that is geared to promote human rights and protect the underprivileged is underway. In a sense we can argue that Westphalia has overstayed its welcome.All of the above and more can be translated into action at the state run level. Financial resources, human capital and entrepreneurial activities will flow to the regions that are free, efficient and democratic. Those that still cling to the old idea of managed large state enterprises, regulated commerce and authoritarian rule will pay a heavy price for their practices through the flight of financial capital and talent. Syria and many other Arab regimes are a good illustration of the above. The only requirement for a visionary Arab leader is to have the courage to introduce reforms, free the economy and establish peace with his neighbours.It is rather evident that Israel, on the other hand has gone a long way in establishing strong foundations to encourage modern enterprise. Note the success in the computer and pharmaceutical fields. Yet the Israeli leadership of all shades is stuck with an unworkable paradigm for establishing real and lasting political stability. The Israeli visionary must approach the Palestinian conflict as requiring a solution that does not depend on military superiority only. Israel needs to understand that it is in its self interest to arrive at an accomodation with the Palestinians. If it does then the problems with Syria and Lebanon will no longer look intractable. The new Israeli visionary needs to admit that Israel needs the Palestinians more than the Palestinians need it. On a regional level, the need for enlightenedand visionary political leadership is called for in both the Arab world and Israel but I am suggesting that the true visionary needs to come out of Israel.

  3. Ghassan-I usually find you so astute in your analysis and comments…but not this time around, at least with your commments about Israel.1. Israel need to find a path that “does not depend solely on military power”. Do you really believe this is “soley” the way Israel has tried to solve her problems with Palestinians and other neighbors? I mean..that is so wrong…even starting in 1947…the Sinai agreement, peace with Jordan, Oslo, Madrid, Wye, Camp David, etc etc.You say the Israelis need to arrive at an accomendation with the Palestinians…I agree..but that cuts the other way too.The “new Israeli visionary needs to admit that Israel needs the Palestinians more than we need them”. Huh? I think the exact opposite is true. The Palestinians depend on Israel for jobs, commerce, electricity, water, and the potential for their own state. Who else is going to give them a state? Iran-no, Lebanon-God no, Syria, No, Egypt and Jordan threw in a piece and ain’t giving more. I cannot think of even one reason the Israeli’s NEED the Palestinians. If the Palestinians moved to Uganda tomorrow…lock, stock and barrel…this would be a disaster for Israel? I don’t think so.Actually…I think if you rewrote most of that paragraph and switched the word Palestinian for Israel…it would more accurately reflect the facts. Have the Palestinians come up with a bold and novel approach to making peace with Israel? Kassams, voting in Hamas? Continued terror attacks? The same failed actions they have tried since 67…only more and worse…which only increases Israel’s feeling of a need for “military superiority”…which is the most likely outcome of the Hiz. adventure.

  4. Howie, Believe it or not we are essentially saying the same thing. No doubt it takes two to tango and the failure to find a “comprehensive solution” to the Palestinian Israeli conflict is shared by both parties. Some would argue that the Palestinians are to carry the larger portion of the blame becasue they have “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. I have no problem with that logic in the same way that I have no problem in opposing strongly the tactics that have been employed so often by the Palestinian side. These tactics do not inspire confidence to say the least.But what I am arguing is that Israel is also to share part of the blame because to a very large extent, with minor deviations, it has pursued a Sparta like policy that depends on unquestioned military superiority. That policy has protected Israel thus far but it has not enhanced its sense of security and has not brought the question of peaceful coexistence any closer. History tells us that countries who depend on pur military power for their existence find it difficult to maintain that military edge over decades. That is why Immanuel Wallerstein has come up with an analysis that echoes what I am saying. If Israel is to become just another member of the neighbourhood and if it is to take sustainability for granted then it has no choice but to eventually seek an accomodation with the Palestinians. When I say that Israel needs the Palestinians more than the Palestinians need it I am NOT talking about short term economic activity and job creation . I am refering to existential matters. The Palestinians are there and they can go on leading the kind of life full of hardships , misery and pain. They can continue to exist in squalor . But Israel on the other hand needs acceptance and a resolutionthat it can let its guard down and that it needs not lead a life of military preparedness and the ability to launch attacks across its borders at a short notice. That peace of mind, that ability to meld into the region depends on the ability to resolve the major outstanding issues with the Palestinians otherwise Israel will go on provided it is a fortress. Howie, there is no doubt that a paradigm shift is needed on both sides but someone needs to take the initiative. Sadat did at one time but we need another breakthrough and I believe that an Israeli Sadat or even a Rabin or a Barak kind of an individual that recognizes Palestinian rights and Israeli need to compromise is very sorely needed.

  5. Ghassan-A question…what do you think would be the reaction…really now…in the Arab world if Israel gave in on say…90% of the basic demands?Before Israel came on the scence…y’all have probably been worse than Europe when it comes to lustful battling each other, invading each other, civil wars, etc. If the Arabs/Moslems could never do much in the way of getting along, even treating their own people decently…how much of a chance does Israel have of being accepted. You can’t even get Lebanese to accept Lebanese, Iraqi to accept Iraqi and…well you get my drift.I am not being sarcastic here…I really want your thoughts.

  6. Howie, Obviously you raise an important issue. Why compromise and settle with an opponent if the relationship is to remain rocky? The short answer is that many in the Arab world will not accept Israel because so many have been brought up to hate and despise the zionist and the jew. That unfortunately is a fact. But if a political agreement is to be reached between the Palestinians and Israel then we will be remiss to concentrate on the very short run. As time goes on and both sides learn more about the humanity of each other then the rejectionists will eventually fade away. How long would that take, no one can tell but I feel certain that within a few years the realtionship would show a marked improvement . Don’t forget that many of the Lebanese, most of the North Africans and a large portion of the Gulfies are already eager to establish meaningful exchanges with Israel. If these turn out to be successful, and I do not see why they will not, then they would set an example to the rejectionist camp. Time is on the side of normalised relationship once an acceptable resolution to the conflict is concluded.And even if this issue of total acceptance turns out to be more difficult to cement in the medium run the legal cessation of hostilities will transform the relationship that binds into a more humane one. Expenditures on waging war could be diverted into other more productive means and the endless military conflict will at least come to a halt.If we do not stop the hostilities then the killings, the hatred, mistrust and dehumanization will go on. All the above will stop or at least lose their vigor and eventually disappear if the parties have the wisdom arrive at a workable solution for what divides them divides.

  7. Well said.Instead of one great visionary leader, maybe there will be a host of leaders from all countries, who are connected to each other as well as to people in their own countries. Looking around, I see a generation coming into its own with a lot of ideas and a broader agenda that’s less parochial and nationalistic, and which increasingly shares cultural iconography.

  8. Just noticed that i posted the below comment on the previous post not noticing that the discussion is here. anyways i think its still relevant.Howie,IMHO your last comment was overly simplistic. Its not about who is brave enough to make the first move or any “polite” gesture. Even if it was I doubt it that would come in the form of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.I think what it boils down to is a very simple question. What would the Israeli government (not people) gain from peace or even negotiations? Assuming that Syria will remain adamant on returning all of the Golan the answer will be… nothing. As mentioned earlier I believe the Israeli government strategic interest lie in a hostile environment instead of a peaceful one. For as long as there is a threat of war there will be a steady flow of billions in financial and military aid to the country. So why should they let the region prosper as well when they can do it alone? Excluding of course the handful of Israeli civilian casualties that are not only an acceptable margin but a fuel to the conflict’s fire.This said I don’t believe the blame lies fully on Israel’s shoulders. But Israel has the upper hand and can shift the situation either way. Tel Aviv prefers a weak Syria so that they can never need to worry about giving the Golan back. Otherwise they could have easily completed a land for peace deal with Syria which the latter would have certainly abided by and then watch the Damascus be judged on social/economic issues instead of the political ones which has been the main purpose for its survival in this current form.

  9. Ammar,I am following up with the drama created by the Syrian president when he called other Arab leaders as half human. Read the reaction from Egypt media and from other media and went through what Assad FM said, but what bother me why no one demand for an apology since Assad himself seemed backed off his statement. Is this a cultural things or generally Arab leaders they do not apologize.

  10. Innocent Criminal-I could not disagree with you more and I believe your entire premise is completely incorrect. They maintian a state of war to reap money? Israel gets about a billion dollars a year in foreign aide from the USA…Egypt gets about 2 billion. This brief war COST Israel about 1.5 billion so far. So…no that is not an explanation that makes any sense.I have much more to say…will try to get back to you later on this…but no…on this you are way off. Oh..and you note the “Golan’ question could easily be settled”. No…it is actually a very risky and dangerous undertaking…especially with a fully unstable, untrustworthy and historically aggressive Syrian government.

  11. Howie,don’t bother its obvious than neither of us are about to change their minds. historically aggressive??? the syrian israeli border has been the quietest out of all borders for the last 33 years. of course it wasn’t of the kindness of the Syrians hearts but nevertheless their adherence to the armistice brought them nothing. Then you uttered this gem “Israel gets about a billion dollars a year in foreign aide from the USA.” Was that suppose to be amusing??? check this out from 2002 http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1209/p16s01-wmgn.htmland lets not forget that deals from the defense contractors and various pro-Israeli NGOs

  12. Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith The book’s cover displays a chilling photograph of the eyes of Mohammed Atta, one of the Islamic terrorist hijackers involved in the September 11 2001 atrocities. A fitting lead into this study of Islam and the underlying hatred behind these and other acts of terrorism.To bracket Islam and peace is just wishful thinking with reference to the Islamic fighting against it’s neighbours along the perimeter of the Islamic world, citing the violence against Hindus in India, Communists & Buddhists, Chinese, Jews and Christians. Whereever there be violence, there be Islam it seems. Islamic `tolerance’ of other religions is also studied with reference to the Quranic statement that `anyone who converts from Islam to Christianity deserves to die’. Numerous incidents are mentioned where those refusing to convert to Islam have been instantly executed on the spot.Many defenders of Islam say it is a religion of peace. Islam is not the Arabic word for peace – it means surrender or submission.

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