by Zafar Bangash (Reflections, Crescent International Vol. 35, No. 9, Shawwal, 1427)
Every US president enters the twilight zone of his presidency with trepidation. Given the enormous power and prestige of this office, seeing it slip from one’s grasp must be a particularly painful experience. For George Bush it is even worse, as he has presided over a series of disasters regarded as largely of his own making. Held hostage by a coterie of neocons whose twin objectives are to support Israel at the expense of American taxpayers and line their own pockets by cultivating a paranoic fear of terrorism, Bush has drifted into the end of his presidency completely clueless. Iraq, Afghanistan, the war on terror and Hurricane Katrina hang round his neck like millstones. Further blows have been delivered by the emergence of Islamic Iran as a confident regional power, and Hizbullah’s humiliating defeat of Israel during the 34-day war in July and August.
It was to retrieve what little face he could that he dispatched Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of state, to the Middle East early last month to show that the US still matters. She made the familiar stops—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—and advanced a new mantra of mobilizing “emerging moderate forces” (i.e. Iraq, the Palestinian Fatah Party, Saudi Arabia and Egypt) against the “extremists” that challenge US hegemony in the region: Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas.
Despite abandoning the rhetoric of democracy, Rice did not get the anticipated polite hearing; instead, once deferent Arab rulers challenged her on several issues. Even the pathologically subservient Saudi rulers mustered enough courage to tell her that the root cause of all problems in the Middle East—the Palestinian issue—must be addressed before there can be peace. They dismissed her appeals to join a front against Iran, recognising its status as a significant regional power that it would be unwise to antagonize, especially at a time when the US is on the verge of defeat in Iraq and its surrogate, Israel, is in turmoil after its defeat by Hizbullah.
The Arab rulers’ unwillingness to join another US war, despite scaremongering about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions is explained by the fact that it will inflame public sentiments against them even further. There is growing public anger at the US’s double standards: silence about Israel’s arsenal of hundreds of illegal nuclear weapons but wild allegations against Iran’s legitimate nuclear programme. Some Arab rulers—the two Abdullahs and Mubarak, for instance—burnt their fingers when they had to change their initially negative attitude to Hizbullah’s resistance to zionist aggression because of the reaction of the Arab and Muslim masses. There is worldwide sympathy for the Palestinians and admiration for Hizbullah’s achievements.
It is, however, Iraq that has stymied Bush completely. Not only are a majority of Americans opposed to the war, but even Republican congressmen fighting for re-election this month have told Bush not to visit their electoral districts for fear that they will be tainted with his disastrous Iraq policy; Bush has become a pariah within his own country. Three recent developments point to a change of course: the report on October 24 of the Iraq Study Group headed by former secretary of state James Baker, an open letter by former ambassador Richard Holbrooke in the Washington Post (reprinted in the Toronto Star on October 25), and a speech by Zbigniew Brzezinski, former President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. Baker’s study concludes that the US has no option but to embark on an exit strategy from Iraq by handing over responsibility to the Iraqis, whether they are ready for it or not. Holbrooke outlines three options for Bush: stay the course, escalate the war, or disengage. He concludes that disengagement (a polite term for cut and run) is the only viable option. Brzezinski, speaking on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Suez Canal crisis, when Britain, France and Israel jointly attacked Egypt on October 29, 1956, said that if it continues with current policy, the US faces the prospect of being driven out of the Middle East completely.
This would be a most welcome development as far as the people of that region are concerned. For nearly a century, they have suffered at the hands of meddlesome foreigners—first the British and French, and since the Second World War the Americans. The implantation of the zionist entity has had disastrous consequences not only for the Palestinians, but also for the Arabs and Muslims in general. Israel is maintained in power through a massive infusion of US financial, military and political support, while the subservient Arab rulers are maintained in power to keep the Muslim masses in check. Once America is banished from the region, these regimes will not survive for long. The zionists, too, will have either to abandon Palestine, or abandon zionism and accept the inevitability of living as equal citizens alongside the Palestinians in a single state.
This is an outcome that all justice- and freedom-loving people must strive for. The first step to achieving this dream is to banish the US from the region; the Iraqi resistance may yet have the honour of delivering the knockout punch to Uncle Sam.