The new strategy explains a series of reversals of U.S. policy that otherwise would be baffling. In addition to embracing the Middle East peacemaker role that it has shunned for six years, the administration has decided to seek $98 million in funding for Palestinian security forces -- the same forces it rightly condemned in the past as hopelessly corrupt and compromised by involvement in terrorism. Those forces haven't changed, but since they are nominally loyal to "mainstream" Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and serve as a check on the power of the "extremist" Hamas, they are on the right side of Ms. Rice's new divide.They should also mention that this US egging on of a Sunni-Shia conflict is the most irresponsible thing since... well, since the invasion of Iraq. My feeling is that while some Arab governments are at least partly encouraging this worldview to justify their backing of US policy -- see Sandmonkey's reflections on anti-Shia diatribes in the Egyptian press lately -- the main force behind this is the Bush administration, which against all common sense seems bent on escalating tensions with Iran. If some kind of regional conflict pitting Shia against Sunnis emerges, than the US will bear a great deal of the responsibility for having started it, and this will not be forgotten by the region's inhabitants.
So is Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a thuggish autocrat who was on the wrong side of Ms. Rice's previous Mideast divide between pro-democracy forces and defenders of the illiberal status quo. In past visits to Cairo, Ms. Rice sparred with Mr. Mubarak's foreign minister over the imprisonment of democratic opposition leaders such as Ayman Nour and the failure to fulfill promises of political reform. On Monday, she opened her Cairo news conference by declaring that "the relationship with Egypt is an important strategic relationship, one that we value greatly." There was no mention of Mr. Nour or democracy.
Over the last five years, major Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt had made some overtures to Iran and both sides were keen to improve relations. Trade with Iran has also increased over the last few years. Now talks of reopening embassies are over.
This is not dismiss the problem posed by Iran's nuclear program, but between Iran having nuclear weapons and a region-wide second fitna, I know what I'd choose.