Every time a crisis happens in the region a great deal of criticism is launched upon Jordan’s stance. Mostly due to the nature of our street and its demographics as Jordanians, be they from Palestinian origins or Jordanian origins, have a strong affinity with their neighbours, especially in Palestine.
A lot has been said about the role Jordan plays; most of its people would rather see it take a more aggressive stance towards such conflicts, possibly even military intervention for the sake of Arab unity. Jordan however, and specifically the government by way of HM King Abdullah, has tended to stay away from playing such roles. Traditionally the country under HM King Hussein would consistently take a more aggressive position to the point of war. I suppose the lesson history revealed is that such a position is futile and when it comes to Jordan it’s like putting a band aid over a gun shot wound just to say you helped. This can be seen in almost every Arab-Israeli conflict that boiled to a war and even the pro-Iraq position taken during the first Gulf war which resulted in the snubbing of Jordan by the U.S., Israel and every Arab state you can think of.
King Hussein’s strategy was understandable considering the strong mood of the Arab people during the 60’s and 70’s towards Arab unity. But the flames of nationalism have died down and other factors have now crept on to the scene since then. Jordanian foreign policy has been damned if you do and damned if you donÃ¢??t and so the paradigm shift that has occurred lately is based on the lesser of two evils: damned if you don’t. The policy has been to remain semi-neutral while quietly supporting the player whose interests are in the long term interests of Jordan. This is not a selfish position if you think about it. Recently we’ve seen an abandoning of the Jordan First slogan and a realization that We Are All Jordan, in the sense that while every country has a right and indeed a duty to think of its own interests first, when it comes to Jordan and the volatility of our region a broader conceptualizing must be employed. This is a region that is personified by the domino effect; what hurts one country will inevitably hurt another.
The latest conflict happening with Israel and Lebanon is an example of this policy. Jordan has criticised Israel’s disproportionate attacks, criticised Hizballah’s adventurism at the cost of Lebanese lives, and has pledged support to Palestinians and Lebanon. It can do very little other than that. At the same time it may be praying quietly that Hizballah does in fact become broken, if nothing more than the disconcerting extent of its relationship with Iran. This however is purely opinion and speculative at best.
What is disconcerting for me personally is how Jordan goes about showing its support. In the latest conflict it has used what little leverage it has to allow its planes to fly into Lebanon to set up field hospitals, deliver humanitarian supplies and ship out the wounded and its own citizens.
In response many in Lebanon are turning a cold shoulder to Jordan’s show of support, mostly because of the form that it came in. (update) Although we should also take into account the media slant these days, as a recent commenter points to another article regarding Jordan’s humanitarian effort.
If the domestic policy being established is meant to look after Jordanian interests there needs to be a greater emphasis on establishing a foreign policy that respects the interests of the entire region. We are building fences on the home front that are so high we tend to forget what the outside world looks like. HM King Abdullah has consistently issued warnings, especially in the past month, about what the escalating violence in one part of the Middle East means for the rest of the region including his own Kingdom. This is a sign of a broader vision of the region that I wish could be reflected in the actual policy itself, but sadly is not.
We cannot establish ourselves as the Red Cross/Crescent of the region in the sense that we criticise, wait for the bloodbath and then come in with band aids to the rescue. I am not suggesting any extreme policies on our part, be they economic or military, mostly because they have not worked in the past and have only caused us greater damage than we inflict. However greater (if not actual) efforts must be exerted to negotiate cease fires and truces especially since this is the role that Jordan has established itself as playing in the region: the broker. It must therefore play it well, if nothing more than for its own good.
What worries me most is the sluggish responsiveness to these situations, there is a tendency to wait until the dust settles instead of getting dirty. In other words: when itÃ¢??s usually too late. If the waiting game is a deliberate play on JordanÃ¢??s part then the inevitable return on this investment will accrue nothing less than massive long term damage; economically, politically and more importantly socially.
Simply waiting it out and pretending not to hear the screams next door is likely to cause the minds and hearts of our people to become hardened and their ideologies shifting to the extremes; the very extremism we are trying to fight on the home front. This is a development that we should be paying attention to instead of wondering how it came about, especially when in the last year we have faced our own terrorist attacks, saw the mood of the people change rapidly to varying extremes, and a government that has done little or found it difficult to push ahead with promised reforms.
Without a measured appropriate foreign policy that situates itself within the realms of political safe ground and social complacency, the domestic policy will be impossible to implement. Any hope or vision for reform will instantaneously be crushed in the very dust that we are waiting for to settle.