Editorial - Horsemen of the Apocalypse
On re-invoking the need to topple Saddam Hussein, the Bush Administration has found but a single ally: Israel. Nothing remains of the 1991 coalition, but Washington and Tel Aviv see eye-to-eye on the Middle East. The eye belongs to the militant right.
When we look at recent speeches by Vice President Dick Cheney and compare them with an interview given by Israel's new Chief of Staff, Moshe (Bugi) Ya'alon, we find two examples of leaderships under siege. Cheney spoke on August 26 and 29. The Ya'alon interview appeared in the weekend supplement of Ha'aretz on August 30.
The US is a global power, Israel is a regional power, and nevertheless each of these two leaders talks as if his nation stands with its back to the wall, engaged in a life-and-death struggle. Each seeks to persuade his public. Each tells his fellow citizens: Cut the wishful thinking! Reality is tough, so toughen up!
Take Cheney, for instance: "What we must not do in the face of a mortal threat is to give in to wishful thinking or willful blindness. We must not simply look away…" (Quoted by Jim Forsyth, Yahoo News, August 29. My emphases – RBE.)
And Ya'alon: "Reality is not exactly the way they (his critics – RBE) would like it to be."
Ya'alon is known as a man of foresight, having prophesied the new Intifada a year before it broke out. He thought it a mistake to rely on PA chief Yasser Arafat. In Arafat's scheme, he believed, the Oslo Accords were merely a Trojan horse, out of which, when the moment was ripe, his soldiers would burst – and that, he says, is exactly what happened: viz. the Intifada. Ya'alon too sees a "mortal threat", but it does not come from Saddam Hussein:
"The campaign is between two societies that are competing for territory and, to a certain degree, for existence. I don't think that there is an existential threat to the Palestinian society. There is an existential threat to us. …Everyone thinks we are Goliath and they are David, but I maintain that it is the opposite."
Both Cheney and Ya'alon warn against turning a blind eye to reality. But what reality are they talking about?
Let us begin with the United States. Before the attack on the World Trade Center, the Administration had put a future assault on Iraq at the top of its political agenda. The suicide-squads of Osama Bin Laden diverted it from its central concern: Saddam Hussein. The subsequent war on Afghanistan put the US in a most uncomfortable position: it found itself waging a nebulous war against a nebulous enemy, "terrorism". September 11 also exposed an embarrassing fact: the "danger" had come, it turned out, not from Saddam, rather from America's very close ally, Saudi Arabia. The Saudis had flirted with Islamic extremism, even backed it financially, in order to stay in power. Where then lies the danger of Saddam? Is it great enough to warrant war? The European countries do not think so. Nor does Russia, the Arab world, or Secretary of State Colin Powell. Even central figures from the last Bush Administration, such as James Baker, do not see the "mortal threat."
For Cheney, however, and presumably for Bush, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein is a self-justifying goal. They have no interest in a return of the weapons inspectors or in a negotiated agreement. In his Nashville speech of August 26, Cheney said, "Failing to attack now will only allow Iraq to grow stronger. Forcing Saddam from power would bring freedom to Iraq, bring peace to the region, boost Arab moderates, cause extremists to rethink violence and help the Israeli-Palestinian peace process." (Quoted by Ken Goggenheim of the Associated Press, August 27)
Yet here is a strange discrepancy: Bugi Ya'alon , we recall, sees Arafat as a threat to Israel's existence. If Cheney is right, the Israeli general ought to see Saddam Hussein as a super threat. For Cheney harps about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and Israel is only 400 miles from Iraq. During the interview cited above, however, Ya'alon saw no "mortal threat" in Saddam Hussein: "Certainly we have to be ready for the possibility that they (the Iraqis – Ed.) may send a missile or a plane our way. But we have good answers to such a threat, and the threat itself is limited. The event could be unpleasant, but it won't be terrible."
Ya'alon's concern is with the Palestinians. The present struggle, he says, is second only to the War of 1948. "We are dealing with an existential threat. There was an Israeli attempt to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by means of a territorial compromise, and the Palestinian reply was war. So this brings us back to the confrontation of the pre-state period, the partition proposal and the War of Independence. The facts that are being determined in this confrontation - in terms of what will be burned into the Palestinian consciousness - are fateful. If we end the confrontation in a way that makes it clear to every Palestinian that terrorism does not lead to agreements, that will improve our strategic position. On the other hand, if their feeling at the end of the confrontation is that they can defeat us by means of terrorism, our situation will become more and more difficult. Therefore, I say that we must not blur the weighty meaning of this confrontation. When you grasp the essence, it's clear to you what you have to do. You have to fight for your life." (Ha'aretz Weekend Supplement, August 30.)
The vision is one of extremes: Israel's offer (roughly the Clinton plan) was as far as it was willing to go. To all who thought the offer sufficient, a Palestinian "No" signified a "No" to peace itself. True, the offer would have left Israel as the dominant economic and political force in the region, but that, it was thought, is a fact which the Arabs must learn to accept.
Ya'alon does not differentiate between the Palestinian people and its leadership. The truth is, the leaders, including Arafat, were willing to accept the Israeli conditions at Camp David, but they held back, fearing opposition both at home and in the wider Arab world. After seven years of disappointment under Oslo, the Palestinian people did say "No", and the leadership, fearing for its life, let itself be dragged behind.
Israel's reaction then went: "The people says 'No' to our incredibly generous offer, so the people is a mortal threat." Thus by insisting on political and economic dominance, Israel has trapped itself not into a war against the Palestinian leadership (which has virtually ceased to exist), but into a war against the people. The people's "No" serves to justify Israel's attacks against civilians. These attacks have no precedent in any of this country's former wars. In the name of a campaign against suicide-bombers, Israel holds millions hostage. They have been under blockade, and much of the time under house arrest, for most of the last two years: jobless, hungry and without decent medical care. Israel undertakes punitive and deterrent actions that deliberately blur the boundary between those who are directly responsible for killing its citizens and those who are not. Palestinian civilians are slaughtered in "pinpoint fire" against guerrillas, just because they happened to be standing or living nearby. As for the suicide-bombers, once they are dead and beyond punishment, the army destroys their families' homes, and now it has started to deport their relatives, with the High Court providing a fig leaf.
Anyone who sees the present condition of the Palestinians or the Iraqis, two peoples that have been brought to ruin in the last decade, must think that in Cheney and Ya'alon we have instances of insanity, leaders whose reading of the map is cockeyed. To some extent this may be true, but in each case, behind the apparent madness lies a deeper one.
Ya'alon's madness derives from that of the Zionist movement as a whole. Israel has remained such a foreign transplant in the Middle East, and has aroused so much hatred against itself, no wonder it fears that the moment it loses total control, it itself will be lost. If you believe that your existence depends on your being boss, then either you are insane or you have gotten yourself into an untenable position. Seeing no way to climb down from this position, Ya'alon is determined to crush each new generation of Palestinians, bringing it to its knees, "burning" the facts into its consciousness, teaching the lesson of Israeli superiority again and again. Yet a day will come, and a generation will rise to whom this lesson cannot be taught.
As for Cheney, he rattles the specter of Iraqi nukes, yet Iraq's Arab neighbors and former targets do not feel threatened any more than does Bugi Ya'alon. Why then the ranting? The continued existence of Saddam Hussein is unacceptable to Cheney and his president, because the Iraqi dictator does not kowtow to America. If the Bush Administration believes that America's life depends on its ability to dominate the world, then anyone who defies its control becomes a "mortal threat". (Remember Clinton and Milosevic.) If Saddam can get away with it, who might not follow?
Both the American and Israeli right-wings like to warn against the "Neville Chamberlain syndrome", one applying it to Saddam Hussein, the other to Yasser Arafat, as if a failure to stop the "evil one" will bring disaster. The appropriate comparison is not with Chamberlain, however, rather with John Foster Dulles. In 1954, this American Secretary of State voiced his belief that if South Vietnam fell to Communism, all countries between Vietnam and Australia would drop one after another, like dominoes. Japan too would go, and the implication was, the threat would turn on America itself. Insane as the notion may seem today, it did not appear so to most Americans then. It determined US policy for twenty years, costing many lives.
But why should Bush and Cheney believe that the life of their country depends on its ability to dominate the world? Both are scions of a rough-riding kind of capitalism. On that America's place in the world does indeed depend. Capitalism has entered a decade which, it is clear, will be difficult. Through most of the 1990's, it seemed victorious. The Soviet Union had collapsed. The US economy ascended (and so did Israel's) on the wings of high-tech. In that heady but deceptive atmosphere (symbolized by none better than saxophonist Bill Clinton), the thesis of Oslo also developed. Yet the Roaring Nineties proved short-lived. In capitalism, every boom eventuates in a chronic set of problems: overproduction, unemployment and poverty, leading toward a subsequent stage of chaos and war. The question isn't whether the bubble will burst, but when.
Now American capitalism is in trouble, and its leaders see no solution. High-tech has not created demand as the automobile did in the 1950's. China is too agrarian to offer new markets, and most of the rest of the world is too backward and poor. Having no prospects, the leaders of capitalism resort to a policy of total control – over oil, first of all, and everything else. They cannot tolerate Saddam Hussein, sitting in the oil fields defying them.
The aggressive tendencies of the US and Israel are results of a political and economic crisis that is basically without solution. Bush and Sharon, Cheney and Ya'alon, are mirrors of their time. Humanity must defend itself not just against them, but against the system that spewed them up. This system assumes that military power gives certain persons and certain nations a right to a bigger share of the pie. It is hurling humanity toward an apocalypse, while clothing its goals in the demagogy of "sacrifices we must make". The short-sighted fall for this demagogy. The longer-sighted know that rule by force will not endure, and that the only solution requires a new social order, based on the fair distribution of resources.
Roni Ben Efrat - Challenge Magazine #75 - published in Israel