First Wikileaks, now the Palestine Papers. When the veil of secrecy around U.S. foreign policy is lifted, unnoticed (at least in Washington) American vulnerabilities are clarified for the reading public. That’s the message from Tunis to Cairo to Foggy Bottom.
Feeling queasy: Egyptian President for Life Hosni Mubarak (Photo courtesy AllVoices)
For example, U.S. diplomats have long known that Gamil Mubarak, son and heir-apparent of President for Life Hosni Mubarak, is “deeply unpopular.” But to say so publicly was considered a threat to the credibility of Cairo-Tel Aviv alliance on which U.S. Middle East diplomacy has depended since 1979. The American taxpayers were not supposed to get the memo about Gamil Mubarak. Now, thanks to Julian Assange, it sits in the inbox.
The Palestine Papers may prove even more influential on U.S. Middle East policy, at least in the short term. The reaction to the 1,700 documents, posted on Al-Jazeera, about the U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may well depose unpopular Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and formally end the U.S.-backed “peace process” that began on the White House lawn in 1994. The implosion of U.S. policy is just one aspect of the U.S. loss of credibility in the region. JCS chairman Mike Mullen says a Palestinian state is a “cardinal interest” of the United States. Yet the United States has never had a less credible proposal for how to achieve one. U.S. policy is somewhere between disarray and disappeared.
As Ali Abunimah notes in the Christian Science Monitor, the Palestine Papers show that “the United States is, to put it mildly, actually rather incompetent at evaluating its own credibility among those it seeks to influence” and “completely out of touch with the grim realities it has helped create in the region and unprepared to deal with the consequences.”
As Arab civil society turns on U.S.-backed dictatorships, President Obama faces a fundamental test: Can he align the U.S. policy with Arab civil society while still preserving the special relationship with Israel? Many Israelis are assuring themselves that Egypt is not Tunisia. But what if it is? The Angry Arab predicts the Obama administration will back President Mubarak in launching a Tianamen Square-style crackdown to disperse the burgeoning demonstrations in the street.
Feeling bolder: Egyptian reformist leader Mohamed ElBaradei (Photo courtesy of Palestinian Pundit)
More likely, U.S. policymakers are already calculating how to cut their losses and head off the presidential candidacy of M0hamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who so irked the Bush administration for his accurate observation that Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons.
ElBaradei is a rather dour technocrat who chose a career in the global civil service rather than toil in Mubarak’s satrapy. He has shallow roots in Egyptian civil society but is the most plausible presidential possibility internationally, which makes pro-Israeli policymakers in Washington just a little bit nervous.
For what’s at stake in the streets of Cairo is not just the future of Egyptian democracy but also the future of Israeli influence on U.S. foreign policy.
Would a democratic post-Mubarak Egypt align itself with Israel to perpetuate the Gaza blockade? Mubarak did not hesitate. ElBaradei probably would, if only because of the need to bring the politically conservative, non-violent Muslim Brotherhood into a post-dictatorship government. (Hamas, the governing party of Gaza, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood. Unlike its parent organization, Hamas has not renounced violence.)
Would Egypt certainly countenance a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities? Mubarak probably would have. As chief of the IAEA, El Baradei made clear in 2008 that he would resign if Iran was attacked and that he thought such an attack would be unmitigated folly.
The conundrum that Washington faces is that as Mubarak gets weaker, so does Israel. That’s the new reality facing President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, and its no longer secret.