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Tuesday, July 06, 2004

As Bran pointed out in the post below, Iraqis and Afghanis have little to celebrate of real value with respect to their independence. In honor of the U.S. anniversary of its struggle for freedom, I'd like to take on the idea that somehow U.S. public opinion or the actions of the U.S. press can influence the outcome of the war in Iraq. I say "in honor of the U.S.'s struggle for freedom" because there are many people in Iraq who believe they are fighting for their freedom, and whose opinions will be marginally influenced by U.S. public or media opinions (did British public opinion sway the American revolutionaries? I don't know, but I doubt it had much effect. We can argue about the differences between revolutionary America and modern-day Iraq later...). To demonstrate this, I'm going to start with a grand generalization, based on these two paragraphs from an article in this week's New Yorker by David Remnick:

'Not surprisingly, almost no one in Cairo today has anything good to say about the American invasion of Iraq -- people are convinced that the U.S.’s purpose was to seize the oil fields, protect Israel, and gain a permanent foothold in the Middle East -- and so I began with what I thought would be a less lecture-provoking question. I asked Akef [Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt] how he had reacted to the attacks on September 11, 2001'.

'"The incidents of September 11th were criminal, and only a professional criminal would have done such a thing," he said. "That is why, until now, there’s been no clear evidence of who did this. Talk of Mohammad Atta and Al Qaeda is all lies, an illusion. Al Qaeda is an American illusion. Is there any power on earth that can stand up to the United States of America and its power? Whenever America claims there is another power to challenge it, it is an illusion used to serve other purposes. For example, the United States wanted to invade Afghanistan in order to ship its oil by pipeline across that country. The U.S. wanted to plant its bases there and ship the oil. So they claim there is a Taliban there with Al Qaeda functioning there, too. But how much power does the Taliban really have?"'

The generalization I'd like to make is that the issues listed here are the issues that will determine whether or not the U.S. wins in Iraq, and will determine how successful the U.S. is in the "war on terrorism" generally. Let's look at each in turn:

1.) "...people are convinced that the U.S.'s purpose [in Iraq] was to sieze the oil fields...". Let us go back a bit to the pre-war debate. In that debate, both sides seemed to agree on one thing -- the reconstruction of Iraq should be paid for out of Iraqi oil revenues. That, as argued by both sides, would be the price of removing Saddam. Whether or not folks supported the war, there was no major argument about this point. It is no wonder, therefore, that this basic assumption has wound its way so tightly into how the war has been run. Over 20 billion dollars for Iraq's "reconstruction" has been spent from Iraqi oil revenue. Only 300-odd million of the 18 billion allocated by the U.S. has been spent. Who, therefore, is really benefiting from the oil revenues? The Iraqis? That depends, of course, on how you measure the benefit -- has the money bought freedom from Saddam? Where has most of it gone? We suspect that most of it has been pocketed by U.S. corporations operating in Iraq (we'll try to get hard figures). Assuming this is the case, then has that money _really_ benefited Iraqis? What would you think if Japan used U.S. auto revenues to "rebuild" the U.S. auto industry and most of the money went straight back to Japanese corporations? [that's what we call "globalization" - ed]

2.) "...people are convinced that the U.S.'s purpose was to...protect Israel...". This was so much as stated by various apologists as a justification for the war in Iraq, the idea being that the U.S. wouldn't have to worry so much about Israel's security with the threat of Saddam Hussein gone. If we are to believe Seymour Hersh, then his article in last week's New Yorker puts this argument in serious jeopardy. According to Hersh, the Israelis are operating in the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq precisely because they don't trust the U.S. to salvage the situation in Iraq. They fear the influence of Iran, which is now much greater because there isn't a secular counterbalance in Iraq to quell the religious leanings of the Shiite majority (or the Sunni minority, for that matter). Of course, most countries in the Middle East are less than trusting of Israel. Another point of "liberating" Israel from worrying about Iraq was that this would, in turn, free Israel to focus on the Palestinian issue. While removing Saddam did remove official Iraqi financial support for the Palestinians, this will probably be more than matched by a.) an increase in support for Hamas from countries concerned about Israeli meddling in Iraqi politics, and b.) an increase in Iranian fund-raising for Hamas as it leverages its new-found influence in Iraq.

3.) "...people are convinced that the U.S.'s purpose was to...gain a permanent foothoold in the Middle East." The U.S. is building 14 military bases in Iraq. Whether or not the intention is for these to be permanent, it does nothing to assuage fears that the U.S. is looking to expand its military influence in the region.

4.) "...the U.S. wanted to invade Afghanistan in order to ship its oil by pipeline across that country." The latest information about the project that I've been able to find is here. I was also able to find a small story, posted to the Pak Tribune on July 1st of this year, about the completion of a Master Plan for the pipeline drawn up by a consortium of interested parties. Unocal, the U.S. company that once showed interest in participating in the project states that it has withdrawn. However, there is a statement from this article on the BBC's website from May of 2002 which quotes the Afghan minister for Mines and Industries, Mohammad Alim Razim that Unocal was the "lead company" to build the pipeline. Whether this is true or not, the preception is certainly there that the U.S. would like to see the pipeline built and is willing to support it.

Until the U.S. addresses, in the eyes of Iraqis and the broader Arab public, these issues it will be at a major disadvantage in Iraq. I believe that the disadvantage is enough to lead to defeat of the stated U.S. goal of bringing "democracy" to Iraq, and there is little the U.S. public or media can do to influence these views for better or worse. Instead, that burden lies squarely on the shoulders of the U.S. government.

Andrew 7:10 PM : |


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