Remapping the Middle East: Whose War Is It
Naseer AruriOctober 28, 2002
This article originally
appeared on CounterPunch at http://counterpunch.org/aruri1028.html.
As the Bush Administration beats the war trumpets against Iraq, a remarkable
similarity can be discerned between the Middle East today and eighty
years ago. The important question is whether the United States is likely
to succeed in reshaping the strategic landscape in this troubled region
more than did the British. There is a legacy of imperial domination,
trickery, un-kept promises, and double-speak, all of which have combined
to undermine the notion that any progress or healthy transformation,
could ever emanate from dealing with the West, be that at the military,
diplomatic, or economic levels.
Arab lands have been conquered military and through diplomatic means
under presumed peace conditions. Military campaigns were disguised as
humanitarian missions designed to bring democracy and human rights to
supposedly un-enlightened and backward societies. In fact, during the
past two centuries, Western empires have mapped and re-mapped the Middle
East repeatedly. They appointed, promoted, demoted, and dethroned local
leaders to suit their strategic interests. One thing remained consistent
and was omnipresent in their successive attempts to readjust borders
and consolidate hegemonies: the availability of local demons to justify
the frequent strategic reshaping and remapping.
One hundred and seventy years ago, Mohamed Ali of Egypt was declared
a threat to free trade and was overthrown in favor of weak successors.
Four decades later, Ahmed Urabi was removed from office and Egypt became
a British occupied country (1882). A long line of successors, who pursued
an independent course, provided the empire the necessary pretext to
intervene. All the way from Sa'ad Zaghlul during the First World War
period, to Saddam Hussein, with Rashid Ali Kilani, Nasser, Ben Bella,
and Qaddafi, in between, a sense of threat kept the West busy fine tuning
the empire to insure the perpetual dependency of the natives. Irrespective
of their level of rationality, the Arab demons were declared a threat
either to their own people, to their neighbors, to regional; stability,
to America's standard of living or even to US national security, if
not to the heart of American cities. Nasser was declared a mad man bent
on wanting to throw the Jews in the sea. Reagan described Qaddafi as
a mad dog, a terrorist and a looney tune. George W. Bush described Saddam
Hussein as a "nuclear holy warrior."
The present build- up against Iraq can be understood against the background
of this imperial legacy. It is time to reshape the empire, to reallocate
power, including "ending states," in the words of Paul Wolfowitz,
and not only to create "regime change." If the people of the
Arab world are incapable of effecting a circulation of elites, we will
do it for them. Never mind the tyrants, whom we created, sponsored or
kept in power to look after western interests-all the way from Nuri
al-Said in monarchical Iraq, to the Saudi dynasty, the Hashemites, the
Shah of Iran, Sadat and Mubarak. We treated them just as we treated
Marcos, Mobutu, Suharto, Pinochet and the Vietnam generals. And we are
prepared to depose them just as we deposed Noriega, Diem and are now
threatening to depose Saddam. It may even be time to bring about a regime
change in our favorite countries such as Saudi Arabia and may be Egypt,
since their leaders are no longer presumed to be assets and became liabilities.
These two countries are likely to be destabilized in the event of a
war against Iraq.
Fighting a war in Iraq has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction,
but it has everything to do with re-drawing maps and reallocating resources.
It is not untypical of the imperial reshuffling which has taken place
over the past eight decades. Let us review briefly eight principal episodes
during the past eight decades:
1. After World War I, the old empires-Britain and France- carved up
the region into spheres of influence in blatant contradiction of solemn
promises to grant the natives independence. Instead of sovereignty,
the Arab people were subjected to a protectorate status or League of
Nations mandates. Moreover, the post-war re-mapping bestowed legitimacy
on a colonial settler movement, depriving the indigenous Palestinians
of their right to their land and their ancestral home.
2. The Second World War arrangements brought additional suffering to
the region as the destiny of its people was linked to the competition
between the two new superpowers. Meanwhile, the new map showed the disappearance
of Palestine and the creation of Israel in its place, with immediate
blessings by the superpowers.
3. Less than a decade later, the old empires challenged the new geo-political
realities and tried to reassert their hegemony. Britain and France,
together with Israel, invaded Egypt in 1956 trying to defeat Nasserism,
which promised the unity and independence, which eluded the Arabs after
WWI. They were ordered out of Egypt by the new superpower, not out of
love for Nasserism, or out of respect for Arab aspirations for independence,
but as an assertion of America's imperial role.
4. What Israel had failed to do, with Anglo-French collusion in 1956,
it was able to achieve eleven years later, when it changed the maps
of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Palestine in but six days. What had remained
of Palestine outside Israeli control in 1948 was conquered in 1967,
making the entire area laying between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean
an exclusively Jewish colonial state. Meanwhile, the 15 year- old achievements
of Nasserism would be undermined in accordance with US wishes. The three
components including Arab unity, Arab socialism and non-alignment, seen
as a threat by Washington, were largely removed from the agenda by Israel's
proxy war, which anticipated the Nixon doctrine: "We (US) provide
the hose and water, while they (our Vietnamese, Iranian and Israeli
surrogates) provide the firemen." The problem with that strategy
was the inability of the Iranian surrogate to carry out its duties or
to even survive. With the demise of the Shah, the US concluded that
its empire-building in the Middle East requires direct intervention
to augment the proxy role.
5. The 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon was a typical proxy action coordinated
with the US, as Carter had revealed. The mutual goals were: A) to redraw
the political map of Lebanon. B) to pre-empt a Palestinian state-in-formation.
C) to reduce Syria to manageable proportions. Two of these goals were
foiled by a determined Lebanese resistance, while the third relating
to the Palestinians, had resulted in shifting the center of gravity
to the inside, hence the 1987 Intifada. Meanwhile, Saddam's Iraq was
aspiring to become a US surrogate when it invaded America's nemesis,
Iran, and was rewarded with generous agricultural credit and a delivery
of biological material by none other than Rumsfeld. Ironically, we have
to rely on new friends such as Robert Novak and Senator Byrd for such
Much to his surprise, the gullible Iraqi tyrant was not able to meet
America's requirements for proxies. His ill-fated attack on Kuwait was
to bring about a painful reminder that an ambitious third world leader
cannot possibly be accepted by the lone super power as a pace setter
in the strategic gulf.
6. Hence, America's strategy to deal such a crippling blow to Iraq and
its potential, irrespective of its leadership, in order not only to
reassert its imperial role in the region vis a vis Arabs and Muslims,
but to convey to Israel that the serious business of collective security
in the region belongs to the superpower. Political talks and the future
remapping can only take place at an international conference where even
Israel would have to come to terms with its 1967 occupation, despite
their strategic alliance.
7. The Bush I strategy was discarded when his successor Clinton adopted
the two-pronged policy of pursuing the Oslo charade in Palestine, and
containment in Iraq, which, to-gather, turned out to be nothing more
than an interlude awaiting the second Bush.
8. With Bush II in power, the father's strategy was abandoned in Iraq
and Palestine. The Oslo process was allowed to die, while containment
and coalition became passé. Instead, Sharon, the war criminal
"cum man of peace" boards the Bush train of anti-terror, while
Sharon's allies in Washington's think tanks and the civilian defense
establishment begin to plan the next war and the next remapping. The
lone voice in the Bush I administration for coalition, Colin Powell,
has been silenced. Harry Belafonte described him as the slave whose
privilege of living in the master's house is dependent on good behavior;
otherwise he would be banished to the plantation.
Bush I's concept of coalition and the semblance of multilateralism has
become a relic of the past in the White House of Bush I, whose neo-conservative/Zionist
mentors have the greatest contempt for such constraints. When the threat
was finally real on 9/11, the what- to- do became easier to justify
and undertake. The fear and danger associated with it seem to have elevated
pre-emption into a moral principle.
Containment now belongs to a by-gone era. It is passé for the
Wolfowitzs and Perles of the world. Their world and that of their "boss"
is a Hobbesian world, where the landscape is rough and evil all around,
calling for a strong hand. Thus you do not wait for evil-doers to attack;
you attack first. This is the new national security doctrine for the
21st century-the Bush doctrine, apparently inspired by the very little
reading that has been done by George Bush. From Robert Kaplan, author
of Eastward to Tartary, the President received an on-the-job-training
at the White House, adding pseudo- intellectual content to his gut feeling
and unstructured inclinations. This world view of the world has given
Bush an incontestable sense of mission, which has been reinforced by
the influence of former professor Paul Wolfowitz, who postulated that
that there is no need "for proof beyond reasonable doubt."
The emphasis must be on "intentions" and "capability,"
says Wolfowitz as he beats the drum of the Iraq war. There is no need
for the "proof," if we know the "intentions" and
capability." You anticipate and act, since "this is closer
to a state of war than to a judicial proceeding. Such is the Wolfowitz
configuration of the calculus of warfare and the cost úbenefit
analysis, which has become acceptable to a hawkish circle, none of whose
members has fought in a war, but seems to be ready to commit millions
of the underclass to war.
Unlike 1991, Israel is not expected to remain in the closet. Bush has
already reaffirmed a right of "self defense" for Israel upon
meeting Sharon on his seventh visit (October 16). In fact, Israel has
been pushing for this war in order to accomplish what it had failed
to accomplish in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1978, 1982, and throughout the seven
years of Oslo. For Israel, the war on Iraq constitutes a post-Oslo strategy.
As Bush II tries to complete what his father left unfinished, Israel
will be revisiting 1982 all over again. That is why when the Anglo-American
Invasion of Iraq occurs, it will not only be a continuation of the same
war, which began in 1990ú1991, but a war whose broader agenda
includes reshaping the strategic landscape in the Middle East and Central
Asia. It will be the war of the civilian hawks in the Pentagon and of
their allies in a number of right-wing and pro-Israel think tanks, such
as the Hudson Institute, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and
the Jewish Institute for National Security (JINSA), among others. It
would be a war to create a pro-American regime in Iraq and enable Washington
to redraw the Middle East maps of both the First and Second World wars
periods. The adventure would aim to deprive Saudi Arabia of leverage
over oil prices, intimidate Syria, and manipulate the domestic balance
in Iran, with the purpose of eventually dismantling the Islamic Revolution.
Its intent further is to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict on terms wholly
agreeable to General Sharon, who remains indicted in his own country
for the massacres of thousands of Palestinians in Lebanon, exactly twenty
None of these objectives has anything to do with President Bush's declared
concerns about a threat to the security of the United States. Israel's
supporters in the administration, think tanks, media, and Congress,
who beat the trumpets of war, view it as providing cover for Israel
to expel the Palestinians (called "transfer" in Israel), which
is why the political-military elite in Israel want it and why the parrots
from pro-Israel institutions in the administration are pushing so hard
The Israeli connection was recently exposed in the Israeli press by
a number of respected Israeli analysts. One such person is Meron Benvinisti,
the former deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who made the link last month in
the daily newspaper Ha'aretz between Israel's advocacy of an American
war against Iraq and Israel's overall objective of ethnic cleansing
in the West Bank. Israeli Major Gen. Yitzhak Eitan hinted at the strong
connection between a war in Iraq and the war against the Palestinians
when he said that such a war would enable Israel to "execute the
old Jordanian option - expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinians
across the Jordan River." Moreover, attitudes of the Israeli leadership
were underscored by Israeli public opinion: a survey in the largest-circulation
Israeli daily Maariv, conducted in August 2002, revealed that 57 percent
of Israelis were in favor of an American attack on Iraq to unseat Saddam
The leading war advocates in this country include Richard Perle, head
of the Defense Advisory Board and resident fellow of the AEI, his close
friend and political ally at AEI, David Wurmser of the Hudson Institute.
Mr Wurmser's wife, Meyrav, is co-founder, along with Colonel Yigal Carmon,
formerly of Israeli military intelligence of
the Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri), which translates and
distributes articles that specialize in Arab bashing. Bush's advisors
pushing this war also include Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Defense Secretary,
Douglas Feith, another Deputy Defense Secretary, Lewis "Scooter"
Libby, Chief of Staff of Vice President Cheney's Office, Michael Rubin,
a specialist on Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan, who recently arrived from
yet another pro-Israel lobby, the Washington Institute for Near East
Policy, and many others who cannot be included here due to space limitations.
Administration hawks pushing this war such as Vice President, Dick Cheney,
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice, are all on record supporting Sharon's draconian measures
in the occupied territories. Rumsfeld is the first senior US public
official who used the phrase "the so-called occupied territories"
in describing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Rice defended the Israeli
strategy of pre-emption instead of deterrence or containment, and she
considers that policy worthy of duplication in Iraq and on a global
As the US and UK maintains almost daily bombing of Iraq, and amidst
the constant reports about an imminent full-scale war, the message is
clear: new rules of international conduct are being drafted. The proposed
and forthcoming war on Iraq, the aerial bombardment of Yugoslavia in
1999, and the full-scale invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 illustrate
that the theater of operations for the US military is now world- wide.
A single war in these theatres, such as in Iraq, would cost according
to the White House economic advisor an estimated $100-200 billion plus
additional billions for reconstruction and would place the post-World
War II international system in great jeopardy. It is absolutely not
true that Iraq constitutes a clear and present danger to the security
of the United States. It would be important to ask: whose war this really
It would be important to ask whether the US and its principal gendarme
would prove more successful than previous ventures of colonization and
re-colonization since World War I. It will be prudent to ask whether
Bush's "war on terror" will eliminate or rather generate terror,
chaos and destruction. Is it not time for America to review its priorities?
Is it not time to re-examine the root causes of the present blowback?
Is it not time to let people all over the world to live in freedom and
dignity? To organize their lives and societies in accordance with their
needs and not to suit the strategic proclivities of major powers? It
is certainly time to repair our own inner cities, to improve health,
education, public transportation, and to develop real conservation instead
of using war as a policy of conservation? Is it not time for regime
change--here in Washington?