06/03/05 "WRMEA" - - Given George Bush’s practice of saying one
thing while doing another (hailing the “advancing rights of mankind”
at the United Nations while his Justice Department was jailing immigrants without
due process), it is not surprising that his campaign to bring democracy to the
Middle East so far has only meant replacing unfriendly regimes with more obliging
ones. The people of Afghanistan and Iraq are still waiting for real freedom.
After spending seven hours in Afghanistan on March 17, Secretary of State Condoleezza
Rice said, “There could be no better story than Afghanistan’s democratic
development.” Laura Bush spent six hours in Kabul on March 30 and declared,
“The power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan.” The two
visitors might have been less impressed if they had stayed longer. Three years
after the United States went to war against the Taliban, Afghan President Hamid
Karzai said in a New York Times interview that private armies pose a serious
danger to Afghanistan today, and corruption is rampant. Elections have had to
be postponed three times because of fears that powerful regional commanders,
armed by the United States to fight the Taliban, would dominate the process.
Despite vows by international donors to help rebuild it, Afghanistan is still
one of the five poorest countries in the world, with a literacy rate of 28 percent.
It is once more the world’s leading source of opium.
In an article for the March 10 New York Review of Books entitled “The
Real Afghanistan,” Pankaj Mishra reported that much of the aid intended
for reconstruction has gone for Land Cruisers and high-rent housing in Kabul
for foreigners. The U.S. military continues to hold thousands of Afghan prisoners
in undisclosed locations across the country, and tribal elders complain about
the presence of heavy-handed American soldiers in their villages. Women outside
Kabul are still without rights. Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar said
to Mishra, “Democracy and freedom are meaningless without justice.”
The Bush administration’s dedication to freedom is limited in any case.
Washington threatened to hold up funding this year for the U.N.-sponsored Arab
Human Development Report unless its references to Israel and the United States
were toned down. The study by Arab scholars called for sweeping democratic reforms
in the Middle East, including freedom of opinion and expression. Publication
was delayed when U.S. officials objected to passages blaming Israel’s
occupation of Palestine and America’s occupation of Iraq for impeding
Arab development and causing “increased human suffering.”
A State Department spokesman called those statements “gratuitous,”
but he could not deny their accuracy. In Iraq, the state of emergency remains
in force and some 9,000 Iraqis, including children as young as 12, are in prison.
Insurgent attacks continue, electricity and clean water are still scarce, and
gasoline is often unobtainable, Even the mobile phone system no longer works.
A young Iraqi woman complained to San Francisco Chronicle reporter Colin Freeman
that before the overthrow of Saddam Hussain she could go to her job alone without
worry. She used to meet her friends in clubs and parks, but she can no longer
go out at night. The novelty of being free to criticize the government is wearing
thin, she said.
Journalist Dahr Jamail, speaking at Stanford University in March on his return
from Iraq, showed slide after slide of bomb-shattered buildings, streets littered
with bodies, and hospital beds filled with sick and injured children. Hospitals
lack antibiotics, pain medication, surgical equipment, even clean water. The
Health Ministry was supposed to receive $1 billion but the money has never arrived.
There is a six-month wait for prosthetic devices and they may soon be unobtainable.
It took more than two months of heated bargaining before Iraq’s major
political parties were able to agree on a president, Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani,
and two vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi and Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar. The three
make up the presidency council, which appointed Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shi’i,
to the powerful post of prime minister. But there was still no new government
by mid-April as Shi’i and Kurdish politicians remained divided over control
of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the role of religion in a new government, and
the disposition of cabinet offices.
A powerful Sunni leader, Sheikh Harith al-Dari, insisted that he and his followers
would not take part in the political process until the Americans announce a
timetable for withdrawal. The continued alienation of the Sunni minority, and
the deep divisions between Kurds and Shi’i, will make writing a new constitution
a difficult and contentious process, and leave open the possibility that Iraq
could split into an independent Kurdistan and a Shi’i theocracy, or end
up ruled by a strongman who holds the country together by force. Democracy in
Iraq is still a long way off.
Undaunted by the misery and disruption its policies have caused, the Bush administration
is aiming to carry its campaign for regime change to Iran, Lebanon, and Syria.
Bush and other top officials charge Iran and Syria with harboring terrorists
and providing arms and funding to Iraqi insurgents. Vice President Dick Cheney
has hinted that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Under presure
from the Europeans, Bush agreed to allow the Iranians membership in the World
Trade Organization if they would give up their uranium enrichment program. The
Iranians insist the program is designed only to produce electricity, which the
nuclear nonproliferation treaty allows, but Bush continues to threaten punishment
if they refuse to comply with his demands.
A Different Message for Palestinians
A few weeks before Syria announced it would withdraw all of its military and
intelligence forces from Lebanon by April 30, Bush urged that it do so, saying,
“The Lebanese people have the right to determine their own future, free
of domination by a foreign power.” Palestinians could use the same message
of support. While Bush was ordering the Syrians out of Lebanon, the Israelis
announced plans to build 3,500 new housing units in Ma’ale Adumim, a settlement
housing 30,000 Israelis on West Bank land just east of Jerusalem. Construction
of the additional units will result in splitting the West Bank in two and eliminate
any possibility of a viable Palestinian state. It will also be illegal.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied territory violate international law
and U.N. Security Council resolutions. The road map to peace that Bush initiated
calls for a freeze in settlement construction. Israel has ignored all of these
prohibitions, knowing it can count on Bush’s support. After all, the U.S.
president contravened his own road map and 30 years of U.S. policy last April
when he agreed in a letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that a final peace
settlement should reflect “new realities on the ground.” The letter
called for Israel to remove all Gaza settlements and four small outposts in
the West Bank, but allowed for “natural growth” of the huge settlement
blocs. This meant Sharon was free to carve away as much of the West Bank as
he chooses and leave Palestinians with the remnants.
The White House responded to the proposed expansion of Ma’ale Adumim
with a slap on the wrist and a wink. Soon after Israel’s announcement,
Bush said, “The road map calls for no expansion of the settlements.”
He repeated this message almost word for word when Sharon visited the Bush ranch
in Texas on April 11. But when Sharon stood firm on Israel’s right to
achieve “contiguity between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem,”
Bush did not press the point. Instead he praised Sharon as “a strong,
visionary leader” and promised Israel more economic aid.
The administration has re-emphasized its support for Sharon ever since the
Israelis warned that right-wing Knesset members would increase their opposition
to the dismantling of Gaza settlements if the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim
did not go forward. On March 25, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer assured
the Israelis that U.S. policy is to support “the retention by Israel of
major Israeli population centers as an outcome of negotiations.” Rice
followed him on Israeli radio a few days later with a similar message, saying,
“the existing population centers will have to be taken into account in
any final status negotiations.” (Note that Israel’s colonies in
the West Bank are no longer settlements but “population centers.”)
The negotiations that Ereli, Kurtzer, and Rice referred to are a fiction. Sharon
has made clear that his terms for a final settlement—a token Palestinian
state surrounded by Israel—were not negotiable. He refused to negotiate
with former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, and he has avoided substantive
discussions with Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas. In February Sharon
declared, “There will be no diplomatic progress, I repeat, no diplomatic
progress, until the Palestinians take vigorous action to wipe out terror groups
and their infrastructure.”
Abbas cannot fulfill Sharon’s demand without risking civil war. At his
urging Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed to a truce on Feb. 8 that resulted in
an almost total halt to Palestinians attacks and lasted for two months. The
Israelis violated it on April 9, as they have almost every previous cease-fire,
when soldiers shot to death three Palestinian teenagers as they were playing
soccer in Rafah refugee camp. The army said the boys were involved in “smuggling
across the border,” but witnesses said they were chasing a ball when they
were shot. Such Israeli actions make it impossible for Abbas to persuade militants
to lay down their arms.
Nevertheless his efforts have created an opening in which serious peace negotiations
can take place. Hamas not only has agreed to take part in the July parliamentary
elections but has told Abbas it will accept a two-state solution in a final
settlement and recognize Israel within its 1967 borders. Since many Israelis
support such a solution, Hamas’s change of policy means that a peace agreement
acceptable to both sides is well within reach. But the opportunity will be lost
if Sharon insists on the destruction of armed groups as a condition of resuming
Abbas made a plea for Israel’s cooperation in his speech at an international
meeting in London on March 1. “Experience has taught us,” he said,
“that security measures which are not part of a serious political path
do not achieve peace and security. We are going forward...to address our commitments.
We only have one demand—which is reciprocity, according to the main elements
of the road map.”
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat appealed directly to Bush. Referring to
the expansion of Ma’ale Adumim he said, “The land that is supposed
to be for a future Palestinian state is being eaten up. With this settlement
building, and the wall that is being built, the question for President Bush
is: What is left to be negotiated?” He urged Bush to intervene directly
with Israel to stop further construction. Erekat’s reference to the wall
was especially relevant. In mid-March the Israeli cabinet approved a route that
would put part of the city of Bethlehem on the Israeli side of the wall, along
with the entire village of Shuafat. This latest land grab by Israel, which will
affect more than 11,500 Palestinians, went seemingly unnoticed by the Bush administration,
whose campaign for the rule of law in the Middle East stops at the Israeli border.
That campaign was compromised in any case by Bush’s appointment of John
Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations—an organization he has
sharply criticized. Like his mentor, former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), Bolton
is a fierce pro-Israel hawk. In 1989 he blocked admission of the PLO to the
World Health Organization and UNESCO and pressed for repeal of the U.N. resolution
equating Zionism with racism. As a member of the board of advisers of the Jewish
Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), he is a close associate of
Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and others who in 1996 served as advisers to Israeli
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Their strategy paper, titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing
the Realm,” urged that Israel downplay peace efforts with the Palestinians
and focus instead on ousting Saddam Hussain. Another author of the paper, David
Wurmser, was Bolton’s senior adviser in the State Department until 2003,
when he became Vice President Dick Cheney’s Middle East adviser. Wurmser’s
book, Tyranny’s Ally: America’s Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein,
published in 1999, is a polemic urging U.S. action to depose Saddam Hussain.
According to Wurmser, Saddam’s regime was a product of “pan-Arabic
nationalism,” which is a source of tyranny also exemplified by the rulers
of Iran and Syria. The PLO, “a close and powerful ally of Saddam,”
is part of this movement and like Iran and Syria “wishes to damage U.S.
interests.” The author accuses the PLO of hiding Iraq’s nuclear
plans and materials in its Baghdad offices to keep them out of reach of U.N.
Wurmser writes that “most Middle East regimes shun losers and embrace
winners.” Therefore, carrying out a policy that “razes Saddam’s
Ba’athism to the ground” will “cause our regional enemies
to wilt.... and promote pro-American coalitions in the region, unravel hostile
coalitions, and profoundly frighten those states and factions that have thrived
on anti-Americanism.” Not incidentally, he points out that Iraq “occupies
some of the most strategically blessed and resource-laden territory of the Middle
The administration’s foreign policy statement, released in September
2003 and titled the “National Security Strategy of the United States,”
clearly was patterned on such recommendations, especially in asserting America’s
right to take pre-emptive action against any state perceived as hostile to U.S.
interests. “Iraq would be the first test [of this policy] but not the
last,” an administration official said.
The strategy recommended by Wurmser and his fellow hawks so far has not produced
the benefits they predicted. Given the hostility aroused by the U.S. invasion
of Iraq and Washington’s continued support for Israel, Arab leaders would
risk overthrow if they formed “pro-American coalitions.” Al-Qaeda
is recruiting new members. Violence and disunity continue to plague Iraq, and
it is not certain the next Iraqi government will be a desirable ally. The rulers
of Syria and Iran have not wilted and, faced with threats from the United States,
are more likely to clamp down on internal dissent than move toward democracy.
In the absence of Syrian troops, Lebanon could again erupt in sectarian violence.
Bush claims his policies are promoting democracy, but the administration’s
record of human rights abuses at home and abroad suggest that freedom and the
rule of law are not what he has in mind. The permanent bases the military is
building in Iraq, and the influence on U.S. policy of pro-Israel fantasists
such as Bolton and Wurmser, suggest that the Bush administration’s ultimate
goal is U.S. domination over the oil-rich Gulf region, and an Israel free to
maintain its occupation of other people’s land. A truly democratic Middle
East would make it impossible to achieve these goals.
Rachelle Marshall is a free-lance editor living in Stanford, CA. A member of
the Jewish International Peace Union, she writes frequently on the Middle East.
Go to Original Article >>>
The views expressed herein are the writers' own and do not necessarily reflect those of Looking Glass News. Click the disclaimer link below for more information.