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
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
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.
U of Michigan
– Juan, 4:24 PM