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Iraq: Imperial Illusions of Change

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    The Greater Middle East Imperial Illusions of Change By Kareem M. Kamel Researcher – International Relations 14/03/2004 The Arabs are in fact a people,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 1, 2004
      The "Greater Middle East "
      Imperial Illusions of Change

      By Kareem M. Kamel
      Researcher – International Relations

      The Arabs are in fact a people, not a collection of random countries
      passively available for outside intervention and rule.1 – Edward Said

      The Bush administration can try to present this US plans for transfer
      of power and elections in Iraq to the American public as the first
      course in a full meal of modern democracy. But the Iraqis, who've
      never developed a taste for junk food, aren't likely to see it that
      way.2 – Christopher Dickey, Newsweek

      US policy in Iraq might lead to a civil war

      As the world continued to focus on the daily events in Palestine and
      Iraq, the Bush administration launched a wide-ranging initiative,
      allegedly aimed at promoting democracy in the "greater" Middle East.
      Senior White House and State Department officials have begun talks
      with key European allies about "a master plan" to endorse major
      political, economic and social reforms in Arab and South Asian
      countries. The "Greater Middle East Initiative" is scheduled to be
      announced at the G-8 summit, which will be hosted by President Bush
      at Sea Island, Georgia, in June 2004.3The US will also bring up the
      initiative in EU and NATO summits.

      The new initiative is modeled on the 1975 Helsinki accords, which
      were intended to settle post-World War II border disputes and were
      signed by 35 nations, including the United States, the Soviet Union
      and almost all European countries. The Helsinki accords, which also
      involved human rights issues, were eventually used by the West to
      promote and protect dissident groups in the Soviet bloc. Some experts
      consider the Helsinki accords to be a key factor in the demise of
      communism in the Eastern Bloc.4

      United States ' Vice President Dick Cheney first hinted at
      the "Greater Middle East Initiative" during the World Economic Forum
      in Davos, Switzerland. Although Cheney is one of the key architects
      of the US doctrine of pre-emptive warfare, he declared, "Our forward
      strategy for freedom commits us to support those who work and
      sacrifice for reform across the greater Middle East. We call upon our
      democratic friends and allies everywhere, and in Europe in
      particular, to join us in this effort." 5

      More recently, during the visit of Turkish Prime Minister Recep
      Tayyip Erdogan to Washington in January, the US administration gave
      Erdogan the green light to promote the initiative in the Middle
      East.6 Despite the fact that the exact details of the ambitious
      initiative are still being crafted, some sources point out that the
      US wishes to export Turkey's secular model to the entire Middle East,
      and to establish a system of absolute separation of religion and
      state in the region. Turkey will be sending Muslim scholars to the
      rest of the Islamic world with the avowed aim of limiting Islamic
      teachings to prayer and fasting.7 Moreover, those "scholars" will
      encourage civil marriages involving members of different religions,
      and will work to belittle Islamic principles that contradict the
      Western liberal model – issues such as jihad, polygamy, and hijab
      will all be shunned.


      To avoid legal problems, the US transferred "terror" suspects to
      allied governments in the Muslim World.


      The new initiative is the latest in a series of "pro-democracy"
      declarations by high-ranking officials in the US administration. Last
      November, President Bush stated his adoption of what he called
      a "forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East," explaining
      that "sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the
      lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe,
      because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense
      of liberty." Then, on December 12, 2003, US Secretary of State Colin
      Powell spoke about the "US-Middle East Partnership Initiative,"
      according to which the US would work to promote regional economic
      growth, female emancipation, and greater participation of citizens in

      Visionary talk of a "greater Middle East " for a few months during an
      election year might carry the hope of convincing the US electorate
      that the Bush administration's efforts are genuine. However, in light
      of the mounting problems that the US is facing in the region, the
      new "Greater Middle East Initiative" is most likely to fail. The
      reasons for this expected failure have much to do not only with the
      conflicting and irreconcilable objectives that US foreign policy has
      pursued since September 11, but also with perceptions of the US in
      the Middle East, perceptions created by America's long history of
      supporting "friendly tyrants" in the region.

      The US' failure to find an acceptable solution to the Arab-Israeli
      conflict, its continuing support for Israel's expansionist policies
      and the absence of a consistent vision for Iraqi independence or
      state-building leave the US with little or no credibility as a
      sincere proponent for change in a region long troubled by
      dictatorship and militarism.

      US Foreign Policy in the Middle East : The Manufacture of Insecurity

      Since September 11, the US government has insisted that its "war on
      terror" will inevitably make the world a safer place, and that the
      Middle East will be witnessing, for the first time in its turbulent
      history, the benefits of freedom and democracy.

      More than two years later, however, Muslims find themselves under
      siege either through direct occupation by US and Israeli forces or
      through the draconian measures imposed on citizens by US-allied
      governments in the name of "fighting terrorism."

      The reason for this state of affairs is that the Bush administration
      is facing two conflicting imperatives. The first is the need to fight
      Islamic fundamentalism worldwide, which has entailed that the US set
      aside its democratic rhetoric and seek closer cooperation with
      authoritarian regimes throughout the Middle East and Asia. The second
      is the realization on the part of many US decision-makers that it is
      precisely the lack of democracy in Muslim countries and the US '
      alliances with oppressive autocracies that fuel the cause of the

      Since September 11, it has became clear that notions such as human
      rights, democracy, peace, freedom, accountability and economic
      opportunities were used to pursue strategic interests and serve the
      purpose of imposing Western hegemony. Regimes in the Middle East
      capitalized on the moment and used the convenient excuse of "fighting
      terrorism" to tighten their grip on power; they continued to arrest,
      detain and torture thousands of members of opposition groups in their
      own countries. Many of those regimes were emboldened by the US'
      abridging of its own domestic civil liberties after September 11
      through the large-scale detention of immigrants, closed deportation
      hearings, and the declaration of even some US citizens as "enemy
      combatants" with no right to counsel or to contest the designation.9

      In addition, the US ' arbitrary imprisonment, torture and
      extrajudicial killing of captives within the cages of Guantanamo Bay
      and Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan sent a message to pro-US regimes
      that such practices are indeed acceptable.10

      To relieve itself from possible legal problems or public protests,
      the US transferred "terror" suspects to allied governments in the
      Muslim World (the same countries criticized in the US State
      Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices) with
      torture and forced confessions being commonplace.11 Many "terror"
      suspects are even held at overseas CIA interrogation centers which
      are completely off-limits to reporters, lawyers and outside agencies,
      and are routinely beaten, tortured and deprived of sleep by US Army
      Special Forces and local security officials before interrogation.12


      US security interests supersede its calls for democracy.


      While the US preached democracy and freedom, it not only advocated an
      aggressive doctrine of pre-emptive warfare, but also worked to
      cultivate closer ties with tyrants in the Middle East and Central
      Asia. The most glaring case of US security interests superseding its
      calls for democracy lies in Pakistan, where President Pervez
      Musharraf seized power in a 1999 military coup, tightened his
      authoritarian grip on power, and instituted a series of
      antidemocratic constitutional amendments. In recognition of the
      Pakistani leader's critical supporting role in the "war on
      terrorism," the Bush administration showered Musharraf with praise
      and attention, waived various economic sanctions that had been
      imposed on Pakistan, assembled a handsome aid package that exceeded
      $600 million in 2002, and restarted US-Pakistani military

      Given Gaddafi's recent decision to terminate his country's WMD
      program and open his country up to Western interests, praise was
      heaped on the Libyan leader; all calls for reform within Libya seemed
      to have faded as US security interests were fully met.

      In Central Asia, the US ' need for military bases and other forms of
      security arrangements led the US to forge closer relations with the
      despotic leaders of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.14 Even
      Saparmurat Niyazov, the totalitarian megalomaniac running
      Turkmenistan, received a friendly visit from Defense Secretary Donald
      Rumsfeld in April 2002. In view of Kazakhstan 's significant oil and
      gas reserves, and President Nursultan Nazarbayev's close cooperation
      with the US on security and economic matters, there was no US
      pressure of any sort on Kazakhstan 's president to launch democratic

      The Quagmire of Palestine and Iraq : The US Fails Its First Test

      A closer look at the strategic underpinnings behind the "Greater
      Middle East Initiative" suggests that the Bush administration and its
      neoconservative masterminds are eager to go back to Cold War
      politics. In essence, they seem to regard the Middle East as the
      legitimate heir to the former Soviet Union – a new "pole" threatening
      the United States. In turn, political Islam has become, in their
      worldview, the 21st century's communism, even if certain
      interpretations of political Islam resonate closely with the
      aspirations of a significant segment of Muslim public opinion. The
      result has been an increase in militancy and extremism in Muslim
      civil society and a blatant rejection of any message emanating from
      the neo-conservative, pro-Zionist administration currently holding
      the reigns of power in Washington.

      One has to remember that in a bid to gain support for the Iraq war,
      US officials claimed that the end of Saddam's regime and the
      implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian "roadmap" would transform
      the Middle East and encourage the development of pro-Western
      democracies. Instead, the "roadmap" has gone nowhere and the Arab-
      Israeli conflict has once again been conveniently neglected by the US
      administration. Israel continues its atrocities in the West Bank and
      Gaza while Palestinian lands are still being grabbed by
      Israel 's "apartheid wall." As the 2004 elections loom, the Bush
      administration continues to adopt Israel 's insistence that there can
      be no movement in negotiations until the Palestinian Authority
      dismantles militant groups. This has provided Ariel Sharon with the
      opportunity to expand settlements and confiscate more Palestinian
      land without fear of reprimand from the US administration.15

      In Iraq, Bush had promised a transfer of power to Iraqis by June 30.
      Only a few weeks ago Washington 's spokespersons suggested that the
      June handover would most likely be postponed until January 2005,
      when "genuine" elections can be held. Other sources suggest that some
      in the US administration are in favor of handing over sovereignty to
      an expanded Iraqi governing council dominated by the same faces
      currently in charge.16

      Analysts warn that such a policy might lead to civil war, since many
      other Iraqis see the Iraqi Governing Council as an instrument of US
      policy and resent its domination by returned exiles, such as Pentagon
      favorite Ahmed Chalabi.17

      In fact, UN envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi warned of the imminent
      danger of civil war in Iraq if demands for elections and transfer of
      power are not met.18 Indeed, the country is being torn apart between
      Kurdish demands for independence in the north and the nationalist
      tendencies of Iraqi Arabs. Moreover, Sunnis will most likely resist
      any Shi'ite control of political power.

      Even if circumstances miraculously changed and Iraq developed into a
      fully-functional independent and democratic state, this would
      probably result in more pressing demands for an early withdrawal of
      all US forces from the country – clearly an unacceptable demand to
      Washington, given Iraq 's geo-strategic importance.19 One has only to
      note how American military officials were quick to point out that
      approximately 100,000 US troops would be needed in Iraq long after a
      sovereign government is restored.20


      With every major change in the strategic landscape of the region,
      Arabs and Muslims are usually faced with a new "initiative," "plan"
      or "project" – each promising freedom, prosperity and regional
      advancement. The "Greater Middle East Initiative" is nothing but the
      latest in a series of US and Israeli initiatives aimed at maintaining
      their hegemony and dominance.

      One should note Shimon Perez' "New Middle East Initiative," which was
      presented after the Arab system was devastated in the aftermath of
      the 1991 Gulf War. Perez promised the Arabs prosperity if they chose
      to fully normalize relations with Israel and include his country in
      all regional arrangements. Back then, an international coalition had
      been forged to force Saddam to leave Kuwait, while Israel refused to
      withdraw from occupied territories in Lebanon and Syria. Eventually,
      Israel only agreed to engage the Palestinians in fitful long-term
      negotiations, which gradually became known as the Oslo process. The
      result was catastrophic: Israel gave the Palestinian Authority all
      the symbols of sovereignty, but maintained actual political, economic
      and military control over the Palestinians during the ill-
      fated "decade of negotiations" in the 1990s.

      Once again, as the Arabs are defeated and demoralized, a
      new "initiative" is being crafted by outside powers with an agenda
      for change that is completely different from that of mainstream Arab
      civil society. After the Tenet Plan, the Mitchell Report,
      the "roadmap," and Bush's recent "forward strategy for freedom," a
      new place in the dustbin of history is reserved for the Greater
      Middle East Initiative.

      Kareem M. Kamel is an Egyptian freelance writer based in Cairo,
      Egypt. He has an MA in International Relations and is specialized in
      security studies, decision- making, nuclear politics, Middle East
      politics and the politics of Islam. He is currently assistant to the
      Political Science Department at the American University in Cairo.


      1 Edward Said, "Unprecedented Crisis: The Arab Condition," Al-Ahram

      2 Christopher Dickey, "Garbage In, Garbage Out," Newsweek February
      20th, 2004

      3 Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler, "Bush Aims for `Greater Mideast '
      Plan," Washington Post February 9th, 2004

      4 Ibid.

      5 "Cheney Asks EU to Join Reform Drive," IslamOnline.net January
      25th, 2004

      6 Sa'ad Abdul Majid, " Turkey Enthusiastic about US `Greater Middle
      East ," IslamOnline.net February 17th, 2004

      7 Abdel Haleem Ghazali, " Egypt and Turkey : The Key to a Counter
      Middle East Initiative," Al-Ahram Al-Arabi (Arabic) February 21st,

      8 Thomas Carothers, "Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror,"
      Foreign Affairs

      January/February 2003

      9 Ibid.

      10 Yamin Zakaria, "The Axis of Hypocrisy," Jihad Unspun November
      8th, 2003

      11 Slavoj Zizek, " Iraq 's False Promises," Foreign Policy
      January/February 2004

      12 Eyal Press, "In Torture We Trust?" Nation March 31st, 2003

      13 Thomas Carothers, "Promoting Democracy and Fighting Terror,"
      Foreign Affairs January/February 2003

      14 Ibid.

      15 Catherine Cook, "White House Now Ignoring Palestine," MERIP
      January 2004

      16 Michael Hirsh, "Pencil It In," Newsweek February 14th, 2004

      17 Ibid.

      18 Tony Karon, "Iraq: Anybody Got a Plan?" Time.com February 18th,

      19 Paul Rogers, "The `Greater Middle East Initiative': Vision or
      Mirage?" Open Democracy February 12th, 2004

      20 Robert Burns, "US Expects Troops In Iraq for Years," Associated
      Press February 20th, 2004.


      David Ignatius, Washington Post, 3/12/04

      BEIRUT -- The Bush administration's new initiative to encourage
      democracy and reform in the Arab world has all the solidity of a hot-
      air balloon. It's floating grandly toward Planet Arabia, while down
      below the people who would be affected by it are variously taking
      potshots, running for cover or scratching their heads in confusion.

      Are we really going to make this mistake again? To state what should
      be obvious after the reversals of the past year in Iraq: The idea of
      Arab democracy is meaningless unless it begins at home, driven by an
      Arab agenda for change, rather than by outsiders. If it's seen as
      another attempt to impose the West's agenda, then the planned U.S.-
      European Greater Middle East Initiative will fail -- and deservedly

      Rather than preaching from their dirigibles overhead, Americans and
      Europeans should try listening more carefully to what the Arabs
      themselves have to say -- not to the leaders, whose main agenda is
      holding on to power, but to the millions of people who are desperate
      for reform.

      A starting point for me is listening to the leading Shiite cleric in
      Lebanon, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah. He can hardly be accused
      of pro-American sympathies; he was the spiritual leader of the
      Hezbollah fighters whose suicide bombs drove U.S. troops from Lebanon
      in 1984. But he's become a surprisingly progressive thinker and was
      one of the first Muslim clerics to condemn unambiguously the attacks
      of Sept. 11, 2001.

      I've visited Fadlallah several times over the past two years at his
      well-guarded office within the maze of Beirut's southern suburbs,
      accompanied by my friend Jamil Mroue, publisher of Beirut's Daily
      Star. Each time, Fadlallah has surprised me. This time, it was in the
      ferocity of his call for reform in the Arab world. You cannot put the
      case for change more bluntly or emphatically than he did...



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