American billions keep Arab regimes sweet
By Robert Fisk in Beirut
The Independent on Sunday
2 March 2003
It was pathetic. The President of the United Arab Emirates - too old
and too sick to visit Sharm el-Sheikh - sent a message begging
Saddam Hussein to go into exile, just as the US Secretary of State,
Colin Powell, had told the Arabs to do last Thursday, when he urged
them to get President Saddam "out of the way and let some
responsible leadership take over in Baghdad".
Even the Saudis didn't oppose the Emirates' plea, while the
Egyptians - host to the Arab League summit - could only claim that
they were "not in the business of changing one regime for another".
How much does it cost to produce this kind of subservience? In
Egypt's case, $3bn (#1.9bn) in US aid and other credits, plus
another $1bn in gifts. Another $1bn for Jordan, which has just
accepted US troops on its territory - only to man Patriot missile
batteries, of course.
Money seems to make the Arab world go round. The Egyptian government
daily Al-Ahram and the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat are singing the
Emirates' tune and demanding a "regime change" in Baghdad. Turkey -
not an Arab country - is waiting for its $26bn in promises to let
the US army tramp across its border into Iraq.
Syria alone - since it may well be number two on Washington's list
for "regime change" - said that it was a mistake to identify the
Iraqi leadership as the source of the current crisis. President
Bashar Assad said that America wanted Iraq's oil and wished to
"redraw the region's map". The latter is undoubtedly true, since Mr
Powell unwisely admitted just that last week. "We are all targeted
... we are all in danger," President Assad said.
The Iraqis, needless to say, responded with considerable anger to
President Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan's demand from the Emirates.
Other Arab leaders were meanwhile scurrying to form a consensus over
whether they should send one of their beloved delegations just to
Baghdad, or to Baghdad, the US, the UN and the EU as well.
What it came down to was whether the Arabs should allow the
Americans the use of their territory to attack Iraq or whether -
this from President Assad of Syria - they should ban the US from
their territory if they wished to use it as a springboard for war.
The Kuwaitis, liberated from Iraqi occupation by the US and its
coalition partners 12 years ago, said that this view was "not
realistic". The real problem is that the US is already, in effect,
in occupation of a fairly large number of Arab nations.
US forces control half of Kuwait; they are in Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi
Arabia, Oman and in Jordan. Every one of these countries will be
called an "ally" if - when - the Americans storm over the border
into Iraq. So will Turkey. So, probably, will Egypt. And so, of
course, will Israel.