Saturday, February 15, 2003

In preparation for Iraq war think of implications

In Preparation for Iraq War Think of the Implications

Ghassan Rubeiz, Lecture Prepared February 15, 2003, for UU Church in Richmond, VA.

I have the following points to make in this presentation:
The Arab world has reached a point of extreme volatility due to accumulated decline in well being of the people over the last century
Local Terrorism is an outbreak of violence as a result of this socio political predicament
International terrorism is an extension of local terrorism
The US has reached a conclusion that it has to address the terrorism directly before it gets out of hand
Iraq is seen as the start of the process of US intervention in the region to address the problems associated with the threat of terrorism
While the threat of international terrorism is real invasion of Iraq will not help

Out of the twenty-two Arab countries with a population of 250 millions over a large territory of western Asia and North Africa, not a single country feels secure and comfortable. Egypt, illustrates the Arab world well: it is overpopulated, poor, in a serious national debt and with a large sub-society of angry unemployed urban youth. Mubarak has been ruling for over two decades. Syria’s rapid population change, fast rural migration to the city and autocratic tribal rule makes it as vulnerable as Egypt. Syria’s Golan Heights territory is occupied by Israel causing a big political problem for Syria and the region. . Palestine is disappearing from the map as Israel gobbles up the West bank and Gaza through establishment of settlements. Jordan’s majority population is Palestinian and the Monarchy is too tied to the US for economic survival. Lebanon is internally divided on ethnic grounds, and now it is under the threat of economic bankruptcy due to a large national debt. The Gulf regimes are uneasy about their peculiar form of governance, with Sheiks or Emirs monopolizing the oil fortunes and with women isolated from society. In north Africa, Algeria is in civil war, Libya is isolated and sanctioned, Morocco and Tunisia are somewhat stable for the time being, but with their share of internal discord.
A recent UN sponsored scholarly survey of societal conditions in the Arab world revealed three types of basic problems: a poor educational system, deficit in political freedom and a gender gap. The results of the survey are not original. What is new in this survey is that Arab scholars did it, it was made known to the public and it is being debated in the region. It is time to start pointing the fingers at our own backyard.
This is a region where the rulers, uniformly, feel the scar of illegitimacy because they were not elected to their post. The people are unhappy because the rulers do not allow them to speak out and organize for democratic change. An intervening variable which makes democratic rule even more difficult than it is in Western countries, is the fact that Arabs have not yet become socialized to identify with the state; many have primary loyalty to the family and the tribe first. The central government is an alien structure especially to the people living in rural and isolated areas of the country. Since civic society is weak and the freedom to organize for reform is minimal religious leaders have gained the advantage in organizing for political change in clandestine structures. It is not the political parties or the unions or the student movements, which galvanize political opposition; it is the mosque or the religious political cell that inspires and protects organization for change in Arab society.

Why Terrorism?

The ideology of terrorism is built on the idea that since the state forbids civil reform militant struggle is necessary. Since the state is too powerful to face overtly the war on it should be covert. Since the state itself uses organized terror through brutal secret service, it deserves similar treatment. Since the state is the enemy of society any means which would eliminate the state would be justifiable, even if civilians were sacrificed on the way to liberation. Religion here provides justification by literal interpretation of the Koran to suit the Jihadist political goals.

Here again, Egypt illustrates regional dynamics of political resistance to government oppression. The resistance in Egypt killed innocent tourists to paralyze the economy and bring the government to its knees. The government of Egypt punished the terrorists by jailing them and liquidating their structures of resistance. In Syria , Iraq , Lebanon, Algeria and elsewhere we can point to massacres of Jihadists to eliminate the resistance of religiously organized groups.

Local Arab terrorists shifted to international terrorism when local terrorism reached limited returns and was largely contained by brutal local government forces. The terrorist looked to the west as a change of strategy. From the start the Jihadist in their geo political analysis has looked at Arab rulers as pawns of dominant emperialist western regimes. The turn to international terrorism is compensatory for local failure. In addition, the globalization of terror has international dynamics beyond local failure of Jihad. Afghanistan resistance trained thousands of Arabs to fight soviet Terror. The US supported this form of terrorism in Afghanistan. In a sense thousands of terrorists graduated from the US camps of Afghanistan. This phenomenon is not new. Israel supported Hamas secretly in the seventies to reduce the power of the PLO in Palestine. Iran trained Hizbullah in Lebanon.
The technological communication breakthrough which popularized the cell phone, the cable TV, the internet and international banking may have helped the terrorist organize internationally and work on the new targets of terror, externally. Ironically , the free environment in the western world have provided a haven for political resistance against the Arab local regimes and against whom they consider their main allies, the US and Israel.

The growth of international terror

It is natural to see why the world and particularly the US is alarmed at the spread of the impact of terrorism on every day life. Over the last three to four years several terrorist attacks have been committed against US civilian and military targets with tragic results on human life, liberty and security. The US has mobilized to take action to stop terrorism which is largely fermented in the Middle East. So angry and so alarmed is the US with the situation of the Arabs, it has decided to invade the region to deal with what it considers as the source of the trouble. Saddam Hussein has been identified as the first source of mediation of terrorism despite the fact that there seems to be less evidence in Iraq than elsewhere in this troubled region.

Why have we chosen to invade Iraq?
The US is invading Iraq not simply to stop the danger of Saddam and his political system. I am not convinced that Iraq is the most dangerous spot in the region. For example, Iran, and Israel have nuclear capabilities. Gaza is boiling; Egypt is bursting at the seam demographically and economically. There is hardly any Arab country which is stable politically today. The US seems to be planning a new regional approach to the Middle East. The March on Iraq is an aggressive march to the region: a shift from diplomacy of containment to diplomacy of the carrot and the stick. The stick is larger than the carrot. The target is regime change of Iraq, then regime management of other countries, hands on. I can imagine Central Command strategizing: “ We settle Iraq, first, then we will deal with Hamas, then Hizbullah, then Syria and then Iran”. What about Saudi Arabia? We will “force them” to reform. “Women should be able to drive, Election should take place”. “ Arabs have to join the digital age, Rumsfeld would say to Cheney. “We have hundreds of Democracy experts who can do capacity building with the Saudis and the rest of the Arab countries”. “These governments are corrupt, they need our help in organizational development, in how to conduct elections, in how to organize party politics” We can do wonders, once we are seen as liberators, once we are on the scene supported by 200 000 soldiers with mighty technology and the best army in the world.” We will be able to use our allies more effectively. Israel (and the Kurds) will lend a hand, once we quiet the Palestinian rebels and create a mini state to our liking.” “ Our European allies will run after us to share the results of the victory; they do not wish to be left out. After all they created these artificial regimes after the first-world war; they would want to share the spoils of the new war on terrorism. They have a stake in it.”

The Road to Arab transition is via Baghdad

“Why have we chosen to enter the region through Iraq?” my daughter asked me recently as I was explaining to her the new paradigm of US ME foreign policy. I explained to my daughter that Saddam has a weak regime, the worst reputation, and an already divided country. In addition, Saddam’s regime is so much hated globally; the US invasion would look like an act of reform. Moreover, there seems to be so much anger for missing Bin Laden as a prime target, Saddam is a most suitable substitute for achieving much needed military cathartic for the US.

Opposition to War

Americans who support the invasion of Iraq may be surprised to watch the widespread international opposition to the expected invasion. The marches against war in this country and in Europe remind us of Vietnam. Why is there so much international opposition to the War? But before I would attempt at explaining why so many Americans do support the war now solution:

Support For War sentiment:

1. Saddam can not be contained further through sanctions and inspection
2. The danger from Saddam’s regime is too serious to be tolerated further
3. The US war on Iraq has United Nations legitimacy in 1441 and earlier resolutions
4. The connection between Saddam and terrorism is established
5. The Iraqis are waiting for the US to liberate them from Saddam

I am not addressing the above claims because I do not believe that the US planners for this expected war are themselves convinced. My feeling is that the invasion is for ulterior motives as explained earlier.

Arguments against war on Iraq

First, the invasion of Iraq would represent a unilateral act of aggression against a regime which is not considered an immediate danger to the US. An Iraqi war would fail the just war theory. Recently I heard the prestigious Princeton scholar Michael Walzer explain the “just war theory” at Brookings Institute. He believes that the US does not have the moral grounds for an invasion.

The road to helping the Arabs reform politically is not through Baghdad; it is through Palestine/Israel peace process. The suffering of Arabs and Jews as they try to find a peace formula mounts and the World stands silent as if the suffering is natural and the problem is marginal to 9/11 and to Islamic Western relations.

The unilateral invasion of Iraq would threaten the integrity of the United Nations as a forum for negotiating world peace and international relations.

To introduce democracy to the region, war is the worst medium for making people appreciate democracy. The US would forfeit its status as an agent of justice and peace if its kills hundreds of thousand of people in the act of “reform”. Already the Iraqi Sanctions have caused hundreds of death and sickness to children of Iraq.

Regime change is needed in the region but it must come from within. The people must orchestrate the change peacefully. War interventions do not establish the climate for learning about democracy.

The art of democracy building is new. The research on building democracy tells us that the process is slow; it takes decades to move nation states to gain legitimacy of their people. Arabs are hostages to a painful political predicament. They want to change regimes and they want to change oppositional militias. Two layers of oppression are crippling. Even when Arab leaders want to relax their rule to accommodate popular demand for change, the economic and security threats may not help them to enforce reform. Transition to democracy requires thoughtful planning and cultural sensitivity. Americans in the past have not always shown cultural sensitivity to how Arab think and behave in their homeland. The current Public Diplomacy program at the State Department, which is aimed at the region’s TV to win friends for the US, is headed by an expert on advertisement, a brilliant and dignified lady who have made fortunes in marketing western products. Her approach to bringing about better Arab relations with Americans is well intentioned but not suitable culturally. We do not market democracy like we market soft drinks. We do not gain friends by sweet talk to Arabs. Our record in foreign policy is clear to the Arab masses. It is one reduced and oversimplified image: America’s symbiotic alliance with Israel interferes with its practice of democracy and justice abroad”. I have recently seen samples of State Department TV documentary ads aiming at enhancing relations with Arabs and Muslims. These ads were not taken seriously in the region. When I saw them in a lecture presentation last week they reminded me of the “paid program” adds which we see on TV after mid night.

What needs to change to make a difference for the positive?

A complete new paradigm of US foreign policy is truly needed for stimulating change in the Arab world. It is difficult to take this position because the country leadership is geared to going to war at this stage. Perhaps once I announce that I am as critical of the Arab world as of the US I can speak candidly. Let me first address the change needed in US foreign policy and then turn to Arab foreign policy.

Change In Us Foreign Policy

1. The actors must change: The makers of US foreign policy today are so called “realists”. They do not moralize war strategies; they work from the cold strategic national interest perspective. What is good for America comes first: e.g. low oil prices, US dominance on world stage, supremacy of certain allies over others; wealth accumulation over poverty reduction, dollar power versus euro . The world for them is a race where America must always comes first. They have stayed out of ratification of the Universally accepted Convention on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and out of several universal agreements for the environment, international justice and so on.

2. The climate must change

There is a growing rift between the Arab world and the Muslim world in general which needs to be dealt with creatively. Waging war on an Arab country and causing massive death and destruction to make peace does not enhance relations with the Muslim world. Huntington has promoted a popular and false ideology of conflict of civilizations between the Muslims and the West. War encourages this line of confrontational thinking between Americans and Muslims. What characterizes the world situation is a conflict of foreign policies with global goals for international justice.
3. The policy must change
Global diplomacy requires global justice. The US must work with more sympathy to vital Arab interests. Support of development in the region requires that Arab countries be helped to employ their people through technology of their own. Now Rich Arabs sell oil and buy arms and intelligence to protect insecure regimes. The focus of foreign policy should be to help Arab build their own industry and produce their own product to produce their own jobs. Foreign assistance should promote youth to youth and women to women dialogue. Foreign cultural exchange programs such the establishment of American universities have helped a lot to generate leadership in the region. What is needed now is to encourage similar universities and to start new ones with more indigenous leadership. The focus of democracy building should shift from training on free elections to civic society empowerment. Arabs know how to count votes but they are afraid to do so. The breakthrough change will come to change Arab society is when unions and political parties will be become free to function freely.
There will less and less room for terrorism when civic society becomes the center of political reform.


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