White House’s anti-Arab agenda: Can anyone halt the march to war against Baghdad?
By Patrick Seale*
The appointment of Eliott Abrams, a pro-Israeli hawk, as the new director of Middle East affairs at the White House marks a major success for Zionist extremists and neo-imperialists in their battle for control of American foreign policy. It also marks a defeat for Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom these hard-liners consider “soft” on the Palestinians. Backed by the Pentagon and Vice-President Dick Cheney’s office, Abrams will want to take the control of Middle East policy out of Powell’s hands.
This is extremely bad news for all those who still hope for a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The choice of Henry Kissinger to head the commission investigating US intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks is another success for the pro-Israel camp in Washington.
Abrams is expected to push for an even stronger pro-Israel agenda in which American and Israeli interests are identical and cannot be separated. Israel’s request for $10 billion in American loan guarantees to help it overcome its current economic difficulties, now under negotiation in Washington, is certain to have Abrams’ enthusiastic support.
Last time Israel secured such a large sum was in 1991, but when Bush senior insisted on tying the money to a temporary freeze on Israeli settlements, he was soon to lose the presidential elections a lesson Bush junior may have noted, for this time there is no mention of any strings attached.
Abrams is thought to owe his appointment to Cheney, Powell’s principal opponent in the Bush Administration. His is an executive, not a congressional, appointment, and will not therefore need congressional approval. This is fortunate for Abrams because, in 1987, his career in public life seemed to be over when he lied to Congress under oath regarding a scandal in which he was deeply implicated the illegal funding of the Contras in Nicaragua with monies derived from the sale of arms to Iran, then under American embargo. Abrams pleaded guilty but was pardoned in 1992 by then-President Bush. Abrams has no direct knowledge of the Middle East except for allegiance to Israel. He is a Latin American specialist. In the 1980s, as assistant secretary of state for Latin American affairs under former President Ronald Reagan, he is widely considered to have been the brains behind America’s harsh “anti-Communist” policy in Central America.
When American-trained paramilitary groups massacred 767 villagers from El-Mozote village in El Salvador in 1982, Abrams denied that the massacre had taken place. More recently, in April this year, he is thought to have supported the attempted putsch against Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s left-wing president who remains besieged by right-wing forces determined to bring him down.
Abrams has married into one of America’s most influential neoconservative Jewish families. His wife is the daughter of Midge Decter, a well-known writer and publicist closely linked to right-wing think tanks, and a former
executive director from 1980 to 1990
of the anti-Communist Committee for the Free World. Decter’s second husband is Norman Podhoretz, the long-time editor of Commentary, a neoconservative magazine published by the American Jewish Committee.
Abrams’ record provides a clear indication of the positions on the Middle East he is expected to adopt. He has been a fierce opponent of the Oslo process. He distrusts Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and has advocated his removal. He believes Israel should be allowed to deal forcefully with “terrorism” and should not consider territorial concessions until the Palestinians lay down their arms.
Abrams does not believe any Israeli government could get elected if it advocated sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians. He is vehemently anti-Islamic and has in the past expressed strong opposition to the lifting of American trade sanctions against Sudan.
In American domestic politics, Abrams is a passionate advocate of the coalition in support of Israel between American Jews and evangelical Christians, which has become a prominent feature of the current scene.
Some of these views are expressed in a book he wrote five years ago, Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in Christian America, in which he argued that Jews can maintain their separate identity in the United States only if they stick to their religion, and that loss of religious faith and intermarriage with non-Jews are threats to Jewish survival.
Observers of American politics identify four main items on the agenda of America’s neo-imperialists and hard-line Likud supporters.
First and foremost is war against Iraq. In 1991, Israel’s supporters in America and Europe pressed for war against Iraq as the only possible response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. A solution by diplomatic means was totally ruled out. Today, the same refrain is heard. Removing Saddam from power is identified as a major Israeli and American strategic objective. This week’s war-game, conducted by CENTCOM (US Central Command) commander General Tommy Franks at his forward headquarters in Qatar, is widely seen as an ill-disguised dress rehearsal for war against Baghdad.
The second item on the hawks’ agenda is, of course, support for Israel, and in particular for Sharon’s use of force to break Palestinian resistance. The land-for-peace idea is shunned as totally unacceptable and has been replaced by “peace through military power.”
Sharon’s offer of 40 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians is welcomed as a clever move to give Americans the illusion that Sharon has adopted Bush’s “vision” of a Palestinian state.
Thirdly, Zionist hawks are straining every nerve to damage America’s relations with the Arab world and especially Saudi Arabia so as to entrench Israel as the dominant influence over American policy. Traditionally, the US has sought to strike a balance between its friendship with Saudi Arabia and its strategic relationship with Israel. The aim of the current anti-Saudi campaign is to knock Riyadh out of the equation.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the long-serving Saudi ambassador to Washington, has for two decades been part of the glue of the US-Saudi relationship. The ultimate insider, he was an intimate of the White House under several administrations. Now, his wife, Princess Haifa, daughter of the late King Faisal, has been the target of a particularly base smear campaign. A preposterous attempt has been made to suggest that one of her donations to a needy Saudi family may somehow, in a roundabout route, have helped finance Sept. 11 hijackers. This is crude disinformation at its most pernicious.
Finally, a fourth objective is the vast neocolonial ambition of altering the whole Middle East balance of power in favor of the US and Israel. This is sometimes described as “reshaping” the Arab world or as “democratic imperialism,” to suggest that American military power can be used to overthrow authoritarian Arab regimes beginning with Baghdad as a prelude to introducing democracy and other “Western” reforms.
The hawks’ analysis is that Arab regimes are today extraordinarily weak, and therefore ripe for an American “makeover.” They are either in the hands of young and relatively inexperienced leaders, as in Morocco, Jordan and Syria, or in the grip of aged leaders close to retirement, as in Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia, where the succession appears uncertain.
Many commentators have condemned American ambitions as a new form of colonialism, which is likely to meet strong local resistance. In the 1950s and 1960s, America was seen as a liberator as it helped bring an end to British and French empires in the Middle East and North Africa. Today, the US is seen to be assuming the imperial mantle of the former colonial powers. Its ambition to reshape the Middle East strongly suggests a pre-Vietnam War scenario which led to a bloody and protracted guerrilla war in which the US finally faced defeat.
Today, scattered attacks against American targets throughout the Muslim world as well as Al-Qaeda’s major assaults point to the beginnings of just such an anti-imperialist campaign.
Who can halt the march to war against Baghdad? Powell is fighting a lonely rearguard action. He is supported by senior generals such as Anthony Zinni and other Vietnam veterans, but they carry little political clout compared to men like Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, who both dodged the draft but are now hell-bent on war. Abrams is the latest recruit to their camp. From his powerful position on the National Security Council, he could well tilt the balance in their favor.
Patrick Seale is a veteran Middle East analyst. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star - Beirut - 13 December 2002