06/11/2007 03:47 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

One Way Out: A Case for Nation Building in the Middle East

In the run-up to Gulf War II there was a lot of
talk about nation building, especially among the
neo-liberal punditry. While the Official
Neo-Conservative Party Line called for an invasion of
Iraq to "drain the swamp in which terror breeds,"
neo-liberals proposed a seemingly more selfless

The likes of Tom Friedman, George Packer, Paul
Berman, Kenneth Pollack and even mad Christopher
Hitchens maintained that to win the War against
Terror, the US needed to live up to its own democratic
ideals. An American invasion of Iraq that toppled the
regime of the tyrant Saddam, they said, would send a
message of liberty ringing throughout the Middle East,
while simultaneously cutting the anti western
ideological ground out from under the Jihadists.
Though neo-conservatives also came to adopt this
position -- indeed as Paul Wolfowitz made clear at the
time -- any rationale was as good as any other when it
came to invading Iraq -- there was a sort of earnestness
about the neo-liberals as opposed to the mephisto
tinged, machiavellianism of the neo-cons.

What the constant neo-liberal references to
"nation building in Iraq" always seemed to miss
though, was that Iraq already was a nation. It stood
to reason that to build a new nation in Iraq, you were
going to have to destroy the old one first. As any
fool could have told you at the time -- and we tried -- this
was an extraordinarily bad idea.

In point of fact, there is only one country in the
entire Middle East--outside the special case of
Kurdistan--that was and remains a suitable case for
nation building. That country is Palestine.

The case for nation building in Palestine is
pretty cut and dried.

One, the Palestinians do not currently have a
state of their own. Two, the Palestinians, in the West
Bank at least, live in a geographically confined, more
or less contiguous territory, which is currently under
occupation. Three, for most Arabs, Sunni and Shia, the
Palestinian cause has been emblematic of the Arab
Cause as a whole through the post WWII era. Indeed the
Palestinian cause has become the Islamic cause celebre
in non-Arab countries from Iran to Pakistan to

It stands to reason that if one were trying to
repair relations with the Arab and Islamic world, not
to mention the former colonial world as a whole, a
good place to start would be the creation of an
independent Palestine.

There's one thing standing in the way of the
creation of a Palestinian State and that's Israel.
This is where the good offices of the US -- or what's
left of them -- come into play. For the past thirty-five
years, it has been Israeli perception at least, that
the US alone has had Israel's back in a world arrayed
against her. For this reason the US, and the US alone,
is specially situated to assure the Israelis that
their interests are also served, and will be
protected, by this new US initiative.

However, beyond altruism, there is an even better
reason that the US go back into the nation building
business in the Middle East.

When the Iraq Study Group of James Baker and Lee
Hamilton attempted to imply there was a linkage
between Palestine and Iraq, they were shouted down by
the panicked neo-cons, but the time has come to face
the geopolitical facts.

The best way for the US to get out of Iraq is
through the creation of a Palestinian State.

To achieve these dual ends, diplomacy, by all
means, will be required. A peace conference for Iraq
and the Middle East would be a good first step, with
most of the countries of the region in attendance, as
well as representatives of the various Iraqi
communities and political/ethnic groupings. At this
conference the US could submit the following proposal.

The US military will withdraw from central and
southern Iraq, while twenty five thousand US troops
are sent north to Kurdistan as both protection for the
Kurds and to serve as an emergency strike force should
the rest of Iraq devolve into complete anarchy. Eighty
thousand American troops would then come back home.
The remaining fifty thousand American troops -- augmented
by another twenty thousand soldiers representing
allied forces -- perhaps English, French, Turkish -- or even
Algerian, contingents, would be redeployed to the
formerly occupied territories on the West Bank of the
Jordan, and the newly declared State of Palestine.

One can envision a veritable Euphrates of positive
outcomes flowing from this process. The Palestinians
finally get a state of their own--along with an interim
contingent of foreign forces that can effectively
referee between Hamas and the PLO. Along with the
friendly foreign forces it would also be necessary to
organize a massive influx of international aid
together with a requisite number of NGO's to come into
Palestine. The aim would be to support the building up
of an independent Palestinian infrastructure that is
not solely the administrative arm of a single
Palestinian party. After all, that's what nation
building is all about.

Israel meanwhile, gets it's ostensible dream
scenario, a friendly foreign force embedded in the
West Bank -- and ultimately Gaza, that can both help
stabilize Palestine and shield Israel from terrorist

Finally, the US gets to disengage from Iraq, and
perhaps even more promisingly, would then be in
position to ask both the Sunni and Shia Arabs of Iraq
to forbear from Civil War in their new role as Arab
guarantors of the new Palestinian nation.

Of course some would claim this a best case
scenario and they'd probably be right. There may be
some difficulties, to put it diplomatically, in
getting the various parties to agree to such a scheme,
even if the proposals advanced here are objectively in
their own best interests. It is therefore useful to
take an empirical look at some of the many possible
problems along the road from Baghdad to Jerusalem with
an eye toward solving them.

The first problem could be getting the Israelis to
withdraw and disengage from the West Bank, along with
the concomitant question, what will be the borders of
the new Palestinian State?

The proposed borders of a divided Israel/Palestine
have generally been agreed upon for some time, though
there have been crucial differences on the specifics.
Suffice it to say that the Israelis will have to
withdraw their military from the West Bank and take as
many settlers with them as they can induce to leave.
As for the probable seventy five to a hundred thousand
mostly Religious settlers who will not be induced to
leave for any amount of money, they can become
citizens of a Palestinian State just as the million
Palestinians in Israel proper are citizens of Israel.
Meanwhile, the Israelis and the Palestinians -- in
consultation with the US, key Arab and Allied powers,
all sitting together at the bargaining table -- will have
to work out the status of Jerusalem and other
outstanding issues.

Israeli politics, of course, are not particularly
rational and compounding the problem is the role that
American neo-cons, notably Doug Feith, Frank Gaffney,
Richard Perle and the ubiquitous Mr Wolfowitz have
played in aiding the rejectionist camp in the Likud
and the Israeli Right generally. Partly as a result of
American encouragement, the number of settlers in the
territories has more than doubled in the years since
the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. There are now four
hundred and fifty thousand settlers in what they call
"Judea and Samaria" and it is going to be difficult to
entirely dislodge them.

However to accept a permanent Israeli settler
presence in the West Bank is to indulge the same kind
of circular logic that continues to fuel the US
occupation in Iraq. It is the sort of logic that
suggests Israel can't pull out of the West Bank
because of the danger of Palestinian terror and also
because the network of settler towns, roads and
services in the territories has grown so extensive
that the Israelis are loathe to abandon it. It is the
kind of logic that conveniently ignores the role of
the American neo-cons, along with their allies in
AIPAC, in politically insulating the Israeli
colonization movement from outside criticism and

The protection of the neo-cons has also empowered
voices on the extreme, irredentist Israeli Right who
call for the outright expulsion of the Arabs from all
of Palestine, since in their words, the Jews only have
one little state in the Middle East while the Arabs
have many. Meanwhile the three million Palestinians in
the West Bank live in a tightening noose of -- terror
breeding -- poverty and desperation, while the situation
in Gaza is, if anything, worse.

Taken together, the politics of Palestine and the
Israeli territories might seem to present an
insolvable, Gordian knot of problem, but the "One way
out" proposal offers a unique diplomatic tool: the
sword of direct American intervention to cut right
through it. As opposed to the unasked for American
intervention in Iraq, American and friendly foreign
intervention to create a Palestinian state is the best
deal these people are ever going to get.

Beyond this, if the Palestinians are resistant to
accepting foreign intervention, there's nothing much
anyone can do. However, if the Israelis are still
recalcitrant, a US State Department, newly purged of
discredited neo-con influence, may finally be in
position to use a carrot and stick approach with
Israel -- especially if Israeli neo-con soul brother #1,
Binyamin Netanyahu, is elected Prime Minister in the
next elections.

There are many other potential difficulties for a
Palestinian nation building strategy, but finally, the
most conspicuous problem the "One Way Out (of Iraq)"
program faces is domestic. That is, despite the
obvious elegance and symmetry of the strategy, one
cannot imagine the Bush Administration buying into it.

This is a big problem, but as always in politics,
it's also an opportunity. The time for a Bush
administration led foreign policy is coming to an end
and will expire long before Bush's term of office is
over. In the time we are now entering -- all things,
even impeachment, could suddenly become possible. And
as Republican congressmen and senators jump overboard,
swimming as fast as they can away from the unstable
wreck of the Bush ship of state, they, along with
their sometimes equally feckless Democratic
colleagues, will need help and direction. It behooves
us all to give it to them -- with a carrot, or a stick.