A Sharon Clone in the White House

First published in Ariga, March 8, 2003.

The US Administration’s goals for the looming war with Iraq have inflated as the months have passed. First it was disarmament, then regime change (plus disarmament, of course; these things are cumulative), then freedom for the Iraqi people and finally a new dawn for the entire Middle East.

Laudable aims all. But a new Middle East is not what the Security Council had in mind when it passed Resolution 1441. Either Bush is making it up as he goes along – adding new inducements as the previous ones fail to galvanize the world into his kind of action – or, and this is the scary part, he is revealing, bit by bit, the full dimensions of a long-held master plan.

To put it another way, Bush is either a war looking for an excuse to happen or a megalomaniac social engineer trying to pull a fast one on us.

And that’s why I’m opposed to the war. I donut trust the motives of those punting it.

I’m not even talking about the oil interests of Bush, Cheney and others here. Nor about the feelings of inadequacy and frustration that Bush’s daddy might have suffered this past decade, as the thought of Saddam, alive and well in Baghdad, put him right off his swing. Those no doubt are factors, though to what extent I cannot say.

What I’m talking about is the emerging awareness that disarming Iraq and getting rid of Saddam are only the opening gambit in a far more ambitious strategy to re-order a part of the world that the Administration finds particularly irksome, but cannot do without. A strategy that just happens to coincide, virtually point for point, with the delusional dreaming of Bush’s new best friend in the neighborhood, Ariel Sharon.

Nothing that the Administration has said or done over the past five or six months has been adequate to reassure millions of people around the world that Saddam is a sufficiently grave and immediate threat or that those in charge of the world’s only super-power are sufficiently circumspect in their judgment and actions.

If anything, the opposite is true. Powell’s presentation of intelligence to the Security Council a few weeks ago was flaccid and, in a number of instances, demonstrably inaccurate, while Blair’s dossier, plagiarized from a junior American academic, was simply embarrassing. If this were an exam they both would have flunked. But instead of going home to revise the material, they intend going to war.

There is no doubt that Iraq and the world would be better places without Saddam. But the same could be said of Korea and Kim Jong Il or Venezuela and Hugo Chavez. The world does not lack regimes that fail to meet the West’s theoretical norms of freedom and democracy. Yet no-one is threatening to flatten Pyongyang or Caracas and install a modern-day Macarthur as game-keeper.

It is Iraq’s great misfortune that it not only sits on an alluring sea of oil, but is also an integral part of a region that is identified, in Bush’s single-digit mind, with terror – Arab terror. And Arab terror is the oxygen that has kept Ariel Sharon alive and shooting for the past 50 years. Both Sharon and Bush regard Saddam as the first domino, whose fall will lead to the progressive collapse of Islamic terror, Palestinian national aspirations and everything else that is nasty and bothersome in the Middle East.

The difference between Bush’s idyllic vision of the Middle East and that of Sharon is that Bush’s bombast is still a relatively unknown quantity, while the world has already had a healthy dose of Sharon’s delusions. They led, amongst other things, to 18 years of senseless blood-letting in Lebanon and the emergence of Hizbollah.

Israel has long resorted to fanciful dreams of a new and different Middle East as an excuse for not facing up to the reality of its colonial occupation of Palestine. In the Seventies it was the mooted alliance of the periphery with the Shah’s Iran, in the Eighties it was a friendly, Falangist Lebanon under Bashir Jemayal and at the turn of the millennium Turkey inspired hope in Israel’s tender breast.

Today, it’s a democratic Iraq that will somehow re-order the pieces of the Middle East and submerge the aspirations of the Palestinians in mighty surge of goodwill and brotherhood. The alacrity and enthusiasm with which Israel’s leaders, notably the defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, have adopted this illusion is truly remarkable. Have they forgotten Jemayel, Sabra and Shatilla and the devastation of Beirut? Have they forgotten the Shah? Have they not already learned that the Middle East has a way of confounding dreamers?

Bush’s vision of a democratic Middle East arising out of the ashes of Iraq is suspect. So much so, that it has given rise to suspicion on the Buchanan right in the US that he is being manipulated by the coterie of hawkish Jews in the Pentagon, Wolfowitz, Perle and others. A sort of Sharonite fifth column in the heart of Administration.

I don’t agree with Buchanan on much and I dislike the animus underlying a lot of what he says regarding Jews. However, he’s not far wrong on this count. Not that Sharon is actively manipulating strings attached to Paul Wolfowitz’s extremities, but the Sharon world view has penetrated the Pentagon and other offices of the administration to such an extent that it has become the dominant line on the Middle East. Seeing that the Middle East, distilled into the malevolent essence of Iraq, is the prevailing concern of the Administration, it is not an exaggeration to say that Sharon-think is what motivates Washington right now.

It’s a frightening thought. The damage that Sharon has done to Israel, its neighbors and the Palestinians over the past 50-odd years has been huge, but limited to this specific region. The damage that a Sharon clone in the White House could do on a global scale is unthinkable.

The ironies of the Bush-Sharon axis are palpable on several levels, not least the argument made by Condoleezza Rice and other pro-war spokesmen that the stand taken by France, Germany and the rest of us weak-kneed liberals is akin to the appeasement of Hitler in the Thirties. It wasn’t that long ago that Sharon was muttering darkly about ‘Munich” in response to Bush’s mild, and very short-lived, attempts to get the Israeli leader to talk with the Palestinians.

Hitler, the pro-war crowd infers, could have been stopped in the mid- to late-Thirties had it not been for the pusillanimity of the European powers and the rampant isolationism in the US. The world should have learned from that experience. Today, too, much of the West seems determined to accommodate evil in Iraq rather than confront it.

I would counter that Saddam is no Hitler and Iraq no Germany. Hitler may have been a dictator but, until 1942 at least, he had the passionate, even hysterical, support of the vast bulk of Germans. Without that support, he would never have been able to go to war, never mind carry it as far as he did. The Hitler phenomenon was as much a German phenomenon as the madness of one man.

Saddam, we are told by Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and other Pentagon hawks, is despised by his countrymen. Perle was on TV the other night predicting that the Iraqis will rise up against Saddam as soon as the first American troops appear in Baghdad.

That makes modern-day Iraq very different from Nazi Germany. A monster with a small clique behind him and no apparent ideology simply does not have the same latitude that Hitler had, with the fanatical backing of the largest nation in Europe and, crucially, the ideological sympathy of many in Europe and the US. Henry Ford and the Duke of Windsor are only two examples.

That is not the case today. I doubt if Saddam himself knows what he stand for, never mind anyone outside Iraq. There has been no noticeable ideological identification with Saddam in any of the multitude of protest activities around the world over the past few weeks. The anti-war crowd is in no way pro-Saddam; it is simply opposed to this war. I strongly doubt whether even the demonstrators in the Arab world, who have been depicted on TV carrying Saddam’s photo and shouting pro-Saddam slogans, have any great love for the man, not to mention a clue about what he stands for.

The American hawks want to have it both ways. They depict Saddam as a Hitler, a danger to the US and the rest of the world, yet assure Congress and the American people that getting rid of him and building democracy in Iraq will be a piece of cake. Last week, they got awfully upset with one of their own generals, who told Congress that pacifying Iraq would require the deployment of hundreds of thousands of US troops.

They are being duplicitous. It took five years and massive armies to defeat Hitler because there was a little bit of Hitler in virtually every German. But if the Saddam danger is limited to the dictator himself, his two sons and a bunch of self-serving retainers, is it really necessary to invade Iraq with the most potent military force ever assembled and wipe out thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of Iraqis in the process? Are there not more efficient ways of corralling one man and his entourage?

If the appeasement argument has any validity at all, it is in reference to Bush’s unconscionable appeasement of Sharon and the Israeli rabid right.

The racist apartheid regime in South Africa, a regime with nuclear and biological weapons, imploded within a few years of the US government and corporations imposing stringent sanctions on that country. It’s worth remembering that throughout the Seventies and most of the Eighties America bought into the fiction that it was not apartheid but communism that was the source of all evil in Africa. America armed and actively supported South Africa in its irrational, colonial war in Angola. In fact, South Africa was acting as an American proxy in that conflict.

It was only after South Africa got its butt kicked by the Cubans in Angola and after pressure from American universities forced US companies to divest from that country (and after the disappearance of Ronald Reagan from the scene) that the US changed tack. From that point onwards it was downhill for the apartheid regime. The government of Nelson Mandela, which came to power in 1994, voluntarily and unconditionally scrapped the weapons of mass destruction.

Does it sound familiar? Let me spell it out.

There will not be any dramatic change in the Middle Eastern status quo until Israel relinquishes the occupied territories and the Palestinians are able to get on with their own lives in their own state. The one, overriding obstacle to that solution, other than Israel’s addiction to the occupation, is America’s adoption of the Israeli fiction that terrorism is at the heart of the conflict. Just like communism was a fig leaf for racism and colonial aggrandizement in southern Africa, so terrorism is the excuse behind which the ideologues of a greater Israel hide.

The minute that America decides to pull the plug on its support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the Middle East will be changed forever. And Saddam Hussein will eventually go down with the bath water. It will take time and it will require vigilance. There will have to be inspections, troop deployments, over-flights and sanctions – on Israel as much as on Iraq, presumably. But by addressing the real problem, America will have embarked on the road to a real solution.

Iraq is a collateral issue; a complication caused by the failure to decisively tackle the root illness. The Saddam germ has thrived in a body made rotten by a generation of neglect and maltreatment. Killing tens of thousands of Iraqis won’t solve the problem. Standing up to Sharon will.