The Middle East faces an imminent surge of democracy, which some are embracing with fatalism rather than fervor, others with guileful plots for subversion. Never one to walk softly, President George W. Bush is determined to hammer home his democratic ethic with a big stick. Most of the polls are necessary pieces on the US diplomatic and military game-board for the region in the coming two years, although not all will turn out according to plan. The following ballots are scheduled:
- January 9 – Palestinian Authority chooses a successor to Yasser Arafat.
- January 30 – General election in Iraq.
- March 21 – General election in Lebanon.
- March or April – Possible general election in Israel.
- May – Presidential election in Iran.
- Late 2005 or early 2006 – Presidential election in Egypt, depending on President Hosni Mubarak‘s state of health.
Palestinian Authority: The plan is for the Palestinians to elect a new leader who will set up a pro-American government committed to efforts to terminate the Palestinian war with Israel and eradicate Palestinian terrorism. This regime would also disengage from the radical Iran, Syria and Hizballah and be ready to act as a diplomatic conduit between the Arab states and Israel. According to the US scenario, the development of that conduit will be governed by the robustness of Israeli-Palestinian relations and the pace of Israeli pullbacks from Palestinian territories. Its end-product will be formal peace treaties with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Syria and Lebanon.
Iraq‘s general election: This milestone event should generate the gradual slowdown of the guerrilla war against US troops, as well as bolstering Iyad Allawi’s government as the ruling regime and creating an increasingly secure environment for economic recovery. These effects are built into the planning whether Iraq remains united or breaks up into two or three autonomous regions.
Lebanon‘s general election: US strategists see the Lebanese poll as resulting in the dismantling of the Hizballah as a terrorist organization with military branches. Its disarming would also be integral to the broader initiative for persuading Syrian president Bashar Assad and his country’s military elite to revolutionize their thinking and turn their backs on radical political concepts. If this ploy succeeds, Washington conceives of Assad as “the Qaddafi of the Middle East” in the sense that the Libyan ruler scrapped his nuclear weapons programs and other weapons of mass destruction and severed ties going back decades with terrorist groups. The Bush administration is now telling Assad it is up to him to emulate Qaddafi’s conversion if he wants to claim a similar role in the eastern Mediterranean region.
France’s active endorsement of this US line is the best guarantee of French cooperation in resolving the situation in Iraq.
Iran‘s presidential election: Washington will look for ways to turn this event into an opportunity for promoting regime change in Tehran.
Israel‘s potential general election: The Bush administration will operate its levers of influence to make sure Ariel Sharon heads the next government – even to maneuvering among the new party alignments taking shape amid the wreckage left by the current political upheavals. Sharon’s survival in power guarantees continuity for Washington’s Palestinian policy.
Egypt‘s presidential election: The objective here is to ascertain the direct transition of power from Hosni Mubarak to his son Gemal. Egypt’s political stability is a prime factor in Washington’s Middle East strategic thinking. Cairo is valued as its channel to Libya and Saudi Arabia and as lead player in Israeli-Palestinian interrelations. Although there have been times when Cairo stood out against Bush policy objectives, Mubarak ultimately toed the American line, notably over the war in Iraq. Washington has rewarded him by recognizing Egypt as the Middle East’s leading power broker.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources and experts analyze in depth the obstacles and problems inherent in Washington’s Middle East projections. As things stand now, they stand a good chance of coming true – albeit in a region notorious for its proneness to wild, unforeseen upsets.