JSalloum on Sun, 20 Dec 1998 01:02:32 EST

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Syndicate: more on the war

Subject: Edward Said on Iran/iraq Crisis

> [Source: http://www.salam.org/iraq/apocalypse.html]
> Apocalypse Now
> by Edward Said
> It would be a mistake, I think, to reduce what is happening between Iraq
> and the United States simply to an assertion of Arab will and sovereignty
> on the one hand versus American imperialism, which undoubtedly plays a
> central role in all this. However misguided, Saddam Hussein's cleverness is
> not that he is splitting America from its allies (which he has not really
> succeeded in doing for any practical purpose) but that he is exploiting the
> astonishing clumsiness and failures of US foreign policy. Very few people,
> least of all Saddam himself, can be fooled into believing him to be the
> innocent victim of American bullying; most of what is happening to his
> unfortunate people who are undergoing the most dreadful and unacknowledged
> suffering is due in considerable degree to his callous cynicism -- first of
> all, his indefensible and ruinous invasion of Kuwait, his persecution of
> the Kurds, his cruel egoism and pompous self-regard which persists in
> aggrandizing himself and his regime at exorbitant and, in my opinion,
> totally unwarranted cost. It is impossible for him to plead the case for
> national security and sovereignty now given his abysmal disregard of it in
> the case of Kuwait and Iran.
> Be that as it may, US vindictiveness, whose sources I shall look at in a
> moment, has exacerbated the situation by imposing a regime of sanctions
> which, as Sandy Berger, the American National Security adviser has just
> said proudly, is unprecedented for its severity in the whole of world
> history. 567,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the Gulf War, mostly as a
> result of disease, malnutrition and deplorably poor medical care.
> Agriculture and industry are at a total standstill. This is unconscionable
> of course, and for this the brazen inhumanity of American policy-makers is
> also very largely to blame. But we must not forget that Saddam is feeding
> that inhumanity quite deliberately in order to dramatize the opposition
> between the US and the rest of the Arab world; having provoked a crisis
> with the US (or the UN dominated by the US) he at first dramatised the
> unfairness of the sanctions. But by continuing it as he is now doing, the
> issue has changed and has become his non-compliance, and the terrible
> effects of the sanctions have been marginalised. Still the underlying
> causes of an Arab/US crisis remain.
> A careful analysis of that crisis is imperative. The US has always opposed
> any sign of Arab nationalism or independence, partly for its own imperial
> reasons and partly because its unconditional support for Israel requires it
> to do so. Since the l973 war, and despite the brief oil embargo, Arab
> policy up to and including the peace process has tried to circumvent or
> mitigate that hostility by appealing to the US for help, by "good"
> behavior, by willingness to make peace with Israel. Yet mere compliance
> with the US's wishes can produce nothing except occasional words of
> American approbation for leaders who appear "moderate": Arab policy was
> never backed up with coordination, or collective pressure, or fully agreed
> upon goals. Instead each leader tried to make separate arrangements both
> with the US and with Israel, none of which produced very much except
> escalating demands and a constant refusal by the US to exert any meaningful
> pressure on Israel. The more extreme Israeli policy becomes the more likely
> the US has been to support it. And the less respect it has for the large
> mass of Arab peoples whose future and well-being are mortgaged to illusory
> hopes embodied, for instance, in the Oslo accords.
> Moreover, a deep gulf separates Arab culture and civilization on the one
> hand, from the United States on the other, and in the absence of any
> collective Arab information and cultural policy, the notion of an Arab
> people with traditions, cultures and identities of their own is simply
> inadmissible in the US. Arabs are dehumanized, they are seen as violent
> irrational terrorists always on the lookout for murder and bombing
> outrages. The only Arabs worth doing business with for the US are compliant
> leaders, businessmen, military people whose arms purchases (the highest per
> capita in the world) are helping the American economy keep afloat. Beyond
> that there is no feeling at all, for instance, for the dreadful suffering
> of the Iraqi people whose identity and existence have simply been lost
> sight of in the present situation.
> This morbid, obsessional fear and hatred of the Arabs has been a constant
> theme in US foreign policy since World War Two. In some way also, anything
> positive about the Arabs is seen in the US as a threat to Israel. In this
> respect pro-Israeli American Jews, traditional Orientalists, and military
> hawks have played a devastating role. Moral opprobrium is heaped on Arab
> states as it is on no others. Turkey, for example, has been conducting a
> campaign against the Kurds for several years, yet nothing is heard about
> this in the US. Israel occupies territory illegally for thirty years, it
> violates the Geneva conventions at will, conducts invasions, terrorist
> attacks and assassinations against Arabs, and still, the US vetoes every
> sanction against it in the UN. Syria, Sudan, Libya, Iraq are classified as
> "rogue" states. Sanctions against them are far harsher than against any
> other countries in the history of US foreign policy. And still the US
> expects that its own foreign policy agenda ought to prevail (eg., the
> woefully misguided Doha economic summit) despite its hostility to the
> collective Arab agenda.
> In the case of Iraq a number of further extenuations make the US even more
> repressive. Burning in the collective American unconscious is a puritanical
> zeal decreeing the sternest possible attitude towards anyone deemed to be
> an unregenerate sinner. This clearly guided American policy towards the
> native American Indians, who were first demonized, then portrayed as
> wasteful savages, then exterminated, their tiny remnant confined to
> reservations and concentration camps. This almost religious anger fuels a
> judgemental attitude that has no place at all in international politics,
> but for the United States it is a central tenet of its worldwide behavior.
> Second, punishment is conceived in apocalyptic terms. During the Vietnam
> war a leading general advocated -- and almost achieved -- the goal of
> bombing the enemy into the stone age. The same view prevailed during the
> Gulf War in l99l. Sinners are meant to be condemned terminally, with the
> utmost cruelty regardless of whether or not they suffer the cruelest
> agonies. The notion of "justified" punishment for Iraq is now uppermost in
> the minds of most American consumers of news, and with that goes an almost
> orgiastic delight in the gathering power being summoned to confront Iraq in
> the Gulf.
> Pictures of four (or is now five?) immense aircraft carriers steaming
> virtuously away punctuate breathless news bulletins about Saddam's
> defiance, and the impending crisis. The President announces that he is
> thinking not about the Gulf but about the 21st century: how can we tolerate
> Iraq's threat to use biological warfare even though (this is unmentioned)
> it is clear from the UNSCOM reports that he neither has the missile
> capacity, nor the chemical arms, nor the nuclear arsenal, nor in fact the
> anthrax bombs that he is alleged to be brandishing? Forgotten in all this
> is that the US has all the terror weapons known to humankind, is the only
> country to have used a nuclear bomb on civilians, and as recently as seven
> years ago dropped 66,000 tons of bombs on Iraq. As the only country
> involved in this crisis that has never had to fight a war on its own soil,
> it is easy for the US and its mostly brain-washed citizens to speak in
> apocalyptic terms. A report out of Australia on Sunday, November l6
> suggests that Israel and the US are thinking about a neutron bomb on
> Baghdad.
> Unfortunately the dictates of raw power are very severe and, for a weak
> state like Iraq, overwhelming. Certainly US misuse of the sanctions to
> strip Iraq of everything, including any possibility for security is
> monstrously sadistic. The so-called UN 661 Committee created to oversee the
> sanctions is composed of fifteen member states (including the US) each of
> which has a veto. Every time Iraq passes this committee a request to sell
> oil for medicines, trucks, meat, etc., any member of the committee can
> block these requests by saying that a given item may have military purposes
> (tires, for example, or ambulances). In addition the US and its clients --
> eg., the unpleasant and racist Richard Butler, who says openly that Arabs
> have a different notion of truth than the rest of the world -- have made it
> clear that even if Iraq is completely reduced militarily to the point where
> it is no longer a threat to its neighbors (which is now the case) the real
> goal of the sanctions is to topple Saddam Hussein's government. In other
> words according to the Americans, very little that Iraq can do short of
> Saddam's resignation or death will produce a lifting of sanctions. Finally,
> we should not for a moment forget that quite apart from its foreign policy
> interest, Iraq has now become a domestic American issue whose repercussions
> on issues unrelated to oil or the Gulf are very important. Bill Clinton's
> personal crises -- the campaign-funding scandals, an impending trial for
> sexual harassment, his various legislative and domestic failures -- require
> him to look strong, determined and "presidential" somewhere else, and where
> but in the Gulf against Iraq has he so ready-made a foreign devil to set
> off his blue-eyed strength to full advantage. Moreover, the increase in
> military expenditure for new investments in electronic "smart" weaponry,
> more sophisticated aircraft, mobile forces for the world-wide projection of
> American power are perfectly suited for display and use in the Gulf, where
> the likelihood of visible casualties (actually suffering Iraqi civilians)
> is extremely small, and where the new military technology can be put
> through its paces most attractively. For reasons that need restating here,
> the media is particularly happy to go along with the government in bringing
> home to domestic customers the wonderful excitement of American
> self-righteousness, the proud flag-waving, the "feel-good" sense that "we"
> are facing down a monstrous dictator. Far from analysis and calm reflection
> the media exists mainly to derive its mission from the government, not to
> produce a corrective or any dissent. The media, in short, is an extension
> of the war against Iraq.

> The saddest aspect of the whole thing is that Iraqi civilians seem
> condemned to additional suffering and protracted agony. Neither their
> government nor that of the US is inclined to ease the daily pressure on
> them, and the probability that only they will pay for the crisis is
> extremely high. At least -- and it isn't very much -- there seems to be no
> enthusiasm among Arab governments for American military action, but beyond
> that there is no coordinated Arab position, not even on the extremely grave
> humanitarian question. It is unfortunate that, according to the news, there
> is rising popular support for Saddam in the Arab world, as if the old
> lessons of defiance without real power have still not been learned.
> Undoubtedly the US has manipulated the UN to its own ends, a rather
> shameful exercise given at the same time that the Congress once again
> struck down a motion to pay a billion dollars in arrears to the world
> organization. The major priority for Arabs, Europeans, Muslims and
> Americans is to push to the fore the issue of sanctions and the terrible
> suffering imposed on innocent Iraqi civilians. Taking the case to the
> International Court in the Hague strikes me as a perfectly viable
> possibility, but what is needed is a concerted will on behalf of Arabs who
> have suffered the US's egregious blows for too long without an adequate
> response.
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> This article was first published in Arabic in Al-Hayat, London, and in
> English in Al Ahram Weekly, Cairo.