Date: Fri, 5 Apr 2002 16:36:20 -0500 (EST)
To: gulf2000 list
Re: Oil and US politics
From: Juan Cole
. . . An irony occurs to me. The
Saudis and OPEC did the U.S. a substantial favor after September 11 in not
making further production cuts to offset the fall in petroleum prices
caused by the depressed demand after the attacks and the continued US
recession. This inaction, apparently led by the Saudis, is among the
reasons for which the US administration was so happy with the latter
despite the widespread criticisms of Saudi Arabia in the press and among
the public here.
OPEC’s willingness to take the hit was one factor in a relatively rapid US
economic turnaround and even possibly the end of the recession (which may
in fact only have been a turn down). $18 a barrel petroleum was a huge
boon to a US on the ropes. In turn, this economic recovery took away the
last issue on which the Democrats could campaign against Bush in the
upcoming November congressional elections.
If the recent rise in prices to around $28 a barrel is in fact mainly a
result of speculation in the hedge markets and based upon a strong
likelihood that Bush will go to war against Iraq, it may mean that the
administration is shooting itself in the foot politically. The rise in
prices has badly hurt the stock market and could contribute to a
lengthening economic malaise (the recovery was expected to be tepid in any
case). A bad economy could give back the Democrats their issue and
prevent Republicans from recapturing the Senate in November.
Is sabre-rattling abroad interfering with the fierce Bush political
campaign to win back the Senate? If so, it further illustrates the
difficulty for a sitting president of trying to govern from the far right,
domestically and internationally, when the mainstream in both spheres is
substantially more moderate.
University of Michigan
– Juan, 12:04 PM
Date: Sat, 30 Mar 2002 07:20:59 -0500 (EST)
To: gulf2000 list
Iraq and the Arab League Summit
From: Juan Cole
I sent a message to the list toward the end of the Cheney diplomatic tour
of 10 Middle Eastern countries pointing out that all of their governments
expressed strong opposition to an American attack on Iraq with
This unanimous opposition to an Iraq campaign tended to be under-reported
in the U.S. media, though as usual the print media did somewhat better in
letting Middle Easterners speak with their own voice. On Fox News, Fred
Barnes dismissed these protests as merely for public consumption and said
that the ‘speeches’ had been written before Cheney even arrived. He, like
many commentators, simply made the urgent public representations of no
less than ten heads of state disappear, and substituted for them his own
conviction that behind closed doors they were far more open to an attack
on Iraq. But, of course, he offered no proof for this assertion, and is
not known to be able to parse Arabic verbs. We know that some Saudi
officials were more open to a covert operation against Iraq than to
putting 200,000 US troops up the Tigris and Euphrates valley. But we do
not know that King Abdullah II of Jordan or Husni Mubarak or Saudi’s CP
Abdullah or the emir of Kuwait agreed with this sentiment. Barnes’s
punditry reminds one of Edward Said’s maxim “they cannot represent
themselves; they must be represented.” (Barnes today finally admitted
that the Cheney tour had been a disaster and that the Arab League really
is against an Iraq war).
I also argued that it mattered to leaders like Mubarak whether the U.S.
was restoring sovereignty to an Arab League member such as Kuwait (as in
1991) or whether it was attempting to overthrow the sovereignty an Arab
That the opposition in the Arab world to a frontal US assault on Iraq
should be taken seriously was underlined at the Arab League Summit in
Beirut this week.
Vice-Chair of the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council, `Izzat ibrahim,
pledged his country to recognize the sovereignty of Kuwait, to never again
to invade that country, to work together on missing persons issues, and to
continue conversations with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan about resuming
UN weapons inspections.
In return, Iraq got three boons from the Arab League. It unanimously
affirmed its commitment to collective security for the Arab world, saying
that an attack on one (including Iraq) would be an attack on all.
Second, the League backed the rights of Iraq and Syria to the waters of
Euphrates and Tigris (against the claims of Turkey to greater use of
headwaters for irrigation). Third, it called for economic sanctions on
Iraq to be lifted.
We all heard about the kiss `Izzat Ibrahim got from CP Abdullah, but the
behind-the-scenes warm handshakes from Kuwaiti officials were less
reported. All of this seems to me quite remarkable. It is clear that the
Arab leaders are pulling around the wagons and launching a vigorous
diplomatic campaign to forestall a US frontal attack on Iraq.
The US was quick to dismiss the Iraqi pledges, pointing to the Saddam
Hussein government’s long record of refusing to honor commitments entered
The military experts on this list can speak to the issue better than I
can. But if the Saudis and Qataris deny the US use of air bases for an
attack on Iraq; and if the Kuwaitis decline to be the staging ground for a
200,000 strong invasion force; then it seems to me that the US would have
to fall back on Turkey. Bulent Ecevit, the prime minister, is a man of
the Left and has announced himself opposed to such a campaign for fear it
will stir the Kurds up all over again. Some think Turkey might be imposed
on to offer its Incirlik air base for a US strike on Saddam, but only if
the US puts a few billion into the Turkish government’s hands up front.
During the Gulf War the GHW Bush administration promised Turkey at least a
billion dollars of aid to make up for its losses from pipeline tolls and
trade. Turkey joined in. But in 1995 Congress absolutely refused to give
Turkey the money despite Bill Clinton’s best efforts. (I never heard why
the US legislators stiffed our ally this way, but it hasn’t made Turkey
eager to sign on for another economic catastrophe).
Even if Turkey can be bribed and cajoled into allowing such a campaign, US
officials should be aware that a US/Turkey attack on an Arab country will
look very bad, especially in the absence of *any* prominent Arab ally.
The Arab League is already worried about Turkish hydropolitics with regard
to Iraq and Syria. Americans are not good at history, and mostly cannot
remember the age of colonialism or imagine that it has anything to do with
*them*. But Arab nationalism emerged in part as a fight against
imperialism, and for a Western country and a non-Arab local comprador to
fall voraciously on an Arab nation will evoke for most Arabs years like
1956. Pentagon planners should remember that in 1956, France, Britain and
Israel handily won the military war. But they lost the war of world
public opinion, and so ended up forfeiting their victory. The U.S., while
very powerful, is not all-powerful, and a military adventure with so many
diplomatic strikes against it to begin with could easily end in
catastrophe regardless of how well the smart bombs work.
I do not think you can wage an Afghanistan-type war in Iraq without
inflicting substantial civilian casualties. Baghdad and Basra are not
like Mazar-i Sharif–and even in sparsely populated Afghanistan innocent
villagers were bombed. Beyond being blown up, civilians would face
potential fatalities from the lost of energy (the Pentagon targets the
energy grid as part of its strategy of knocking out a government’s command
and control). Since Iraqi water treatment facilities are already
nullified by the ban on imports of chlorine, if people do not have energy
they would have no way of heating their water so as to make it potable,
and would be exposed to dysentery, cholera etc., with devastating
consequences especially for children (already suffering from the
embargo–though admittedly it is in large part the fault of the Baath
Party). Anyway, if the US thought the world press was unforgiving of
civilian casualties in Afghanistan, it has not seen anything like the
firestorm that such an assault on highly urbanized Iraq will provoke
throughout the global South and in Europe.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has increased the number of its troops in Kuwait to
3000 and is thinking of expanding that number to a full brigade (about
5000 men, right?).
U of Michigan
– Juan, 2:18 AM