New Straits Times April 23
By Philip Bowring
These have been traumatizing weeks for those who have long believed
that the US is a generally beneficent force in the world. Americans
living overseas, and a growing number in the US itself, are painfully
aware of just how unpopular the nation has become in the hands of George
W. Bush and his entourage of neo-con warriors, Christian fundamentals
and Zionist zealots. Old friends of the US flinch with embarrassment.
Neutrals get angry at what they see as a rejection of the ideals which
have made America great. Muslims everywhere have reason to feel positively
hostile to a country whose global "war on terror" often seems
aimed indiscriminately at them.
The siege of Fallujah was bad enough, a reminder of that Vietnam war
comment by an American officer that a village had to be destroyed in
order to be saved. The instinct to exact revenge for the killing of
US civilian contractors flew in the face of any reasonable concept of
justice. Set aside the issue of whether gun-carrying private security
personnel are any more innocent civilians than their gun-carrying Iraqi
counterparts. The siege was reminiscent of Israeli operations in Gaza
- an army of occupation prepared to inflict ten to one casualties -
rather than an army of liberation.
But at least the events in Fallujah were the result of quick decisions
made in the heat of the moment. Like many US actions in Iraq, motives
have always been mixed and contain large doses of genuine goodwill and
Nothing can forgive the Bush administration's surrender of core policies
dating back nearly 30 years to the butcher of Beirut, Israeli prime
minister Ariel Sharon. Bush endorsed Sharon's West bank land grab in
flagrant contravention of Security Council Resolution 242 and a mockery
of the same administration's claim to be promoting a "road map"
to peace involving the ending of Israeli occupation and settlement of
the West bank.
This may have been in part a cynical attempt by Bush to buy the (normally
mostly Democratic) Jewish vote. But it reflects too the influence of
the Zionist expansionists who have found their way to the heart of US
policy making. Like Sharon himself, they make no apologies for wanting
eventually to extend the Jewish state to the river Jordan.
Worse still, Bush has appeared to endorse Sharon's policy of political
assassination. This is quite extraordinarily dangerous and irresponsible.
It opens up all political figures to assassination. It would hardly
be surprising if violent Palestinian opposition to Israeli army occupation
is now extended to the politicians, Israeli and foreign, who are behind
But the Israelis have for long been permitted by the US and others
to almost anything they like by way of land seizures, kidnap, murder
and development of weapons of mass destruction. The release this week
of Mordechai Vanunu, who spilled the facts about the nuclear programme
18 years ago is just such a reminder. The western countries which talk
so much about rule of law, have never lifted a finger against the Israeli
agents who kidnapped Vanunu, or indeed those who have assassinated Palestinian
Given the history of western anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, such
kid gloves treatment of Israel is easily explained. But that does not
forgive it in the eyes of most of the rest of the world - as indicated
by innumerable UN resolutions - which see Israel not as the product
of a Zionist ideal but as the creation of Anglo-American imperial power.
There are many aspects of Israel which its neighbors should admire
and copy. Democracy and the rule of law are top of the list. But the
triumph of the Israelis right wing, underwritten by a fundamentalist
regime in Washington has exacerbated the dangers of a post September
11 global divide.
The US has always been sympathetic to Israel. The ethnic bias of its
media and intellectual opinion formers is strong that one could hardly
expect otherwise. However, at the policy level it usually endeavoured
to play an honest broker role, as evidenced by President Carter's success
in bringing Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin together, and President Clinton's
near-success with Arafat in the last days of his administration.
Changing demographics in the US will in time reduce the influence of
the Jewish lobby. Israel is not an issue for Hispanics, and just possibly
America's Arab and Muslim communities will gain a political voice reflective
of their numbers. However, that is unlikely to happen for a generation.
So rescue of US policy from the grip of Sharon and his odd bedfellows,
the Christian fundamentalists headed by Bush himself, will have to come
about through today's political processes.
Once the Israel-Palestine issue was a secular one of land. Many of the
Palestinian Arab leaders were Christian. But over time it has become
a Muslim issue, and ever more dangerous for that since September 11.
Yet the Bush administration seems neither to know or care how its support
for Sharon is a recruiting sergeant for Muslim extremist everywhere.
Likewise, it bracketing of all Muslim resistance movements - in Chechnya,
Xinjiang, Mindanao etc - with el-Qaida simply increases the prestige
of el-Qaida, a singularly Arab outfit with few natural allies.
In non-Muslim east Asia, the woes of the Palestinians in themselves
do not count for much. But from an Asian perception they add to America's
mistakes in Iraq. Korea, Japan, Thailand have all been persuaded to
help the Iraq occupation. But they increasingly resent it, feeling they
have been dragged, under false pretences, into a quagmire. This has
huge implications for future relations with the US and Asian willingness
to find common cause with Washington on other issues. Given how much
Asia/US self-interests and self-respect have played in ensuring decades
of peace in this region, that must be a worry.
The gap between Asia and the US has opened up at a time when US deficit
and debt levels cast doubt on its willingness and ability to maintain
for very much longer its strategic presence in the region at existing
levels. In the short run, stable US-China relations and the close business
links between the US and the whole of east Asia are a strong shield
for the status quo. But let no one doubt that the US has inflicted grievous
wounds on itself in the aftermath of September 11. It is not beyond
hope. A change of administration - and how about Bill Clinton as Secretary
of State - could do wonders for an America which is still at heart much
loved by most of the rest of the world.
TOP OF THE PAGE