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 misplaced idealism.

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 it.

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 activists overseas.

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.






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