The United States sends Israel about $3 billion in financial and military aid every year. Most Americans–60 to 70 percent–approve of U.S. support of Israel. Others argue that this foreign aid intensifies the tension between the United States and Arab countries, who believe that Israel should withdraw from territories that rightfully belong to Palestinians. Indeed, terrorist Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America, cites U.S. support of Israel as a major reason why many Arabs resent the United States. In light of this hostility, many Americans wonder why the United States continues its support of Israel. Stephen Zunes, the Middle East editor of Foreign Policy in Focus, contends that the United States supports Israel to further its own interests in the Middle East.
According to Zunes, since its inception in 1948, Israel has proven a useful ally to the United States, especially during the Cold War. For instance, Israel’s powerful military, the strongest in the region, keeps potential enemies of the United States–such as Syria, a Soviet ally during the Cold War–under control. In addition, Israel’s numerous wars provided battlefield testing of American arms, often against Soviet weapons. Furthermore, Israel’s intelligence department has helped U.S. intelligence agencies gather information and plan covert operations in the Middle East. Finally, Israel possesses an enormous nuclear arsenal and has collaborated with the United States on weapons research and manufacture. Zunes states that “U.S. foreign policy is motivated primarily to advance its own perceived strategic interests.”
Moreover, Zunes maintains that U.S. support of Israel increased as Israel grew stronger in the Middle East. For example, in the Six Day War in 1967, Israel demonstrated its military superiority in the region when it defeated Egypt, Syria, and Jordan and captured a significant amount of territory. After this victory, U.S. aid to Israel increased by 450 percent. The New York Times contends that part of this increase was intended to reward Israel for providing the United States with samples of new Soviet weapons. In 1973, after Israel defeated Arab armies fortified with Soviet aid, U.S. military support increased by another 800 percent. When the United States and Israel conducted their first cooperative naval and air military exercises in 1983 and 1984, Israel received another $1.5 billion in economic assistance. U.S. aid to Israel shot up again after the September 11 terrorist attacks to ensure Israeli cooperation in the war against terrorism.
As stated by Zunes, “The correlation is clear: the stronger and more willing to cooperate with U.S. interests that Israel becomes, the stronger the support.” While Israel may be a useful ally, many analysts argue that Israel’s friendship is not worth inciting enmity in the rest of the region. To many Arabs, who be lieve that Israel has oppressed and brutalized Palestinians for more than thirty years, U.S. support of Israel violates the American values of freedom and democracy. According to journalist Chris Toensing, this contradiction proves to many Arabs that the “United States doesn’t act on its principles–it acts in its self-interest. Often, those interests collide with the aspirations of Middle Eastern peoples for democracy and prosperity, even dignity.” The September 11 terrorist attacks proved that acting in U.S. interests despite Arab opposition may have deadly consequences. To avoid future attacks, many believe that the United States must reevaluate whether an Israeli ally is worth numerous Arab enemies.
The authors in the following chapter debate to what extent the United States should get involved with problems in the Middle East, including whether or not U.S. aid to Israel should continue.
The United States Must Wage a War Against Middle Eastern Terrorism
The terrorist attack on the United States in September 2001 will have grave repercussions over the whole world for years to come. The purpose behind the attack was to separate America and its allies from everyone else, and the Muslim world in particular. For the past decade or so, Muslim extremists have been on the march, fighting neighbors of other religions wherever they find them: Hindus in Kashmir, Jews in Israel, Orthodox Russians in Chechnya, animists and Christians in Africa. In the perspective of the suicide bombers, Americans are Westerners but also Christians, therefore the principal legitimate objects of holy war. These Muslim extremists have been trying to open their version of an ideological and armed struggle with global implications: Muslims and as much of the Third World as possible versus democracy. This ambition is now out in the open.
Put in familiar European terms, this attack is the equivalent of the German occupation of the Rhineland in 1936. The failure of Britain and France to rise to that occasion led Hitler to the conclusion that no matter how aggressive he was the democracies would always prefer appeasement to war. A similar failure now to rise to the occasion will place every democratic country in jeopardy. All manner of changes in attitudes towards security, asylum, and human rights have to be envisaged as the open society takes measures to defend itself.
The democracies are not on their own in the coming struggle, but time and intelligence are needed in order to prepare for what lies ahead. The Muslim world does not present a unified bloc. On the contrary, it is split by sectarian and ethnic disputes as well as by internal power struggles. The extremists represent a small–though no doubt growing–minority. Destroying everything before them, they have already provoked civil war in Algeria, Sudan, and Afghanistan, and they have destabilized Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Palestine Authority, and not least Pakistan. The response of these countries’ respective leaders is critical to American success.
The terrorist attack on America serves as a last-minute warning to moderate Muslim leaders to mend their ways and join the extremists. Backed into such a corner, the Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has instead dropped the Taliban [former ruling body of Afghanistan] and sided outright with America. Egypt, far and away the most influential Arab country, is dancing on a tightrope because it too has long been under continuous threat from its extremists.
Muammar Qaddafi in Libya and General Omar Bashir in Sudan have similarly decided that they have more to fear from their extremists than from the United States. About a dozen terror groups have bases in or around Damascus [in Syria] but the young [Syrian] president Bashar Assad may not necessarily protect them. In one of the customary internal power struggles of the Muslim world, Iran is suspicious of the Taliban, and for the first time in years at least some of its leaders are not preaching “Death to America” in the mosques. A wise America will hold a heavy stick behind its back and in its hand as enticing a bunch of carrots as possible, including remission of debt, trade advantages, and political support against extremists. This is, essentially, a hearts and minds operation.
A fantasy is loose in the world, the fantasy of an Islamic supremacy that is destined to triumph everywhere. Some of its advocates claim that eventually Christian countries will become Muslim, in what would amount to a reverse colonialism. Like Communism before it, this Islamic extremism aims to impose its vision on others and call it universal peace. Here, in an unexpected form, is another totalitarian movement. Like all such movements, it does not hesitate to use violence. True believers in each and every totalitarianism always take their stand on the specious and murderous grounds that the ends justify the means.
The huge majority of Muslims understand only too clearly that the extremists do not speak in their name but are likely to unleash Armageddon on all, and they view this with horror. The escape of so many millions of refugees from Afghanistan, for instance, is a public vote of no-confidence in the Taliban. For some, even unknown Nauru–the world’s smallest independent republic–is evidently preferable to home. Untold millions of Muslims long to emigrate to the West, whose freedom and prosperity are the stuff of their dreams.
Needless to say, this Islamic fantasy has nothing to do with Islam proper, a religion like all other great religions, with a genuine vision of justice and equality at its core. Indeed, the damage that the Islamic triumphalist fantasy does to Islam as well as Muslim countries and peoples is at least as severe and dangerous as the damage it does to democracy. The same was true about other totalitarianisms: Nazism utterly ruined Germany, Communism utterly ruined Russia.
To judge by their reported conduct, the September 11, 2001, suicide bombers were living in an atmosphere that had nothing to do with Islam. According to Islamic teaching, whoever commits suicide is condemned to hell. Their central purpose, then, was contrary to their religion. They had shaved off their beards, they spent time in bars, they became drunk, they frequented strip clubs. They carried rolls of hundred dollar bills and spent them ostentatiously. We may suppose that at some level, consciously or unconsciously, they were enjoying the America they were planning to destroy. For it is here, in a most complex relationship of attraction and repulsion, that we must begin to understand the motivations of the terrorists, and so frame our responses.
Each man kills the thing he loves, in the famous words of Oscar Wilde. Premeditated killing of unknown people in an act that simultaneously kills oneself requires a life-denying hate so exceptional that it is in a realm of fanaticism all its own. Such hate signifies a total human failure. This corresponds to the turmoil of the Muslim world today. Each and every Muslim country faces intractable problems of demography, lack of resources and skills, ethnic and religious strife, and selfish government; each and every Muslim suffers from this jumble of assorted ills.
As if that were not enough, Muslim extremists and even some moderates have come to believe that everything wrong with their world is the fault of the Jews. This is partly a relic from the tribal past, and partly another mistaken interpretation of the present. They think in a sort of syllogism. Jews are wicked by definition. America helps Jews. Therefore America is wicked. And yet another false syllogism: Saddam Hussein is an Arab, America wishes to remove Saddam Hussein, therefore America persecutes Arabs. Years will have to pass before the extremists grasp that the humane and democratic values that unite Israel and America serve no conspiratorial anti-Islamic purposes. But that is the context in which America must now operate.
The causes of today’s turmoil go deep into the roots of history. The major intellectual developments of the West–the Renaissance with its concept of hu manism and the Age of Enlightenment during which scientific principles by and large replaced religious dogma–passed the Muslim world by. Muslims everywhere were in the grip of the absolute system of one-man despotism that they had inherited from their forebears and that they believed protected their religion and identity. Western energy and creativity of which they were unaware duly overwhelmed them, and they could do nothing about it. There were Muslim rulers who resisted, and their names have entered Muslim and Western lore alike: Emir Abdel Kader in Algeria, Shamyl in the Caucasus, the Mahdi with his Sudanese dervishes, the so-called Mad Mullah of Berbera.
A nineteenth-century Muslim philosopher, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, spoke for all such. He did not hesitate to stigmatize Muslims as backward. He swung between extreme self-pity about their common plight and ferocious insistence that the remedy lay in violence. Putting his finger on what he thought was the crux of the matter, he wrote, “It is amazing that it was precisely the Christians who invented Krupp’s cannons and the machine gun before the Muslims.” The analysis was false; stemming from science, improved weaponry carried no religious connotation. But al-Afghani succeeded in imprinting throughout the Muslim world a sense of inferiority to the West. The Muslim masses, otherwise proud people, came to see the West as an entity deliberately out to shame and humiliate them. Today’s Islamic fantasy springs from this mindset in which self-pity and revenge go hand in hand.
Two alternatives were open to Muslims in practice. One was to retreat into the fortress of Muslim identity and reject the West. Numberless groups and organizations have chosen that course, from the Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas and Islamic Jihad and Hizballah today, as well as the Taliban and their proxy, Osama bin Laden. They see themselves engaged in a war on two fronts, against the West and against opponents who are fellow Muslims. They live out the triumphalist fantasy.
The other alternative was to seek to discover the source of European energy and mastery. In every colonized Muslim country leaders believed that nationalism was the great western secret, and accordingly they formed nationalist movements, and ultimately nationalist states. Islamic extremists and nationalists shared a common need to acquire European weapons. Either way, in order for Muslims to recover their pride, a test of strength with the Europeans was built into the future.
After the Second World War, the colonial powers no longer had interests in the Middle East that they deemed worth a real test of strength, and they retreated. The encounter so far between Muslims and the West had been a profound movement of history with pluses and minuses for both sides. But at least the end of colonialism seemed to absolve Muslims, and in particular Arabs, from the sense of shame tormenting them.
For fifty years and more, the Muslim world has been independent, free to organize as it wishes, and, moreover, several Muslim countries are beneficiaries of a petrodollar bonanza, which they can dispose of for any end they like. Throughout this period Muslim and Arab rulers have plumped for the outward signs of Western life, such as high-rise buildings, hospitals, and colleges. They have imported modernity as though it were a commodity like any other. But once again, in an incomplete and misleading analysis of the position, they did not recognize that the true source of Western strength lay in a democratic political system that liberated people’s energies and had nothing to do with nationalism.
Instead, the leaders of nationalist movements lost no time in promoting themselves absolute one-man rulers of their own countries. Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt was the model for them all. The result has been a present-day mimicry of the historic despotisms of the past. Nothing like democracy exists in the Muslim world, where Turkey alone has ever experienced a change of government through a free and unrigged election, and there only once. Parliaments exist to rubberstamp the ruler’s decrees. There is no freedom of speech or of assembly, no civil rights, but only the dreaded secret police, prisons, torture, and execution. The injustice is flagrant. Corruption is everywhere. Excluded from any say, the masses still have no control over their destiny, but they are able to protest only through a riot. Power changes hands by assassination or coup. In the absence of mechanisms for power-sharing and mediation, every national and international conflict of interest degenerates into a test of strength.
Muslims and Arabs have nobody to blame but themselves for so disastrous a social and political failure. There are intellectuals who point this out, but they are few. It is far more comforting to displace the blame on to others. At the very end of 1978, Ayatollah Khomeini carefully staged a coup in Iran and seized power from the shah. In a large and potentially rich country, he was able to bring up-to-date al-Afghani’s expressions of self-pity and revenge.
Muslims, the ayatollah held, were weak because the West had deliberately made them so. It was another self-serving falsehood. In reality the West displays a yawning indifference to all manifestations of religion, but the ayatollah crystallized the contemporary Islamic fantasy that the West is actually out to destroy Islam. In response, Muslims had the duty to unite against the West and all its works, especially in its most salient incarnation, America, dubbed the Great Satan. He advised former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to show the way by converting to Islam. Nationalist rulers, Saddam Hussein for instance, had to be obliged to subscribe to his fantasy, if need be by war to the death.
Muslims everywhere, rich and poor, educated men like Osama bin Laden and illiterate youths, have eagerly absorbed Khomeini’s prescriptions and formed an archipelago of conspiratorial groups in half the countries of the world, often clandestinely linked in a manner reminiscent of former Communist cells, volunteering to right the wrongs they believe to have been done to them, and to establish an Islamic utopia. Many of them take advantage of Western medicine, technology, and education, depending on these benefits that they are unable to provide for themselves. The contradiction powers the grievance, impotence, and hate of their fantasy.
The suicide bombers have at last engaged the United States in a test of strength according to their standards. Muslim–and especially Arab–one-man rulers will be watching for signs that the United States understands the stakes and has the resolve to act as it should. If they detect weakness in Washington, they will have no choice but to pay lip-service to the Islamic fantasy and at least pretend to join the ideological war against the West. Anything less leaves them at the mercy of assassination or a coup undertaken by extremists. American strength and determination to see this through, however, will encourage them to join the coalition of Western allies. As was exactly the case in forming the earlier coalition to fight the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein, they and others in their position must be sure to end on the winning side.
For the present, we do not know whether the suicide bombers had ultimate sponsorship from a Muslim or Arab state. Any such state must also be brought to account, if necessary by an outright invasion that leads to a change of regime. This is a just war if ever there was one, in defence of life and liberty against an ideological enemy. If the United States and its allies were to retreat from the test of strength imposed on them, or botch it somehow through inadequate preparation or loss of will, then the extremists will conclude that they have the West on the run. They will strive on for victory. Who can guess how far hate and killing will then spread, or how destructive it will prove for mankind.
The United States Should Continue to Support Israel
The Muslim world is mystified as to why Americans support the existence of Israel. Some critics in the Middle East excuse “the American people,” while castigating our government. In their eyes, our official policy could not really reflect grassroots opinion. Others misinformed spin elaborate conspiracy theories involving the power of joint Mossad-CIA plots, Old Testament fundamentalists, international bankers, and Jewish control of Hollywood, the media, and the U.S. Congress. But why does an overwhelming majority of Americans (according to most polls between 60 and 70% of the electorate) support Israel–and more rather than less so after [the attacks on] September 11, 2001? The answer is found in values–not in brainwashing or because of innate affinity for a particular race or creed. Israel is a democracy.
Its opponents are not. Much misinformation abounds on this issue. Libya, Syria, and Iraq are dictatorships, far more brutal than even those in Egypt or Pakistan. But even “parliaments” in Iran, Morocco, Jordan, and on the West Bank are not truly and freely democratic. In all of them, candidates are either screened, preselected, or under coercion. Daily television and newspapers are subject to restrictions and censorship; “elected” leaders are not open to public audit and censure. There is a reason, after all, why in the last decade Americans have dealt with Israeli prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Ariel Sharon–and no one other than Yasser Arafat, the Husseins in Jordan, the Assads in Syria, Hosni Mubarak, and who knows what in Lebanon, Algeria, and Afghanistan. Death, not voters, brings changes of rule in the Arab world.
The Arab street pronounces that it is the responsibility of the United States– who gives money to Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Afghanistan and others, has troops stationed in the Gulf, and buys oil from the Muslim world–to use its in-fluence to instill democracies. They forget that sadly these days we rarely have such power to engineer sweeping constitutional reform; that true freedom requires the blood and courage of native patriots–a George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Thomas Paine–not outside nations; and that democracy demands some prior traditions of cultural tolerance, widespread literacy, and free markets. Moreover, we give Israel billions as well–but have little control whether they wish to elect a Yitzhak Rabin or an Ariel Sharon.
Israel is also secular. The ultra-Orthodox do not run the government unless they can garner a majority of voters. Americans have always harbored suspicion of anyone who nods violently when reading Holy Scripture–whether in madrassas, near the Wailing Wall, or in the local Church of the Redeemer down the street. In Israel, however, Americans detect that free speech and liberality of custom and religion are more ubiquitous than, say, in Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Palestine–and so surmise that the Jewish state is more the creation of European emigres than of indigenous Middle-Eastern fundamentalists.
Pluralism exists in Israel, rarely so in the Arabic world. We see an Israeli peace party, spirited debate between Left and Right, and both homegrown damnation and advocacy for the settlers outside the 1967 borders. Judaism is fissured by a variety of splinter orthodoxies without gunfights. There are openly agnostic and atheistic Israeli Jews who enjoy influence in Israeli culture and politics. In theory, such parallels exist in the Arab world, but in actuality rarely so. We know that heretical mullahs are heretical more often in London, Paris, or New York–not in Teheran or among the Taliban. No Palestinian politician would go on CNN and call for Mr. Arafat’s resignation; his opposition rests among bombers, not in raucous televised debates.
Israeli newspapers and television reflect a diversity of views, from rabid Zionism to almost suicidal pacifism. There are Arab-Israeli legislators–and plenty of Jewish intellectuals–who openly write and broadcast in opposition to the particular government of the day. Is that liberality ever really true in Palestine? Could a Palestinian, Egyptian, or Syrian novelist write something favorable about former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, hostile to Mr. Assad or Mubarak, or craft a systematic satire about Islam? Past experience suggests such iconoclasts and would-be critics might suffer stones and fatwas rather than mere ripostes in the letters to the editor of the local newspapers. Palestinian spokesmen are quite vocal and unbridled on American television, but most of us–who ourselves instinctively welcome self-criticism and reflection–sense that such garrulousness and freewheeling invective are reserved only for us, rarely for Mr. Arafat’s authority.
Americans also see ingenuity from Israel, both technological and cultural– achievement that is not reflective of genes, but rather of the culture of freedom. There are thousands of brilliant and highly educated Palestinians. But in the conditions of the Middle East, they have little opportunity for free expression or to open a business without government bribe or tribal payoff. The result is that even American farmers in strange places like central California are always amazed by drip-irrigation products, sophisticated water pumps, and ingenious agricultural appurtenances that are created and produced in Israel. So far we have seen few trademarked in Algeria, Afghanistan, or Qatar.
There is also an affinity between the Israeli and Western militaries that transcends mere official exchanges and arms sales. We do not see goose- stepping soldiers in Haifa as we do in Baghdad. Nor are there in Tel-Aviv hooded troops with plastic bombs strapped to their sides on parade. Nor do Israeli presidents wear plastic sunglasses, carry pistols to the U.N., or have chests full of cheap and tawdry metals. Young rank-and-file Israeli men and women enjoy a familiarity among one another, and their officers are more akin to our own army than to the Islamist groups Republican Guard, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad.
The Israelis also far better reflect the abject lethality of the Western way of war. Here perhaps lies the greatest misunderstanding of military history on the part of the Arab world. The so-called Islamic street believes that sheer numbers and territory–a billion Muslims, a century of oil reserves, and millions of square miles–should mysteriously result in lethal armies. History teaches us that war is rarely that simple. Instead, the degree militaries are westernized– technology that is a fruit of secular research, group discipline arising from consensual societies, logistical efficiency that derives from capitalism, and flexibility that is the dividend from constant public audit and private individualism–determines victory, despite disadvantages in numbers, natural resources, individual genius, or logistics.
We hear a quite boring refrain from enraged Palestinians of “Apache helicopters” and “F-16s”. But in the Lebanese war of the early 1980s we saw what happens in dogfights between advanced Israel and Syrian jets in the same manner Saddam Hussein’s sophisticated weapons were rendered junk in days by our counterparts. So Israel’s power is more the result of a system, not merely of imported hardware. The Arab world does not have a creative arms industry; Israel does–whether that be ingenious footpads to wear while detecting mines or drone aircraft that fly at night over Mr. Arafat’s house. If the Palestinians truly wished military parity, then the Arab world should create their own research programs immune to religious or political censure, and ensure that students are mastering calculus rather than the Koran.
Nor are Americans ignorant of the recent past. The United States was not a colonial power in the Middle East, but developed ties there as a reaction to, not as a catalyst of, its complex history. Israel was instead both created and abandoned by Europeans. The 20th century taught Americans that some Europeans would annihilate millions of Jews–and others prove unwilling or unable to stop such a holocaust. We sensed that the first three wars in the Middle East were not fought to return the West Bank, but to finish off what Hitler could not. And we suspect now that, while hundreds of millions of Arabs would accept a permanent Israel inside its 1967 borders, a few million would not–and those few would not necessarily be restrained by those who did ac cept the Jewish state.
Somehow we in the American heartland sense that Israel–whether its gross national product, free society, or liberal press–is a wound to the psyche, not a threat to the material condition, of the Arab world. Israel did not murder the Kurds or Shiites. It does not butcher Islam’s children in Algeria. Nor did it kill over a million on the Iranian-Iraqi border–much less blow apart Afghanistan, erase from the face of the earth entire villages and their living inhabitants in Syria, or turn parts of Cairo into literal sewers. Yet both the victims and the perpetrators of those crimes against Muslims answer “Israel” to every problem. But Americans, more than any people in history, live in the present and future, not the past, loath scapegoating and the cult of victimization, and are tired of those, here and abroad, who increasingly blame others for their own self- induced pathologies.
The Europeans are quite cynical about all this. Tel Aviv, much better than Cairo or Damascus, reflects the liberal values of Paris or London. Yet the Europeans rarely these days do anything that is not calibrated in terms of gaining money or avoiding trouble–and in that sense for them Israel is simply a very bad deal. All the sophisticated op-eds about . . . Islamic liberalism cannot hide the fact that Europe’s policy in the Middle East is based on little more than naked self-interest. If Israel were wiped out tomorrow, Europeans would ask for a brief minute of silence, then sigh relief, and without a blink roll up their sleeves to get down to trade and business.
Our seemingly idiosyncratic support for Israel, then, also says something about ourselves rather than just our ally. In brutal Realpolitik, the Europeans are right that there is nothing much to gain from aiding Israel. Helping a few million costs us the friendship of nearly a billion. An offended Israel will snub us; but some in an irate Muslim world engineered slaughter in Manhattan. Despite our periodic tiffs, we don’t fear that any frenzied Israelis will hijack an American plane or murder Marines in their sleep. No Jews are screaming at us on the evening news that we give billions collectively to Mubarak, the Jordani ans, and Mr. Arafat. And Israelis lack the cash reserves of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and they do not go on buying sprees in the U.S. or import whole industries from America. So the reason we each support whom we do says something about both Europe and the United States.
Instead of railing at America, Palestinians should instead see in our policy toward Israel their future hope, rather than present despair–since it is based on disinterested values that can evolve, rather than on race, religion, or language that often cannot. If the Palestinians really wished to even the score with the Israelis in American eyes, then regular elections, a free press, an open and honest economy, and religious tolerance alone would do what suicide bombers and a duplicitous terrorist leader could not.
The United States Should Go to War with Iraq
In February 1998 a group of distinguished security-policy practitioners addressed an open letter to President Bill Clinton under the banner of the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf. The signatories were seized with what was even then a pressing problem: the need to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
These experts–many of whom now hold top positions in the George W. Bush administration (including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Undersecretaries of State John Bolton and Paula Dobriansky and Undersecretaries of Defense Douglas Feith and Dov Zakheim)–felt compelled to call for regime change in Iraq for reasons that are, if anything, still more compelling now:
Despite [Saddam’s] defeat in the [Persian] Gulf War, continuing sanctions and the determined effort of U.N. inspectors to fetter out and destroy his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein has been able to develop biological and chemical munitions. To underscore the threat posed by these deadly devices, [then-secretary of state Madeleine Albright and then-secretary of defense William Cohen] have said that these weapons could be used against our own people. . . .
Iraq’s position is unacceptable. While Iraq is not unique in possessing these weapons, it is the only country which has used them-not just against its enemies, but its own people as well. We must assume that Saddam is prepared to use them again. This poses a danger to our friends, our allies and to our nation.
Today, years after the last U.N. weapons inspector was compelled to leave Iraq, Saddam not only has active chemical and bio-weapons programs but surely also has resumed the aggressive effort he was making before Operation Desert Storm to acquire atomic and, in due course, thermonuclear arms.
Defectors have revealed that his covert program is so far advanced technologically that the only thing preventing Saddam from having fully functional nuclear weapons is access to sufficient quantities of fissile material. Once he has enriched uranium or plutonium, he would be able at a minimum to build radiological, or “dirty,” bombs. It strains credulity that, given his vast oil revenues and the black market that has developed in such material since the collapse of the Soviet empire, this need will go unfulfilled for very long–if it has not already begun to be satisfied.
Saddam continues to work as well at building the means of delivering such weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) against targets farther removed than his own people. (The gruesome details of his use of chemical weapons against Kurdish population centers in 1988 has been documented by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker magazine.) Fighter aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles capable of serving this purpose–at least with small payloads of chemical or biological weapons–are in his inventory today. Given the closed nature of Iraq under Saddam’s misrule, it is reasonable to expect that this equipment’s capability for WMD applications is being secretly modernized with the assistance of the Russian, Chinese and/or North Korean technicians who busily are proliferating WMDs and relevant delivery systems throughout the Middle East and, indeed, the world.
The danger that such weapons might be used by Saddam against the United States is today even more clear than it was when Rumsfeld et al. addressed the topic in 1998. After all, we now have compelling evidence of Iraq’s involvement in international terrorism. Iraq expert and best-selling author Laurie Mylroie has argued convincingly that Iraqi intelligence was implicated in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
And there is more compelling evidence tying Mohammed Atta (the terrorist believed to have led the hijackers on the devastating September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center twin towers) to Saddam than there is to Osama bin Laden. (This includes Atta’s meeting with a known Iraqi agent in Prague shortly before the attack and a facility in Iraq, equipped with a jetliner, that defectors report is used to train would-be hijackers.)
Saddam’s large biological-weapons program is particularly ominous in light of the interest expressed by Atta and some of his colleagues in the use of crop dusters. At this writing it is unclear whether there is more than coincidence in some of the apparent connections between those associated with the September 11, 2001, attacks and the anthrax used against Florida-based tabloids, other media organizations and top congressional figures. (For example, one of the hijackers received medical treatment shortly before his death for what the attending physician believes may have been symptoms of cutaneous anthrax, and several of the hijackers rented an apartment from a woman married to an executive at one of the anthrax-targeted tabloids).
It is safe to say, however, that had the particular strain of anthrax–of a sophisticated type that Iraq and very few other nations could produce–been delivered to Congress and the other recipients via crop duster instead of the U.S. Postal Service, there likely would have been many thousands of dead.
It would be in keeping with such efforts–in which cutouts appear to have been used by Saddam to inflict lethal blows on the United States while concealing Iraq’s true role–if the “Butcher of Baghdad” were to try next to exploit America’s complete vulnerability to missile attack. This could be done with catastrophic effect, thanks to the continuing absence of any deployed U.S. missile-defense system, should the Iraqi despot arrange to have one of the Scud missiles he is believed to have hidden from U.S. warplanes and U.N. inspectors launched from a third-country-registered ship operating off our coast.
In short, today even more than in 1998, it is clear that the risk of Saddam engaging, either directly or indirectly, in the use of WMDs no longer safely can be ignored. Similarly, we now know that there is no practical alternative to regime change in Iraq if that threat is to be mitigated, let alone eliminated.
If anything, Saddam has been emboldened by successive U.S. administrations’ failures to deal decisively with him and his reign of terror. He successfully has defied U.S. presidents, the United Nations, his treaty commit ments and international law. He has worn down inspectors and sanction regimes, diplomats and no-fly zones. He has shown himself to be as resilient to unenforced claims that he is being kept in “his box” as he is to humanitarian appeals to use oil-for-food monies as they were intended–namely, to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people. He will make an even greater mockery of any so-called “smart- sanctions” regime, further corrupting and intimidating his neighbors as his wealth and power continue to be restored by Europeans, Russians and Chinese anxious to resume doing business with him.
For these reasons, we have no choice but to do what Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and their colleagues recommended in 1998: Take at once whatever steps are necessary to end Saddam’s misrule and liberate the Iraqi people. Unfortunately, we cannot be sure that such steps will result in the elimination of all Iraqi WMD programs. If we pursue the sort of strategy for accomplishing Saddam’s downfall that was laid out by the Coalition for Peace and Security in the Gulf, however, it should end the threat they pose.
That means ruling out the notion of pursuing Saddam’s downfall via a coup d’etat that very well could wind up merely replacing one dangerous Iraqi dictator with another, possibly equally odious, despot. The latter, however, could be freed from the constraints under which the Butcher of Baghdad currently operates simply because he is not Saddam. As the signatories of the coalition’s open letter put it in 1998:
For years, the United States has tried to remove Saddam by encouraging coups and internal conspiracies. These attempts have all failed. Saddam is more wily, brutal and conspiratorial than any likely conspiracy the United States might mobilize against him. Saddam must be overpowered; he will not be brought down by a coup d’etat. But Saddam has an Achilles’ heel: lacking popular support, he rules by terror. The same brutality which makes it unlikely that any coups or conspiracies can succeed makes him hated by his own people and the rank and file of his military. Iraq today is ripe for a broad- based insurrection. We must exploit this opportunity.
Instead, the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf recommended “a comprehensive political and military strategy for bringing down Saddam and his regime.” Specifically, it proposed that the United States: a) “recognize a provisional government of Iraq based on the principles and leaders of the Iraqi National Congress that is representative of all the peoples of Iraq”; b) “restore and enhance the safe haven in northern Iraq to allow the provisional government to extend its authority there and establish a zone in southern Iraq from which Saddam’s ground forces would also be excluded”; and c) “lift sanctions in liberated areas.”
The last of these is particularly noteworthy. As the committee’s signatories observed: “Sanctions are instruments of war against Saddam’s regime, but they should be quickly lifted on those who have freed themselves from it.” Also, the oil resources and products of the liberated areas should help fund the provisional government’s insurrection and humanitarian relief for the people of liberated Iraq, as should unfrozen “Iraqi assets–which amount to $1.6 billion in the United States and Britain alone” that can help “the provisional government to fund its insurrection.”
Importantly, the committee acknowledged that the United States had a responsibility to “help expand liberated areas of Iraq by assisting the provisional government’s offensive against Saddam Hussein’s regime logistically and through other means.” The signatories counseled that “a systematic air campaign [be launched] against the pillars of [Saddam’s] power–the Republican Guard divisions which prop him up and the military infrastructure that sustains him.” They also recommended that “U.S. ground-force equipment [be positioned] in the region so that, as a last resort, we have the capacity to protect and assist the anti-Saddam forces in the northern and southern parts of Iraq.”
This prescription for effecting regime change in Iraq would have the advantage of empowering the Iraqi people to help liberate themselves with a minimum of U.S. military involvement and risk. It is past time it be given a chance to work. Indeed, we no longer can afford to do otherwise.
The United States Should Promote Democracy in the Middle East
Is democracy a policy goal of the United States in the Middle East? Officials are reticent to use the word democracy in their statements on the Muslim Middle East. However, they do not explicitly exclude the region from their general foreign policy goals of expanding the number of democracies and market economies throughout the world. In speeches and policy statements to Congress, administration officials put democracy on the list of good things Washington wants in the region, along with peace, “moderation,” “stability,” economic development and the isolation of “rogue states” (Iraq, Iran and Libya).
For example, former Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs Robert Pelletreau listed “promoting more open political and economic systems, and respect for human rights and the rule of law” as one of seven American objectives in the Middle East. When elections (whose results are in accord with American interests) occur in the region, administration officials point to them as evidence that America’s global policy of “democratic enlargement” can bear fruit “even” in the Muslim Middle East. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has funded a multimillion-dollar project on “governance” in the region, so taxpayer money is being put where officials’ mouths are.
Perhaps more importantly, the United States is seen in the region as being on record, at least rhetorically, as supporting democracy. Human rights and prodemocracy movements in Middle Eastern countries look to Washington for support, despite American unwillingness to criticize the many undemocratic U.S. allies in the region. Yet when real elections do occur, American policy goals can be set back. Islamist parties that do not hide their opposition to American political and cultural influence in the region frequently do well. The results even of Israeli elections can complicate U.S. diplomatic initiatives. Nowhere in the world do the cross-pressures of America’s interests and America’s ideals present starker choices.
Persian Gulf security and progress on the Arab-Israeli peace process rank far ahead of promoting participatory politics in the list of America’s real goals in the Muslim Middle East, and that is as it should be. However, there are an increasing number of elections, of more or less legitimate provenance, occurring in Muslim countries to which the United States has to respond. Since November 1995 Algeria has held a presidential election; Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon and Kuwait have had parliamentary elections; and Palestinians elected a legislative authority. American officials have been called upon, and will be called upon, to pronounce upon the fairness and openness of such elections. In a number of cases, the United States faces the difficult task of balancing between its principles–support for free and fair elections–and its particular interests in supporting some incumbent regimes and delegitimizing others.
When elections stand in the way of securing American security and economic goals, Washington drops its normal rhetoric of “democratic enlargement.” When countries that oppose the United States on these issues, such as Iran, have elections, those elections are ipso facto seen as undemocratic. When countries that support the United States on these issues have sham elections, or ignore their own constitutions in prohibiting or postponing elections, Washington remains silent. There is a pervasive sense in the Middle East that the United States does not support democracy in the region, but rather supports what is in its strategic interest and calls it democratic.
What is widely seen as blatant U.S. hypocrisy on the democracy issue has a corrosive effect on America’s standing in the region. It is particularly harmful among groups that are disposed to look favorably toward the United States– those who want their governments to be more open and responsive to the sentiments of the people. In this case, talk is not cheap. There is an easy solution to this problem, which we discuss in more detail below. It can be summarized simply: U.S. policy makers should talk much less about democracy in the Muslim Middle East, and do a little bit more to promote it.
In most of the world, U.S. advocacy of democracy represents a happy marriage of American values and American interests. Elections in Latin America, Eastern Europe and East Asia have brought to power, for the most part up to now, leaders who are favorably disposed toward the United States and who support the market-oriented economic policies that Washington urges. In many cases, these new leaders have supplanted communists (Eastern Europe) or economic nationalists (Latin America) with whom the United States had difficulty doing business, both politically and economically. Even where communists in Eastern Europe have resumed to power through the ballot box, they do so much transformed. In such circumstances, American support for democracy is cost- free. Publicly promoting our values serves our interests.
Such is not the case in the Muslim Middle East. The United States has no problem dealing with most incumbent regimes in the Middle East (with the exceptions of Libya, Iran and Iraq). American interests are intimately tied up with the ruling elites in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states. Washington even has a promising relationship with Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad, a prickly leader who hardly shares American democratic values. Former mayor of New York Rudolph Guiliani might have declared Yasir Arafat persona non grata at Lincoln Center, but the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is certainly now Washington’s favorite Palestinian. The status quo in the Middle East serves American interests very well. Domestic political change, be it democratic or otherwise, would probably bring to power people less likely to follow Washington’s lead.
Moves toward greater democracy in any of these Middle Eastern countries (including the Palestinian Authority) would undoubtedly increase the power of Islamist political groups, as recent elections demonstrate. For the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic, a party with an explicitly Islamist platform received a plurality of votes in a legislative election. The Welfare party polled over 21 percent of the vote and received 158 seats (nearly 30 percent of the total) in the Turkish elections of December 1995. The Islamic Action Front, the political face of the Islamist political group the Muslim Brotherhood, is the largest group in the Jordanian parliament. The arrest and military trial of about 100 Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt, on the eve of the November 1995 elections to the Egyptian parliament, is a signal of where the Hosni Mubarak government sees its most threatening challenger. While Hamas [a Muslim terrorist organization] boycotted the recent legislative elections to the Palestinian Authority, it is clear that this Islamist group is Yasir Arafat’s major opposition in Palestinian politics. Eighteen of the 40 Kuwaiti parliamentarians elected in October 1992 were members of the three Islamist groups that fielded candidates or independents endorsed by one of those groups. Islamists held on to about that number of seats in the 1996 elections. Moreover, newly emerging Islamist opposition groups are presenting the Saudi regime with its most serious domestic challenge since the heyday of Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Pan-Arabism [the notion of uniting all Arab countries under a single government] in the 1960s.
Thus, for the foreseeable future more open politics in the Middle East likely mean more “Islamic” politics. That is something that unnerves Washington, and with good reason. Islamist groups uniformly oppose the Arab-Israeli peace process that is at the heart of American policy in the Middle East; some (Hezbollah, Hamas) actively confront Israel. They criticize the close relations their governments have with the United States, seeing in such ties a veiled form of political domination. Most centrally, they see the American consumer culture as the biggest threat to the “re-Islamization” of the social values of their societies. In short any American administration would find it more difficult to do business with Islamic regimes than with the current incumbents in almost all Middle Eastern states.
The democracy conundrum for the United States in the Muslim Middle East is straightforward. American interests are tied up with incumbent regimes; American values, if pursued vigorously, could weaken those regimes. The problem is not that Muslims are not “ready” for democracy, as some have condescendingly argued. It is that Washington is not ready for the choices that they would probably make.
Two recent elections in the Arab world highlight the democracy conundrum for the United States. In one, it appeared that American principles and American interests were served. In the January 1996 voting for the legislature of the new Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza, candidates of Yasir Arafat’s Fatah group and affiliated independents took 68 out of 88 seats. Candidates close to Hamas received only 5 seats. Arafat himself was elected president of the authority with well over 80 percent of the vote against token opposition. Turnout was high–according to some estimates over 70 percent of registered voters–as Palestinians enthusiastically voted in their first national elections. USAID provided logistical support to the election organizers and held seminars for Palestinians on voting procedures. International monitors pronounced the vote free and fair, and the United States officially congratulated Arafat on his victory and complimented the Palestinians for a successful exercise in democracy.
But what if the results had been different? A hypothetical question, to be sure, but not an outlandish one. Both Hamas and Arafat’s leftist opposition urged a boycott of the elections. It is doubtful they will do so on the next round, if there is a next round. After some years of rule by Arafat, Palestinian voters might find themselves in the mood for a change, particularly if final-status negotiations with Israel have stalled and real Palestinian independence seems unlikely. . . . Arafat might have to rely on less democratic methods to turn out a convincing majority to support him in a future election. What would Washington’s response be? We have an example in another recent election in the Arab world. In late November and early December 1995 Egyptians went to the polls to elect a new parliament in two rounds of voting. During the campaign the government arrested a number of leading figures in the Muslim Brotherhood who were running for election. In a pre-election security round-up, hundreds of campaign workers and poll watchers for Brotherhood candidates were detained by the police. President Mubarak’s National Democratic party won a crushing victory, with party members and affiliated independents taking 444 out of 458 seats. Only one candidate affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood won a seat.
The head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, a local nongovernmental organization which monitored the voting, called the elections “a real insult to democracy.” The group reported widespread ballot rigging, fraud, harassment of candidates and voters, and arrests. The Egyptian government contended that the poll was free and fair. . . .
The balloting placed the United States Embassy in Cairo in a very difficult position. Called upon for a comment, the Embassy simply said that it took cognizance of the fact that there were reports of fraud in the voting. This response pleased no one. The Egyptian government was enraged, with government newspapers rejecting what they termed American interference in the domestic affairs of Egypt.
Advocates of democracy and human rights questioned why Washington would keep silent in the face of such massive fraud. Egyptian liberals with whom we spoke were genuinely puzzled and hurt that the United States would not even provide verbal support to a cause–free elections–that Washington actively encourages elsewhere. Egyptian Islamists did not have to be told why: the United States prefers the increasingly autocratic Mubarak regime to any democratic alternative, because that alternative would inevitably be more “Islamic.” Thus the American waffle on “democracy” in Egypt irritated a pivotal Middle East ally without gaining the United States any friends in Egyptian society. Far from settling issues, the Egyptian elections have only raised tensions and increased the political polarization in the country. . . .
Is the clash between American values and American interests in the Muslim Middle East insoluble? No. The United States in fact has an interest in dealing with stable, broadly based regimes in the region. Encouraging our friends to open up their political systems, in an evolutionary way, is the best way Washington can help to assure their long-term stability. We should be clear that, while near-term democratic transitions in key Middle East allies are not in America’s interest, gradual steps toward more participatory politics are. The leverage the United States can use in this direction is limited, because of the immediate and important American interests at stake in our relations with a number of Middle East regimes. But such leverage does exist.
The first step Washington should take is to confront America’s own hypocrisy on the democracy question. American policymakers should make clear that our tangible interests in the Middle East are more important than the immediate promotion of democracy. They should not be afraid to say that, while not opposed to democratic transitions, the United States is not particularly pressing for them, either. Our policy will be based on our interests, not on pious statements about our values. Middle Easterners believe this anyway; stating it publicly can only gain Washington credit for honesty, a commodity in preciously short supply in Middle Eastern politics.
It is also important that the United States not exaggerate the Islamist “bogeyman.” The further away a country is from the core American interests in the Middle East–Arab-Israeli peaceand Gulf oil–the more comfortable Washington should be about dealing with Islamist forces. . . . Where Islamist groups oppose regimes that Washington also opposes, as in Libya and Iraq, we should not be dissuaded from dealing with those groups by questionable theoretical arguments about a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. Islamist governments, even revolutionary ones like Iran, have to sell their products on world markets. We should remember that the United States is boycotting Iranian commerce, not the other way around. The rational basis for American fears of “Islamic” political change in the Middle East rests upon specific differences of opinion on Arab Israeli issues and on the strong American ties with a number of incumbent regimes challenged by Islamist opposition. Washington must be at pains, in both word and in deed, to make clear that its policy is governed by those specific interests, not by a general opposition to political forces that call themselves “Islamic.”
In stating its policy, Washington should also be clear that it favors efforts to allow more wide-ranging public discussion and more freedom to publicly organize for political purposes in the Muslim Middle East. One of the reasons that Islamist groups dominate the political field is that they do not need “civic space” to organize politically. The protected space, both metaphorically and physically, provided by mosques, religious schools and other religious institutions allows Islamist groups to build social bases of support. Non-Islamist political organizations lack such space. They are caught between nervous governments intent on dominating all aspects of public life and Islamist groups intent on monopolizing opposition discourse and activity. The United States should use what leverage it has to help open up the space for other political groups to emerge, groups that could ameliorate the growing polarization of Arab politics between American-supported regimes and Islamist oppositions.
The results of the December 1995 parliamentary elections in Turkey are a good indication of how a political system can develop when the opportunities for political organizing are not limited to ruling parties and underground Islamic oppositions. The Welfare party, Turkey’s Islamic party, won the poll with 21.3 percent of the vote. However, two right-center secular parties, the True Path party of Prime Minister Tansu Ciller and the Motherland party, founded by the late Turgut Ozal, former prime minister and former president of Turkey, each received nearly 20 percent of the vote. The Democratic Left and Republican People’s parties, successors to Kemal Ataturk’s Republican People’s party, together polled 25 percent. Secular parties with a history of support for Turkey’s membership in NATO won the support of an overwhelming majority of Turks, and control 392 of the 550 seats in parliament. When Welfare party leader Necmettin Erbekan was called upon to form a government in June 1996 (as a result of the collapse of the Motherland-True Path coalition government), he had to accept the True Path as a governing partner with Ciller as foreign minister. It remains impossible for the Welfare party to form a government on its own.
In Turkey, decades of democratic practice have allowed the development of strong political parties across the electoral spectrum. Those parties serve as a check on each other, and a guarantee against a single political movement, supported by a minority of Turks, coming to dominate the government as a result of one election. The Turkish road to democracy has had plenty of bumps, with military coups in 1960 and 1980, a Latin American;ndash;style military pronunciamento in 1971 and severe political polarization and civil violence in the 1970s. However, Turkey demonstrates that an open and institutionalized political system can accommodate Islamists’ political activity and avoid the dangerous polarization of politics into an autocratic secular government and a violent, under-ground Islamist opposition so characteristic of many Arab states. The United States has nothing to fear from the Turkish model, and much to admire in it.
A modest American policy toward encouraging our Arab allies to emulate, in a gradual and evolutionary way, the Turkish model would consist of the following elements:
• Support for freedom of expression. While Islamic groups would be the immediate beneficiaries of such liberalization, it would encourage other political tendencies to enter the public arena. Logistical support for independent publishers of books and newspapers would be a good use of some small part of American and international organization aid to the states of the region.
• Dealing seriously with participatory institutions in Middle Eastern states, even if the governments themselves do not. The USAID “governance” project has taken some useful steps in this direction, providing technical assistance to legislatures in Arab states. American diplomats should consult with and take seriously the views of members of appointed consultative assemblies in the Gulf countries and the elected legislatures in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait. Washington should urge that its important agreements with Arab governments be debated and approved by such assemblies, even if at the outset such approval would be a foregone conclusion. It is interesting to note that the United States signed a defense agreement with Kuwait, after Desert Storm, that was never submitted to the Kuwaiti parliament. The evolution of these institutions into freer and more representative institutions is the best hope for stable political transitions in these countries.
• Provide opportunities for political activists, including Islamist activists, to meet with American politicians and analysts, even if such meetings displease ruling regimes. That kind of networking, particularly in the countries with smaller populations, can be very useful in establishing personal links that could be important in times of crisis and transition. It is disheartening to note that, despite the importance of Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf monarchies to U.S. interests in the Middle East, very few American resources are available for exchange programs with these countries. Such exchange programs are not going to convert every Middle Eastern activist into a Jeffersonian democrat. But they could help Washington establish lines of communication with important political and social figures in Middle Eastern countries. When Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in Iran, he was an unknown figure to Washington. That kind of thing should not happen again.
• Notice and take seriously important social groups that already exist in the Muslim Middle East. A largely ignored but enormously important group in all these states is the chamber of commerce. In many countries the chamber is the only existing social organization that has some independence from both the government and Islamist groups. The chambers generally support the American goal of more open economies. With the general trend toward privatization, the political and economic clout of the chambers will only increase in the future.
• When democratic transitions and real elections do occur, support them, even if their direction at the outset is uncertain. The mealy-mouthed American response to the Algerian military intervention halting the electoral process in 1991 did more to damage Washington’s image among devoted democrats in the Arab world than any recent U.S. policy.
;bull; Be honest about sham elections. If one of our allies stages an electoral farce, the United States should not try to give it a democratic cover. Washington should make clear to our allies that we are not pushing them to have elections, but, if they do, Washington will evaluate those elections on their merits. Relations will not be cut off nor aid stopped because of sham elections, but the United States will not lie about the nature of those elections simply to avoid hurting the feelings of autocratic rulers. . . .
The steps outlined for a realistic American approach to its Middle Eastern “democracy conundrum” are hardly a panacea. They will not dramatically change the nature of politics in the Muslim Middle East. But they will help to remove the odor of insincerity that characterizes much official American discourse about democracy in the region. They will signal that the United States, within the limits of its interests, is serious about encouraging participatory institutions and broader based politics in its Middle Eastern allies. They might even, at the margins, improve the chances for gradual and evolutionary political change in the area, the best guarantee of stability and American interests there. A little less empty talk and a little more modest action could go some distance to decreasing the extent to which Muslim Middle Easterners see American policy toward political change in their countries as nothing but hypocrisy.
The U.S. War on Terrorism Is Unethical
The world changed on September 11, 2001. That’s not just media hype. The way some historians refer to 1914–1991 as the “short twentieth century,” many are now calling September 11, 2001, the real beginning of the twenty-first century. It’s too early to know whether that assessment will be borne out, but it cannot simply be dismissed.
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, forever ended the idea that the United States could somehow float above the rest of the earth, of it and not of it at the same time. Americans can no longer foster the illusion that what happens to the rest of the world doesn’t affect them. It is more crucial than ever that we understand what kind of world we are living in, and what the United States has done to make it what it is.
It is not enough to say that the attacks were crimes against humanity, though they were, and that terrorism like that must be stopped, though it must. It’s also not enough to say that the hijackers were religious extremists, though they were. One must also understand the role the United States has played in promoting religious extremism, directly, as in the Afghan jihad, and indirectly, by destroying all alternatives through its ceaseless attacks on the left and by pursuing policies that foster resentment and anger.
It is of particular importance to understand its newest policies, the so-called “war on terrorism.” Of the many ways to approach it, perhaps the most straightforward is to examine the official view of the war on terrorism that has emerged and is being pushed on the public, and refuting it point by point.
These are some of the main myths about that war:
The attack was like Pearl Harbor, and therefore, as in the Second World War, we had to declare war or risk destruction. The truth is that Pearl Harbor was an attack by a powerful, expansionist state that had the capacity to subjugate all of East Asia. The attacks of September 11, 2001, were committed by nineteen men, part of a series of networks that has a few thousand hard-core militants, with access to modest financial resources. Since they were hardly an immediate, all-encompassing threat, options other than war could have been explored.
This was an attack on freedom. Whatever considerations exist in the mind of Osama bin Laden [the terrorist who masterminded the attacks on September 11, 2001,] or members of his network [al-Qaeda], his recently broadcast statements contain no mention of any resentment of American democracy, freedom, or the role of women. They mention specific grievances regarding U.S. policy in the Middle East: the sanctions on Iraq, maintained largely by the United States, which have killed over one million civilians; material and political support for Israel’s military occupation of Palestine and its frequent military attacks, carried out with American weapons, on practically unarmed Palestinians; and U.S. military occupation of the Gulf and support for corrupt regimes that serve the interests of U.S. corporations before those of the people. The terrorists’ own vision for the states of the Middle East is, if imaginable, even more horrific than the current reality, and would presumably involve even greater limits on freedom than are already in place. Their recruiting points, however, the issues that make them potentially relevant as a political force, have to do with U.S. domination of the region, not with the internal organization of American society.
You’re with us or you’re with the terrorists. This polarization, foisted on the world to frighten possible dissenters from America’s course of action, is the logic of tyranny, even of extermination. Anti-war protesters who condemn the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, along with the criminal acts of the United States in Afghanistan, and countries that do the same, don’t fit into this scheme, and certainly don’t deserve to be tarred with the same brush as the terrorists.
The war on Afghanistan was self-defense. In fact, people in Afghanistan at the time of the attack had no way of menacing the United States from afar since they have no ICBMs [intercontinental ballistic missiles] or long-range bombers. Someone in Afghanistan intending to attack the United States had to get there first. If there was an imminent threat, it was from terrorists already in the United States or in Europe. Thus, there was enough time to seek Security Council authorization, which is required unless one is attacking the source of an imminent threat. Instead, the U.S. deliberately chose not to seek it. The four weeks between the attack and the war that passed virtually without incident are proof that there was no immediate, overwhelming need for military action, a fundamental requirement of any claim to act in self-defense.
The Bush administration turned away from its emerging unilateralism . . . to a new multilateralism. This assumes that “multilateralism” means first predetermining one’s agenda, then attempting to browbeat or bribe other countries into agreement or acquiescence. True multilateralism would involve setting up international structures that are democratic, transparent, and accountable to the people, institutions, and governments of the world and abiding by the decisions of these authorities whether favorable or not. The United States has consistently set itself against any such path. In this case, the United States refused even to seek the authority from the appropriate body in this case, the Security Council. This even though the United States could likely have gained its acquiescence by use of its standard methods of threats and bribery. It seems that the United States wishes very firmly and deliberately to claim the right of unilateral aggression.
There were four weeks of restraint as the Bush administration tried a diplomatic solution to the problem. Much of the “restraint” was simply to find time to move troops and materiel into place and to browbeat reluctant countries like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan into providing staging areas and overflight rights. Also, there was real concern about destabilizing many allied governments in the Islamic world. No diplomatic solution was tried; the administration line was consistently “no negotiations.” They made demands no sovereign country could accept; free access of the U.S. military to sensitive sites, plus the right arbitrarily to demand that an unspecified group of people be “turned over.” They also refused to present the Taliban with evidence. In spite of all this, the Taliban was willing to negotiate delivery to a neutral third party. In fact, a deal had been worked out to have bin Laden tried in Pakistan by a tribunal which would then decide whether or not to turn him over to the United States. The U.S. government didn’t even want that. Its “diplomacy” was deliberately designed to lead to war.
Revenge was the motive for the war. Although many people felt an emotional desire for revenge, the two principal reasons for war cannot be described in these terms. The first reason is that of imperial credibility. The United States is an empire, of a different kind from the Roman or the British, but still one that holds sway over much of the world through a combination of economic and military domination. In order to remain in power, an empire must show no weakness; it must crush any threat to its control. The last half of the Vietnam War, after the U.S. government realized there would be no political victory, was fought for credibility to show other countries the price of defiance. The need was all the greater with such a devastating attack in the center of imperial power. The second reason is leverage over the oil and natural gas of Central Asia. Afghanistan is the one country that the United States could control through which a pipeline can be run from those reserves to the Indian Ocean, for the rapidly growing Asian market. The war would provide an opportunity for that, as well as a chance to set up military bases in the former Soviet republics of the region.
The war was a humanitarian intervention as well as an attempt to get the terrorists. The food drops were mere military propaganda–enough food for 37,500 people a day, if it was distributed, which it couldn’t be–and they accompanied bombing that disrupted aid programs designed to feed millions. The lack of humanitarian intent was shown later by the U.S. government’s ignoring a call by aid agencies and U.N. officials for a bombing halt so enough food could be trucked in. UNICEF estimated that because of the disruption of aid caused by the bombing and earlier the threat of bombing, as many as 100,000 more children might die in the winter. After the withdrawal of the Taliban, as much of the country collapsed into chaos and bandits started looting aid stores, the United States held up for almost a month proposals for a peacekeeping force, and didn’t even pressure the Northern Alliance to restore order and facilitate aid, as aid workers were unable to reach at least one million people in desperate need.
The war was conducted by surgical strikes, minimizing collateral damage. There’s no such thing as a surgical strike–the most precise weapons miss 20–30 percent of the time, and only 60 percent of the ordnance dropped on Afghanistan has been precision-guided. The United States has also used such devastating weapons as cluster bombs and daisy cutters, which by their nature are indiscriminate, so “collateral damage” cannot be controlled. Also, U.S. bombing campaigns generally deliberately target civilian infrastructure. In this case, there are reports of power stations, telephone exchanges, and even a major dam being destroyed, with potentially catastrophic effects. Totaling up all reports, including those from the foreign press, Professor Marc Herold of the University of New Hampshire estimated the number of civilians killed directly by bombs and bullets as of December 6, 2001, to be 3,767, a number he feels is, if anything, an underestimation. This is already greater than the number of innocents who died in the attacks on September 11, and it doesn’t include the likely greater number who have died of indirect effects.
It was a war of civilization against barbarism. As if the above weren’t enough, at the siege of Kunduz, Afghanistan, where thousands of foreign fighters were trapped along with many thousands of Afghan Taliban fighters, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did everything short of calling for the foreigners to be killed. Later, a group of foreigners imprisoned in a fort and convinced they were going to be killed staged a rebellion. The fort was bombed and strafed by U.S. planes, even though later reports indicate that perhaps hundreds of the prisoners had their hands bound–this is almost certainly a war crime. At the same time, government officials and media pundits began calling for Osama bin Laden to be killed even if he surrendered.
It was a war against terrorism. The Northern Alliance, which the United States has put in power over most of Afghanistan, is a bunch of terrorists, known for torture, killing civilians, and raping women. The United States harbors many terrorists, like Emanuel Constant of Haiti, a number of Cubans, and Henry Kissinger. It still runs its own terrorist training camp, the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. It still supports Israeli state terrorism against the Palestinians. And it is committing state terrorism itself, by recklessly endangering civilians for its political goals.
The administration’s primary motive has been to ensure the security of Americans. The war has greatly increased the risks to Americans. By creating a tremendous pool of anger in the Muslim world, it is the ultimate recruiting vehicle for bin Laden, who is seen as a hero by many now, though he was ignored before. It was not even the best way to catch bin Laden, as pointed out above. Other measures decrease security as well. Calls to increase the scope of CIA operations and involve them more with criminals and terrorists seem to ignore the fact that it was just such CIA meddling that helped create the international Islamic extremist movement. Bush administration calls to sell weapons to countries that violate human rights destabilize the world. And missile defense, which would not have helped at all with an attack like this even if it was technically feasible, threatens to set off a new arms race. On the home-front, corporate profits and the ideology of free enterprise were more important to the administration than increasing security through the nationalization of airport security personnel, even though corporations have been found to be using convicted felons and paying barely over minimum wage, thus ensuring low motivation and incompetence. The profits of Bayer, the maker of Cipro, used to treat anthrax, were more important than ensuring a reasonably-priced supply of Cipro for people in case of a large-scale anthrax attack.
The attacks of September 11, 2001, united us together in a noble enterprise. Although many people did come together, the Bush administration tried to use that idea of unity to subvert democracy, even calling for Congress to give the president trade promotion authority (the right to present trade agreements “as is,” so Congress can approve or disapprove but not amend) as part of the “war on terrorism.” In the end, there was no unity; airline corporations were bailed out, while laid-off airline employees got nothing; the Republicans tried to give corporations a huge tax break in their economic stimulus package, while no provision was made to counter surging unemployment; and legislative aides on Capitol Hill got vastly better treatment during the anthrax scare than did postal workers.
This whole enterprise has also shed light on some longer-standing myths we hold about ourselves:
All sectors of society have an abiding commitment to civil liberties and due process of law. The 2001 USA PATRIOT Act allows law enforcement far greater power, including the right to search your house without notification. It can effectively deprive noncitizens of basic rights like habeas corpus. Attorney- client privilege has been breached in some cases. Many people have been held incommunicado for months in the ongoing investigation. Bush has even authorized the use of military tribunals, which can use secret evidence, convict on very low standards of evidence, and deny a defendant the right to choose a lawyer. The FBI has even considered sending detainees to other countries to be tortured. Although there is significant opposition to these threats to civil liberties and due process, it is not as yet very widespread.
We’ve made tremendous progress on racism. A majority of Americans now approve of racial profiling. There was a huge upsurge in hate crimes after September 11, 2001. And many people have openly expressed appallingly racist and even genocidal sentiments. Calls to nuke entire countries have been made. Although there is now a small group of (mostly younger) people largely free of racist sentiments, for the majority, the progress has mainly been in learning how to hide their racism.
We honor dissent and the right to free speech. Public discourse was characterized by an extreme overreaction to the small number of people who spoke against war. Several journalists have been fired, and many people subjected to death threats and other harassment. A rightwing foundation has brought out a report criticizing academia for not rallying round the flag even though the number of dissenters in academia were few and far between. With the constant demonization of dissent and misrepresentation of dissenters by elite institutions, it’s not surprising that much of the populace has gone the same way–a recent CBS/NYT poll found 38 percent saying anti-war “marches and rallies” should not be allowed.
We have the freest and most independent media in the world. From the first hours, the mass media outdid any other sector of society in calling for blood. They showed, as they always do in wartime, a tremendous subservience to the government, with almost no dissenting points of view expressed. When they did criticize government officials, it was almost always for not bombing enough. Most seriously, there was tremendous self-censorship. Numerous critical issues were covered hardly at all: the fact that a deal for extradition of bin Laden had been worked out; the fact that the United States had planned war against Afghanistan since before the attacks; the connection of oil with the war; and more. Worst was the persistent lack of attention to civilian casualties. Only a few incidents were even reported, and those were dismissed by constant repetition of Pentagon claims that they were “propaganda.” As a result, many think that a handful of civilians were killed, whereas the truth is that thousands were. The government, not satisfied with this level of subservience, imposed unprecedented restrictions, not allowing any press pools until the end of November 2001, allowing virtually no interviews with soldiers, and keeping the press from reporting even well known information. Some of the foreign press, whose reportage could not be controlled by such means, was treated more harshly. The U.S. government asked Qatar to censor al-Jazeera and later bombed its office in Kabul, as well as bombing civilian Afghan radio repeatedly, a war crime. The U.S. press also ridiculed and misrepresented the anti-war movement, insinuating that it had only slogans, not analysis; that it did not condemn the terrorist attacks; and, worst, that its solution was to “do nothing.”
In fact, that was perhaps the biggest myth of the whole enterprise–that there was no other alternative, so we must either wreak destruction on Afghanistan or do nothing. Repeated efforts by the anti-war movement to indicate the foundations of a real solution–a genuine international investigation based on cooperation with not just governments but people, based on a dramatic change in U.S. policy in the Middle East to win over the “hearts and minds” of people there–were to little avail.
These myths made a real difference. Although the majority of Americans have supported the supposed war on terrorism, their support has been based on a misunderstanding of how the war was being conducted, how much “collateral damage” there was, and what alternatives were possible.
To have any chance of dealing with the problem of international terrorism, we must change the role of the United States in the world. In an essay entitled “The War Comes Home,” published on the Web the day after the attacks, I wrote, “The main practitioner of attacks that either deliberately target civilians, or are so indiscriminate that it makes no difference, is no shadowy Middle Eastern terrorist, but our own government.” These attacks run the gamut from direct bombing, as the United States has done in Iraq (on numerous occasions), Serbia, Sudan, Afghanistan, and other countries in the past ten years alone, to denying people access to the basic necessities of life. From the sanctions on Iraq, which have for years involved denying basic medical care to millions, to efforts to keep South Africa from providing affordable AIDS drugs to its citizens, the United States has killed countless civilians.
There is always a justification, as there is for any killing anywhere; for the sanctions on Iraq, it is the security of Iraq’s neighbors, and for denying AIDS drugs, it is the need to maintain corporate profits. For the terrorists who attacked on September 11, 2001, it was the need to oppose U.S.-sanctioned murder and oppression in their part of the world. If “terrorism” is to be given an unbiased definition, it must involve the killing of noncombatants for political purposes, no matter who does it or what noble goals they proclaim.
When Madeleine Albright, then Secretary of State, went on 60 Minutes on May 12, 1996, Lesley Stahl said, referring to the sanctions on Iraq, “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright, not contesting the figure, replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.” That is the philosophy of terrorism. The people who crashed planes into the World Trade Center killed almost four thousand people because they resented U.S. domination of the Middle East. The U.S. government helped to kill a half million children in Iraq in order to preserve that domination.
It is the common fashion to dismiss such juxtapositions as claims of “moral equivalence.” In fact, that concept is irrelevant. Whether or not the U.S. government is “morally equivalent” to the terrorists, whatever that might mean, the point is that citizens of the United States have an obligation to oppose its crimes even before they would oppose the crimes of others over whom they have less control.
This does not mean efforts should not be made to stop terrorists of the ilk of Osama bin Laden. It simply means that terrorist efforts to stop them should not be made. The war on Afghanistan has been even worse–terrorist in its methods and designed primarily to project U.S. imperial power, not to stop the terrorists.
If Albright appears on 60 Minutes again, this time she should be asked whether she thinks U.S. policy goals in the Middle East were also worth the deaths of thousands of Americans.
The United States Should Stop Supporting Israel
Israel has maintained an illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (Palestinian territories) for 35 years, entrenching an apartheid regime that looks remarkably like the former South African regime–hemming the Palestinians into small, noncontiguous bantustans, imposing ‘closures’ and ‘curfews’ to control where they go and when, while maintaining control over the natural resources, exploiting Palestinian labor, and prohibiting indigenous economic development.
The Israeli military (IDF)–the third or fourth most powerful military in the world–routinely uses tanks, Apache helicopter gunships, and F-16 fighter jets (all subsidized by the U.S.) against a population that has no military and none of the protective institutions of a modern state.
All of this, Israel tells its citizens and the international community, is for ‘Israeli security’. The reality, not surprisingly, is that these policies have resulted in a drastic increase in attacks on Israel. These attacks are then used as a pretext for further Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas and more violations of Palestinian human rights–none of which makes Israeli civilians more secure; all of which further entrenches Israel’s colonial apartheid regime. Most Americans do not realize the extent to which this is all funded by U.S. aid, nor do they understand the specific economic relationship the U.S. has with Israel and how that differs from other countries.
There are at least three ways in which aid to Israel is different from that of any other country. First, since 1982, U.S. aid to Israel has been transferred in one lump sum at the beginning of each fiscal year, which immediately begins to collect interest in U.S. banks. Aid that goes to other countries is disbursed throughout the year in quarterly installments.
Second, Israel is not required to account for specific purchases. Most countries receive aid for very specific purposes and must account for how it is spent. Israel is allowed to place U.S. aid into its general fund, effectively eliminating any distinctions between types of aid. Therefore, U.S. tax-payers are helping to fund an illegal occupation, the expansion of colonial-settlement projects, and gross human rights violations against the Palestinian civilian population.
A third difference is the sheer amount of aid the U.S. gives to Israel, unparalleled in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Israel usually receives roughly one third of the entire foreign aid budget, despite the fact that Israel comprises less than .001 of the world’s population and already has one of the world’s higher per capita incomes. In other words, Israel, a country of approximately 6 million people, is currently receiving more U.S. aid than all of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean combined when you take out Egypt and Colombia.
In 2002, the U.S. Congress approved $2.76 billion in its annual aid package for Israel. The total amount of direct U.S. aid to Israel has been constant, at around $3 billion (usually 60% military and 40% economic) per year for the last quarter century. A plan was implemented to phase out all economic aid and provide corresponding increases in military aid by 2008. In 2002 Israel received $2.04 billion in military aid and $720 million in economic aid–these numbers will get more disproportionate each year until there is only military aid.
In addition to nearly $3 billion in direct aid, Israel usually gets another $3 billion or so in indirect aid: military support from the defense budget, forgiven loans, and special grants. While some of the indirect aid is difficult to measure precisely, it is safe to say that Israel’s total aid (direct and indirect) amounts to at least five billion dollars annually. . . .
According to the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE), from 1949–2001 the U.S. gave Israel a total of $94,966,300,000. The direct and indirect aid from 2002 should put the total U.S. aid to Israel from 1949 to 2002 at over one hundred billion dollars. What is not widely known, however, is that most of this aid violates American laws. The Arms Export Control Act stipulates that U.S.-supplied weapons be used only “for legitimate self-defense.”
Moreover, the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act prohibits military assistance to any country “which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” The Proxmire amendment bans military assistance to any government that refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to allow inspection of its nuclear facilities, which Israel refuses to do. To understand why the U.S. spends this much money funding the brutal repression of a colonized people, it is necessary to examine the benefits for weapons manufacturers and, particularly, the role that Israel plays in the expansion and maintenance of U.S. imperialism.
In the fall of 1993, when many were supporting what they hoped would become a viable peace process, 78 senators wrote to former President Bill Clinton insisting that aid to Israel remain at current levels. Their reasons were the “massive procurement of sophisticated arms by Arab states.” Yet the letter neglected to mention that 80% of those arms to Arab countries came from the U.S. itself.
Politics professor Stephen Zunes has argued that the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA), which promotes these massive arms shipments, is even more influential in determining U.S. policy towards Israel than the notorious AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) lobby. AIA has given two times more money to campaigns than all of the pro-Israel groups combined. Zunes asserts that the general thrust of U.S. policy would be pretty much the same even if AIPAC didn’t exist: “We didn’t need a pro-Indonesia lobby to support Indonesia in its savage repression of East Timor all these years.”
The ‘special relationship’ between the U.S. and Israel must be understood within the overall American imperialist project and the quest for global hegemony, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example, 99% of all U.S. aid to Israel came after 1967, despite the fact that Israel was relatively more vulnerable in earlier years (from 1948;ndash;1967). Not coincidentally, it was in 1967 that Israel won the Six-Day War against several Arab countries, establishing itself as a regional superpower. Also, in the late 1960s and particularly in the early 1970s . . . the U.S. was looking to establish ‘spheres of influence’–regional superpowers in each significant area of the world to help the U.S. police them.
The primary U.S. interest in the Middle East is, and has always been, to maintain control of the oil in the region, primarily because this is the source of energy that supplies the industrial economies of Europe and Japan. The U.S. goal has been to insure that there is no indigenous threat to their domination of these energy resources. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the U.S. made the strategic decision to ally itself with Israel and Iran, which were referred to as ‘our two eyes in the middle east’ and the ‘guardians of the gulf.’ It was at this point that aid increased drastically, from $24 million in 1967 (before the war), to $634 million in 1971, to a staggering $2.6 billion in 1974, where it has remained relatively consistent ever since.
Israel was to be a military stronghold, a client state, and a proxy army, protecting U.S. interests in the Middle East and throughout the world. Subsidized by the CIA, Israel served U.S. interests well beyond the immediate region, setting up dependable client regimes (usually military-based dictatorships) to control local societies. Political critic Noam Chomsky has documented this extensively: Israel was the main force that established the Mobutu dictatorship in Zaire, forexample. They also supported Idi Amin in Uganda, early on, as well as Haile Selasse in Ethopia, and Emperor Bokassa in the Central African Republic.
Israel became especially useful when the U.S. came under popular human rights pressure in the 1970s to stop supporting death squads and dictatorships in Latin America. The U.S. began to use Israel as a surrogate to continue its support. Chomsky documents how Israel established close relations with the neo- Nazi and military regimes of Argentina and Chile. Israel also supported genocidal attacks on the indigenous population of Guatemala, and sent arms to El Salvador and Honduras to support the contras. This was all a secondary role, however.
The primary role for Israel was to be the Sparta of the Middle East. During the Cold War, the U.S. especially needed Israel as a proxy army because direct intervention in the region was too dangerous, as the Soviets were allied with neighboring states. Over the last thirty years, the U.S. has pursued a two-track approach to dominating the region and its resources: It has turned Israel into a military outpost (now probably the most militarized society in the world) that is economically dependent on the U.S. while propping up corrupt Arab dictatorships such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. These regimes are afraid of their own people and, thus, are very insecure. Therefore, they are inclined to collaborate with the U.S. at any cost.
Since the end of the Cold War, the nuclear threat associated with direct intervention in the Middle East has disappeared and the U.S. has started a gradual and direct militarization of the region. This began with the Gulf War–putting U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia (the primary source of oil), among other places– and has continued through the ‘war on terrorism.’ This direct U.S. militarization has lessened the importance of Israel for U.S. domination of the region.
Although U.S. aid has not decreased yet, there have been other observable shifts. The first obvious one is the mainstream media reporting on the conflict. Although there is still, of course, an anti-Palestinian bias, the coverage has shifted significantly in comparison to ten years ago. This has been noticeable in both journalistic accounts of Israeli human rights abuses and the publication of pro-Palestinian op-eds in major papers such as the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
There are also some stirrings in the U.S. Congress. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) requested that President George W. Bush investigate whether Israel’s use of American F-16s is violating the Arms Export Control Act. Further, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) recently complained about giving aid without conditions: “There are no strings on the money. There is no requirement that the bloodshed abate before the funding is released.” Other elected representatives are slowly starting to open up to the issue as well, but there is a long way to go on Capitol Hill.
The most important development, however, has been the rising tide of concern and activism around the Palestinian issue in the U.S. left. The desperate plight of the Palestinians is gaining increasing prominence in the movement against Bush’s ‘war on terrorism,’ and it is gradually entering into the movement against corporate globalization.
For years the Palestinian cause was marginalized by the left in America. Since this intifada broke out [in 2000], that began to shift significantly and has moved even further since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. With the new ‘anti-war’ movement, there has come a deeper understanding of U.S. policy in the Middle East and how the question of Palestine fits into progressive organizing.
In Durban, South Africa in September 2001, at the UN Global Conference Against Racism, one of the most pressing issues on the global agenda was the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s racist policies. 30,000 people from South Africa and around the world demonstrated against Zionism, branding it as a form of apartheid no different than the system that blacks suffered through in South Africa. Shortly after, the U.S. and Israel stormed out of the conference.
In Europe and America, a range of organizations have risen in opposition to Israeli apartheid and in support of Palestinian human rights and self-determination. Just over the last year or two, organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine, based at the University of California at Berkeley, have begun organizing a divestment campaign, modeled after the campaign that helped bring down South African apartheid. SUSTAIN (Stop U.S. Tax-funded Aid to Israel Now!) chapters in a number of cities have focused their efforts on stopping U.S. aid to Israel, which is the lifeblood of Israeli occupation and continued abuses of Palestinian rights.
Many Jewish organizations have emerged as well, such as Not in My Name, which counters the popular media assertion that all Jewish people blindly support the policies of the state of Israel. Jews Against the Occupation is another organization, which has taken a stand not only against the occupation, but also in support of the right of Palestinian refugees to return. These movements, and particularly their newfound connection with the larger anti-war, anti-imperialist, and anti-corporate globalization movements, are where the possibilities lie to advance the Palestinian struggle.
The hope for Palestine is in the internationalization of the struggle. The building of a massive, international movement against Israeli apartheid seems to be the most effective and promising form of resistance at this time. The demands must be that Israel comply with international law and implement the relevant UN resolutions. Specifically, it must recognize that all Palestinian refugees have the right to return, immediately end the occupation, and give all citizens of Israel equal treatment under the law.
We must demand that all U.S. aid to Israel be stopped until Israel complies with these demands. Only when the Palestinians are afforded their rights under international law, and are respected as human beings, can a genuine process of conflict resolution and healing begin. For all the hype over peace camps and dialogue initiatives, until the structural inequalities are dealt with, there will be no justice for Palestinians and, thus, no peace for Israel.
The United States Should Not Go to War with Iraq
Our nation is presently engaged in a debate about whether to launch a war against Iraq. Leaks of various strategies for an attack on Iraq appear with regularity. The Bush administration vows regime change, but states that no decision has been made whether, much less when, to launch an invasion.
It is beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein is a menace. He terrorizes and brutalizes his own people. He has launched war on two of his neighbors. He devotes enormous effort to rebuilding his military forces and equipping them with weapons of mass destruction. We will all be better off when he is gone.
That said, we need to think through this issue very carefully. We need to analyze the relationship between Iraq and our other pressing priorities–notably the war on terrorism–as well as the best strategy and tactics available were we to move to change the regime in Baghdad.
Saddam’s strategic objective appears to be to dominate the Persian Gulf, to control oil from the region, or both.
That clearly poses a real threat to key U.S. interests. But there is scant evidence to tie Saddam to terrorist organizations, and even less to the Sept. 11 attacks. Indeed Saddam’s goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them.
He is unlikely to risk his investment in weapons of mass destruction, much less his country, by handing such weapons to terrorists who would use them for their own purposes and leave Baghdad as the return address. Threatening to use these weapons for blackmail–much less their actual use–would open him and his entire regime to a devastating response by the U.S. While Saddam is thoroughly evil, he is above all a power-hungry survivor.
Saddam is a familiar dictatorial aggressor, with traditional goals for his aggression. There is little evidence to indicate that the United States itself is an object of his aggression. Rather, Saddam’s problem with the U.S. appears to be that we stand in the way of his ambitions. He seeks weapons of mass destruction not to arm terrorists, but to deter us from intervening to block his aggressive designs.
Given Saddam’s aggressive regional ambitions, as well as his ruthlessness and unpredictability, it may at some point be wise to remove him from power. Whether and when that point should come ought to depend on overall U.S. national security priorities. Our pre-eminent security priority–underscored repeatedly by the president–is the war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.
The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Sad- dam’s regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive–with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy–and could as well be bloody. In fact, Saddam would be likely to conclude he had nothing left to lose, leading him to unleash whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses.
Israel would have to expect to be the first casualty, as in 1991 when Saddam sought to bring Israel into the Gulf conflict. This time, using weapons of mass destruction, he might succeed, provoking Israel to respond, perhaps with nuclear weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East. Finally, if we are to achieve our strategic objectives in Iraq, a military campaign very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation.
But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism. Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time. So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive. The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism. Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism. And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence.
Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region. The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict–which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve–in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest.
Even without Israeli involvement, the results could well destabilize Arab regimes in the region, ironically facilitating one of Saddam’s strategic objectives. At a minimum, it would stifle any cooperation on terrorism, and could even swell the ranks of the terrorists. Conversely, the more progress we make in the war on terrorism, and the more we are seen to be committed to resolving the Israel-Palestinian issue, the greater will be the international support for going after Saddam.
If we are truly serious about the war on terrorism, it must remain our top priority. However, should Saddam Hussein be found to be clearly implicated in the events of Sept. 11, that could make him a key counterterrorist target, rather than a competing priority, and significantly shift world opinion toward support for regime change.
In any event, we should be pressing the United Nations Security Council to insist on an effective no-notice inspection regime for Iraq–any time, anywhere, no permission required. On this point, senior administration officials have opined that Saddam Hussein would never agree to such an inspection regime. But if he did, inspections would serve to keep him off balance and under close observation, even if all his weapons of mass destruction capabilities were not uncovered. And if he refused, his rejection could provide the persuasive casus belli which many claim we do not now have. Compelling evidence that Saddam had acquired nuclear-weapons capability could have a similar effect.
In sum, if we will act in full awareness of the intimate interrelationship of the key issues in the region, keeping counterterrorism as our foremost priority, there is much potential for success across the entire range of our security interests–including Iraq. If we reject a comprehensive perspective, however, we put at risk our campaign against terrorism as well as stability and security in a vital region of the world.
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