Terrorists' best excuse

SCMP April 19

How can even America's friends feel anything but concern for the foreign policies of President George W. Bush? How can neutrals feel anything but anger for what they see as America's desertion of the principles which made it great? How can Muslims feel anything but hostility against an America whose government seems to be in the hands of Christian fundamentalists and Jewish zealots? How can the world at large feel comfortable with an America which has lost its wisdom, a 60-year-old ability to lead by example and consensus?

It is no wonder that Vice-President Dick Cheney kept a low profile on his visit to East Asia last week. People here may not care much about the Middle East, but they can see what it is doing to America's position in the world. Those - South Korea, Japan, Thailand, the Philippines - who out of past loyalty and following heavy pressure have sent forces to Iraq are finding out the hard way the morass into which the US and its few European allies (principally the ever-faithful British running dogs) has led them. Whether or not they now withdraw from Iraq, they will think twice before agreeing to future US requests for help, however valid.

Iraq is unlikely to be a tragedy on the scale of Vietnam. But that war was a response to the global divisions of the time, and enjoyed the backing of most non-communist states in the region. No such claims can be made for the war in Iraq, which, as events before and after have shown, was primarily driven by motives less noble than establishing democracy and/or ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.

The tragic events in Fallujah might perhaps, on another occasion, have been noted as just one of those unfortunate things that happen in war. However, the US actions had the hallmarks of the arrogance of an army of occupation, not one bringing freedom. By all means, seek to bring justice to those who murdered civilians. But the kill ratio alone - roughly 10 Iraqis dead for every US or allied death - tells the story of "liberation". Fallujah reminds one of that infamous quote during the Vietnam war; that it was necessary to destroy a city in order to save it (from communism).

There is no easy way out for the US now that it has, with scant aforethought, become bogged down. Even giving some real authority to the very United Nations that Mr Bush so despises may be too late. The Iraq intervention may well have set off a long-term chain of disorder in that corner of the world where Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Kurds, Israelis, Sunnis and Shi'ites meet. The creation of the Mujahedeen to fight a Russian-backed secular administration in Afghanistan led to warlordism and the Taleban. Where Iraq will lead is beyond anyone's powers of prediction.

But even Iraq was the result of at least some good intentions, of mistakes made in the heat of the moment, or of apparently reasonable actions which had unintended consequences.

There is nothing that redeems America's decision last week to throw away a policy of 37 years and give its blessing to the West Bank land grab by the butcher of Beirut, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. His government has succeeded in making another step towards his and the Israeli right's long-term goal of acquiring the whole West Bank. Mr Sharon has been prepared to sacrifice a few Jewish settlements in Gaza for the sake of the bigger ambition of advancing settlement and then borders to the whole of pre-1948 Palestine. No wonder Palestinians resist with apparently futile violence and are prepared to take a high casualty rate.

The US, which supports criminal action against ethnic cleansers in the former Yugoslavia, now sanctions the ethnic cleansing being carried out slowly but surely in Israeli-occupied territories.

The Bush acceptance of the land grab is also in direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 242. So the same US administration which has used security council resolutions to justify its Iraq invasion, is tearing up resolution 242. So much for the US as an "honest broker" in the Middle East. Until now, at the level of foreign policy and the presidency, America had made a real effort to separate its links to Israel from its international needs and responsibilities. President Jimmy Carter brought Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat together. President Bill Clinton, in his last days in office, came close to bridging the gap between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat.

But Mr Bush, perhaps with an eye on the Jewish vote, has now thrown his weight behind Mr Sharon. He has also only mildly criticised Israel's use of political assassination, which many regard as a clear example of the terrorism which the US claims to be fighting. Who would now be surprised if Hamas, which hitherto has focused entirely on the Israeli occupier, decided to widen its war?

Almost everywhere, US policy on issues affecting Arabs and Muslims is leading to further alienation and expanding the number of potential allies for al-Qaeda. Every time the west links al-Qaeda to some long-standing Muslim nationalist or separatist movement, whether in the southern Philippines, Thailand, the former Palestine, Xinjiang or Chechnya, it boosts al-Qaeda's image - a small, specifically Arab group of fanatics, which has almost no natural allies.






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