THE "NEW WORLD ORDER" has been much on the lips of President Bush. The Middle East presents an opportunity to bring the three-word slogan to life in the form of a new regional order, one which will thwart the emergence of new Saddam Husseins while serving the basic foreign-policy goals of the United States.
Understandably, key American decision makers are consume by the prosecution of the war against Iraq, yet it remains lamentable that there seems to have been little official thinking about the morning after in the Middle East.
Silence, now that the war is under way, erodes rather than fosters support for the U.S.-led war. Now is the time -- as the war rages -- for Washington to begin to align itself publicly behind serious efforts to get at the core issues in the Middle East. This prudent step will help to dampen political tempers in the region, and undermine Mr. Hussein's image as an Arab leader who has the answers.
But, can a new order arise in the Middle East from the debris of liberated Kuwait and a militarily emasculated Iraq? To answer this question it is necessary to come to grips with the underlying cause of the gulf crisis, the Arab malaise.
To be sure, Saddam Hussein's drive for self-aggrandizement, his obsession with foreign machinations and his country's economic and territorial claims are all immediate causes. The root causes, however, lie in the defects of Arab society and politics. In particular, the absence of democracy and economic inequity explain why the Arab world has been pulled into the abyss of war.
The fundamentals of democracy, power sharing and public accountability are largely non-existent in the Arab states. Since the end of World War II, the power of the state in the Arab world has reached frightening levels. The state is the largest employer, and its chief executive -- protected by layer upon layer of secret police -- is almost a god, obeyed not out of love, but out of fear or a desire to acquire a post or secure kickbacks from a lucrative project.
Saddam Hussein is a radical example of the general Ara malaise. Had there been a minimum level of parliamentary life and genuine political consultation in Iraq, he could not have blundered into a senseless eight-year war with Iran or the suicidal venture into Kuwait.
By the same token, had these two ingredients existed in th Arab states allied against him, a political solution would have been found and war would have been averted.
In the Arab world, the leader is the state. The Arab masses ar hypnotized by the mesmerizing predominance of the man at the top. If he decides to give or withhold, to destroy his own people or to decimate another state, then so be it.
In addition to the lack of democracy, while about 92 percent o the 200 million Arabs live on or below subsistence level, the other 8 percent own more than 50 percent of the national product of the Arab world. The benefits of this massive wealth flow to the West, where most of the profits of the oil-rich countries are invested.
Add to this the belief that the governments of oil-rich countrie service American interests without eliciting a balanced response from Washington on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and one can begin to understand the complaints of large segments of the Arab public.
The Arab malaise is exacerbated by the strategic allianc between the U.S. and Israel.
What is objectionable in Arab eyes is not the alliance per se, bu the fact that this alliance has provided Israel with all that is needed to stubbornly resist the internationally accepted principles of Palestinian self-determination and the exchange of occupied Arab territory for peace. America punishes Iraq for its aggression, but, in the Arab view, it rewards Israel for its conquest and annexation of Arab land.
This is the background against which the phenomenon of Mr Hussein emerged. Mr. Hussein elicited a considerable level of popular Arab support because he challenged an oppressive status quo. Despite his brutal record, the powerful psychological emotions generated in the psyche of many Arabs by despair and humiliation enabled him to project himself as a Saladin, a Bismarck and a Robin Hood.
Defeating Mr. Hussein will not erase the deep-roote resentments and frustrations which he has been able to draw upon. Moreover, it is axiomatic that the longer Mr. Hussein holds out, the more effective his appeal will be to millions of discontented Arabs who already see the conflict now under way as the first Arab-American war.
We argue that the United States can and must steal Sadda Hussein's thunder by enunciating a new vision of the regional order. Wars are destructive by definition, but they can also be creative if we exercise the imagination to make them so.
The correct formula, in our view, does not lie in the tire incrementalism so favored by near-sighted administration insiders. Long, drawn-out step-by-step negotiations -- say between Syria and Israel -- have hardly been validated by past success; to the contrary.
Instead, an appropriate model may be the Conference o Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), which came to life in 1975. The idea of a Middle East conference modeled on CSCE's structure has begun to attract a lot of discussion in Europe. In fact, the Italians, with strong support from France and Spain, have already proposed a Conference for Security and Cooperation in the Mediterranean.
This is a step in the right direction, in our view. Of course, ou intention is to provide grist for discussion, not a fully elaborated proposal, which would be impossible within the confines of a few column inches of newsprint.
The merits of the CSCE model are its comprehensiveness, it creative ambiguity and its flexible structure. The conference would entail every Middle East state, without exception. We presume that the conference would be convened at the invitation of the United Nations secretary general, acting under the authority of the Security Council, whose permanent members would be ex officio members of the conference.
A key structural innovation of the CSCE was the grouping o issues into "baskets," which permitted three different series of negotiations to proceed simultaneously. Following the European model, one can envisage baskets for arms control, human rights and democratic freedoms, economic development, environmental issues and, of course, the crucial issues of political borders.
While it is not conceivable that the Arab world's political leader would agree to radical internal reforms, it is feasible that once the process of parallel dialogues begins, the political momentum within the Arab states will encourage policies which engender greater freedom.
The U.S. government has been studiously cool to the idea of comprehensive Middle East conference, and not without reason. Washington's objections to a conference are threefold: first, that it would be seen as rewarding Saddam Hussein for his aggression against Kuwait; second, that its structure would place Israel in an all-against-one predicament (a view shared, in spades, by the Israeli government); and, third, that the conference would be a diplomatic circus, quickly dissolving into a cacophony of voices in which extremists would out-shout moderates. These objections are serious ones, and deserve examination.
The first objection is the easiest to address. With regard to th issue of linkage, President Bush has made his point. Considering the level and scale of destruction already visited upon Iraq, the U.S. government can hardly be accused, save sardonically, of rewarding Iraq.
The second objection, would be met in part by the fact tha those states participating in the conference would explicitly, and by formal agreement, accept the existence of all states in the Middle East. This condition is as necessary for the small, vulnerable states of the Persian Gulf as it is for Israel.
The third objection is largely conditional on the conferenc agenda. Obviously, a conference which fails to address key issues, such as the destiny of the Palestinians or the future of Kuwait and Lebanon, would be vulnerable to disruption, but we believe a serious and comprehensive agenda would evoke a serious response from the participants, especially at this moment.
President Bush put an awesome amount of political energy into building support for Operation Desert Storm. It is now time to begin marshaling resources for Operation Middle East Peace, not only because the profound problems of the region require it, but because American interests do.
The operation would have to include very heavy doses o democracy, a more equitable distribution of Arab economic wealth, enhanced security and territorial integrity for all the states in the region, a regional arms-control regime and political self-determination.
Mohammed Muslih teaches political science at C.W. PosCollege of Long Island University and A. R. Norton is Senior Research Fellow at the International Peace Academy in New York.