Iraq and the Arab states

What did determine the Arab states é or at least some of them- traditionally allied to the USA to reject its proposal of overthrowing Saddam? How did Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries, reach that “amazing” decision of maintaining Saddam afloat, instead of taking part actively to the US plans aiming at toppling his regime? How serious is the pretension of these states about maintaining the status quo in Iraq?

Generally, the situation is analysed as follows:

 Any observer of the development of the relations between Baghdad and its Arab neighbours since Saddam arrived to power in 1979- thus succeeding to Ahmed Hassan al Bakr as president -, knows that there is no love between Saddam and his counterparts in the Arab countries. In the same year when he reached power, Saddam condemned for the next twenty years any sort of cooperative relationship with the most similar regime of Syria: he purged the Iraqi administration of all the people suspected é only suspected- to hold fraternal or friendly relations with the Syrians. The latter were not in a better state, as regards the Human rights and the democratic values é inexistent-, but the Baath party which was ruling in both countries, was supposed to be the means of union between all the Arabs, since Union was its motto, motor, and ideological goal. Nevertheless, one of the tragicomedies of the modern Arab world, consisted in the vision of the same party pretending to unify all the Arabs, whereas it was not even able to maintain harmony and cohesion between the two countries where it was not only implanted but also and above all the party in power.

The Baath was, as regards its ideology and program, a party in power, without power. And that was the case in Syria and Iraq.

The ex-Soviet Union, then cherished by the “revolutionaries” in both countries, was actually a model for the Iraqi and Syrian leaders. If Stalin and his successors were able to confiscate the party and monopolize the state apparatus for their own goals, it was also possible to do it in the Arab world. That’s what Saddam in Iraq and Assad in Syria succeeded to do, with the full backing of their friends in the ex-Soviet Union.

The pan Arab ideology permitted them to mute any kind of opposition in the same measure that Marxism allowed Stalin and his successors to send all the opponents to the Gulag. Being both pan Arab leaders, Baathist, socialist, and pretending to fight Israel’s injustice toward the Palestinians, Saddam and Hafiz al Assad were supposed to have more common grounds to share than any other Arab leaders. The cooperation between the two countries é let’s not speak of union, although it was the official discourse- would have been the rational behaviour. But that would have been contradictory with the frenzy for power and the boundless ambition of the two men. In both countries, we know that there were a series of coups and counter-coups before the Baath party took over. It seems thereby that the hunt for power was somehow a research of stability in both countries. But in this region of the world, stability would be sought in some sort of dictatorship. The elite in power decided that what was lacking was not democratic values and behaviour but rather a paternalistic trusteeship: an image of a leader strong and wise endowed with almost magical powers! It was no wonder that Saddam admired the movie about the mafia boss: “The godfather”. He merely identified to him.

With the conservative Arab neighbours of the Gulf, Saddam played a double game: when he needed their support, to pursue his war against Iran, he claimed to be their friend and even their defender. He pretended that without Iraq, the Iranians would have swallowed the little states of the Gulf. But in secret, he was preparing his own plans: to lay his hands on the rich Kuwait was certainly one of his most cherished dreams. If he could get through with it, nobody would be able to oppose his plans for the rest of the region. Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states would be easily dominated.

But the Saudis and their allies did not intend it that way.

Would the USA have gathered a coalition to fight Saddam if the Saudis did not agree on this plan?

It is hard to answer this question. Nevertheless, it is clear today that with Saudi Arabia’s willing assistance or without it, the USA is still decided to get rid of Saddam. The Qatari prince was right to say that if this is the goal of the USA, nobody can stop it.

 So, if this is true, why the Arabs should have to help? Because if their rulers can always say no to their peoples assuming that the latter ask to oppose America, they may find much more difficulties to say no to America, for many of them wouldn’t be in power right now é or tomorrow, after the war- without America’s “good will”.

Yet, there are other reasons:

The Arab States may think that if they could bring the USA to toppling Saddam without being forced to pay an expensive price for it, it would not be that bad. Indeed this is an affair of interests and costs, for who is enough fool to believe that when the Arab governments say they oppose a war against Saddam, it is because they love him? Are the Saudi, the Qatari, the Kuwaiti, the Egyptian, the Syrian, and all the other Arab leaders fans of Saddam? How did they suddenly discover all that hidden love for him, when we know that even before he invaded Kuwait, and well before he launched his troops against Iran, there used to be a real “cold war” with éand between- the Arab neighbours? How can we forget all those little wars fought in the media during the seventies, between the Baathist regime and the conservative states of the Gulf? Did you recall the headlines of the Arab press during those years? I will not mention the titles, but who among us has forgotten the Arab journalists who have been muted forever? Were they punished just because the Arab states were living a honeymoon or rather because their leaders never bore each other even in the dream? Who could ignore the endless conflicts and the boundless controversies between those leaders, each of whom was thinking he was born to be worshipped by 200 million Arabs? How can we forget the chessboard of those years? Morocco against Algeria. Algeria against Mauritania and Tunisia. Tunisia against Libya. Libya against Egypt. Egypt against Sudan. Sudan against Somalia. Somalia against Southern Yemen. Southern Yemen against Northern Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia against Iraq. Iraq against Syria. Syria against Jordan… and so on. And to be sure, if some of these dissensions were sometimes coloured of an ideological shade imposed to the Arab states by the greater division between two blocks, the heart of the problem consisted rather in an endemic hostility between the rulers, making them and their foreign policies absolutely inefficient on the international level, and tragicomic on the regional. The paranoia reached unbelievable heights in some countries where we saw people being charged of treason and jailed or merely executed, because they have maintained close relations with “foreign nations”- Arab “brothers”, that is! As an Arab citizen, I have witnessed flabbergasted some of those trials in my country as I read and heard a lot about them in other Arab countries. There have been many trials of Baathist militants in Tunisia for example under Bourguiba’s dictatorial regime, well before Islamists were hunted down. There have been also trials of pan Arab pro-Nasser militants. The Destourian party é still in power! – was and remain definitely suspicious of any pan Arab activity. ( I am well placed to know it, since I have worked as a diplomatic commentator for its newspapers ,inside the party headquarters in 1985-1986). Their hostility against the Arabs of the Levant is almost a tradition. After working as a journalist in the Lebanese press between 1979 and 1981, I returned to Tunisia assuming that with my little experience I would be welcome in the Tunisian press. It appeared that I was completely missing the point. To find a post in my country, I had first to deny any “involvement” with the Arabs of the Levant, for working for them was the worst insult  to the Tunisian media.- No kidding: If I told the employer for instance that I had worked in such or such Lebanese paper, I was sure not to get the post. After a while, I understood that I had just to shut up or to pretend that I have never worked before, if I wanted to be hired. That’s why I look today with a little smile to those who want to persuade us that this party has changed. I know perfectly that nothing ever changes in the Arab world, where people are still living as they used to do in March 1946, if not before. I mention this date  because it is the year of the famous Fulton-speech of Winston Churchill- if my memory is good, from which stemmed the Cold War. The point is that the Arab world is still sticking to that period, not out of nostalgia, but out of despair. For the Arabs do not see in America’s unique world leadership any good omen.

Now, who is enough naive to believe that out of the blue, the Arabs forgot all the catastrophes brought upon them by the regime of Baghdad and other similar calamities? Who is enough candid to believe that all those people who used to trade with the USA é in all kinds of business- during the past decades, and who in some cases even owe to the USA their power, turn today against Washington?

An impartial observer may  assume that there is no opposition to the US plans concerning Iraq on ideological grounds, but rather on material grounds. How much will the invasion of Iraq cost to the Arab states in terms of numbers? What would become of the oil production? Who will be in charge of the Iraqi production? What would be the effects on the other exporters? What are the American plans on this level?

To pretend that these questions are pointless is to misread both the Arab and the American minds. For who really cared who was ruling Iraq as long as he was controlled?

In this region of the world, you should know first who is handling the pump, in order to understand what is happening on the political ground. Moreover, there are the truths about production needs and expectations. Among these truths, the following:

America will become more and more dependent upon oil-producing Muslim nations. About a quarter of a century ago, OPEC quadrupled world oil prices and plunged America into “stagflation”. Muslim nations may soon control virtually all of the world’s oil exports. Since neither capital nor labour can create energy, the next round of energy-shortage éinduced stagflation will leave central bankers helpless and they will seek military solutions to their economic problems.

The market economy burns energy to make money. It receives almost 80 percent of its energy subsidies from non-renewable fossil sources: oil, gas, and coal. In the 1950s, oil producers discovered about fifty barrels of oil for every barrel invested in drilling and pumping. Today, the figure is only about five for one. Sometime around 2005, that figure will become one for one.

In 1995, Petroconsultants published a report for oil industry insiders titled “World Oil Supply 1930-2050”, which concluded that world oil production could peak as soon as the year 2000 and decline to half that level by 2025. Large and permanent increases in oil were predicted after the year 2000.

In 1997, Richard Duncan developed a new model to forecast oil production called the Numerate Empiric Model. In the course of his research, Duncan discovered that Muslim nations would soon control market economies because they will control virtually all of the oil export market. In a 1997 letter to President Clinton and Senator Jessie Helms, Duncan warned:

What if tomorrow Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat met with representatives from each of the 19 Muslim petroleum exporting countries and proposed an entirely new organization called the ‘Alliance of Muslim Exporting Nations’ – AMPEC for short?

“This proposal alone could cause World stock markets to fall 50% in one day. And crucially, it could ignite both 1) a World Petroleum War, and 2) a World Holy War (called a ‘Jihad’ by Muslims). I view an ‘AMPEC shock’ as looming likely because powerful Muslim forces are pushing Mr. Arafat (and others) further every day.”

We don’t know Clinton’s reply to this letter, but Senator Helms answered saying: ” The Commerce Department recently released a report which found that US dependence on foreign oil has become a threat to national security. The government should not have allowed its national security to be placed in such a vulnerable position.”

If we take in consideration the above-mentioned truths, it would be easier then to answer some questions, or at least to clear some ambiguities. For example, whereas it is not logic that the Arab rulers are to this extent fans of Saddam, they may assume for example that the Americans are interested in granting to themselves the control of energy sources. It happens that the uncontrollable Iraq may be an important asset. So, if this is a war for oil, who will pay its price? The producers or their customers? And if the customers é the Americans, that is é are so interested in changing the panorama, to which extent their changes would be in the interest of the Arab neighbours? Allies? Yes, of course. But why should the allies pay the bill when the first beneficiary is the US, would they wonder?

These are the rough realities that are seldom acknowledged, because perhaps is it easier to hide behind the United Nations folding screen than to tell the other what is really on one’s mind.

Meanwhile, the inspectors will go checking the  forbidden “armament”, thus protracting a system that é without allaying the sufferance of the Iraqi people- failed to change anything in Iraq .

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.