Commentary editorial director and Weekly Standard co-founder John Podhoretz has an op-ed in today’s New York Post. Podhoretz, not wasting an opportunity to float a “linkage”-denying argument, says that the pro-democracy protests in Egypt show that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just a sideshow compared to the real issues facing Arabs.
The anti-Mubarak revolution won’t only topple an authoritarian regime. It will also topple 40-plus years of wrong-headed thinking about the causes of Middle East instability among the world’s foreign-policy cognoscenti.
In that view, the horrible relationship between Israel and the Arabs is the dominant issue for the Near East’s 20-plus nations and its 250-million-plus people — and the root cause of the region’s tempestuousness.
And poses the question:
If there were a Palestinian embassy in Washington today, would Hosni Mubarak have been any more mindful of the eventual consequences of his iron-fisted fecklessness in refusing a transition to a more representative Egypt because there was an ambassador from Palestine in Washington?
While Podhoretz considers this to be a rhetorical question, a slightly nuanced reading of the situation would respond affirmatively to that question.
Perhaps Podhoretz should answer this question: Could Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian rule in Egypt have lasted for thirty years had Egypt not enjoyed the benefits—largely in the form of U.S. aid and military assistance—of a peace deal with Israel?
Cure the Israeli-Palestinian problem, they tell us, and you cure regional instability. But the problem for the overwhelming majority of countries in the Middle East hasn’t been instability. The problem has, rather, been an excess of stability — the result of sclerotic regimes of preposterously long duration.
Mubarak has been in power since 1981, as part of a movement in charge of Egypt for nearly 60 years. The al-Saud family has run Saudi Arabia since 1903; the al-Sabahs have been Kuwait’s poohbahs since 1913. The Jordanian royal family has held sway for eight decades; the Assads, father and son, have bossed Syria since 1970.
Is it any coincidence that these governments all benefit from close relationships with the U.S.? Are we to believe that Washington’s support of these governments is totally independent from its concern over Israel’s security?
A June 15, 2010 Congressional Research Service report (PDF) spelled out the U.S.’s aid strategy in the Middle East (my emphasis):
The degree to which foreign assistance has contributed to the achievement of U.S. objectives in the Middle East is difficult to measure, but the consensus among most analysts seems to be that
U.S. economic and security aid has contributed significantly to Israel’s security, Egypt’s stability, and Jordan’s friendship with the United States. The promise of U.S. assistance to Israel and Egypt during peace negotiations in the late 1970s helped to enable both countries to take the risks needed for peace, and may have helped convince both countries that the United States was committed to supporting their peace efforts. Excluding Iraq, Israel and Egypt are the largest two recipients of U.S. aid respectively.
While Podhoretz would like to have his readers believe that Israel is a totally independent variable in the region’s stability, the reality is that U.S. aid and support for authoritarian regimes who maintain peace with Israel is a real side effect of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.