Middle East

Closing Time: Is the Case Against Saddam Hussein a Case for War?

Reshaping the Region

We should take seriously the talk by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell of reshaping the region after the fall of the Iraqi regime. Powell doesn’t mince words, and the region he has in mind is obviously the Arab East, which raises numerous question marks about what is being planned and formulated in various places for the future.

The idea isn’t new and has been expressed many times before by officials in the American administration, such as fanatics like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz said that the time had come to change the balance of power in the Middle East—not only by removing this or that regime but by bringing some countries completely to an end.

When the secretary of state talked last December of a partnership to foster democracy and development, he gave us hope that this was an extremist view with no influence on American policy. Though many of us were annoyed by the initiative because it amounted to America’s sticking its nose in our internal affairs, it was within the limits of acceptability, and many regarded it favorably. But we found Powell speaking to us in the language of Wolfowitz when he appeared before the House International Relations Committee on Feb. 6, announcing that the removal of Saddam Hussein might reshape the Middle East in a radical way that would strengthen American interests and end the Arab-Israeli conflict. Hence we are dealing with a state policy rather than the opinion of a single individual. We need to be clear about what this means.

First, there is an idea to reorganize the Middle East, and that’s more than the idea of “partnership” that Powell announced in his initiative. Second, the aim behind reshaping is to realize American interests in securing oil fields, guaranteeing subjugation to American will, and imposing peace with Israel. Third, it means putting an absolute end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. And this from a country where more than 41 million people lack health care and that spends in Afghanistan every month a billion dollars on military matters.

We learn about what Powell means in an article in Israel’s Ha’aretz of Oct. 1, 2002, which said that two Jewish experts in the Pentagon known for their extreme Zionist opinions were drawing up the pic-ture of a new Middle East along with the Israeli government. The two men were involved in drafting a paper favoring the return of Iraq’s Hashemite monarchy. The Ha’aretz article noted that a return to hereditary rule was not among the ideas for a new Middle East being pursued by the Bush administration but that there are indications that it matches the dreams of figures who influence the decision-making of Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. One of these experts, Richard Perle, had held a meeting with Pentagon officials and others that said that Iraq was just a tactical goal, while Saudi Arabia was the strategic goal and Egypt was the great prize. The other idea was that Palestine is Israel, Jordan is Palestine, and Iraq is the Hashemite kingdom.

What all this makes clear is that the future map of the region is a subject of discussion in Washington and dialogue with Israel. The Arab countries are not party to the talks. The scene brings to mind the events of World War I and how the victorious countries reshaped the region after the Ottoman Empire’s defeat, divvying it up among themselves in a secret deal by the name of Sykes-Picot in 1916.

Some of the news we read today differs from that past only in the names and the roles. The Arabs both times around are the victims, though at that time the United States was the country on which people hung their hopes. Now the United States is the suspicious party, and some hopes are being pinned on Europe. Britain had promised the Arabs independence for their countries if they rebelled against the Ottomans. The Arabs acted as allies of the English and revolted against the Ottoman state in 1916, but Britain and France made their secret deal the same year, and in the end Syria and Lebanon were placed under a French mandate and Iraq, Palestine, and Transjordan under British mandate. The Jews were winners because they were given the right to a national home in Palestine, while the Ottoman state was forced to dissolve its navy and place its ports, waterways, and railways under the control of Western powers. But one thing that is different this time around is that the powerful parties are not concealing their aims; in fact, they have declared openly that the region is to be reshaped.

The real shock is the amazing silence in the Arab world.