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US Power Stays In Middle East

The negative role of outsiders is not the key element in strengthening sectarian conflict in Iraq.
by Jacob Russell
UPI Correspondent
Washington (UPI) Nov 29, 2006
U.S. dominance in the Middle East is still very much alive, says Robert Satloff, Executive Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, repling to an article by Richard N. Hass claiming that American dominance of the area is resolved. "America is still by far the most powerful external actor in the Middle East and many regional states want us to remain the most powerful external actor," he told United Press International.

This comes as a response to the conclusion of a study by Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in an article titled "The New Middle East" published in the November/December 2006 issue of Foreign Affairs.

"I disagree completely and wholly," Satloff said.

While there is no doubt that Iraq is undermining much of what the United States is trying to do in various parts in the Middle East, and while there is no doubt in anybody's mind that something has gone terribly wrong in Iraq, this does not necessarily mean there has been a collapse in U.S. influence.

The United States is still one of the most powerful outside influences throughout the Middle East. In other places, according to Satloff, pressure on Hamas is bearing fruit, forcing Hamas to ask for a totally different form of government. The Lebanese situation is playing out, not necessarily successfully but completely and fundamentally changed much for the better, and many Arab states are "begging" the United States to remain deeply engaged in their security.

"Ask any Arab official about their major security fears and it has to do with Iran and they are eager for deeper American involvement in Gulf security, and wider Arab security, to help counter rising Irani influence," Satloff said.

What is missing from victory in Iraq, according to Satloff, is the absence of strong regional engagement from major regional states. The negative role of outsiders is not the key element in strengthening sectarian conflict in Iraq. Almost all serious experts point to the depth of sectarian conflict in Iraq, acknowledging that there are outsiders -- people that pass through Syria, people coming into Iran -- but it is not the key element in the sectarian conflict.

The concern of outsiders may have been a key element a year ago, perhaps two, when the Syrians and others were actively engaged in assisting foreign fighters coming in Iraq.

Scott Lasensky, Senior Research Associate for the United States Institute of Peace, does not believe that the United States is poised in a state where they need to craft a major new initiative to stabilize the region. According to him, the United States does not need to fundamentally shift everything in terms of goals and tactics in the Middle East.

He suggests, much like Satloff, that the United States engage and challenge the region.

However, there are many that do not embrace Satloff's analysis. Robert Malley, Director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group believes that "there is something very true about" Haas' claim.

According to him, the repercussions of the war in Iraq are only beginning to unfold. The United States is only beginning to see what the consequences will be throughout the region. What will happen is a new security structure will emerge.

"I would hope that the U.S. could take the lead in trying to be one of the ones that fashion it, particularly by re-engaging countries like Syria, Iran, and others, but otherwise it will be done without us at a time not of our choosing," Malley said.

Satloff's concern is what would happen if the United States were to leave the region after intellectually reaching the conclusion that its era is over and it should find alternative for its presence in the region.

"You have countries of the Gulf -- small countries as well as large -- that have deep security relationships with the United States," he said. "Their greatest nightmare would be for the United States to pick up and leave."

According to Satloff, these countries, namely in the Gulf and Jordan, want the United States to remain engaged in helping them bolster security. Many states in the region view Iran as their principle security threat and look to the United States as a source of security against that Iranian threat.

Source: United Press International

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