Unraveling Middle Eastern Diplomacy

It was disclosed this past summer that the U.S. sold arms to Iran while simultaneously delivering intelligence information to Iraq in hopes of creating a stalemate in the war between those nations. In the midst of these revelations, one Harvard professor has come up with what may be a more effective method of handling the Persian Gulf crisis and a foreign policy which could lead to an easing of tensions between Arab countries and Israel.

Assistant Professor of Government Laurie A. Mylroie has travelled extensively throughout the Middle East, taking advantage of her proficiency in Arabic to interview a wide range of government officials and citizens of the nations which make up the Middle East region. Analyzing data collected over the past few years, she has been able to come up with a few policy theories which even she labels as possibly "eccentric."

The Iraqi Key

The crux of Mylroie's arguments is the idea that any Iranian victory in their war against Iraq would spell disaster for U.S., Israeli, Egyptian, and Jordanian interests in the Persian Gulf. With any increase in power, the fanatic Iranian government would further destabilize the situation in the Middle East, she says. Thus U.S. policy in the Gulf should be aimed at preventing future Iranian hegemony. Policymakers should abandon their current neutral stance in the Iran-Iraq struggle and openly back Iraq, contiues Mylroie's arguement.

While in the past Americans have met Iraqi opposition on a range of security issues, Mylroie says that U.S.-Iraqi rapprochement is not as far fetched as one might think. She points out that Iraq played a critical role in the Arab decision last year to recognize Egypt formally after that country's peace arrangement with Israel. Iraq also supported Chad in its war against Libya and welcomes the U.S. reflagging of Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. should also back Iraqi interests because of that country's potential as a Middle East peacemaker, says Mylroie. The Iraqis may now be experiencing a shift in policy similar to to the one that occured in Egypt, less than ten years ago, which climaxed in the Camp David accords.

"I'm interested in whether the same kind of phenomenon is taking place in Iraq...they too have begun to shift," says the Illinois native, who is one of the American scholars most recently permitted by the Iraqis to study in that country. With enough of a shift, Iraq could join with other nations in an attempt to quiet the current Arab-Israeli crisis.

U.S. Policy Problems

In the past, much of American foreign policy designed to promote Arab-Israeli negotiations has been based on faulty presumptions, Mylroie says. American leaders have always assumed that Middle Eastern countries desire a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. So Washington policymakers have always aimed at quelling Arab desires to retake Israel as a Palestinean homeland through negotiations at the bargaining table, says Mylroie, who has consulted with State Department officials about her research and conclusions.

Contrary to U.S. beliefs, however, there are in fact countries with a stake in blocking any Middle Eastern peace settlement, she says. Despite Syrian statements to the contrary, it is ridiculous to imagine the driving force behind Syrian foreign policy is a concern for the Palestinians. "There's something wrong in the Syrian position...in fact they do nothing for the Palestinians. The last thing the Syrians want is an independent PLO state on the West Bank or...a settlement of the conflict," says Mylroie, who plans to expand her research on this topic next year.

What Syria desires is a maintenance of the status quo, which allows that country to position itself as the leader of the anti-Israeli vanguard, says Mylroie. This status earns Syria recognition and monetary support from Saudi Arabia and the Soviet Union. Mylroie says that to achieve a peace settlement, the U.S. should deemphasize negotiations with Syria and concentrate on talks with such states as Iraq and Jordan, which are more likely to abandon their strong anti-Israel stances.

On a broader level, Mylroie has criticized American leaders for tending to view the entire Middle East region as the scene of U.S. Soviet power struggles and ignoring analyses on a regional level. The reflagging of Kuwaiti tankers last summer, for example, was motivated by an American fear that the Soviets would take the Kuwaitis under their wing if the U.S. did not act first. In addition, a similar fear of growing Soviet influence in the region led to the U.S.'s selling of arms to Iran.

Experts React

Several foreign policy experts have reacted favorably to Mylroie's "eccentric" ideas. "The originality [of her research] lies in her discerning a pattern... and seeing the larger picture," says Daniel Pipes, Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Pipes, who is the publisher of the foreign policy journal, Orbis, also co-authored a story in The New Republic with Mylroie on the necesity of a pro-Iraqi stance.

Pipes says that Mylroie's research is significant because it refutes arguments which contend that American attitudes toward the Arab-Israeli crisis cycle through four-year periods corresponding to American presidential administrations. Mylroie has found that the U.S. alternates between an extremely pro-Israeli position and a stance which takes into account the demands of Arab countries and Israel alike. "She offers a more complex and more convincing pattern," Pipes says.