Date Fri 5 Apr 2002 163620 0500 Est To

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.


Juan Cole

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

conventional forces.

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

League member.

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?).


Juan Cole

U of Michigan

– Juan, 2:18 AM

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