America has never met an Arab despot it couldn’t coddle. Before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Reagan and Bush had a nice working relationship with Saddam Hussein. In fact, when the Iraqi dictator invaded Iran, they went so far as to supply him with chemical weapons and intelligence. After ‘liberating’ Kuwait, the powers that be in Washington had no qualms about re-installing the Emir as the absolute ruler of his people.
Ben Ali counted on the enthusiastic support of Washington until the Tunisian people revolted and ran him out of town. The Tunisian dictator took refuge in Saudi Arabia – another one of those ‘moderate’ Arab oil plantations that Washington showers with affection.
In his recent State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama declared that “the United States stands with the people of Tunisia and supports the democratic aspirations of all people.” He should have qualified that by noting that exceptions would be made for Egyptians. A day earlier, Hillary Rodham Clinton was reassuring Mubarak’s regime that it would continue to support the Egyptian government in its confrontation with pro-democracy demonstrators. The way Hillary sees things: “Egypt’s government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the needs of Egyptians.” I suppose those needs couldn’t possibly include democracy. After thirty years of dictatorship, Mubarak is feeding Egyptians subsidized bread. What more could they possibly ask for?
To be fair, America is not the only Western country that romances Middle Eastern despots. Three days before Ben Ali’s police state apparatus crumbled, France offered the Tunisian mafia chief assistance in putting down the uprising. So don’t just blame Washington; even the folks who invented liberty and egalitarianism don’t want the Arabs to be free.
Let it never be said that the gurus at the State Department and the National Security Council are inconsistent. The Washington foreign policy establishment cringes at the thought of Arabs lining up at ballot boxes. They’ve seen where that leads. Free elections in Algeria, Gaza, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq have all resulted in victories for the dreaded Islamic parties.
Mindful of that, the neo-con wizards had a plan worked out to circumvent any democratic hassles after the ‘liberation’ of Iraq. To avoid the risks of free elections, they set up the Iraqi Governing Council as an interim government. All twenty-five members of the council were appointed by Paul Bremer, the newly crowned emperor of Baghdad. Many of his appointees were Iraqi exiles like the infamous Ahmed Chalabi, the man groomed to be Iraq’s velvet-gloved dictator. When queried about the democracy promised by the American invaders, Bremer was dismissive. He famously said “elections that are held too early can be destructive.”
Even after the events in Tunisia, it’s unlikely that we will see any changes in America’s hostility towards political reform in the Middle East. Take Hillary at her word. The United States will continue to support the despotic regimes in the Middle East. It’s not just a matter of habit or perceived strategic and economic interests. It goes much deeper than that. There is a political culture that is deeply entrenched in the State Department, The national security apparatus, the Washington think tanks and the media. Simply put, Washington’s political establishment despises Muslims in general and Arabs in particular and they distrust their electoral choices.
When it comes to the Middle East, Washington is a Stalinist echo chamber where anti-Arab rhetoric has its rewards. Part of the reason is that the State Department and Congress are Israeli occupied territories. Regardless of who occupies the White House, one has to pass a Likudnik loyalty test to land a job as doorman at Foggy Bottom.
Just take a look at the resume of Jeffrey Feltman, the American diplomat dispatched to Tunis to sort things out. He’s a protégé of Martin Indyk, the Israeli lobbyist who was recruited directly from AIPAC to serve as American ambassador to Israel but never failed to perform his duties as an Israeli envoy to the State Department. On any policy issue pertaining to the Middle East, Israeli lobby operatives have the last word.
It’s no secret that committed Likudniks like Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith were the driving force behind America’s trillion dollar misadventure in Iraq or that the same dark forces are braying for a confrontation with Iran. They even consider Turkey a mortal threat. American blood and treasure are of no consequence to these committed and disciplined Zionist ideologues. They march to the beat of an Israeli drum and as long as they remain entrenched in the State Department and the National Security Council, the essential acid test for American Foreign policy will be “Is it good for Israel?”
So take a moment and ponder what all the pundits and wizards in Washington have not lamented about the Tunisian revolt. Saddam could have very easily gone the way of Ben Ali. At the time of the invasion and due to the effectiveness of the no-fly zones, the Iraqi dictator’s security forces barely held sway over a third of the country and Saddam was so insecure about the sentiments of his people that he couldn’t risk sleeping in the same bed for two nights running. American and British planes bombed Iraq at will. I’m not only certain that Bush and Blair knew that Saddam had no WMDs; I’ve asserted before that if they really thought he had them, they wouldn’t have risked an invasion.
For all practical measures, Saddam was the mayor of Baghdad — a defanged delusional tiger who spent his last days in power penning love stories. Saddam was contained by brutal sanctions and the United States had already made contacts with Iraqi generals who agreed to stand down and offer no resistance. When he finally realized the end was near, Saddam used back channels and offered every conceivable concession to avoid an American invasion. Of course, after taking control of the country, the neo-cons stabbed the generals in the back and disbanded the army because of their obsession with de Ba’athication. Absent American military intervention, Iraqis might very well have managed to remove their despotic leader and resurrect a secular republic. It wouldn’t have been perfect but it would certainly not have turned into a failed theocratic state in Iran’s sphere of influence.
At the cost of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, 4,500 American fatalities, two million refugees that include half of Iraq’s pre-war Christian population and a trillion dollars borrowed from the Chinese, George Bush rolled out the red carpet for Iranian allied sectarian parties. Why? Because his advisers — Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith — thought it would be good for Israel. The outcomes in Iraq obviously didn’t match the Likudniks’ wet dreams but had they removed their ideological blinders, the war party might have been more sober in doing their risk assessments and spared Americans a disastrous foreign policy fiasco and the enduring enmity of tens of millions of people in the Middle East and beyond.
So there should be no confusion about Hillary’s stand on Mubarak as opposed to Obama’s latent support of the Tunisian revolutionaries. The inconsistencies are in perfect harmony with the Israeli lobby’s traditional hostility towards the Arab people. It is a hostility that has very little to do with America’s national interests and everything to do with the Likudnik architects of America’s foreign policy in the region.
Make no mistake, the Arabs will soon reach the mountain top and taste the sweet wine of liberty but it will be not thanks to Hillary, Obama or the Israeli Lobby.
• Ahmed wrote this article in Cairo, Egypt “while inhaling the intoxicating scent of the Egyptian uprising in Cairo.”