The Best Description for Rice’s New Mideast Article: A Note, Analysis, Command, Threat, or Prophecy?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Dr. Seyedeh Motahhareh Hosseini
Expert on Russia & Eurasia Issues

The former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice published an article in the daily Washington Post on November 23, 2012, which mostly focused on the general principles of the US foreign policy. In that piece of writing, Rice has put a lot of emphasis on the existence of a “large” Shiite population in the region. Apart from focusing on the issue of Shiite population, which Rice argues that its coexistence with Sunnis, in view of ripe grounds for fundamentalist, is per se a threat, she notes that the combination of religious rifts with ethnic and ideological gaps will work as a breeding ground for further conflicts in the Middle East. She concludes that if all those factor are added to the “fragile state structure of the Middle East, which has been held together for decades by monarchs and dictators,” and taking into account “the desire for freedom [which] has spread from Tunis to Cairo to Damascus,” then the United States’ commitment to promoting democracy in those countries would appear more valuable.

The dangerous remarks embedded in Rice’s article, which may be an omen to future course of policies of the United States, the West, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in the Middle East, are very menacing. The high emphasis she has put on Shia population brings to the mind the possibility that the bigger part of the Islamic world, which is Sunni, as well as the “democratic and free” West are faced with a problem in the form of Shia extremism. In reality, however, neither the Shia population is as big as Rice underlines, nor is that population as extremist and radical as she tries to present. The second dangerous part of her article is division of the Islamic world into Sunni and Shia, which has been also exaggerated by the Western and Arab media propaganda and may pave the way for dangerous sectarian conflicts in the Middle East. To further fan the flame, Rice has also made references to ethnic divides (with special emphasis on Kurds) as well as geographical and even religious rifts (including presence of Christian Arabs) in the region.

She then explains about the United States commitment to “promotion of democracy,” describing it a commitment to protecting the national interests of the United States. In this way, she also takes a shot at such “risky” figures as [Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri] Al-Maliki and [Syrian President] Bashar Al-Assad. Rice believes that the fate of all the crises in the Middle East is closely tied to the fate of the ongoing conflict in Syria.

By generalizing Carl Marx’s idea of “false consciousness of national identity” to the countries in the Middle East and the Islamic world, Rice argues that the tense conditions in the Middle East are the result of confrontational geographical divisions which give rise to false national identities. She believes that under these circumstances, anti-American figures like Maliki and Assad can, under the guidance of Iran, change the game to the detriment of the United States. Rice maintains that the fate of this game will be determined in Syria, but the final conclusion of the Syria game also depends on the reaction shown by Iran and the practical scenarios implemented by the United States. By alleging that “today’s Karl Marx is Iran,” Rice tries to throw the ball from Syria into Iran's court because Rice believes that Iran “envisions the spread of its influence among Shiites, uniting them under the theocratic flag of Tehran.” Rice then rushes to the conclusion that this trend will increase regional clout of Iran and destroy “the integrity of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon.”

Presenting Shiism as the main source of tension in the Middle East with special emphasis on “the threat from Shiite Crescent,” has been a longstanding project followed by the United States Committee on Foreign Relations. Rice continues by saying that Iran “uses terrorist groups, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in southern Iraq to do its bidding.” She also alleges that “Syria is the linchpin, the bridge into the Arab Middle East.”

The entire piece of writing is riddled with remarks which are clearly aimed at provoking the Arab, Islamic, and Middle Eastern states against Shiism and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Rice’s effort to stoke sectarian and ethnic differences hits its acme by putting high emphasis on Shia – Sunni and even Iranian – non-Iranian divides while lending support to the backing given to Sunni ethnic groups by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other neighboring countries of Iran.

In order to predict the fate (and in fact, the duty) of Turkey, Rice has claimed that Turkey will “be drawn into the conflict” in the issue of Kurds, and proposes that due to sensitivity of the Syrian issue, Turkey should take a positive step to improve its future outlook by avoiding being drawn into the conflict. Noting that “missile and mortar strikes are increasingly common across the borders of Israel and Turkey,” she adds that Turkey should be given a positive point for its cooperation with NATO.

Now, the scenario depicted by Rice should also determine the situation of China and Russia as the main supporters of Syria, which is the main link in Rice’s purported Armageddon. Referring to the Russian president, she writes, “Vladimir Putin is not a sentimental man. But if he believes that Assad can survive, he will do nothing to undermine him.” She then points to the necessity of raising the cost of supporting Syria and forcing Russia and China to distance themselves from the Syrian government by offering both threats and rewards. Rice also tries to delineate the role of the Central and Western Europe in her scenario.

The former US Secretary of State ends her article by claiming that if the United States is not vigilant enough, “Iran will win, our allies will lose, and for decades the region’s misery and violence will make today’s chaos look tame.” The ideological prophecies of Rice end in an imperative prediction in which she apparently gives the final command, “War is not receding in the Middle East. It is building to a crescendo. Our elections are over. Now, America must act.”

In view of Rice’s approach, it seems that the United States has a long-term plan for the Middle East parts of which are sometimes leaked through such articles. The main pillar of that plan is radical principlism based on the existing conflicts between Shias and Sunnis, on the one hand, and between principlist Muslims and liberal – secular tendencies, on the other hand. War is apparently a major component of the West’s approach to the Middle East and such wars are incited on the basis of endless religious, ethnic and cultural tensions in the region. The type of interaction between the Islamic world and the Middle East countries will play a determining role in setting the course and the result of such power games.

Key Words: Condoleezza Rice, Washington Post, US Foreign Policy, Shiite Population, Ethnic and Ideological Gaps, Promotion of Democracy, Shiite Crescent, Hosseini

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