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sulawesigirl4 04-01-2003 03:47 AM

The damage we are doing to our relations with the Middle East could last a generation
from The Independent

The damage we are doing to our relations with the Middle East could last a generation
01 April 2003

In the last weeks of the United Nations' ill-starred diplomacy and the first hours of war, one section of the globe observed an uneasy silence. Hesitant and divided, the Arab world was biding its time. Now, the Arab countries are finding their voice, and their words offer the first warning of the new regional climate that the United States and Britain will face once this conflict is past.

"When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences," were the ominous words from Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, yesterday. "Instead of having one Osama bin Laden, we will have 100 Bin Ladens." Mr Mubarak is one of the more moderate Arab leaders.

From Syria to Indonesia, from the West Bank to Morocco and back to Iraq, the warnings are multiplying. The Iraqi regime is threatening more suicide attacks on Allied forces as an integral part of its national defence strategy. An Egyptian drove a lorry into a queue of US troops in Kuwait. Islamic Jihad says that it will increase its attacks in Israeli to demonstrate support for Iraq.

Throughout the region, the streets and markets are seething. There are almost daily demonstrations in Jordan and Egypt. In Afghanistan, the Taliban, utterly vanquished more than a year ago, have begun to mount sporadic attacks. Their long-silent leader, Mullah Omar, has called for a jihad against American troops and Afghans who work with them. And the Qatar-based television station, al-Jazeera, beams out its 24-hour reports from the war zone, more graphic, more culturally accessible, less apologetic than anything the BBC or CNN provides.

The alliance ranged against Iraq may, as US officials insist, be more numerous than the one that fought the Gulf War 12 years ago. But the Arab countries that supported that war are now conspicuously absent. Those, such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia that are assisting the so-called coalition, are doing so with utmost discretion. Among the entirely predictable effects of their involvement will be to strengthen conservative, theocratic elements at the expense of the very democratic reforms the US and Britain insist they are hoping for.

All the omens suggest that Mr Mubarak is right. When the war is over, the consequences will indeed be disastrous. It is hard to see how American and British relations with the countries of the region can be mended during our lifetime.

Two nave attempts were made at the outset to limit the damage. Our governments promised faithfully that they were not waging war on the people of Iraq, only on the tyrannical ruler who was hated by the Iraqis themselves; we were not going to be conquerors, but liberators. And because our governments believed that they were waging war on behalf of Iraq's people, they promised also to minimise civilian casualties.

Had Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party been "decapitated" in the first air strikes, those guiding principles might not now sound as insubstantial, even hypocritical, as they do. There might have been just a slim chance for the Allied troops to be welcomed as the liberators they hoped to be. The uncomfortable reality, however, is that after less than two weeks of war, the Allied troops are regarded across the region as invaders, and Iraq's despotic President as a patriot.

This reversal is potentially the biggest and longest-lasting defeat of this war the enormity of which has been at least partially grasped in London, but in Washington, it seems, hardly at all. War may not be the ideal time to start planning to win back friends and influence people. But there is good reason not to alienate still further those whose acquiescence you may need before the inevitably difficult post-war settlement. Washington's very public upbraiding of Syria and Iran could well return to haunt the United States. It accused Syria of helping Saddam Hussein's war effort, Iran of seeking to obtain illegal weapons of its own. Both issued angry denials. That both accusations were made at a reception for American Jews only signalled to the Arab world where US loyalties lay.

Mr Blair's approach has been altogether more forward-looking and sensitive. Ministers are encouraged to appear on al-Jazeera and other Arab stations. The Government understands the importance of communicating the message, abroad as at home. Mr Blair also understands that one of the obstacles to communicating with the Arab world is the unresolved Palestinian issue. By calling for the publication of the "road-map" to Middle East peace at every opportunity, Mr Blair, at least, signals that he is aware of Arab priorities.

But he faces a conundrum. To his evident vexation, he has still not won the argument for war at home; how can he win the argument abroad? What is more, his efforts to show that he can see another side of the argument are constantly frustrated by the clumsy and ignorant approach of Washington. The longer it takes to remove Saddam Hussein and the more desperately Iraqis fight for their homeland, if not for the regime the less likely it appears that the principle of avoiding civilian casualties will endure. And Mr Blair's efforts to show "evenhandedness" between Iraq and the Middle East are not matched by a willingness on Mr Bush's part. The "road-map" remains unpublished.

The war will be won. Mr Bush's all-American determination will ensure that it is. But the cost in Arab resentment and global insecurity may be considerably higher than even Mr Mubarak fears.

verte76 04-01-2003 12:05 PM

This bothers me. The only logical thing is to let the people of Iraq choose their destiny. This means choosing their leaders in free and democratic elections. If they like one of their Islamic clerics or whoever, so be it. Let them vote for him for their leader, and inaugurate him dammit! If the Iraqi people are pleased at the outcome of their elections then I think that will go a long way towards repairing our relationships damaged by this war.

anitram 04-01-2003 12:17 PM

verte, while I agree with you 100%, I don't, for one second, believe that Bush and Rumsfeld would be fine with an Islamic cleric/mullah/ayatollah being elected. Hence this talk of democracy is cheap.

It's a good article. The damage has unfortunately been done, and for this we can largely thank the current US government, as Tony Blair has certainly done much better on the global scale and particularly in the Arab world. My fear is that future generations will have to reap the "benefits" of what is going on today and there is a definite potential for ugliness.

hiphop 04-01-2003 01:34 PM

I thought it was all about bringing democracy to poor Iraqis?

womanfish 04-01-2003 01:52 PM

Aaaahhh the Independent, such a unbiased news source.

hiphop 04-01-2003 01:54 PM

Probably less biased than the Pentagon.

verte76 04-01-2003 02:07 PM


Originally posted by whenhiphopdrovethebigcars
I thought it was all about bringing democracy to poor Iraqis?

That is the *only* honorable way to end this conflict. There's only one way to do it and that's free, open democratic elections for the Iraqi people. While I don't want to tell them how to do their elections it makes sense that all adult Iraqis, over the age of eighteen have a vote, and cast ballots with their choice of several parties. It depends on who wants to start parties. It's only logical that some of these people would be religious leaders. It would have to be one of their opposition leaders, right? Some of these are Moslem clerics. If the people choose one of these as their leader, then, I say, inaugurate him President and let him lead his people. I honestly don't think happy Iraqis could possibly be a real "threat" or whatever. The only threat would involve thwarting or screwing the Iraqi people. That would be very stupid. It's their country. Let them run it in the way they see fit. Do *not* force them to please Bush and Rumsfeld.

Popmartijn 04-02-2003 02:50 AM


Originally posted by womanfish
Aaaahhh the Independent, such a unbiased news source.
Then what is an unbiased news source?

BTW, I have to give props to Bush for this. For decades the USA has carefully constructed friendly relationships with many countries and now one person is able to weaken/break those relationships within 3 years!

C ya!


sulawesigirl4 04-02-2003 09:23 AM


Originally posted by womanfish
Aaaahhh the Independent, such a unbiased news source.
Ad hominem attacks are cheap. Perhaps you could attempt to critique the ideas discussed instead.

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