For the future of civilization, George W. Bush has promised that he would not allow the worst of men to use the worst of weapons. Since the worst of men — Saddam Hussein — may perhaps be harbouring the worst of weapons, the debate rages on whether the United States of America should go to war with Iraq and overthrow Hussein before he had the chance to use his weapons. Inside the US itself, the polemics range from carrying out a full-fledged war with Iraq, to embarking on another decade of containment of Hussein.
Washington’s Arab allies, who would need to provide bases to the Americans, are not entirely convinced about the sagacity of overthrowing Hussein. Not that they have much of a liking for him, but they know that any attack on Iraq has the potential to, as King Abdullah of Jordan put it, “open a Pandora’s box”. So low is American credibility in Arab eyes that the more the US dehumanizes and threatens Hussein, the more it raises his popularity among both the Iraqis and Arabs. Any US action against him, thought to be taken with the consent of the Arab governments, might rouse the Arab public against their own governments. This, along with the possibility of Iraq’s disintegration, is what worries the US’s Arab allies, many of whom readily came to its help after the September 11 attacks.
In fact, immediately after the attacks, there was spontaneous sympathy for the US in much of the Arab world, though the consensus there, as in the rest of the world, was that these attacks were ultimately the result of US policies in west Asia. But the war in Afghanistan also drew overwhelming sympathy for innocent Afghans, who were being made the scapegoat for the loss of American lives. In fact, not just the Arabs, but much of the world, was shocked when the bombing of Afghanistan began. After all, the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks were all Saudis and Egyptians, who had spent a long time studying and training in Europe and America. Yet, none of these countries had bombs dropped on them. In a lecture in Calcutta last year, Noam Chomsky called the Afghan war the first instance of state terrorism in the new millennium.
Nevertheless, since Arab governments supported and aided the US in its war against al Qaida and the taliban, some positive returns in the form of support for the Palestinians was expected in the west Asia problem. Things turned out to be otherwise. The war in Afghanistan continues while Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar are still at large. Hamid Karzai, US’s henchman, has been installed in Kabul. The gains are entirely that of the US, which has penetrated the oil- and- gas- rich region, stationing its bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Pakistan. And US support for Israel, which has declared its own war on terror, has never been stronger.
With one part of west Asia soaked in blood, the US is turning its eyes to another flashpoint in the region — Iraq. Having failed to find bin Laden, the US is now focussing on Hussein. No wonder the Beirut summit of the Arab League in April this year was quick to “categorically” reject and warn against any attack on Iraq which would be seen as “a security threat to the Arab states.”
Seen through Arab eyes, the high moral ground taken by the US in seeking Hussein’s removal is a farce. First, there is no proof that Hussein or Iraq was linked to September 11 or to al Qaida or is plotting any attack against the US. So what if he is thought to possess weapons of mass destruction or the potential to manufacture them' The country in west Asia that is known to have nuclear weapons is Israel. And the country that has actually used nuclear weapons is the one that is working to ensure the future of civilization. Yes, Hussein is also known to have used chemical weapons in its war against Iran and against his own people — the Kurdish population in northern Iraq in 1988. But where was the US then' It turned a blind eye at that time simply because it needed Hussein to contain Iran. Then again, the US-led United Nations sanctions have killed more people in Iraq than Hussein has. Each year of the sanctions has reportedly caused the death of about 60,000 Iraqi children alone. Add to it the deaths of adult civilians.
One should note that Scott Ritter, a Republican and former UN weapons inspector in Iraq, has clearly stated that the war with Iraq is more about American domestic politics. For Iraq, according to him, does not have weapons of mass destruction and does not have threatening ties to international terrorism. Ritter believes the UN special commission investigators had stripped Iraq of most of its weapons of mass destruction. Moreover, fearing attacks for having lied initially, Iraq itself destroyed whatever the inspectors had not yet found, pretending it never existed in the first place. It is possible that since 1998, when the inspection team was shown the door, Iraq may have restarted its weapons manufacturing. But, here again, Ritter contends, Iraq would have to start from scratch. The process would not only be difficult but also detectable.
It is possible that Bush has initiated the attacks against Iraq to win the mid-term congressional elections. The muscle-flexing in Iraq would deflect attention from the corporate scandals, keep the military industry going and reassure Americans about the capability of their leaders to protect them from the bad guys of this world. And then, of course, there is the issue of oil. A pro-US regime in the country with the world’s second largest oil reserves would definitely be of advantage.
It would also send a clear message to the neighbouring oil-rich states, especially to Saudi Arabia, whose de-facto ruler, Prince Abdullah, is said to have a mind of his own, as to what their fate would be should they ever dare to disobey the US. Note the recent leakage of the briefings to the Pentagon, wherein Saudi Arabia has been named the emerging enemy of the US and the backer of terrorism. The leakage could not have come at a better time, when Saudi Arabia is not only opposing military action against Iraq, but is also refusing to let its territory be used for any such attack.
Bush has promised to be patient with Iraq and try all options, including diplomacy. But as the recent attack on Iraq’s major western air defence installation showed, the military option is being resorted to. But a war might plunge the region into chaos and bring in the rule of fanatic mullahs, as happened in Iran. But chaos is actually what the US may be wanting — how easy it would then be to control the entire region. And yet, there is also a possibility that a military show would pass without much ado.
What might actually happen are the usual Arab rhetoric and inaction, and strong condemnation from the rest of the world. Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York., recently said, “International opposition will be great but it does seem to dissipate once the US sets its course...There is not much backbone in the world against the US. But even if the entire region is not plunged into chaos, Iraq may turn out to be another Afghanistan in the making. And the wrath of the Muslim world would only increase. For all we know, there may be more September 11-type attacks, in which case, the world’s self-appointed gendarme might simply pat itself on the back and be reassured of the importance and wisdom of carrying on its war against terror.