Back on the Block

The main message of this week's summit at Annapolis will be that the United States is back as a leader in the Middle East. When President George W. Bush stands before an audience of representatives of Middle Eastern countries at a summit he is hosting to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace, the message will be that when the U.S. calls, the world sides with it.

Only a year ago, a pessimistic theory of America's decline as a leading power in the Middle East dominated Washington. Richard Haass, president of the Council for Foreign Relations, published an article in Foreign Affairs declaring an end to American dominance in the Middle East, ushering in a new page in the modern history of the region.

The signs were everywhere: Iraq had become a bloody quagmire and turned into a civil war, Israel failed to defeat Hezbollah and sank into depression, Hamas won the elections in the Palestinian Authority and took over the Gaza Strip, the government of Lebanon appeared to be on the verge of collapse due to Syrian pressure, and Mubarak's regime in Egypt was showing signs of exhaustion. Iran and its allies seemed to be the rising power in the region, at the expense of America's friends there.

Now Bush is launching a counterstrike. Encouraged by the improved security situation in Baghdad and the drop in the number of casualties, and the successful Israeli strike against a Syrian nuclear installation, Bush is embarking on a diplomatic adventure in the Middle East. The photo-op at Annapolis will reflect the power of the "axis of moderates." The U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates will stand holding hands against the "axis of evil" who were not invited: Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Syria, the champion of sitting on the fence, was asked to choose between the two camps, and as it usually does, it will wait until the last minute to make up its mind. If it shows up, this will be a major victory for U.S. diplomacy, which will have restored Syria to legitimacy after several years of pressure and isolation.

From Israel's point of view, the impressive representation of the Arab states and international community at Annapolis is encouraging. Israel is supremely interested in America appearing as the strongest power in the region, not Iran. The American losses in the Middle East reflected badly on Israel, which suddenly appeared weak and exposed to Iranian threats. Now Israel is once more on the side of the powerful.