It now seems almost certain that US forces will invade Iraq, despite the fact that the justification remains unclear. All talk to the effect that “the president has not made up his mind” is just that, talk. The decision was already made for him long ago. Much has already been written about the group of advisers formed by Undersecretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz and their plan, the “Project for the New American Century”, which aims at no less than establishing a new world order of uncontested American hegemony. The US, according to this group, must be sure of “deterring any potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role”. Thus we have current discussions about the preemptive use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, “even in conflicts that do not directly engage US interests”.
The London Observer tells us that a paper circulated among Wolfowitz’s group said that what was needed for the US to move towards assuming this position was “some catastrophic and catalysing event, like a new Pearl Harbor”. The document also noted that while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides an immediate justification for intervention in the region, the need for a substantial American military presence in the Gulf goes beyond the matter of regime change in Baghdad.
Now, in the final hours before the most horrible of human calamities is unleashed — not against Saddam Hussein, but against the Iraqi people — Bush’s administration is telling us that it is contemplating what to do aprés Saddam. One would have thought someone in the administration would have meticulously thought through questions about what comes next in Iraq before unleashing the most destructive force in history. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia lamented the other day that “as this nation stands at the brink of battle, every American must be contemplating the horrors of war. Yet, the Senate is for the most part silent — ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of the war. There is nothing. We stand passively mute, paralysed by our own certainty, seemingly stunned by the sheer turmoil of events.”
Finally, at this late stage, during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two of the administration’s “heavy weights”, as they were described by the press, attempted to explain just what the plans are for the Iraqi people. After the destruction of the country’s electric power plants, water infrastructure, bridges and factories, and the killing of 500,000 (according to Senator Barbara Boxer’s estimate), we will then rebuild Iraq, and liberate it’s people.
The testimony by Mark Grossman, undersecretary of state for political affairs, and Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defence for policy, lasted for four hours and filled 86 pages. Extensive selections of the testimony should be printed on the front pages of every Arab newspaper, because the testimony shows that key administration figures’ are totally clueless about the Arab world. There were so many instances where each said “it is hard to answer a lot of these ‘what ifs’ because a lot depends on, you know, future events that we don’t know”. Another response was, “We would like to make a distinction between plans and predictions… and we must stress uncertainty because we are not in the predicting business”.
Towards eliciting some concrete answers, Senator Paul Sarbanes of Maryland brought up estimates by William Nordhaus, a Yale economist, about the cost of war. Nordhaus estimates that the occupation of Iraq will cost between $17 billion and $45 billion per year — but even those figures seem on the low side, as the post-combat environment in Iraq is likely to be hostile, it’s dangers resembling those of the West Bank more than those on the Balkans. When Sarbanes asked administration representatives what their figure was, the answer came, “The single most unsatisfactory thing that we are going to be able to do is not to give you a figure. It is unknowable.”
What the administration fails to understand is that it cannot hide or ignore the huge elephant in the middle of the room, namely Israel. Retired US General Anthony Zinni said, “my worst nightmare would be an Al-Jazeera TV picture of American troops in combat fighting Iraqis at the same time the Israeli Defence Forces is in the West Bank and Gaza killing Arabs. Furthermore, how can the Bush administration convince either Congress or the Arabs that the US cares about ‘the territorial integrity of Iraqi’ when those same members of the administration were signatories to a document in 1996 advising Benyamin Netanyahu of the desirability of dismantling Iraq and any other Arab country that stands in Israel’s way? What these same people were telling Netanyahu then and President Bush now is: you are stronger than all your neighbours, act upon it. Forget the peace process; it does not serve you. Forget international law; lead, and everybody will follow; the rest can go to Hell.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski correctly pointed out the hypocrisy of this logic. He said, “the European press has commented more widely than the US press on the striking similarity between current US policy in the Middle East and the recommendations prepared in 1996 by this same group — admirers of Israel’s Likud Party for the then Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Unfortunately, the American people do not see the reports on how the entire war issue is seen in the Arab world. As an example of the media’s self-censorship of most issues touching on Israel, when The New York Times published excerpts of Osama Bin Laden’s message that was broadcast by Al-Jazeera TV channel, it omitted any reference to Israel or Tel Aviv — despite the fact that Bin Laden named those places close to 10 times in his broadcast. It is no wonder, then, that there are several patriotic Americans who are warning against the invasion of Iraq because they believe that it is being done in the interests of Israel. They are calling it Sharon’s war.
The war party in the administration consists of the same people who helped create Bin Laden. Now, he is a threat, a terrorist, a defiance that America is unable to capture despite the $25 million price on his head. To most Arabs, Bin Laden is nothing. He is neither an Imam, or even a religious scholar like Hassan Al-Turabi of Sudan, who is a graduate of Oxford and the Sorbonne. Bin Laden is only a mediocre man that the US has turned into a larger than life hero. Muslims reject the nihilistic streak in his actions and his message, the twisted US policy towards Palestine that the war party has been advocating is creating more Bin Ladens. If anything, the US owes the Palestinians an apology for all the pain they have caused them in the last 50 some years.
If Bush follows through with his promises to both Saudi and Egyptian leaders to solve the Palestinian problem with the creation of two viable states living side-by-side in peace, all future or potential Bin Ladens will fade away. However, the warmongers are pushing Bush to attack Iraq. Unfortunately, as in the case of Bin Laden, they are driven only by hate. Their passionate attachment not only to a foreign country, but to its most extreme and nihilistic wing is driving them to espouse hatred of all Arabs and all Muslims.
The administration has seen what a miserable failure it’s message has been towards the Arabs, but it still doesn’t get it. It still listens to those who are pontificating about “what went wrong”.
When I first came to America as a young attaché in the Egyptian Embassy in 1957, America was the “shining city on the hill”. Its press was the most informed and most informative in the world. Recently the US hit the office of Al-Jazeera in Afghanistan to keep the truth from the American people. The free media exercises self-censorship on all matters pertaining to the Middle East. One can always find better reporting in Israeli newspapers. Presidential speeches are replete with rhetorical flourishes, but sound like speeches by Third World leaders, banal and devoid of any true meaning. The attorney general sounds more like a mullah than a statesman.
Things are starting to seem more and more like the world I left behind. The thousands of faces that we used to see lining up in front of US embassies in our countries to obtain a visa to freedom and opportunity, are now lining up in front of the Immigration and Naturalization Offices across the US in fear of losing those same visas. When a young American student demonstrating against the war in front of the White House was asked by Middle East Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) TV, “what would you like to say to Bush?” he said, “I would like to tell him to take off his crown. Nobody voted you to become King.” But, my advice to Bush is more modest: President, fear God.