Fuelling the arms race doesn't make peace
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates's current tour of the region had been heavily trailed as a mission to promote peace in the Middle East. Indeed, it is their first visit in this part of the world since US President George W Bush called on 16 July for an international Middle East peace summit to be held in autumn.
Yet the only tangible outcome of the Rice-Gates visit so far has been $63 billion worth of arms deals concluded with America's "allies" in the region -- $30 billion for Israel, $13 billion for Egypt and $20 billion to be shared between Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Oman and Bahrain. Little has been heard of peace, or even Bush's hoped-for conference.
The two US officials -- purposefully vague on the agenda of the proposed peace summit -- have been far more focussed on rallying Washington's allies against the state's perceived-to-be enemies. According to the current US administration its allies -- Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the Lebanese government, Saudi Arabia and most of the Gulf countries -- must unite against Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and Iran. It's the same "moderate" versus "extremist" scenario that Washington has been pushing for some time now. The region, according to Bush, should be one in which Arabs are pitched against Arabs, Muslims against Muslims.
Drowning the Middle East in arms, supplying its regional allies with ever more US weapons so they can confront its enemies, seems a peculiar way to promote peace. The US military presence in the region has, over the past decade, reached unprecedented levels, and it is growing by the day. There are 162,000 US troops in Iraq alone, their number is scheduled to increase to 200,000 by the end of the year. Washington maintains heavily armed and sophisticated military basis, and deploys long-range missiles across the territories of the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Three aircraft carriers plough the waters off the Persian Gulf in what is the largest demonstration of force in the history of the Middle East.
How are these weapons intended to bring anything but greater disaster to the region? The world has already seen what has happened to Iraq. Yet the US-made catastrophe in this once prosperous Arab country seems not to be enough. American decision-makers are now hungry for an even more devastating war with Iran. It may seem a far fetched notion but the beating of the drums of war is growing in volume, and the current US administration is increasingly unable, and unwilling, to listen to anything beyond their beat.