AS Secretary of State James Baker testified last week before congressional committees, the United States is beginning to look seriously at its role in the Middle East following the Gulf war. The Bush administration clearly anticipates that Washington will play an influential part in shaping the future stability and security of the region. US ability to do this, however, will inevitably be affected by diplomatic as well as military actions taken during the war. Therein lies a dilemma: Actions taken to hold together a wartime coalition may not help in building post-war influence. Consider the cases of Jordan and Iran. Relations between the US and Jordan are severely strained. King Hussein, in a speech last week responding to the strong pro-Iraqi feeling among Palestinians in Jordan, bitterly criticized US policies. As a result, Washington is reviewing future assistance to Jordan; the intent is undoubtedly to ``punish'' Jordan for its opposition to the coalition. Yet Jordan will be an essential player in any postwar US diplomacy because of its location and its past and present links with the occupied territories of Palestine. As Jordan is an inescapable player in resolving the Palestine issue, so Iran must, at least, be consulted in any effort to construct a future security arrangement in the Gulf. Relations between the US and Iran have warmed slightly - at a distance - but deep differences remain. At the moment, however, Washington is showing little enthusiasm for Iranian efforts to mediate an early end to the war and professes no contact with Teheran on this issue. If this is, indeed, the case, wartime attitudes may block an opportunity to open a new dialogue with Iran and pave the way for improved relations.
Relations with other nations in the region, including those in the coalition, may also be affected by the pressures of conflict. US relations with Syria, temporarily improved by the necessities of war, could turn sour again should Syria be seen to back away from full participation in a ground war against Iraq. Yet Syria is another essential link in any effort to resolve Arab-Israeli issues.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states are central to the wartime coalition. They also expect to be central to post-war security planning. Yet current US commitments to these states could complicate US efforts to deal with issues of Iran's role, the future of Iraq, and a long-term US presence in the area.
Egypt is another key factor in the success of the coalition and in efforts to resolve the Palestinian issue. President Hosni Mubarak has stood firm with the US, despite growing internal pressures against Cairo's role in the war. The US has made substantial commitments in aid and debt forgiveness as a result. Will Washington feel that these preclude the Egyptian government, after the war, from adopting policies that, for domestic political reasons, distance Egypt somewhat from the US?
The government in Israel believes it is owed favors from Washington for its restraint in responding to Iraqi missile attacks. Increased commitments to Israel, however, imply support for the right-wing policies of Yitzhak Shamir's government. They could complicate future US efforts to find Arab partners and Palestinian negotiators.
Difficulties may also arise in the United Nations. The Bush administration has effectively used the UN Security Council as an instrument of US policy through gaining the council's endorsement of the use of force against Iraq. Already some members, including the Soviet Union, feel the US has exceeded the council's mandate by massive attacks on Iraq. Opposition to US policies could grow. Current enthusiasm for the UN in the US could evaporate, reducing support for a substantial UN role in the Middle East after the conflict.
It is natural for Americans, who are playing the major role in the war, to judge other nations by their wartime support. In the shifting sands of the Middle East this is risky. If the sacrifices of war in this region are not to be in vain, if the US is to help resolve the issues that have created conflict, US diplomacy must have effective access to all players. This will not be possible if, in the heat of battle, we make judgments and take actions that will complicate future peacetime efforts.