Bush’s Baghdad Blunder
By Mushahid Hussain*
Islamabad - 30 March:
When the American attack on Iraq began on March 20, Richard Perle, a leading hawk who is among the ideologues driving a US unilateralist foreign policy, reportedly threw a ‘victory party’ at his home in Washington to ‘celebrate’ what was expected to be a swift and sweeping triumph for the American troops. A week later came Richard Perle’s resignation, under pressure, as Chairman of the Pentagon’s influential panel, the Defence Policy Board, on charges of financial impropriety.
Richard Perle, along with US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and a handful of other equally pro-Israeli ideologues have been pushing for a war against Iraq for the last several years as a three-in-one ‘operation’ to strengthen Israel’s regional primacy, control Iraqi oil resources and politically reshape the map of the Middle East.
According to an informed analysis by Steve Weisman in The New York Times on March 23, ‘these conservative policy makers and intellectuals nurtured their views and kept alive the cause of deposing Saddam Hussein during the mid and late 1990’s through scholarly conferences, foreign policy magazines and forums at research institutions. Then, when many of them returned to power in the administration of George W. Bush, their views ended up dominating the administration’s policy, defining an important shift in United States foreign policy thinking.’
As it turns out, Perle’s ‘victory party’ was premature given the surprise sprung by the Iraqi army, which was contrary to Pentagon expectations. Another of the pro-Israel ideologues, Kenneth Adelman, had been predicting that an Iraq war would be a ‘cakewalk’. The head of the US army in the Gulf, Lt General William Wallace, has admitted ‘the enemy we’re fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against … (as) we did not know how they would fight.” Even Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld has grudgingly confessed that ‘dangerous days are ahead.’
Richard Perle is certainly not the only casualty of a conflict that may turn out to be the most complicated and counter-productive one for the United States, in terms of its wider political and diplomatic ramifications. A checklist of other potential casualties of America’s needless Iraq war is instructive:
· Israel’s role has been publicly exposed as the only country that actively pushed for a war that is definitely against America’s own interests, with questions being raised regarding credentials of the hawkish ideologues that constitutes the cabal which is Washington’s war lobby. For the first time, the Israeli factor has been raised in the context of the Iraq war in the US Congress and the mainstream media, something that was unthinkable before, with a concurrent resurfacing of anti-Semitism in Europe;
· As the conduct of the war itself plus events leading to the war have demonstrated, the awe in which American political clout and military might was held has been decisively shattered, conveying the message that the US juggernaut is certainly not invincible and can be resisted and defied, as the Europeans did in the UN Security Council or the Iraqi military on the battlefield;
· The hypocrisy and timidity of the Muslim Establishment has also been laid bare, as double-faced regimes and rulers struggling to survive in the face of emerging threats to the status quo, with fear as their hallmark, fear both of their own people and of their distant Godfathers in Washington;
· The credibility of the Western electronic media is in tatters, another casualty of a conflict, which they sought to run as ‘embedded’ extensions of the Pentagon’s well-oiled PR machine, since they sought to act not as independent purveyors of the truth but as a force multiplier in support of their invading armies.
While the American policymakers continue to insist that the ‘outcome of the war is not in doubt’, in military terms that is, they have been subjected to a ‘hat trick of surprises’ starting with the biggest outpouring of popular anti-war sentiment in recent memory. The equally heroic French and German resistance in the UN Security Council followed that, while Iraq is proving to be certainly no ‘cakewalk’ as was triumphantly projected by Pentagon publicists.
On the political, media and diplomatic fronts, the United States has already lost the war, which was morally illegitimate from day one, having neither legal sanction nor any other justification. It has been a blatant manifestation of the ‘might is right’ mindset, which if allowed to be accepted, would be tantamount to reverting to the law of the jungle, something that the civilized world simply cannot accept in the 21st century.
The war has also spawned awareness amongst Muslim public opinion regarding the role of the Western electronic media, not just in terms of double standards and slanted reporting but also cover-ups of failures, unquestioned acceptance of Pentagon claims and allegations and even crude disinformation. The first days of the war had the media proclaiming the death of Saddam. When he addressed the Iraqi nation that was presented as his ‘double’ masquerading as Saddam. Stories followed of a brewing revolt in Basra or mass surrenders, which never took place.
What is truly remarkable is the resilience of the Iraqi nation and the apparent normalcy pervading over Baghdad and other cities under siege, with life going on almost as ‘business as usual’ while they are subjected to a relentless barrage of bombs and missiles. It is instructive to recall that after the 9/11 terror attacks, the US capital, Washington, was virtually closed down with the military patrolling the streets in armoured carriers.
Inadvertently, the Iraq war has sown the seeds of a multipolar world, helping to restore the credibility of the United Nations since it is no longer perceived as an extension of American foreign policy. And the ‘clash of civilisations’ being propounded by the hawkish Washington ideologues have been buried under the anti-war chants of millions opposing the war without reference to religion, caste, colour or country. The Pope’s principled position against the war has also sent a message that is bound to resonate with Muslims the world over. He told visiting Catholic priests from Indonesia on March 29 that ‘let us not permit a human tragedy to become a religious catastrophe and war must not be allowed to divide world religions.”
During a BBC World programme from New Delhi on March 30, Question Time India, the entire audience raised their hands to register their opposition to the American attack on Iraq, indicating that on this issue at least, Indian public opinion has sentiments similar to those of their Pakistani counterparts.
The massive public relations efforts for which the United States spent millions in the Muslim World since September 11 has gone waste, drowned out by graphic images of babies, children, women and men being bombed by American cruise missiles. An entire generation of Muslim children, and the youth, will have these pictures etched in their memory as the enduring image of an American military machine that killed innocent defenceless civilians with impunity.
Reinforcing these negative images in Iraq are the actions of American policymakers to the larger Muslim World. Some of these actions, which are inexplicable perhaps bordering on desperation, are bound to breed greater animosity:
· Defence Secretary Rumsfeld’s unwarranted allegations against Iran and Syria for allegedly assisting Iraq, while no proof is provided;
· The ‘accidental’ cruise missile attacks on Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia;
· The sudden slapping of sanctions against Pakistan’s Khan Research Laboratories, while India has been exempted despite its more sophisticated missile programme;
· Secretary of State Colin Powell’s March 30 speech before the Israeli lobby – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – where he talked of ‘protecting Israel’ in the context of his first policy speech during the Iraq War would only confirm Muslim perceptions regarding the ‘real’ US agenda in the Middle East is and the actual constituency that American policy-makers are eager to appease, more so given the upcoming Presidential elections in the US.
It is clear that on Iraq the United States has bitten more than it can chew and the emerging anti-Americanism is something that should have been anticipated by Washington. Iraq has nothing to do with the so-called ‘war on terror’; rather this attempt at imperial over-reach has backfired, triggering a backlash that the Bush Administration is unable to contain. This backlash is bound to adversely affect America’s role in the world, particularly relations with Europe and the Muslim World.
* Mushahid Hussein is former Information Minister in Pakistan and a graduate of the Georgetown University in Washington, DC.