President George W Bush’s “democracy” speech of November 6th is still reverberating round the world. It has aroused as much puzzlement as hostility. What can he possibly mean by saying that “the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East”? Is the USA preparing to administer a dose of its Iraqi medicine to other states in the area? Has the neo-con agenda of softening up the area to make it comply with USA and Israeli demands been given a new lease of life? Should Damascus and Tehran, the butt of Bush’s particular insults, now fear attack?
From the USA, democratic values have always been exported out of the barrel of a gun.
Or, as many suspect, was Bush’s speech mere empty rhetoric, simply the latest illustration of his own mediocrity and of the moral and political bankruptcy of his Administration?
There is an especial irony in Bush criticising Syria and Iran as illegitimate dictatorships, seeing that it was the United States which destroyed Syria’s young parliamentary democracy in 1949, when it lent a hand to Colonel Husni Al Zaim’s coup d’?tat, and it was the USA again (with help from Britain) that overthrew Iran’s elected prime minister Mohammed Musaddeq in 1953 and restored the shah to power as an American puppet. “I owe my throne to God, my people, my army ? and to you,” sobbed the grateful potentate to Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA man who organised the coup.
The USA Senate has now overwhelmingly approved the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Act, which imposes new American economic and diplomatic sanctions on Damascus for its support for radical Palestinian groups and for the Lebanese resistance movement, Hezbollah. Promoted by venal Congressmen and pro-Israeli lobbyists in Washington, aided by Maronite extremists, the message of the Act is that any resistance to Israeli aggression and expansion is a crime.
What sort of “freedom” is Bush planning to export? Is it the freedom he brought to the 20,000 Iraqi civilians and soldiers killed and the 20,000-30,000 wounded since last March’s invasion? Or the 5,000 Iraqis herded into detention camps in their own country? Or the half a million Iraqi children who died as the result of 13 years of punitive sanctions? Or does he mean by freedom the long-term health and environmental damage inflicted on Iraq?
Operation Iraqi Freedom. The USA occupation is having to resort to more and more brutality to get Iraqis to accept their version of ?freedom and democracy?.
Or the daily toll of ordinary Afghans ? demonised as “Taliban” ? killed by USA troops as they comb the tribal areas on Pakistan’s borders in the search for Osama bin Laden?
Or does Bush wish more Arabs and Muslims to share the freedom enjoyed by the hundreds of “terrorist suspects” held in judicial limbo at Guantanamo for the past two years in gross violation of the Geneva Convention?
Or does he mean the freedom which the United Nations says is in store for some 400,000 Palestinians cut off from their farms, factories, offices, schools and hospitals by Israel’s infamous wall, which Bush has failed to stop and pointedly refuses to condemn?
In the face of obstruction from Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon, Bush has shamelessly walked away from his “vision” of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Will Britain’s prime minister Tony Blair, who claims to be “100 per cent committed” to a Palestinian state, remind Bush of this vision when he visits London next week? Will the two leaders have the courage publicly to back the Geneva Accord, negotiated by the Israeli Yossi Beilin and the Palestinian Abed Rabbo, which [according to the author ed.] offers the only viable way out of the present murderous stalemate?
Instead of reining-in Israel’s far-right government in its wilful destruction of Palestinian society, and thereby regaining some shred of international respect and authority, the United States has adopted Israeli tactics in the conduct of its war in Iraq: the widespread use of bribed or blackmailed informers, the hooding of prisoners, the use of torture in interrogations, the bombing raids, the demolition of houses, the collective punishments. This is the slippery slope down which the United States is heading.
Paul Bremer, the chief American administrator in Iraq, was summoned at short notice to Washington this week to discuss with Bush and his colleagues America’s new “get-tough policy” in dealing with the resistance to its occupation ? and, no doubt, to scratch their heads over how to stem the flood of casualties and scramble out of the quagmire.
Much of the world shares the fear that Bush’s “forward strategy of freedom” will mean more of the same errors that have brought the world to its present state of violent disorder: the unilateral use of American military force outside the constraints of international law; the obsession with ‘terrorism’ and, at the same time, a refusal to consider, let alone address, the real grievances from which terrorism springs; the intellectually shabby characterisation as ‘rogue states’ of countries which refuse to bend the knee to the USA or Israel; the mistrust of international organisations; the dismissal of international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol on the environment or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban, and of such international bodies as the International Criminal Court; A leading British-based security organisation, Control Risks, has this week warned that American foreign policy (supported catastrophically by Tony Blair) has made London a major target for terrorist attack, and has put at risk American multinational companies around the world, especially those operating in the Middle East.
Countries such as Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia ? scene this week of a terrible and inexcusable terrorist attack ? are also feeling the heat because of their ties with the United States. Saudi Arabia is in a particularly delicate and vulnerable position: vilified by Washington’s neo-cons as an alleged abetter of Islamic terror, it is attacked at the same time by the very terrorists it is accused of harbouring and financing. Meanwhile, the Italian government of Prime Minister Berlusconi, which was rash enough to send troops to Iraq, is this week mourning the death of a dozen of its soldiers.
Most Arabs don?t want a ‘liberal democracy’ spawned in Washington. What they want is true self-determination.
A fatal weakness of America’s war in Iraq has been Washington’s refusal to acknowledge its true war aims. These have been concealed in a web of deceit and obfuscation. At the start, the declared aim of the war was to destroy Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction which were billed as a threat to the entire world. This flimsy pretext has now been dropped as no such weapons have been found. Then, the aim of the war was said to be essentially humanitarian, to ‘liberate’ Iraq from a nasty dictator and establish democracy in that unfortunate country. As Bush declared last week: ‘Iraqi democracy will succeed ? and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran ? that freedom can be the future of every nation’. It would have been more honest and more convincing had Bush said that the aims of the war were twofold: first, to establish an unchallenged strategic stronghold for the United States at the heart of the Middle East and astride its oilfields; and second to protect Israel’s regional hegemony (although this latter war aim probably ranks first for Washington’s Likudniks who occupy key posts in the Administration).
No one appears to have told George W Bush that democracy is not an article for export. Arabs and Muslims in their great majority are eager for the material improvements (and gadgets) of Westernisation but reject a Western, and especially an American, way of life.
They do not wish to be colonised by American imperialism nor do they welcome the imposition of Western Christian, and still less Jewish, culture on their Islamic societies.
For them, political nationalism as well as pride in their own identity, and in their Muslim beliefs and practices, are more powerful trends than the ‘democracy’ the USA is striving to implant. Of course they want freedom from tyrannical rulers, but the main freedom they seek is freedom from the United States.
Patrick Seale is an eminent commentator and the author of several books on Middle East affairs.
Article courtesy of Gulf News