Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

A LAX Arab Summit Is Actually A Good Thing

Posted in Middle East and North Africa by Dan on April 1, 2010

When international summits creep up the calendar, a tremendous amount of excitement among political leaders often follows suit.  Whether the issue concerns climate change, economic development in Africa, women’s rights, or nuclear nonproliferation, the world’s most powerful men and women are quick to step into their private jets and whisk away to a convention of enormous proportions.  Summits and regional meetings are often categorized as the best opportunity to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems.  And with good reason; with hundreds of global politicians in the same square block, it would seem logical to think that an agreement of historic proportions would eventually be signed.

So when the dictators and statesmen of the Middle East failed to engage in any real constructive dialogue on Jerusalem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iranian hegemony, and counterterrorism, there was a fair-share of disappointed among everyone involved.

But it gets worse.  On virtually every major issue, the Arab world is divided between moderate and radical factions.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is just one example of such division, with Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa calling for resumption of negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad demanding that the Palestinians drop negotiations altogether and fight the Israelis head-on.

In other words, political fragmentation plagued the entire summit.  Nothing substantial resulted from the talks, and western leaders are particularly annoyed that Arabs cannot even agree on something as important as Iran’s nuclear program.

Yet, I’m surprised that the west is so disappointed by the lack of Arab action. Historically, large conventions like these rarely produce anything worthwhile, and even if a summit does draft a proposal, the principles embodied in the document are hardly sustainable in the long-term.

It is true that Arab Summits have been particularly pointless as of late, with one side arguing touting modernity and the other arguing for confrontation.  But the Arab world is hardly the only area experiencing this type of stalemate. The Organization of Latin American States is another regional forum riddled with its fair share of problems.  Peru, Columbia, and Chile (and possibly Argentina and Brazil) continues to advocate free-market reforms and closer ties with the West, while countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, and Ecuador are more comfortable forging an anti-American alliance based on populism.

Frustration is understandable, especially when powerful leaders are unable to make a unified decision, despite their cultural and political similarities.  But perhaps this is for the best; after all, two powerhouses were absent from the talks altogether (Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi King Abdullah), not to mention delegates from six other Arab countries.

It sounds strange, but perhaps this year’s Arab Summit was a blessing in disguise.  It’s far better to wait and make sure all parties are on board before anything is signed.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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