12 - 18 September 2002
Issue No. 603
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Countdown to chaos

Arguments full of holes can hardly hide the truth, which is about oil, elections, and finding a scapegoat, writes Haim Bresheeth*

As these lines are written, a strange routine is being played out all over the world. As if moved by ingenious automatons, the chief players in a global show of ineptness are circling the globe with simple messages, their shrill voices presaging the coming crescendo, like a cosmic opera comique gone mad. Do they really think -- Bush, Rice, Cheney and even Blair -- that the new globalised world community is made up of morons? Apparently so.

As we rush towards the inevitable showdown they mix their metaphors with ever greater frequency, contradicting each other and themselves more than we thought was possible in the English language. Mr Bush, who seems incapable of listening even to his own father -- who is, after all, an authority of sorts on the topic of Saddam Hussein -- is even less likely to listen to the rest of the American people, let alone the rest of the world. One day he tells us with glee that he need not ask the House of Representatives for their view, and a week later he relents and promises to go to Congress, cueing their response in advance. A refusal to go to the Security Council is overturned, a failing coalition is traded for go-it-alone attitudes -- positions change at vertiginous speed, yet one thing remains true: the more it changes, the more it stays the same. George W Bush is prepared to go to enormous lengths, as long as he can get his way with the Iraqi leader, and in this morbid game he seems to be assisted mainly by Tony Blair.

The arguments fly at a pace which makes it difficult to follow, which may just be the point. We start with the Iraqi links with Al-Qa'eda and the Twin Towers atrocity, only to be told that was not quite what they meant, because Saddam is developing weapons of mass destruction. Where are the proofs for that claim? Well, Tony Blair seems to think that does not matter ("I haven't got the slightest idea") -- after all, if all countries developing weapons of mass destruction were to be invaded, who would do the invading? No matter, because as soon as this argument appears, it is replaced by another novel claim -- Saddam is a danger to his neighbours in the Middle East. Well, no sooner is this fielded than his neighbours chorus their opposition to war.

Now we are being told that Saddam is not a democrat, is not nice at all really, is actually a tyrant who gasses his own people. How nice to hear this two decades after the event in Khalabje, from the very governments who supported him in his first Gulf War against Iran. It did not seem to bother them then, or at any time in the past two decades. So a new argument is found -- the axis of evil connection to North Korea, which will supply him with the rockets to bomb New York and London. The ink had barely dried on that claim when a new one replaced it -- a regime change is needed in Iraq. Well, at least in this area the US is very experienced, as we have seen in Chile, but how disturbing it must be for Bush and Blair, when that grand architect of regime changes, Henry Kissinger, is himself rising against the war.

So how can this war be faulted, with so many good reasons given for it? Democracy and freedom, a concern for the neighbours, a wish to eradicate all weapons of mass destruction, to improve the Iraqi election system -- and many other good reasons to be revealed over the next few weeks before the tanks start rolling. How strange it must be, the Bush coterie must be feeling, that all these good reasons have failed to persuade even a single state or organisation about the necessity or wisdom of this war.

All of which makes it important to discuss the real reasons for this war, and the larger and more complex wars that shall follow in its wake. One only has to look at what is NOT mentioned to realise what all this must be about: oil, US elections, Islam, and the power of the mightiest empire the world has ever known. One sheriff has been operating in the Middle East for some decades, on behalf of its boss, but with little positive result -- the Israeli state is dividing and threatening the Arab world, but like the Frankenstein creature that it is, it sometimes threatens the interest of its own masters. It is time to install an American client- state that is Arab, and Iraq is a prime candidate for this regime change. Oil needs to be extracted at low financial cost and no political cost, from the deserts of Arabia, so as to power the SUV's in California, even if climate change will precede the regime change.

There is nothing like a war to help win an election, Bush's mandarins keep telling him, even more so after 11 September, 2001. Thatcher did it, Milosevic did it, even Sharon did it, so why not Bush? He should also listen to his own father, who came to rue his involvement in the Gulf, losing the election he was meant to win. In a US with a faltering economy the prospect of a war seems like good news. But the main force moving this conflict is the one not fully admitted -- Islam perceived as an opponent and an alternative to Western globalised capitalism. Whether this is indeed the case, and few of us believe in this myth, this is how the Washington political elite is perceiving the situation, even before the Bin Laden campaign, and spurred on by such intellectual ideologues such as Fukuyama and Huntington. The thesis of the Clash of Civilizations has great power over simple minds, searching for simple enemies and simple solutions. This is one prophecy that may well come to fulfil itself, if the current leaders of the Western world have it their own way. They may well succeed in turning Islam, in the Arab world and beyond, into a bitter opponent. Instead of a world building bridges of understanding and cooperation in order to guarantee the future of the species and its environment, the future of life itself, we will be silent witnesses to a global farce, with a tragic ending. A leadership intent on conflict, not just with its real and imaginary enemies but with the rest of humanity, as we have recently witnessed in Johannesburg, seems incapable of meeting the challenges it must face, and which will affect us all. There is a clash of civilisations, and a very acute one -- the civilisation of common interest, partnership and diversity finds itself facing the civilisation of power, money and uniformity. Forget the clash with Saddam, which is a symbolic shadow-play -- here is a larger and more worrying clash. We must start defending our civilisation, and the earlier the better.

* The writer, an Israeli academic and peace activist, lives in London. He is the co-editor of The Gulf War and the New World Order, Zed Books, and co-author of Introduction to the Holocaust, Icon Books.

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