Impending War on Iraq - American Jihad
By Prof. George Bisharat
Thursday, February 13, 2003
San Francisco Chronicle :
Many Americans suspect that the war our government is preparing to launch against Iraq is about oil. That is both correct and incorrect. True, Iraq possesses huge oil and gas reserves. Yes, the United States and England, the two countries most adamant for war, are home to the world's four largest energy conglomerates.
Yet oil is a constant. In a sense, everything in U.S. Middle East policy for the last 50 years or more has been about oil. For that very reason, however, oil cannot explain a shift in policy toward war. Some new variable has entered the equation.
No, the real reason we are going to war is the messianic vision of a small but influential group of strongly pro-Israeli hawks within the Bush administration. Their goal is unilateral global domination through absolute military superiority. U.S. global hegemony will "promote democracy" and "spread prosperity" through free enterprise and trade.
But the hawks' almost theological obsession with Iraq still needs explaining. The evidence in support of the "Iraqi threat" to America is palpably thin. Whether or not Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, for years he has been safely contained by threat of nuclear retaliation.
The hawks recognize this evidentiary weakness, and have aggressively pressed the CIA to cook its reports to support war. Douglas Feith, assistant to Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, oversees an amateur intelligence unit inside the Department of Defense that equips Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld with unconfirmed, professionally substandard information (according to Robert Dreyfuss in the American Prospect) to contest less gung-ho CIA reports. It has reportedly pressed especially hard to generate evidence of an Iraq-al-Qaeda connection (consider Colin Powell's Security Council presentation last week in this light).
Why the determination to overthrow the Iraqi regime? One key is the special regard of the hawks for Israel's right-wing elements. A number of senior Bush officials, including Wolfowitz, Feith and others, have strong affiliations with the Likud Party of Ariel Sharon (as documented by Bill and Kathleen Christison in the online magazine Counterpunch). Feith and Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, for example, helped author a 1996 study for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu describing Hussein's overthrow as "an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- [and] a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions." Interestingly, the study for the Israeli government also advocated resort to pre-emptive strike -- a theme now taken up by President Bush.
If an Iraqi attack on the United States is far-fetched, a rejuvenated Iraq could eventually alter the regional balance of power now favorable to Israel. Iraq is the only Arab state to combine oil wealth, water and a large population (more than 23 million), making it a potential powerhouse. War on Iraq would eliminate, for the foreseeable future, any obstacle to a disposition of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on terms that satisfy Israel's territorial ambitions on most or all of the West Bank.
Israel is quietly exultant at the turn in U.S. policy, occasionally hinting that Iran or Syria should be next. Israeli Deputy Interior Minister Gideon Ezra suggested to the Christian Science Monitor in August that a U.S. attack on Iraq will help Israel impose a new order, without Arafat, in the Palestinian territories: "The more aggressive the attack is, the more it will help Israel against the Palestinians. The understanding would be that what is good to do in Iraq, is also good for here." A U.S. strike would "undoubtedly deal a psychological blow" to the Palestinians and would help Israel vis-a-vis Syria, Ezra added.
Does this mean that we are going to war for Israel, rather than the United States? That question is incomprehensible to the hawks, who view the two countries as two democracies, shoulder to shoulder in facing the common threat of terrorism. Like the Israelis, the hawks would not stop at Iraq. Instead, Iraq is just a first step in redrawing the map of the entire Middle East. Iraq under a pro-Western leadership, with its enormous oil reserves, would diminish the strategic value of Saudi Arabia and negate Saudi leverage vis-a-vis the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A new Iraq would be a beachhead for ridding the Middle East of autocracies -- the wellsprings of terrorism, in the hawks' view -- installing democratic governments, and making the region a haven for free enterprise and development.
This rosy vision of a revolutionized Middle East overlooks immense risks. Most obviously, a return to colonialism in the Arab world is almost certainly a formula for perpetual war -- Osama bin Laden's dream. Many of us in the Jan. 18 anti-war demonstration in San Francisco -- including supporters of Israel who carried the Israeli flag -- demur from this American jihad. We have very little time left to stop it.
* George Bisharat is a professor of at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, where he teaches a course in law and Middle East societies.