Middle East

Middle East

The Writing on the Wall

Iraqi Shiite clerics lead a demonstration against U.S. government of Iraq
Karbala, Iraq, April 23: Iraqi Shiite clerics lead a demonstration against U.S. rule of Iraq (Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP).

The battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, as U.S. President George W. Bush has put it, seems to be over. Bands of Iraqis in Basra and Baghdad celebrated the Anglo-American victory by going on a looting rampage.

If this marks a temporary breakdown of law and order on the street, it is probably a precursor to the chaotic international situation that will prevail in the aftermath of the war on Iraq, with serious consequences for the Middle East region.

Few people in Iraq or the Arab region will pine over the downfall of Saddam Hussein and his regime, as the toppling of his imposing statue in central Baghdad symbolized. The antiwar protests that swept the world prior to and during the military campaign were not so much in support of the Iraqi ruler as in opposition to the use of force to unseat regimes that are unpopular to the United States. For a world that pledged to abandon the threat or the use of force to achieve political ends, and enshrined that principle in the Charter of the United Nations, this is an ominous turn of events.

The campaign against Iraq may soon be over, but resistance will continue, not out of love for Saddam Hussein, but because the Anglo-American war machine will always be perceived as one of invaders, not liberators. That is why the British, more than the U.S. administration, seem to be anxious to get out of Iraq sooner rather than later.

What the American condition has confirmed is that might is right simply because it is more effective in achieving political objectives. That is why U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and the warlords at the Pentagon considered the pursuit of diplomacy through the U.N. a waste of time. After all, the objective was not to prove or disprove that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but to change the regime and establish a springboard for gradual control of the unruly Middle East region.

In a world where the balance of power is lopsided in favor of a superpower that is guided by its own myopic interests, terrorism becomes the equalizer. For those who see in American hegemony a threat to their national identity or value systems, and where there is no recourse to international law or the enfeebled United Nations, terrorism becomes the defensive shield of the weak. It will be exercised accordingly.

The U.S. view of the world is still “embedded” in the Reagan administration’s definition of allies and rogue states. After Sept. 11, this was enhanced by the doctrine of, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” Secretary of State Colin Powell put this to Syria like a sword of Damocles, because of its sympathy with the plight of the Iraqi people. The U.S. administration still calls Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation terrorism.

Halfway through the military campaign against the Iraqi president, Bush, at the behest of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, reiterated his commitment to the so-called “road map” that is purported to be the panacea for the settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The problem is that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reluctant to allow the Palestinians to have anything close to a token state of their own. He is supported unconditionally by key officials in the Bush administration.

If the Palestinians do not accept the minuscule state that would be offered to them, and find in armed resistance the only recourse to justice, they will be branded as terrorists, throwing the whole issue back to square one. The debate might then change from the right to a viable state to another fight against terrorism. Israel is poised to be the key ally, the umpire, and the U.S. viceroy in the Arab region.

A number of Arab states will breathe a sigh of relief that Saddam Hussein’s regime, if not his person, will be gone. They have thrown their lot in with United States and offered their territories as staging grounds for the U.S. on-slaught on Iraq in the hope of gaining a most-favored-ally status that would keep their regimes in power. They misjudge an American policy that does not confuse friendship with interests. The United States still believes that unpopular and oppressive regimes in the Arab world are one of the causes of Sept. 11. 

The United States may have won the war against Saddam Hussein, but it has opened up a Pandora’s box that will spawn more problems than the ones it has set out to solve.