Politicians and commentators have filled newspapers and airwaves with criticism of the Bush administration’s publicly stated motive for going to war on Iraq. In most of the attacks, blame has been put on the administration’s neoconservative officials, as being the ones who were actively behind the war decision. These commentators, however, have failed to present a logical explanation for what they believe was the real motive for President George Bush’s war that has left America occupying 25 million Iraqis.
Some have referred to oil, but the claim that this war was really motivated by oil seems to have evaporated in recent months, with the record rise in the price of oil. The latest torture evidence in the Abu Ghraib prison make the argument that the US wants to instil democracy and human rights in the Arab region rather weak.
So why did Bush and his top aides invade Iraq?
Events in the Middle East are showing every day that the reason the president’s neocon aides pushed for this war is that they wanted to crush Arab nationalism, rather than the desire to find weapons of mass destruction or destroy terrorism. While many Arabs will have little argument with Bush’s description of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime, they would argue that the former Iraqi leader betrayed true Baathism which is based on the desire of all patriotic Arabs for unity.
Evidence in this regard has become clear with the recent unveiling of the Iraqi flag. For the first time in modern Arab history, an Arab country has chosen to create a yellow and blue flag that avoids like a plague the red, white, green and black colours of the Arab revolt. The flag, which has two blue lines representing the Iraqi rivers, with a yellow strip representing Kurds and a crescent representing Muslims, seems to place emphasis on Iraq, at the expense of its Arab nationality.
There are other clear signs of this US anti-Arab nationalism position. Take the recent US moves against Syria, which have no real logic. The Syrians have been appealing to the US to work together with them on the borders with Iraq, including the possibility of launching joint patrols, but Washington rejected these offers. Interestingly, the Bush administration is apparently not speaking in unison regarding Syria. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Al Jazeera TV that they are getting mixed signals from Washington.
This can also explain the attacks against the pan-Arab television station Al Jazeera. How else can we understand this sudden attack against the Arab world’s most independent television station?
The Bush administration, which must understand the importance of independent media to democratic reform, has not spoken a word against any of the government-run TV stations in the 23 Arab countries, while it has repeatedly attacked the pan-Arab Al Jazeera.
If any single organisation can be credited for reviving Arab nationalism, the new wave of satellite stations are. It is interesting to know that the key journalists and producers of Al Jazeera were raised exactly at the time of the height of Arab nationalism, in the 60s. These journalists, many of whom worked for the BBC, found in their new media source an opportunity to reflect secular Arab nationalism which certainly sees the occupation of Palestine, and now Iraq, as a stumbling block in the way of independence and unity of the Arab world.
This attempt to crush Arab nationalism is certainly not new. In the 1956 Britain, France and Israel conspired against the hero of Arab nationalism, Egypt’s Jamal Abdul Nasser, in the Sinai offensive. Many see the support for Israel, since, within this context. Similarly, many believe that America’s sponsorship of a separate Israel deal with Egypt was mostly aimed at weakening efforts to unifying Arabs.
Opposition to Arab nationalism was not limited to a certain ideological wing in the United States. While it was possible to detect a split within Europe and the US regarding the war on Iraq, there was absolute unanimity in one country. The government, the people and the opposition in Israel were squarely behind the war on Iraq and are said to have played an active role in Washington’s decision to go to war. American neoconservatives and the main Israeli political forces agreed on their opposition to Arab nationalism.
At a time that former European enemies are putting aside their differences in favour of a 25-country unified Europe, many in the Arab world feel that the true aspirations of the 23 Arab countries towards unity have been repeatedly foiled by external efforts. If the US is serious about its fight against radical Islamic terror, it needs to make allies with moderate Arabs. The fastest way to the hearts and minds of Arabs today needs to go through legitimate Arab leaders. No credible Arab leader can survive without being genuinely supportive of the yearning of all Arabs for unity.
Arab nationalism has had a bad rap for some time; this means that moderate Arab leaders must adopt a more understanding Arab nationalist ideology, but for successful US-Arab relations, America must show in words and deeds that it is not opposed to Arab nationalism.