Sunday April 21 2002 Cheney Strikes Out

Sunday, April 21, 2002

Cheney Strikes Out

Date: Mon, 18 Mar 2002 08:13:27 -0500 (EST)

To: gulf2000 list

From: Juan Cole

While we’ve been talking about press issues . . . the important event

in the Gulf has been Dick Cheney’s 11-nation tour, which clearly aimed at

drumming up support for a US strike on Iraq.

Contrary to the usual pundits on the cable news shows, I see the trip as a

complete rebuff to Cheney in which he was repeatedly humiliated publicly

by his hosts. The idea that these rulers are expressing themselves more

cautiously in private doesn’t make sense to me. Gulf leaders don’t have

to say anything at all in public about politics, if they don’t want to,

and often preserve a maddening sphinx-like silence. If they are speaking

up in public in a way that frankly would be considered rude by most Middle

Easterners toward a guest, it seems to me it is likely because they feel

strongly about the point they are making.

Besides, the idea that they will all come around once Iraq is defeated

ignores the need of the U.S. for allies in the region if an attack is to

be launched in the first place.

Here are some highlights of the unfolding catastrophe: In the UK, Tony

Blair himself was supportive. But Cabinet Minister Claire Short on Sunday

described military action against Iraq as “very unwise” and hinted she

might resign if the US went to war there. Many other Labor backbenchers

feel the same way. (We already know that France and Germany are against

the idea, and they are the only ones in continental Europe who count for

these purposes; it is not as if Italy or Spain are significant military

powers).

In Jordan King Abdullah II was clearly extremely disturbed by the idea of

a war. He knew it would throw the Jordanian economy again back down to

the level of Chad, as happened in 1991, that it would bring angry crowds

into the street (thousands already came out Saturday for demonstrations in

Amman over Palestine), and that it had the potential if he stood with the

US to provoke a second Jordanian Civil War. His reaction was almost

apocalyptic. He said such a war could go (in Robin Wright of the LA

Times’s report) ‘”completely awry” and even backfire, producing a civil

war in Iraq that could involve neighboring countries–and even have a

ripple effect in the United States and Europe.’ He added, “It’s the

potential Armageddon of Iraq that worries all of us, and that’s where

common sense would say, ‘Look, this is a tremendously dangerous road to go

down.”

In Egypt, at a news conference at Sharm El Sheikh, President Hosni Mubarak

“voiced opposition to any U.S. plan to topple Iraq’s Saddam Hussein”. He

added, “It is of vital importance to maintain the sovereignty and

territorial integrity of Iraq. This is a must for preserving regional

stability,” The words “very unwise” keep popping up in the press reports,

following the VP like signature line in a stand up routine.

One factor outside observers may not understand is that Mubarak really is

committed to an Arab League point of view on the sovereignty of the Arab

nation. He joined in the Kuwait campaign on precisely those grounds: an

Arab country’s sovereignty had been violated and had to be restored. But

he would not have agreed with invading Iraq in 1991, and will not agree

with it now. In fact, my contacts at the al-Ahram Center for Strategic

Studies insist that Egypt did not send troops to Afghanistan because

Mubarak foresaw that Iraq might be next and he did not want to get

involved in any enterprise that might evenutate in a Western country

invading an Arab one. Mubarak’s political genealogy lies in Nasser’s

anti-imperialism ultimately, and Arab countries feel they were invaded

quite enough by Western ones in the last century, thank you, and that it

caused a lot of their present problems, and would rather the new century

be one of Arab independence.

In Saudi Arabia, al-Watan reported that reliable Saudi sources told them

that Cheney was informed the US cannot use Saudi territory to launch an

assault on Iraq. CP Abdullah told Cheney that a war on Iraq “catastrophic

for the region because of the expected (negative) consequences and the

dangers to the security of the area . . .”

Even the little United Arab Emirates bristled. UAE President Sheikh Zayed

Ibn Sultan Al-Nahayan was announced as opposed to military action in Iraq.

The US would be hard pressed to fight Iraq without Saudi territory and

facilities, it seems to me. And the absence of Egyptian troops or any

other Arab troops in the campaign would make an attack look very much like

a reprise of the British invasions of Iraq or the British invasion of

Egypt in 1882, or the French invasion of Syria in 1920. These dates have

not been forgotten in the region. An act of collective security with a UN

umbrella and substantial Arab involvement, like the Gulf War, is very

different from a unilateral American strike on an Arab country.

Knowing this, the Bush administration announced Mar. 16 that Bahrain is

now “a major non-NATO ally.” Bahrain is the third Arab country to have

this status (also enjoyed by Israel), after Egypt and Jordan. But note

that neither of them are joining in a war on Iraq, and there is no

guarantee Bahrain will. The Akhbar al-Khalij (News of the Gulf) newspaper

on the day of Cheney’s visit ran a headline announcing that the bully in

the region appeared to them to be Israel, not Iraq.

No one appears to be reporting what the Al-Khalifah dynasty in Bahrain

told Cheney, a circumspect silence that is more what one would have

expected for the other Gulf rulers, as well.

The Qatari newspaper al-Raya predicted, “Doha will express to Mr. Cheney

its strong opposition to an American military strike against Iraq.” If

so, it would cast doubt on the US ability to use its al-Udeid air base

near Doha (well, everything in Qatar is near Doha).

I don’t expect the news to be better for Cheney in Kuwait or Turkey.

The other thing he kept hearing aside from the phrase “very unwise” was

that the countries in the region are much more worried about the

destabilizing effects of the continued Israel-Palestinian fighting than

they are about the destabilizing potential of Saddam, and their nightmare

is that the U.S. intervention in Iraq only produces the kind of chaos

there that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan produced in that country,

and that the US *also* allows the Israel/Palestine conflict to continue to

fester, so that they end up with the worst of all possible worlds.

Cheney was on a diet of fish and salad on this trip, and had a big red

blotch on his head from bumping it getting into a limousine. For someone

from Wyoming, such a diet is as much an embarrassment as the bruise. It

wasn’t the macho exercise it was supposed to be; no red meat and a

humiliating blow to the head. Then there was that annoying “very unwise”

chorus line. I really wonder whether the Pentagon’s Iraq campaign isn’t

dead in the water.

Sincerely,

Juan Cole

U of Michigan

– Juan, 4:24 PM

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