Warsaw’s Theatre of the Absurd
Author: Dawid Kaczmarek
Translator: Michał Szymański
In Samuel Bernard Cohen’s book “Geography and Politics in a World Divided”, published by himself in 1963, the American geographer and political scientist addressed the issue of the international system’s structure. Apart from defining two fundamental geopolitical regions, he introduced the concept of so-called shatter belts into academic use, that is, zones displaying a tendency for instability, susceptible to any kind of conflict as well as those who are of key significance from the viewpoint of competing superpowers. He recognized the Middle East to be one such area.
And even though it has been over 50 years since the first publication of his work, and the world’s attention, because of China’s growing role on the international stage, was to be centered on other regions of the world, the Middle East, for many different reasons, remains a key region for conducting international policy. Within it are concentrated problems of a transboundary nature, which because of their influence, extend well beyond its geographical boundaries; in the vast majority of cases they therefore constitute an element in the game of the most advanced political players.
This can be especially seen in the case of this whole commotion around Warsaw’s conference over the Middle East, which took place on February 13-14. Though I am writing this text retrospectively, already having access to the post-conference coverage by journalists and experts, I would still wish to sincerely invite you to read a subjective description of that initiative which I have prepared, made especially for readers of EurHope.
One cannot appropriately analyse the events in foreign politics without maintaining an objective approach and without having enough empathy to be able to look at the world through other eyes. Though many could accuse me of excessive idealism here, I believe that only such an approach, adopted where it is possible, can bring the analyser closer to the actual shape of the events being discussed. Had the commentators connected to the ruling camp approached the Warsaw Middle East Conference in this manner, then perhaps it would have helped them avoid many bitter disappointments and propaganda passions, which they must now hastily extinguish.
Firstly: The conference, or rather the atmosphere which was maintained towards it from the beginning, is quite asbsurd. Contrarily to accepted international custom, it was announced by the American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Only later, did the Polish MFA hurriedly issue a statement on the subject. It brought about a wave of unrefined comments by Polish Twitter users, who wondered if Americans had even informed our government about it, if they had simply not declared it to them and once again treating our government as a headquarters of one of many banana republics.
Secondly: The official goal. In the official announcement of the conference, the conference was given the grandiloquent name ,,The Ministerial To Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East”. This line of defense was adopted by the Polish government, pointing to it during emergency negotiations with representatives from Iran. Even the best negotiators (and we don’t have many of those in the MFA) couldn’t cover up the facts, the most unequivical of which was a list of invited guests: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Great Britain, United States. What can be done in such a group? Speak of peace? Without Russia, China, Iran, Lebanon and Palestine? Irrespective of mutual sympathy or antipathy, foreign policy is not about friendship, but about solving problems and arranging affairs. So, can peace in the Middle East be “arranged” without the presence of the main players in the region at the table? Not too much. What can be done then? For example: assemble a military coalition (or at least begin to). This, in light of the circumstances known to us at the time, seemed the most logical and reasoned.
To the pool of cold facts, we can add the one that the People’s Mojahiden of Iran, was still considered a terrorist organization a few years ago. Today, it is considered a “official pro-democracy movement”. It comes in a package with an Albanian stronghold prepared for them, finansed and expanded with networks of the American administration. Within the circle of Washington “hawks”, it is promoted as a real alternative to the current government in Iran. Supposedly, it has “enormous” support abroad, but in Iran no one treats them seriously. In the United States, it is supported, among others, by former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (he likely needed a supplement to his pension). The event in Warsaw also revealed the Polish sympathizers of this organization, and it must be said that it is a esteemed and large bunch. Belonging to this bunch is, among others, is member of Parliament of the Republic Stefan Niesiołowski. Not long ago he was accused of accepting bribes in the form of sexual services, the number of which amounted to 29 services in the span of two years. Quite a crowd, isn’t it?
In Warsaw’s conference took part around 60 countries from around the world. It isn’t surprising then, that it nevertheless was abundant in different types of episodes of smaller or greater significance, arousing different levels of interest. In my opinion, the most interesting were two events: the recording of the discussion of foreign ministers of Arab countries, which revealed to the media the press office of Benjamin Netanyahu as well as the speech of vice-president Mike Pence. Why? Mainly because in one moment, and contrary to the intentions of the Polish side, they put an end to the myth of the “peaceful” character of this event, proving the critics of this idea right.
When it comes to the recording, it presents a 25 minute exerpt of the discussion between Arab foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. On what topic? Islamic State? Terrorism? Radical Islam? No: Iran, its activity in the region, the missile program and its alleged key relationship with the region’s destabilization, plus the firm criticism of the nuclear deal with Iran. Who copied whose message? Basically, it is difficult to get rid of the impression that representatives of the oil monarchies, all that time, practically only copied the rhetoric and message submitted in Washington and Tel-Aviv. In any case, in no way did they hide their emotional bond with the latter; the conviction of Israel’s right to everything along with the independent attack on Syrian targets resounded rather clearly there, more than once at that.
Netanyahu made use of this conference as a springboard before the end of his electoral campaign, sending a message, via this leak, to their Arab and Polish allies alike: “Know your place in the line”. Contributing to the generally negative impression, the Saudi Arabian minister of foreign affairs Adel Al-Jubeir, decided to give a lesson on democracy to those gathered, expressing his hope for Iran’s quick transformation into a “normal country”. Looking at Saudi experiences in the area of governmental system, I can only pity regular Iranians.
Also, this situation was in no way rectified by the vice-president of the United States Mike Pence. During his speech, he openly and bluntly critiqued Eastern European countries, who decided to stick to the nuclear agreement with Iran. He called those present to a near religious crusade against Iran, employing a vocabulary which fits more a Protestant gathering than a political meeting. He deemed the United States to be the only “forces of good” in the Middle East opposed by the evil and bloodthirsty Iranian regime, which according to him was even preparing another Holocaust! His rhetoric, though it could have been usually effective in another case, not only repeated all of the errors of American thinking in regards to foreign policy, but finally layed to rest the meaning of the event as a peace conference.
The decision to withdraw American troops from Syria created a certain type of strategic vacuum in the region, which in the current political situation will most likely be filled by Russia and Iran. Of course, this deal is unprofitable for the United States, hence the idea to organize the Warsaw Middle East Conference. The USA wanted to gather their allies in one place, show that they still keep a close watch on the Middle East and have a concrete plan in regards to it. Did they succeed?
Objectively, one cannot speak of any success or any meaning to the conference. Above all, the aforementioned lack of significant players in the region. I am not even thinking of Iran here (though this would be natural), but even representatives of Palestine, for it is indeed difficult to discuss a solution to this conflict with Israel alone, and the principle of “nothing about us without us” in diplomacy still remains important.
The other issue is the lack of clear vision – with the information we posess today, the only concrete thing which we obtained came in the form of warmongering against an independent state and the religious speech of Pence, which are not enough for any person of sound mind. The announcement of Kushner’s plan was post-poned, a consesus could not be reached on any important issues. One could say that the conference was only a first step in the proper direction, but is it merely wishful thinking?
Finally, I feel obliged to present this matter from our point of view as well. When I heard that Poland was to organize a conference on peace in the Middle East, I greatly rejoiced because I believe that our country has much to offer people who live here, and that with a little luck, it can make use of it’s potential to counteract, even a little, the harmful effects of the superpowers’ policy (even if it is helping ordinary people in the conflict areas). Of course, my cheer vanished quite quickly. A Polish publicist fittingly summed it up: Poland turned from a subject of American foreign policy into a tool, not receiving any concrete benefits. The current government promised their electorate the “getting up off their knees” – we only observe a further sinking down.
It is important that you know that we aren’t happy at all because of it.