Iraq: Is the real winner Israel?

SCMP April 7, 2003

With US troops inside Baghdad, the end of the first phase of the war on Iraq could soon be in sight. So, what next? That cannot be answered without asking: What was it all about in the first place? Evidently, the excuse of ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is the sham it always was. It seems it is all about "regime change". But what kind of new regime, and determined by whom?

To get a better idea of the thinking behind the war, it may be time to look at the ideas of the clique of ideologues surrounding the latest contributor to military theory and empire building, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

One of the most influential, Richard Perle, a former assistant secretary of defence under president Ronald Reagan, was recently forced to resign from his position as chairman of the Pentagon's Defence Policy Advisory Board after the New York Times uncovered a conflict of interest arising from his role as an adviser to the bankrupt telecom giant Global Crossing. That is a good reason to quit. But the more important question is, what was Mr Perle doing in such an influential position in the first place? This is a man who seems to place the interests of Israel above those of his own country. Mr Perle's history includes not only representing Israeli arms manufacturers but, when working for a US senator, passing classified information to the Israeli government.

His recent record includes insults aimed at America's European allies and the Defence Policy Board recommendation that defined Saudi Arabia - not to mention Iran, Syria, Libya and others - as enemies of the US. Unfortunately, Mr Perle cannot be dismissed as a lone wild card. In the same camp are US Undersecretary of State John Bolton and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. All are on the record as supporting the Likud party's goals of expanding Jewish settlement in the West Bank and preferably acquiring all of it in due course.

In short, a major chunk of US foreign policy has been hijacked by the Pentagon, which in turn is responding to the interests of ultra-Zionists in Washington. Nor does it end there. US President George W. Bush's appointee as American pro-consul in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, Jay Garner, is a retired general who has recently defended Israel's West Bank actions. The pro-Israel sympathies of American Jews are natural, but the coup by the Likudniks (themselves a minority among a mostly liberal Jewish community) is not only damaging to US national interests. It also compounds the insults and racial profiling directed at the nation's two million people of Arab descent (most of whom are Christians) and its seven million Muslims.

So where does Mr Rumsfeld's idea of empire fit with the Likudniks? Clearly, Iraq has not been more than an irritant to Israel. But the war serves two purposes. In the short term, it increases US congressional support for Israel and deflects attention from the killings by Israeli troops in occupied territories. In the longer run, a massive display of unilateral US power sets an example to other countries in the region.

Meanwhile, the Europeans are being shown to be powerless. And the UN, always a thorn in Israel's side, is proven to be irrelevant - as indeed has security council resolution 242, which requires Israel's withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

Simplistic deduction suggests that "regime change" and the overwhelming power of America can break the ring of hostility that surrounds Israel. Or perhaps, out of the scramble for power and territory, will come some redrawing of the map of the Middle East, perhaps including the breakup of Iraq. New maps and vassal states would mean new divisions between Arabs, Turks, Kurds and Iranians, and between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, which would, by default, make the region safer for Israel.

Quite the opposite applies to the US itself, which has already alienated almost the whole of the Arab and Muslim worlds, and to a lesser degree most developing countries, most of Europe and even its North American neighbour Canada. The cost of this imperial exercise could quickly saddle the US with debts on such a scale that it has to abandon liberal economies and open markets.

The Rumsfeld-Likudnik-Christian-right axis of aggression may not get its way completely. There remains a chance that a post-war Iraq will become internationalised and then quickly "Iraqised". But it seems likely that it will look more like Afghanistan today than post-1945 Japan. That would not serve US global interests, let alone those of the Iraqis. But it is a grand plan for those "clash of civilisations" proponents and racial exclusivists who want the Muslim and Arab worlds to be forever weak.ends


 Burgers -- deadlier than el-Qaeda?

Realistic assessments of facts are the key to sensible policies

SCMP February 24

Could McDonald's represent a bigger threat to our civilisation than al-Qaeda? At first glance, that might seem an absurd question, comparing a mostly well-liked global purveyor of fast foods with a revolutionary organisation with many murders under its belt. But it may be an example of how moral sentiments and ingrained prejudices distort our view of reality, and so lead to wrong decisions.

Think of McDonald's as being shorthand for the junk-food industry, and one could well believe that it is one cause of the galloping advance of obesity, not just in the Western world but increasingly in Asian and other societies rich enough to eat too much. Poor nutrition has become the biggest public health problem in much of the developed world, responsible for at least as many deaths as smoking, and well ahead of car fatalities. About 300,000 deaths a year in the US are associated with people being overweight, and other countries are catching up.

Even in the US, this enormous global public health issue has so far only just begun to be seen as fertile ground for public-interest lawyers. It looks set to become a major battleground for the food industry and consumer advocates. Stock analysts are waking up to the potential for civil actions that could cut deep into food industry profits and health campaigns and would cut junk-food consumption as surely as anti-smoking campaigns have slashed cigarette sales in the West.

I do not wish to debate the rights or wrongs of official campaigns based on public health needs, or to place blame for obesity on the food industry.

"Let the eater beware" is a reasonable maxim. Yet any controls are likely to be the subject of intense argument about individual rights and responsibilities. So it is worth contrasting the current lack of debate on a matter which is responsible for hundreds of thousands of untimely deaths a year, and the lengths to which governments, in Europe as well as the US, are going to undermine cherished freedoms in the name of fighting al-Qaeda.

The lack of a sense of proportion demonstrates how governments are more concerned with the appearance of "combating evil" than with helping citizens avoid untimely death in non-violent ways. The price of freedom whether to smoke, drive a car, drink too much or eat too many hamburgers, is the chance of early death.

In the case of the anti-terror measures, it should be abundantly clear that not only are the measures out of all proportion to efforts to reduce other threats to life - be they from obesity or lack of control on guns - but they may well be counter-productive. It is unlikely they will be effective against determined terrorists - as Israel has found. Meanwhile, the loss of foreign goodwill towards the US has been enormous and is mounting by the day.

Concerns among minority groups and civil rights advocates within the US have so far been drowned out by patriotic fervour. Unfortunately, the US public is so ill-served by its "patriotic" media that the common sense usually displayed by informed majorities in democracies has been muted. As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted after last week's massive anti-war demonstrations in Europe, those who get their news from television not newspapers - probably the majority - would have been almost unaware of the depth of opposition in the nations supposed to be America's closest allies on the topic - Britain, Spain, Italy and Turkey.

Instead of looking at the realities of pan-European opposition, the media acolytes of the US and British governments chose to launch a xenophobic attack on France, a lone voice of reason in Europe, and the one government most aware of the dangers for all Europe of conflict with the Muslim world.

Instead of listening to the concerns of the Turks - hardly a nation of wimps - US President George W. Bush and his fellow draft-dodger warriors in Washington chose to arm-twist the Turks so publicly that they will rightly resent American arrogance for years to come. In effect, the US has been threatening a new international financial crisis for Turkey if it does not kowtow.

America may think it is exercising its overwhelming military power for the common good. But the perceptions of others matter, too. On that score, the US has turned its face against the reality that almost the whole world opposes this war, and even its closest allies are reluctant. It can ignore the reality, but only at the cost of its credibility, and the spread of its image of being an obese, spoiled and deeply-indebted bully.

Realism also suggests a shift in policy on North Korea is badly needed. For sure, the North is infuriating and potentially very dangerous. To its credit, the Bush administration has kept its cool in the face of the North's various provocations. But at the end of the day, the US must be prepared to deal directly with Kim Jong-il if it is to get what it, and South Korea, China and Japan, want - the ending of its nuclear ambitions.

It must be prepared to sign a peace treaty and, in conjunction with China, provide some security guarantees for a paranoid North Korea. That is not weakness. It is common sense to base policy on a verifiable trading of what the North has - nuclear potential - for what it wants: respect, security and money. Going on about an "axis of evil" and what a nasty regime Mr Kim runs may sound fine at Mr Bush's prayer meetings, but grandstanding and moralising will not help resolve the problem.

Realism is not amoral. It does assume that one proceeds in response to facts, not to dogma or the supposed guidance of some God. Let us face the facts, whether of obesity, Mr Kim's nuclear potential or Europe's interests in peace.




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