America in the Mid-East
Where do we go from here? Now that US and allied forces are caught in a cleft stick, it is a moment for clear thinking and quick action.
By now it is quite clear that things are not going smoothly for the US and allies in Iraq. Nearly 250 occupation soldiers have been killed by Iraqi resistance fighters since President George W. Bush declared the war over on May 1. According to western estimates, 10,000-15,000 Iraqis have died in the unjust, uncalled for, and absolutely unjustifiable war.
The chief architect of the war, US deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz barely escaped unhurt in a rocket attack at Rashid hotel in Baghdad on October 26. Wolfowitz said some brave words like “these terrorist attacks will not deter us from our mission, which is to help the Iraqi people free themselves”.
Common Arabs, fed up with daily insults from Israel and its mentors like Wolfowitz, wondered from whom America was freeing the Iraqi people. Of course, from the Iraqi people themselves. Wolfowitz described the resistance fighters as “criminals”. Criminals? But since when resisting occupation became a crime? Does the UN Charter say that? Do the Americans believe that?
While Wolfowitz was uttering these brave words at a press conference, Reuters described him as looking “shaken”, his voice “trembling”. Wolfowitz's boss, former wrestling champion Donald Rumsfeld, who says Israel is not obliged to vacate occupied Arab territory because it is “real estate” won in war, came up with some brave words of his own. He said the US would not hasten its departure from Iraq under pressure from resistance fighters. However, this is exactly what the US has been planning –– a far more shorter stay in the increasingly hot Iraq than the five years originally planned (like General McArthur’s five years in Japan).
To show the former wrestling champion and his deputy their place, President Bush has formed a panel under National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice to assess where the occupation stands today. Meanwhile, thousands of protestors gathered before the White House last fortnight shouting “Bush is a liar”, waving placards with this message. Where are the Iraqi WMDs Bush went to war for?
The Bush administration even tried to connect Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda, but nobody bothered to even listen to such nonsense, not even US allies. So, why did the US attack Iraq? To strengthen Israel, as well as to loot Iraq’s oil fields. (See: What is the brouhaha all about?)
On November 12, the UN asked the US to arrange “an early transfer of power” to Iraqi people. The European Union has been asking for early elections in Iraq and transfer of power to the elected government. The Americans rejected these suggestions saying first its handpicked governing council for Iraq would get a new Constitution written under the supervision of the occupation authorities, then only an election would follow. However, the deepening crisis seems to have forced the administration to rethink its Iraq strategy.
There are indications that the US and allied troops may leave even before a Constitution is ready. Now it is likely that they will conduct elections before writing a Constitution as the saner European Union had advised. America and Israel are also rattled by an opinion poll in European Union which said as many as 59 percent people think Israel is a threat to world peace. The European Union is not happy to see the US inflicting a war on Iraq (and if Wolfowitz’s writ runs, on Syria, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and other Muslim countries) which threatens to snowball into an Islam versus West conflict. The European Union is not prepared to take on the Muslim world for the sake of Israel.
In India a section of the English press had been egging the government on incessantly to send troops to Iraq in the early stages of the occupation. Now these people are silent because they see even old American allies like Pakistan, Turkey and Japan refusing to commit troops. The memories of Indian troops being sent to Sri Lanka to keep peace in the 80s is still fresh in people’s minds. More Indian soldiers were killed in Sri Lanka peacekeeping than in the full-blown war with China. Nobody wants to repeat that unpleasant experience.
America is in Iraq ignoring Arab opinion and warning from world leaders, including European, Chinese, Russian and Indian leaders. Israel and America have been working in tandem to hurt Syria –– Israel by directly attacking Syria, and America with its economic sanctions. Israel and America have also tried to corner Iran (and possibly set it up for future attack like Iraq) on nuclear weapons programme, but the International Atomic Energency Agency has cleared it of such charges. No such action has been thought of against Israel.
Now the war-mongers in Washington will have to look for some other alibi to vilify and attack Iran. That gives Iran some breather. On November 14, US administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer was in White House to discuss a hastened schedule of power transfer to Iraqis. Transfer of power to an Iraqi government could well be accomplished by June 2004. However, US and allied troops would stay back for a longer period.
This is only a partial solution to the problem. Even if the Iraqi government, formed after elections early next year, “requests” US and allied troops to stay back in the country the fact that those are occupation troops still remains unchanged. This fact alone is enough to keep Iraqi and Arab resentment simmering, leading to further attacks against the foreign troops.
The continued loss of America life in Iraq will only force more and more American to ask, “why are we there in Iraq?” The only answer is to disarm the Arabs and strengthen a heavily armed Israel further at the cost of American blood and honour. It is quite evident that this project is unsustainable for America. There are other, more forceful economic reasons against keeping US troops in Iraq.
The staggering cost of keeping US troops in Iraq ($ 4 billion a month) itself militates against keeping the present level of force there. By June 2004, the number of US troops in Iraq would have to be reduced to one-third of the present strength for budgetary reasons. According to a joint report of the Committee for Economic Development and the Centre on Budget and Policy Priorities the US federal debt would rise by $ 5 trillion over the next decade. That requires more intelligent action to avert disaster than invading half a dozen Muslim countries as planned by the neoconservatives advising President Bush.
The donors' conference called by the US in Madrid last month too turned out to be a damp squib. The US had hoped to raise $ 36 billion, but “did not got even close to achieving their goal”, BBC correspondent Katya Alder wrote for the news service website. Saudi Arabia pledged $ 1 billion, and Japan $ 5 billion spread over four years. Donors were deterred by lack of transparency about how the money was going to be spent.
France and Germany balked at the idea of paying “for the damage to a country they didn’t think should be invaded in the first place, “Alder wrote. They were not interested in the aid project as they knew their business firms would not get contracts in the reconstruction of the country because of their opposition to the war.
Rising poverty in the United States calls for a different line of action than the one being persued by Bush administration. In September the Census Bureau reported 1.1 percent drop in US median household income last year and an addition of 1.7 million to the population of the poor in America. Inter Press Service (IPS) reported, “the latest figures showed the income of middle class families declining 3.3 percent or 1500 dollars since 2000, the last year of Clinton presidency”.
The poverty rate jumped from its all-time low of 11.3 percent under Clinton in 2000 to 12.1 percent, bringing the number of the poor to 35 million. “It is hard to recognise recovery in these numbers”, IPS said quoting Jared Bernstein, a senior analyst at the Economic Policy Institute a thinktank, closely tied to US labour unions. “The broad-based bite of the jobless recovery in 2002 eroded living standards for families at all levels of incomes,” Bernstein said.
IPS quoted a study released by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press saying, “President Bush is facing an electorate that is almost as focused on the economy as it was in the fall of 1991, when raising economic concern began to unravel his father’s election campaign”.
All this shows that America finds itself in an unenviable position. Now that it has to leave Iraq as early as possible, it should make sure that the post-Saddam dispensation takes into account Iraqi people’s economic, political and religio-cultural aspirations, and that Iraq is not turned into a satellite of Israel. Hurting Iraqi and Arab sense of pride any further would be in nobody’s favour as Thomas Friedman has rightly noted recently in his column in the New York Times. g