"We [Europeans] have got to have a proper, grown-up, modern relationship with our neighbors in the Middle East. You Americans don’t have to. You can play Wild West out there because they are 9,000 miles away from you, and you will never have to be neighbors. But for us, there are new priorities. America doesn’t even have a real policy in the region."
Robert Fisk, who has covered the region for 26 years, is considered by many to be simply the best and most knowledgeable correspondent currently working in the Middle East.
L.A. WEEKLY: I heard some contradictory notions in your talks regarding the U.S. I can’t tell if you are just plain sarcastic about the American role in the Middle East, or if you are merely disappointed.
ROBERT FISK: I’m way past being disappointed. I am very sarcastic. And deliberately so. A week ago, I wrote in my newspaper that when Colin Powell goes to Israel and the West Bank, we shall find out who runs U.S. policy in the Middle East: The White House? Congress? Or Israel?
On an ostensibly urgent mission, Secretary of State Powell — our favorite ex-general — wandered and dawdled around the Mediterranean, popping off to Morocco, then off to see the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, then he went to Spain, then he went to Egypt, then he went to Jordan, and after eight days he finally washed up in Israel. On an urgent mission!
If Washington firefighters turned up that late, the city would already be in ashes. As Jenin was. It was generally hinted at on the networks, in the usual coy, cowardly sort of way, that Powell wanted to give Sharon time to finish the job, just as he got to finish the job in ’82 in such a bloody way.
And now Powell arrives and we see the two sides of the glass. On the one hand, he quite rightly goes to inspect by helicopter the revolting suicide bombing in Jerusalem where six Israelis were killed and 80 wounded.
But faced with the Israelis hiding their own activities, where hundreds [of Palestinians] have been killed, Powell does not ask to go to Jenin. Why? Because the dead are Palestinians? Because they are Arabs? Because they are Muslim? Why on earth doesn’t he go to Jenin?
Powell is not being evenhanded. American policy never has been. It’s a totally bankrupt policy. No wonder the Europeans are saying, "For God’s sake, we have to play a role in the Mideast now."
But till now the Europeans have not acquitted themselves much more honorably in the Middle East. And their role in the Balkans was abominable.
Well, they haven’t had a chance yet to make a mess of the Middle East in the way you Americans have. But yes, if you look at European foreign policy within Europe, we totally screwed up in Bosnia. We didn’t have the courage of our convictions over the breakup of Yugoslavia — that’s if we had any convictions. We allowed the horror and the tragedy and the most horrible atrocities to take place in Srebenica.
We needed the Americans in Bosnia. We needed the Americans in Kosovo. We still need American support with their influence over the Republican movement in Northern Ireland to keep that peace process together.
But Europe has a much clearer understanding of the Middle East. Owing partly to much more forthright press and television coverage of the region, of what’s going on. We do not hide from our readers and viewers what’s happening there. Unlike the American press, we do not hide the brutality of the Israelis. And we certainly do not hide the brutality of the Palestinians.
The peoples of the Middle East — Jews, Muslims, Christians — are our neighbors in Europe. Not only do we have large numbers of Muslims living in Europe, but the fault line between the Muslim world and Europe runs down the Mediterranean — in many cases through Europe itself, like in Bosnia.
And we have got to have a proper, grown-up, modern relationship with our neighbors in the Middle East. You Americans don’t have to. You can play Wild West out there because they are 9,000 miles away from you, and you will never have to be neighbors. But for us, there are new priorities. America doesn’t even have a real policy in the region.
You say, "Well, it’s up to the parties." That’s what we Europeans said in Bosnia, and look what happened.
How odd. Here’s a superpower with enormous leverage, if you care to use it, over the Israelis. Yet you don’t do so.
Author: Marc Cooper
News Service: L.A. Weekly