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January 19, 2003

Interesting observations (extracted) from USS Clueless Observations

Sometimes terms take on a life of their own, lasting well beyond the point where they make any sense, if they ever did at all. One of those terms was "peace process", for instance. For something like 20 years, there was this mythical "Middle East Peace Process" which represented a hope for an end to the struggle between the Israelis and sundry Arabs, external and internal.

In some senses, I suppose there was process in it. After 1973 (the Yom Kippur war) there has never been another serious threat of an attack by an Arab nation against Israel, and that is indeed an accomplishment. But it didn't really happen because of any kind of process towards peace. It appears to have happened for two reasons: America bought off the Egyptians and Jordanians (and continues to pay them vast amounts of money, every year), and Israel developed nukes and let the Arabs know about it. The real reason there hasn't been any attack on Israel since then is because the next time there's a formal military attack, Cairo and Damascus are going to be vaporized. However, that threat didn't work against the Palestinians, nor did it prevent the Arab nations from surreptitiously supporting various Palestinian factions. So low level war has been chronic in the region for the entire thirty years since the Yom Kippur war.

And yet, during the 1980's and 1990's I kept hearing about the "stalled peace process", "getting the peace process moving again", "discussing the peace process", and on and on, and somehow the difficulty was that there wasn't any peace, and there damned well didn't seem to be any process. Maybe that's because to me, as a systems engineer, a "process" is actually an orderly sequence of steps toward a defined goal, and what we actually saw was floundering and setbacks and confusion and multiple incompatible approaches and basically something which was about as un-process-like as it could be.

That particular term seems mostly to have fallen by the wayside, though you still occasionally hear it. Even after the failure of the last serious attempt to deal with the Palestinians, and the beginning of the Intifada, you still heard people talking about how we were going to get the peace process started again. It was when Bush decided, last year, that Arafat was the problem, and that peace was impossible as long as Arafat was involved, that the term "peace process" finally seems to have gone to the political graveyard of dead rhetoric. But don't be too surprised if it shows up again in future; this kind of term has more lives than a cat, mostly because those who are using it are advocating, not describing. The reason there was so much talk about a peace process wasn't that it actually existed so much as that a lot of people wished it did and were trying to build a fire under various politicians to make them buy such a "process" (by giving things away to get one).

[...]The Arabs are running scared, especially those in power in brutal autocratic regimes who recognize the threat to themselves of an American invasion of Iraq. They want "peace", an "Iraqi solution", which is to say that they're looking for any way they can find to keep the US from invading.

Time Magazine reported that the Saudis were attempting engineer an Iraqi coup, which even if true was enough to scotch the deal. The Saudis have denied it. Syria says "We need a solution" (read "We're next after Saddam").

They're running around talking to one another, and there's going to be a meeting in Turkey next week.

Before the Time report, there was a different rumor about what the Saudi "peace" initiative might actually involve. That was that they were attempting to get the Arabs collectively (and Turkey and Iran) to agree to stand shoulder-to-shoulder against the US, and in particular to stop cooperating with the US in preparing for war. Which basically meant that they were trying to bring pressure to bear on Qatar and in particular Kuwait to make them stop letting the US use their territory to stage for war.

It's too late for that, even if there was any chance of it working. Kuwait was the one nation whose cooperation we really pretty much had to have, but not only does Kuwait owe us big-time, they also fear the possibility of another Iraqi invasion and know that American military power for the last ten years has been the only thing which has prevented a repeat of the 1990 invasion. So there's pretty much no chance of Kuwait playing along.

These kinds of Arab/Muslim summits usually end up with some sort of pious statement or other that everyone agrees to, and then goes home and proceeds to ignore. They're really big on lip service. In fact, the Arab League has opposed the war more than once, and Kuwait and Qatar were right there in the ranks, smiling and nodding and agreeing. Not that it made any difference in their policy, mind.

I don't know if that's what the Saudis really have in mind, but it really doesn't matter what they're thinking. It's too late; they can't stop us any longer.