Saturday, April 01, 2006

Arab League futility

Boston Globe
March 30, 2006

THIS WEEK'S ARAB LEAGUE summit in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, appeared to validate the group's reputation for idle chatter and obtuse decisions.

If the site of the summit was not callous enough -- the host government is the perpetrator of an ongoing genocide in Darfur -- the participants made things worse by rejecting a proposal to supplement 7,000 ineffectual African Union monitors in Darfur with a substantial United Nations peacekeeping force. In so doing, the league's 22 members were accepting the cynical line of Sudan's genocidal ruler, Omar al-Bashir, who characterized the plan for a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur as a violation of Sudan's sovereignty.

This gesture of solidarity with the forces behind mass murder, systematic rape, and the ethnic cleansing of non-Arab African tribal groups in Darfur cast a pall on everything else that was said, or left unsaid, by the dignitaries -- mostly autocrats -- in attendance in Khartoum.

The summit's pledge of solidarity with the Palestinians, in conjunction with a repetition of the 2002 Arab League offer of peace with Israel in return for a withdrawal from all Arab lands, belongs under the rubric of idle chatter. The vapidity of the members' stance was evident in their refusal to increase last year's commitment to contribute $55 million per month to the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians are asking for $170 million.

But the most dramatic -- and pathetic -- failing of the summit was its effort to address the twin specters of sectarian warfare and Iranian influence in Iraq. In a barely veiled lament at the prospect of US-Iranian talks about Iraq's future, the Arab League's secretary general, Amr Moussa, said: ''Any solution for the Iraqi problem cannot be reached without Arabs and Arab participation. Any result of consultations without Arab participation will be considered insufficient and will not lead to a solution."

This was a coded way of expressing deep Arab fears that the United States and Iran are preparing to subtract Iraq from the Arab world, allowing it to be absorbed into a swelling sphere of Iranian influence. At the summit's closing session, Iraq's foreign minister told the other Arab states that they shared the blame for what is happening today in Iraq because of their indifference to decades of Saddam Hussein's ''authoritarian rule and wars." And he rightly said they had an obligation now to help Iraq in ''isolating terrorism and drying up the sources that finance its activities."

It is in the interest of the Arab states to heed this plea, because the jihadists now wreaking havoc in Iraq will likely be coming after them next.

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