Karen Hughes’ Indonesia Visit Underscores Bush Administration’s PR Problems

It is doubtful that the Bush administration will be very successful advancing America’s image in the Islamic world as long as its representatives have such trouble telling the truth.

A case in point took place on October 21, when U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes was talking before a group of university students in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country. As she has found elsewhere in her visits in the Islamic world, there is enormous popular opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the ongoing U.S. counter-insurgency war.

To justify the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich country, recognized in most of the world as a flagrant violation of international law, Ms. Hughes falsely claimed that “The consensus of the world intelligence community was that Saddam was a very dangerous threat.” In reality, however, the vast majority of the world’s intelligence community recognized that the government of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been severely weakened and successfully contained through the UN-supervised destruction of its weapons of mass destruction and offensive delivery systems during the 1990s and the UN-imposed sanctions which prevented Iraq from rebuilding such an arsenal.

Ms. Hughes also noted that Saddam Hussein “had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people,” neglecting to mention that the Iraqi regime’s use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in northern Iraq took place back in 1988, before the UN disarmament program eliminated these weapons and a full fifteen years prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

She continued by claiming Saddam Hussein “murdered hundreds of thousands of his own people using poison gas,” and, when later asked by foreign journalists about that claim, she stated that the figure was “close to 300,000.” While the use of chemical agents to massacre civilians is a serious war crime in any case, this is about sixty times the figure most observers give for the civilian death toll from such attacks by Saddam’s regime.

The total number of violent deaths inflicted on behalf of Saddam Hussein over his quarter century in power may indeed come close to 300,000. Virtually all those killings, however, took place more than a dozen years prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003. Thanks to unprecedented restrictions imposed by the United Nations Security Council which prevented the Baghdad government from deploying its armed forces over most of the country, combined with the UN-supervised disarmament program, Saddam Hussein’s ability to inflict such terror on the Iraqi population subsequent to 1991 was severely limited.

While a strong case could have been made for military intervention in Iraq under the genocide convention during Saddam’s Anfal campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s, this is no justification for an invasion fifteen years after the fact. Ironically, the United States was actively supporting Saddam Hussein’s government during this period, supplying his regime with military aid and generous loans.

As a result, the Bush administration’s justification of the U.S. invasion of Iraq on humanitarian grounds is as disingenuous as the claims that it was an act of self-defense. Indeed, the number of violent civilian deaths in Iraq in the two and a half years since the U.S. invasion is much greater than in the two and a half years prior to the invasion and is a major source of anti-American sentiment in Iraq and throughout the Islamic world.

It is ironic that Ms. Hughes attempted to justify the invasion on the brutality of the Iraqi regime while she was in Indonesia, a country which suffered for more than three decades under an even more brutal dictatorship. General Suharto, who was ousted in a largely nonviolent popular uprising in 1998, was responsible for a far greater number of civilian deaths than was Saddam Hussein.

Soon after seizing power in 1965, Suharto slaughtered over half a million alleged supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party. His invasion of East Timor in 1975 resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 civilians, nearly one-third of that island nation’s population. Many hundreds more died in massacres in Tanjung Priok in Jakarta’s port area in 1984, in Lampung on the southern tip of Sumatra in 1989, and in Dili, East Timor in 1991.

Throughout this period, rather than threatening an invasion or even sanctions, both Republican and Democratic administrations sent billions of dollars worth of U.S. taxpayer-funded armaments to prop up this bloody dictatorship.

Unlike Saddam, who went on trial the same week of Hughes’ visit to Indonesia, Suharto lives comfortably in retirement and remains active behind the scenes. Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has visited the ex-dictator at his Jakarta residence to pay his respects and Suharto continues to appear at major functions. The Bush administration has never expressed any objections to Suharto’s impunity nor have they called for bringing this mass murderer to justice.

As long as the U.S. government continues to display such a lack of integrity, no amount of public relations spin by Karen Hughes or anyone else can improve America’s image in Indonesia or anywhere else in the Islamic world.


Bush Administration Refuses Cuban Offer of Medical Assistance Following Katrina

One of the most tragically irresponsible decisions of the Bush administration in the critical hours following Hurricane Katrina was its refusal to accept offers by the government of Cuba to immediately dispatch more than 1500 medical doctors with 37 tons of medical supplies to the devastated areas along the Gulf coast.

The Cuban government made its formal offer on September 2, as desperately overworked health-care providers in New Orleans were unable to meet the needs of thousands of survivors due to the lack of medicines, equipment, and personnel. At that time, Senate majority leader and physician Bill Frist, who was visiting that flooded city, stated, “The distribution of medical assistance continues to be a serious problem.” He confirmed reports from Louisiana’s Health Department that scores of people were dying as a result.

The following day, the Washington Post reported that southern Mississippi’s most essential need, in addition to fuel, was medical assistance. In the evacuation center in Houston’s Astrodome, where infectious diseases were spreading, only a small portion of those seeking medical assistance were receiving care due to a shortage of medical personnel and supplies.

To both demonstrate the seriousness of his government’s offer and as a shrewd propaganda ploy, Cuban president Fidel Castro assembled 1586 doctors with backpacks filled with medical equipment at the Havana Convention Center on September 4, announcing their readiness to leave at a moment’s notice. Gulfstream Airways, a regional carrier based in Florida , offered to fly them into the affected region free of charge. There was no response from Washington .

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus tried to pressure the administration to accept the Cuban aid, with even the staunchly anti-Castro Cuban-American Republican Senator Mel Martinez of Florida stating, “If we need doctors, and Cuba offers them, and they provide good service, of course we should accept them.” News reports indicate that Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco, who had visited Cuba earlier this year, would have welcomed the assistance.

A full week after President Castro’s initial offer, the State Department finally did respond, officially rejecting the offer on the grounds that the United States did not have full diplomatic relations with Cuba. Notably, the Bush administration did accept aid from the government of Taiwan , with which the United States does not have full diplomatic relations either.

Despite Cuba’s many problems, the Communist country has established one of the finest public health care systems in the developing world, exporting thousands of doctors to poor parts of the Caribbean, Latin American, Africa, and Asia. The island nation is frequently hit by hurricanes and—despite its lack of resources—has demonstrated a far greater ability to handle these storms’ extreme winds and flooding with minimal loss of life than the far wealthier United States. Similarly, its doctors are well-trained to deal with such natural disasters.

Curiously, despite outcries by Congressional Democrats regarding other areas of negligence and incompetence by the Bush administration surrounding Hurricane Katrina, little attention has been given to the Bush administration’s tragic decision to reject the offer of Cuban aid. Part of the reason may be that the Democratic Party has for decades shared the Republicans’ seemingly pathological hostility toward Cuba even as they have supported bipartisan efforts to pursue close economic relations and even military and police aid to regimes with even worse human rights records.

The problems with the Cuban government—particularly regarding individual liberties and democratic governance—and other failures of Cuba’s brand of socialism are very real. However, this is no reason to have rejected the offers of badly-needed assistance which could have decreased the suffering and saved the lives of hundreds of Americans. No serious inquiry into the mismanagement of the response to Hurricane Katrina should avoid holding those responsible for rejecting the Cubans’ offer of medical assistance accountable for their actions.


Bush Again Resorts to Fear-Mongering to Justify Iraq Policy

President George W. Bush’s October 6 address at the National Endowment for Democracy illustrated his administration’s increasingly desperate effort to justify the increasingly unpopular U.S. war in Iraq. The speech focused upon the Bush administration’s claim that the Iraqi insurgency against U.S. occupation forces somehow constituted a grave threat to the security of the United States and the entire civilized world.

The speech focused almost entirely the Iraq War. Yet it began with an eloquent remembrance of the horror of September 11, 2001, despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, which was committed by the Saudi-led terrorist group al-Qaeda then based in Afghanistan. President Bush then listed a series of terrorist attacks by radical Islamists elsewhere in the world in subsequent years, which again had no connection to Iraq, other than the possibility that some of these attacks might have been prevented had the United States instead chosen to put its resources into fighting al-Qaeda rather than invading Iraq.

On a positive note, Bush reiterated the fact that terrorism in the name of Islam is contrary to the Islamic faith. He acknowledged to a degree he had not yet done so publicly that many of these movements are part of a loose network of local cells rather than a centrally controlled armed force.

Yet much of his speech contained the same misleading rhetoric regarding U.S. policy toward Iraq and the nature of the radical Islamists that has led the United States into its disastrous confrontation in Iraq and has served to weaken America’s defenses against the real threat al-Qaeda poses.

Some Samples of President Bush’s Misleading Statements

“These extremists want to end American and Western influence in the broader Middle East, because we stand for democracy and peace.”

While these extremist groups indeed want to limit American and other Western influence in the region and their ideology certainly does not support democratic institutions or peaceful means to advance their goals, the problems that radical Islamists have with the American role in the Middle East is not related to America’s stand in support for democracy and peace. As made clear by their manifestoes and by interviews with individual leaders, the radical Islamist opposition to the United States stems primarily from U.S. support for autocratic Arab governments, the invasion of Iraq, the ongoing U.S. military presence in the region, U.S. backing for the Israeli occupation, and related concerns which have nothing to do with democracy and peace.

“Al-Qaeda’s leader, Osama bin Laden, has called on Muslims to dedicate, quote, their ‘resources, sons and money to driving the infidels out of their lands.’ Their tactic to meet this goal has been consistent for a quarter-century: They hit us, and expect us to run. They want us to repeat the sad history of Beirut in 1983, and Mogadishu in 1993–only this time on a larger scale, with greater consequences.”

Al-Qaeda has existed for barely a dozen years. The network didn’t exist a quarter century ago. Nor is there any indication that they “expect us to run” when hit. If anything, their hope and expectation is that the U.S. will continue to overreact through disproportionate and misapplied military force that will further contribute to the dramatic increase in anti-Americanism throughout the Islamic world and thereby increase their ranks.

The “sad history of Beirut in 1983 and Mogadishu in 1993” was not the belated withdrawal of U.S. forces but that the U.S. intervened militarily in those countries in the first place. The resistance that fought U.S. Marines in Lebanon was composed of primarily Shiite and Druze militiamen who have never had any affiliation with al-Qaeda, which is a Salafi Sunni organization. In Somalia, U.S. forces battled militiamen affiliated with a number of Somali clans, none of which had any connection with al-Qaeda. Had President Reagan and President Clinton instead decided to keep American forces engaged in the factionalized civil wars in Lebanon and Somalia, it would have likely increased the numbers and influence of Islamic extremists in those countries and elsewhere, just as the failure to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq has done.

“The militant network wants to use the vacuum created by an American retreat to gain control of a country, a base from which to launch attacks and conduct their war against non-radical Muslim governments. Over the past few decades, radicals have specifically targeted Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, and Jordan for potential takeover. They achieved their goal, for a time, in Afghanistan. Now they have set their sight on Iraq….We must recognize Iraq as the central front in our war on terror.”

While small groups of radical Islamists have engaged in a series of terrorist bombings and assassinations in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Jordan in recent years, they never had much of a popular following and were never a serious threat to the survival of any of those regimes.

They succeeded in Afghanistan in large part due to the U.S. government sending as much as $5 billion in military aid to radical Islamic groups back in the 1980s during their fight with Afghanistan’s Communist government and its Soviet backers.

The “vacuum” that would allow radical Islamists to pose a challenge to the Iraqi government has already taken place as a direct result of the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power by U.S. forces. Prior to the U.S. invasion, the only major base of operations for such radical Islamists was Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s encampment in the far northeastern corner of Iraq, located within the autonomous Kurdish areas where Saddam’s government had no control. Now, as a result of the U.S. invasion, Al-Zarqawi’s militants operate throughout the Sunni heartland of central Iraq and their numbers have dramatically increased.

“The militants believe that controlling one country will rally the Muslim masses, enabling them to overthrow all moderate governments in the region, and establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia. With greater economic and military and political power, the terrorists would be able to advance their stated agenda: to develop weapons of mass destruction, to destroy Israel, to intimidate Europe, to assault the American people, and to blackmail our government into isolation.”

It is quite possible that these Salafi Sunni revivalists indeed harbor such fantasies, but they are just that–fantasies. The United States has more than a dozen allied governments in the region that have the motivation and ability to resist these fanatics, who have relatively few adherents within these or any other county in the Islamic world outside Iraq.

There are dozens of armed groups in Iraq battling U.S. occupation forces and the U.S.-backed government, which include supporters of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, other Baathists, independent nationalists, various Shiite factions, tribal-based groupings, and a number of Sunni Arab factions. The al-Qaeda inspired jihadists whom Bush focused upon in his speech are probably responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks against Iraqi civilians, but they represent only a small minority of the insurgency.

Even in the unlikely event of the overthrow of the Iraqi government, it is extremely doubtful that these more extreme elements would end up in control.

“Our enemy is utterly committed. As Zarqawi has vowed, ‘We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life.’ And the civilized world knows very well that other fanatics in history, from Hitler to Stalin to Pol Pot, consumed whole nations in war and genocide before leaving the stage of history.”

The idea that Al-Zarqawi could somehow obtain the power of Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin is utterly ludicrous. He lacks the resources, the state apparatus, the popular support, the propaganda machinery, the disciplined political party, the armed force, the industrial base, or any other attribute that could conceivably give him that kind of power. Bush is cynically playing on the fears of American people and shows a callous disrespect to the millions who died under these totalitarian rulers.

“Defeating the militant network is difficult, because it thrives, like a parasite, on the suffering and frustration of others . . .”

What Bush fails to note is that much of the suffering and frustration felt by the Iraqi people is a direct result of U.S. policy. Not only did the Iraqi people suffer under decades of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship (which was backed by the United States during the peak of his repression in the 1980s), the U.S. led one of most intense bombing campaigns in world history against Iraq in 1991, resulting in severe damage to the civilian infrastructure. This was followed by a dozen years of crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions that resulted in the deaths hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly children, from malnutrition and preventable diseases. As a result of the U.S. invasion, at least 20,000 civilians have died violent deaths, the country is facing a low-level civil war and an unprecedented crime wave, basic utilities have yet to be restored on a regular basis, unemployment is at an all-time high, there are mounting ethnic tensions which threaten to tear the country apart, priceless national artifacts have been stolen or destroyed from museums and archeological sites, and infant mortality is way up.

“The influence of Islamic radicalism is also magnified by helpers and enablers. They have been sheltered by authoritarian regimes, allies of convenience like Syria and Iran…”

The Bush administration has failed to present any credible evidence that either Syria or Iran is backing the radical Islamists.

On the contrary, Iran is actively supporting the Iraqi government, which is dominated by pro-Iranian Shiite parties and whose leadership spent years of exile in Iran. The Iranian government supports the proposed constitution and backed last January’s elections. In fact, Iran has provided security assistance and training to the Iranian government in their counter-insurgency efforts. The Iranian regime has long opposed al-Qaeda and nearly went to war against the Taliban regime in Afghanistan several years ago.

Similarly, the Syrian government is a secular nationalist regime dominated by members of the Alawite branch of Islam, which is far closer to the Shiites than the Sunnis. Syria has provided the United States with valuable intelligence against al-Qaeda and has tracked down, jailed, tortured, and killed al-Qaeda suspects.

“Some have also argued that extremism has been strengthened by the actions of our coalition in Iraq, claiming that our presence in that country has somehow caused or triggered the rage of radicals. I would remind them that we were not in Iraq on September the 11th, 2001–and al-Qaeda attacked us anyway. The hatred of the radicals existed before Iraq was an issue, and it will exist after Iraq is no longer an excuse. The government of Russia did not support Operation Iraqi Freedom, and yet the militants killed more than 180 Russian schoolchildren in Beslan.”

No one has claimed that the Islamist radicals responsible for the massacre in Beslan were in any way motivated by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Those terrorists were Chechen nationalists fighting against the Russian occupation of their homeland. Even the CIA, top Pentagon officials and other U.S. government agencies have acknowledged that the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the bloody counter-insurgency operations that followed has greatly enhanced the appeal of radical Islamist groups and enhanced their recruitment.

“Over the years these extremists have used a litany of excuses for violence–the Israeli presence on the West Bank, or the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, or the defeat of the Taliban, or the Crusades of a thousand years ago… No act of ours invited the rage of the killers–and no concession, bribe, or act of appeasement would change or limit their plans for murder.”

No major opponent of the U.S. war in Iraq and other U.S. policies in the Middle East is calling for concessions, bribes or appeasement as a means of influencing the behavior of al-Qaeda and like-minded extremists. A strong case can be made, however, that many U.S. policies have strengthened these movements by encouraging the growth of anti-Americanism in the Islamic world, thereby increasing the appeal in the Islamic world of extremist ideologies.

The U.S. should cease its unconditional military, diplomatic and economic support for autocratic Middle Eastern regimes and Israeli occupation forces, not for the sake of appeasing terrorists, but because no country that espouses freedom and the rule of law should support governments that engage in gross and systematic human rights violations.

“The United States makes no distinction between those who commit acts of terror and those who support and harbor them, because they’re equally as guilty of murder. Any government that chooses to be an ally of terror has also chosen to be an enemy of civilization. And the civilized world must hold those regimes to account.”

If Bush really believes this, it would behoove him to start with the government over which he has the most control: that of the United States. Some known terrorists have sought sanctuary in the U.S. and the Bush administration has refused to bring them to justice through extradition or trial. A recent high-profile case involves the exiled Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, whom the U.S. refuses to extradite to Venezuela to faces charges for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner which resulted in the deaths of all 73 passengers and crew.

“Some observers also claim that America would be better off by cutting our losses and leaving Iraq now. This is a dangerous illusion, refuted with a simple question: Would the United States and other free nations be more safe, or less safe, with Zarqawi and bin Laden in control of Iraq, its people, and its resources? Having removed a dictator who hated free peoples, we will not stand by as a new set of killers, dedicated to the destruction of our own country, seizes control of Iraq by violence.”

This is totally spurious argument. By virtually all accounts of scholars and journalists familiar with the various constituent elements of the Iraqi insurgency, the vast majority of the insurgents are not dedicated to the destruction of the United States. They merely want foreign occupation forces out of their country. Radical Islamist elements led by Al-Zarqawi and other supporters of bin Laden had virtually no presence in Iraq until after the United States invaded the country and grew in subsequent months as a reaction to the large-scale civilian casualties from U.S. counter-insurgency tactics. As a result, a strong case can be made that the continued prosecution of the war actually increases the chances that Al-Zarqawi and likeminded radicals could take over the country.

“If the peoples of that region are permitted to choose their own destiny, and advance by their own energy and by their participation as free men and women, then the extremists will be marginalized, and the flow of violent radicalism to the rest of the world will slow, and eventually end. By standing for the hope and freedom of others, we make our own freedom more secure.”

In reality, the United States is doing very little to advance the cause of self-determination, the rule of law, religious freedom and equal rights for women in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. For example, the U.S. trains Saudi Arabia’s repressive internal security apparatus and sells billions of dollars worth of weapons annually to the family dictatorship that rules that country. Saudi Arabia has no constitution and no legislature. It bans the practice of any faith besides Islam, practices torture on an administrative basis, and is perhaps the most misogynist country in the world.

Similarly, the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak remains the second largest recipient of U.S. economic and military assistance despite ongoing repression of pro-democracy movements and their leaders.

The United States also continues to maintain close military and political ties to autocratic regimes in Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Tunisia, and Morocco, among others. The U.S. is the world’s number one supplier of military and police training to autocratic regimes and occupation armies in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia.

It is also utterly false to claim that the United States supports the right of self-determination in the Middle East, since the Bush administration continues to support the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and the Golan Heights of Syria, as well as Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara. These occupations are maintained in violation through ongoing violations of international humanitarian law, the UN Charter, and a series of UN Security Council resolutions.

In Iraq, the United States continues to deny the Iraqi government full sovereignty through its continued control of important areas of fiscal, security and economic policy. In addition, the proposed constitution being pushed by the Bush administration actually allows for fewer rights for women and less religious freedom than that under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship.


Given the large number of misleading statements in this key foreign policy address, it is profoundly disappointing that the mainstream media appears to have taken it so seriously. There has been little critical analysis of the president’s remarks and headlines have instead focused upon the unsubstantiated claim in the speech that the United States had in recent years foiled 10 planned al-Qaeda attacks.

It is similarly disappointing that leading Democrats in Congress have not attempted to expose the fallacious arguments in this address either. Doing so could advance their party’s chances to win back the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House. Since the Democratic Congressional leadership and the vast majority of Democratic Senators and Representatives have chosen to continue their support of the Iraq War, however, it is perhaps not surprising that they remain unwilling to challenge the myths that perpetuate it.

As a result, it is up to American people to not only challenge the Bush administration’s falsehoods and misleading statements, but to challenge those in the media and in Congress who allow them to get away with such dangerous and illegitimate policies.

Libya: More Balance Needed

Key Points

* The U.S. has maintained a hostile relationship toward the Libyan regime of Muammar Qaddafi for over two decades, including a series of military confrontations in the 1980s.

* Qaddafi’s repression at home, anti-Western foreign policy, and support for extremist movements—including terrorist groups—have fueled the anti-Libyan sentiment of successive U.S. administrations.

* U.S. sanctions against Libya have continued, despite the suspension of UN sanctions following the extradition and trial of Libyan suspects in the Lockerbie PanAm bombing.

In 1969, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi led a military coup in Libya against King Idris, an unpopular pro-Western leader. A left-leaning Arab nationalist and a harsh critic of Israel and the West, Qaddafi nationalized Libya’s foreign-controlled oil industry and ordered the closure of Wheelus Air Base, one of the largest U.S. military facilities in the world. Although Qaddafi’s anticommunism allowed for some initial cautious optimism from the U.S., diplomatic relations were downgraded in 1973 and were formally broken eight years later.

Under Qaddafi’s rule, Libya has made impressive gains in health care, education, housing, women’s rights, and basic social services. His brand of Islamic socialism, combined with the country’s relatively small population and large oil reserves, has made Libya one of the more prosperous and egalitarian societies in the developing world, even though rhetoric has outpaced performance. A decentralized political system has allowed for democracy and popular participation in some political activities.

Political repression, however, is widespread. Serving both monarchs and military rulers, Libyan law prohibits the formation of political parties and criticism of the political system. There are no independent human rights organizations or nongovernmental organizations of any kind, and the government strictly controls the press. There are hundreds of political prisoners, and torture in detention is common. Outspoken opponents of the government have been murdered, both at home and abroad.

More distressing to the U.S. has been Qaddafi’s support for extremist movements abroad, including terrorist groups, some of which may have been responsible for the deaths of American citizens. He has also been an outspoken advocate of radical third world and Arab causes.

During the early 1980s, there was a series of military clashes between the U.S. and Libya, with Libya attacking U.S. navy ships, and U.S. forces destroying Libyan military ships and aircraft and bombing coastal military installations. In April 1986, following a terrorist bombing in Berlin that killed an American G.I., the U.S. bombed Tripoli and Benghazi, Libya’s two largest cities, killing more than sixty civilians. The Reagan administration supported a wide range of covert activities targeting Libya, including disinformation campaigns, propaganda, sabotage, and encouragement of opposition groups. The U.S. also provided logistical support for French military operations against Libyan forces in the disputed Ouzou Strip region of northern Chad, and Washington encouraged Egyptian hostility toward Libya, resulting in a series of clashes along their common border.

In 1982, the U.S. initiated a series of sanctions against Libya, including an embargo on Libyan oil and a new requirement for export licenses for most American goods. Comprehensive sanctions were imposed in 1986, including a freeze of Libyan assets and a ban on all trade and financial dealings with Libya. These sanctions also forbid Americans, including journalists and academics, from traveling to Libya without permission from the U.S. government.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Washington issued a series of reports, widely circulated in the media, designed to discredit and demonize the Libyan government. These included charges of a Libyan hit squad targeting American officials, reports of coup attempts against Qaddafi, and allegations of a large underground chemical weapons factory. Subsequent investigations found all of these reports to be false.

When an investigation of the 1988 PanAm airliner bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, fingered two Libyan intelligence agents, the U.S. and Great Britain demanded their extradition to stand trial. In 1992, as the International Court of Justice was addressing the extradition question, the U.S. successfully pressured the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Libya to force the government to hand over the suspects. These international sanctions prohibited the export of aviation, military, or petroleum equipment to Libya, banned commercial flights to or from Libya, limited Libyan diplomatic representation abroad, and placed restrictions on certain Libyan financial activities.

In 1999, all parties agreed to have the Libyans tried in the Netherlands before three Scottish judges. UN sanctions against Libya were suspended in 1999 when the two Libyan suspects were extradited for trial, though the U.S. has maintained its own unilateral sanctions. The judges made their ruling in January 2001, convicting one suspect and acquitting the other. It is still unclear whether the bombing was a rogue operation or ordered by higher-ups, including possibly Qaddafi, himself, in retaliation for the 1986 bombing raids.

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Key Problems
* Military attacks against Libya have led to civilian deaths, have violated international law, and have strengthened Qaddafi’s standing in Libya and the international community.

* Washington’s opposition to political repression and support of terrorism by the Libyan government is compromised by U.S. support of other autocratic regimes and acquiescence to terrorist activities by American allies.

* The sanctions against Libya have been largely ineffective in altering Tripoli’s behavior but have been harmful to American businesses and other interests.

U.S. hostility toward Libya appears to have been largely reactive and not based on any well-conceived strategy. Demonizing the eccentric Qaddafi, with his penchant for harsh and provocative rhetoric, has been useful in bolstering the domestic standing of successive U.S. presidents and feeding the sense of self-righteousness Americans feel for the U.S. role in the world. But it has netted little tangible benefit for U.S. policy interests. For example, Qaddafi’s 1986 claim that the entire Gulf of Sidra was within Libyan territorial waters had no legal justification. Yet the U.S. insistence on militarily challenging the claim seemed more designed as an excuse to attack the country than to enforce international law, particularly since Libya was not enforcing its claims.

More tragically, what apparently provoked the Libyan terrorists who destroyed the Pan Am airliner in 1988 were the U.S. bombing raids against Libyan cities two years earlier. The U.S. justified the air strikes on the grounds that they would prevent future Libyan-sponsored terrorism—an ironic justification, given the subsequent event. Moreover, international law only recognizes the legitimacy of the use of force for self-defense, not for retaliation. The numerous civilian casualties from the air strikes and the serious damage caused to the French embassy and other diplomatic facilities provoked outrage throughout the world and bolstered Qaddafi’s standing both at home and abroad. Indeed, Washington’s support for terrorist groups like the Nicaraguan contras, U.S. failure to extradite CIA-connected terrorists currently indicted in two Latin American countries, and America’s role in a deadly 1985 car bombing in a Beirut suburb have hampered U.S. credibility as a crusader against the Libyan regime’s alleged links to terrorism.

Although the UN sanctions against Libya never inflicted the serious humanitarian consequences that have plagued Iraq, they did retard Libya’s economic development and isolated the country internationally, discouraging liberalizing influences. The ongoing unilateral U.S. sanctions have had a similar effect. Even Qaddafi’s Libyan opponents have opposed the sanctions on the grounds that this tactic has played into the hands of the Libyan dictator.

What made the Libyans particularly reluctant to accede to initial demands to extradite the bombing suspects was the realization that the U.S. would oppose the lifting of UN sanctions even if they complied, since Washington’s target was not really the indicted men but rather the Qaddafi regime. Indeed, even though UN sanctions have been suspended against Libya, the U.S. has blocked efforts to have them completely lifted.

A particularly problematic manifestation of U.S. sanctions has been the 1996 D’Amato Act, the motivation for which may go beyond simply curbing terrorism to exerting U.S. pressure on weaker countries. The law says that the president can “determine” that a person, company, or government is in violation of the act, and the aggrieved party has no recourse to challenge the president’s determination in court or anywhere else. With such wide latitude of interpretation, a president can impose sanctions or other punitive measures based more on political considerations than on any objective criteria, thus honing the mechanisms by which the U.S. can force foreign countries to cooperate with its strategic and economic agendas.

The bill provides for an array of sanctions, including banning the sale of products of culpable firms in the United States. As with similar extraterritorial efforts regarding Cuba, even America’s strongest allies have raised vehement objections to the law, which apparently violates World Trade Organization rules. Ironically, this is the same sort of secondary boycott that the U.S. has vehemently opposed when applied by Middle Eastern states to U.S. companies doing business in Israel. If the U.S. secondary boycott is maintained, other countries are likely to take over lost American business. Thus, it will not be the targeted regime that will be hurt by U.S. policy—it will be American businesses and American credibility.

The crimes committed over the years by Qaddafi’s Libya, though frequently exaggerated and not always unique, are still very real. Similarly, double-standards are commonplace both in U.S. diplomatic history and in the foreign policies of every great power. Yet in many respects, just as Qaddafi has gained political mileage in portraying himself as a victim of a vengeful and hypocritical U.S., there are those in the U.S. who also benefit from maintaining a hostile relationship with this leader whom Americans love to hate. Hostility toward “rogue states” like Libya helps justify continued high military budgets, encourages unilateral military initiatives, and feeds the self-righteous and sanctimonious U.S. perception of its role in the world.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Libya’s most serious offense in the eyes of U.S. policymakers does not concern human rights abuses, terrorism, nuclear ambitions, subversion, or conquest but rather the impudence to challenge American hegemony in the Middle East. Regimes like Libya and other so-called “rogue states” are preventing the U.S. from exercising its political dominance over this crucial region. By overthrowing or subjugating these regimes, American policymakers believe they will gain unprecedented leverage in shaping the future direction of the Middle East.

This brings us to the final irony. Their role as an impediment to hegemonic American ambitions lends these regimes the credibility and legitimacy they would not otherwise receive, since most Middle Eastern people resent foreign domination.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Key Recommendations
* The U.S. should significantly ease sanctions against Libya as a means of encouraging a more pluralistic society and responsible foreign policy.

* The U.S. should promote arms control throughout North Africa and should pledge not to attack Libya unless there is clear evidence that Libya has attacked first.

* Diplomatic relations should be restored and most economic sanctions lifted; military sanctions should be retained, and any trade that could strengthen the regime’s repressive apparatus or export of violence should be stifled.

Washington needs to encourage Libya to play a more responsible role both toward its own citizens and as a member of the international community. Current policy needs an overhaul, however, if such policy ambitions are to be successful.

Many of Qaddafi’s stated objectives—encouraging sustainable broad-based economic development, promoting Palestinian rights, and defending the Arab world’s cultural, religious, and national rights from Western domination—have some legitimacy and evoke solidarity throughout the Middle East. A U.S. decision to address the legitimate concerns and adopt more responsible policies in the Middle East would rob demagogues like Qaddafi of their popular base and obstruct their dangerous policies. Such an approach would prove more successful at controlling Qaddafi than air strikes and punitive sanctions, which only appear to strengthen his power and influence.

Washington should go on record with the promise that it will not attack Libya unless there is clear evidence that Libya has attacked first. Proactively, the U.S. should promote arms control across North Africa as a means of bringing greater peace and stability to the region. Normal diplomatic relations should be restored and sanctions should be substantially liberalized to allow for normal business activity as well as academic and tourist exchanges. A whole generation of Americans has grown up with the news media and popular culture depicting Libyans as terrorists. Normal interchanges between the two countries would greatly enhance better understanding between the two peoples and minimize the risk of violence against either.

Military sanctions should remain in place. Similarly, the U.S. should maintain restrictions against commercial or other activities that could directly strengthen the regime’s repressive apparatus or foster terrorism.

Recent conflict between the U.S. and Libya has harmed the credibility of U.S. efforts to promote a more open and pluralistic society in Libya. Encouraging a greater role for international nongovernmental organizations—untainted by a direct U.S. presence—could help this process. Libya’s impressive advances in some aspects of economic development, including innovations in appropriate technology, deserve examination as possible models for development elsewhere.

Lingering concerns about potential Libyan involvement in terrorism should be addressed through international organizations and law enforcement, not through unilateral actions. Washington must renounce its support for any irregular forces or governments involved in terrorism in order to become a more effective leader in the war against terrorism. Moreover, the U.S. should acknowledge that its previous attacks against civilian targets in Libya were themselves a form of terrorism.

Similarly, Washington’s concerns about Qaddafi’s ongoing human rights violations would be enhanced if the U.S. ended its silence about human rights violations by such U.S. allies as Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. There is nothing wrong with constraining—using economic sanctions, if necessary—regimes that export terrorism and violate human rights. However, until the U.S. is willing to end its flagrant double-standards, such efforts—even where justified—will get little international support.

Finally, if the U.S. is really interested in democratic change in Libya, it should recognize that Qaddafi is not the only important political actor in that country. Washington must analyze Libya’s social structure and regional differences. There are technocrats, ideologues, military and religious leaders, and other competing interest groups outside Qaddafi’s complete control. Together they constitute a complex internal political dynamic in Libya.

Libya should not be used as a symbol, a whipping boy, an excuse for higher military spending, or a vehicle for proving a president’s machismo. U.S. policy should be guided more by area specialists and less by military leaders and national security managers who are unfamiliar with Libya, its politics, history, and culture. The demonization of Qaddafi and Libya should be replaced by a more balanced approach that recognizes the regime’s accomplishments as well as its many serious problems.

Stephen Zunes is an associate professor of politics and chairperson of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. Zunes is also a senior analyst and the Middle East and North Africa editor at Foreign Policy In Focus.

Recommended Citation:
Stephen Zunes, “Libya: More Balance Needed” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, October 6, 2005)


Defense of Israeli Assassination Policy by the Bush Administration and Democratic Leaders

The U.S. veto of a proposed UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israel’s March 22 assassination of Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin has once again placed the United States both on the fringe of international public opinion and in opposition to international legal norms. Despite the proposed resolution condemning “all attacks against civilians,” the United States once again was the lone dissenting vote, marking the 28 th time since 1970 that the U.S. has blocked a Security Council resolution criticizing the actions of its most important Middle Eastern ally.

This is more than all the other permanent members of the Security Council have used their veto power on all other issues during that period combined.

The Fourth Geneva Conventions–to which both Israel and the United States are signatories, and which the UN Security Council, in previous unanimous resolutions, has determined applies to the Israeli-occupied territories–explicitly prohibits “the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.” [Article 3(I)]

Furthermore, even if Ahmed Yassin was complicit in earlier acts of terrorism, the elderly, quadriplegic sheik would still be considered a “protected person,” which the 1949 treaty describes as those “taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces … placed hors de combat [out of combat] by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause.”

Sheik Yassin and Terrorism

Sheik Yassin had been imprisoned twice in recent years by Israeli occupation forces, but Israel set him free without any charges of involvement with acts of terrorism. Though the Israeli military launched frequent raids in the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian areas to arrest suspects, they made no attempt to re-arrest Yassin. Similarly, the Israelis made no formal extradition request to the Palestine Authority.

Yassin was a spiritual leader, not a military leader. Despite his reactionary interpretation of Islamic teachings and his rationalizations for attacks against Israeli civilians, he was not generally considered to be in the chain of command regarding Hamas terrorist operations. Indeed, his failing health alone–at the time of his assassination, he was largely blind and deaf–limited his effectiveness as anything more than a symbolic figure.

In any case, Hamas was never a cult of personality centered around one person. Its multifaceted operations–which, in addition to its military wing, include a network of schools, health care clinics, and other basic social services–operated well during periods in which Yassin was jailed.

In more recent, years Sheik Yassin had been considered a relatively moderate voice, supporting a series of ceasefires with Israel (each of which Israel broke by assassinating Palestinian leaders). He had also insisted that military operations take place only within the boundaries of historic Palestine and not in the United States. He recently stated that Hamas would stop attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip in return for an Israeli withdrawal from the territory. His successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, disagreed with Sheik Yassin on each of these matters, and will likely expand the deadly reach of Hamas’ military wing.

The attack–consisting of three missiles fired from a U.S.-supplied helicopter–also killed seven other people: two bodyguards and five unarmed bystanders. The Israeli government has not even claimed these other victims were guilty of any crimes.

In light of such moral, legal, and tactical questions regarding the assassination, the Bush administration’s response is particularly disturbing.

The Bush Administration’s Response to the Assassination

While not overtly endorsing the attack, President Bush declared on March 23 that “ Israel has a right to defend herself from terror.” A day earlier, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice defended the assassination by saying “Let’s remember that Hamas is a terrorist organization, and Sheik Yassin has himself, we believe, been involved in terrorist planning.” (She gave no evidence to back up her claims of Yassin’s personal involvement in planning terrorist operations.)

The strongest language against the attack the Bush administration could use was uttered by spokesman Scott McLellan on the day of the attack, when he said that “the United States is deeply troubled by this morning’s action in Gaza.” Democrats in the House of Representatives, however, attacked the Bush administration from the right, with Rep. Gary Ackerman (NY)–joined by Robert Matsui (CA), Barney Frank (MA), Nita Lowey (NY), Shelley Berkley (NV), Brad Sherman (CA), Carolyn McCarthy (NY), Ed Markey (MA), Martin Frost (TX), and other Democratic leaders–demanding that President Bush “immediately repudiate” McLellan’s statement.

In any event, the Bush administration response to Israel’s assassinations policy was a lot milder than it had been previously. Last summer, for example, following Israel’s unsuccessful assassination attempt against Rantisi, which killed a female bystander and wounded dozens of others, President Bush declared, “I regret the loss of innocent life. I’m concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don’t believe the attacks help the Israeli security.”

The Democratic response to this moderate response from the administration, however, was even more vociferous. The entire House Democratic leadership–Minority leader Nancy Pelosi (CA), Deputy leader Steny Hoyer (MD), Caucus Chair Robert Menendez (NJ), ranking House International Relations Committee ranking member Tom Lantos (CA), and dozens of others–wrote a letter to President Bush saying that they were “deeply dismayed” by his comments. The Democrats claimed that “ the attack on Hamas leader Abdel Rantisi was clearly justified as an application of Israel ’s right to self-defense,” and that Israel ’s assassination policy must have “the full support of the United States.”

It is noteworthy that the majority of the Democratic leaders signing these letters are on record opposing the death penalty, even in cases where a mass murderer like Timothy McVeigh has been granted a fair trial by jury and other Constitutional guarantees. McVeigh, however, is a white American. By contrast, if the suspect is a Palestinian, these Democrats appear to believe that not only is execution an appropriate punishment, no due process is required. This is yet another example of the vicious and endemic anti-Arab racism in the Democratic Party.

The Assassination Debate within Israel

It would be wrong to attribute the Republicans’ and Democrats’ support of Israel ’s assassinations as support for Israel . Indeed, Israelis themselves are deeply divided on the wisdom of such provocative actions. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s own interior minister, Avraham Poraz, declared, “I think the damage is greater than the usefulness.” Even more significantly, Shin Bet, the Israeli security service charged with protecting Israelis from terrorist attacks, was also in opposition to the Yassin assassination, according to Israeli press reports.

Danny Rubenstein, writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, observed, “The more Israel hits Hamas leaders and rank-and-file members, the more their popularity climbs. In tandem, they become increasingly immune to operations by the PA’s security force, since any such operation would only be interpreted as treacherous collaboration with Israel.”

Prominent Israeli journalist Uri Avneri reacted by observing, “There seems to be no limit to the stupidity of our political and military leaders. They endanger the future of the State of Israel.” Indeed, public opinion polls show that 80% of the Israeli public fear more violence, since virtually every Israeli assassination has resulted directly in terrorist attacks against civilian targets in Israel. Indeed, political scientist Steve Niva of Evergreen State College has demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks by Hamas have come in direct response to such Israeli assassinations and assassination attempts.

Similarly, Yediot Ahoronot’s military affairs correspondent Alex Fishman has observed that such assassinations appear to be designed to inflame militant groups rather than deter them, noting the pattern of Israeli attacks when there has been a lull in Palestinian violence and when Hamas had agreed to or was considering a cease-fire.

Furthermore, the killings have dramatically raised the standing of Hamas relative to the more moderate secular groupings that make up the Palestine Authority (PA). Despite PA president Yasir Arafat’s corruption, ineptitude, and autocratic rule, the PA has accepted the principle of peace, security guarantees, and normalized relations with Israel in return for the withdrawal of Israeli occupation forces from the 22% of historic Palestine occupied by Israel in 1967. By contrast, Hamas wants no less than 100% of historic Palestine.

A Revival of Nonviolent Resistance

Over the past two months, there has been a revival of nonviolent resistance to the occupation, with Palestinians (sometimes joined by Israeli peace activists) engaging in sit-ins, blockades, and other forms of nonviolent direct action against the Israeli occupation and colonization of the West Bank. A number of Israeli analysts, including political science professor Neve Gordan of Ben-Gurion University, believe that the assassination of Sheik Yassin will short-circuit this nonviolent movement and turn the tide back in a more violent direction.

It is noteworthy that, during the first and largely nonviolent intifada in the late 1980s, the Israelis closed down the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence (PCSNV) while allowing Hamas to operate openly. Israeli occupation authorities arrested and exiled PCSNV’s founding director Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian native of Jerusalem and a disciple of Gandhi, while allowing Sheik Yassin to remain free and to openly call for armed struggle against Israel.

The major reason for the bipartisan American backing for Israel’s policy of assassination, then, is not out of concern for Israeli security interests, which are clearly compromised by such policies. The main reason is that Israeli policy is not very different from current U.S. policy.

In September 2001, President Bush rescinded President Gerald Ford’s 1976 executive order banning agents of the U.S. government from engaging in assassinations and lowered the standard of proof for assassinations to those merely “suspected” of being terrorists.

For example, in November 2002, President Bush ordered the assassination of a suspected al Qaeda operative in Yemen. Not only has the administration not released evidence of why it believed the victim was an al Qaeda leader, but the missile attack on his car killed four other people, including a U.S. citizen.

In effect, the Democratic Party is now to the right of Ford administration, and–as indicative in these recent “Dear Colleague” letters–to the right of the Bush administration as well. By opposing international legal standards even more vociferously than President Bush, it will make it very difficult for voters who support these principles to vote for either major party this fall.

The sad fact, then, is that even a Democratic victory in November is unlikely to bring much change from the Bush administration’s ongoing assaults against international law and the United Nations. As a result, it is all the more imperative that those who support such principles not waste their time trying to elect Democrats who support nearly identical foreign policies as their Republican opponents, but demand that both parties end their opposition to basic international legal principles and institutions which are upheld by virtually every other democratic nation.

The Peace Process Between Israel and Syria

Key Points

* The U.S. role as a superpower with strong strategic and economic interests in the region often conflicts with its role as mediator in the Israeli-Syrian peace process.

* Syria has moderated its once-belligerent posture toward the Israelis and is now closer to accepting the existence of Israel and living in peace, particularly if the Palestinians are allowed a viable state alongside Israel.

* The United States has maintained its strong support for Israel’s negotiating position, even though Israel now takes a more hard-line posture than its autocratic neighbor.

The U.S. has long considered Syria the most intractable of Israel’s front-line neighbors due to its autocratic government, links to terrorists, and virulent anti-Israel posture. However, a variety of factors—both international and domestic—have led this one-time rejectionist government to pursue a peace agreement with its long-time enemy. Syria’s less belligerent stance toward Israel is not as much a result of greater American influence in this former Soviet client-state as it is a reflection of the more pragmatic drift of Arab parties that has been evolving since the mid-1970s. The Syrians supported, albeit not uncritically, the U.S. government in its war against Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1991 and have also backed the current campaign against the al Qaeda terrorist network.

In the Syrian case, this process has been hastened by the end of large-scale Soviet military support combined with U.S. determination to provide Israel with a qualitative military advantage. The death of long-time dictator Hafez Assad in 2000 and his replacement by his more pragmatic son has not led to the radical reforms once hoped for, but he does appear to be more moderate than his father.

The dramatic political and economic shifts in the Arab world resulting from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the demise of left-leaning Arab nationalist movements, and the U.S.-dominated post-Gulf War system, have created a situation where Syria cannot reap as much political capital in provoking conflict with Israel as it had previously. However, the Israelis seem far less willing to take the necessary steps to make a negotiated settlement possible, and the U.S. likewise appears unwilling to push its ally to compromise. The recent escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence has also tempted Syria to resume support for radical secular Palestinian groups that feel vindicated as a result of the breakdown of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In 1976, with quiet U.S. support, Syria invaded Lebanon to prevent a victory by left-wing nationalist forces backed by Palestinian exiles. The Syrians played a balance-of-power role between the contending factions until the Lebanese civil war ended in 1990. U.S. forces brought into Lebanon following Israel’s 1982 invasion clashed with Syrian forces on several occasions prior to the U.S. withdrawal in 1984. Syria maintains a visible military presence in Lebanon and effectively controls the country’s foreign affairs. The U.S. would like to support a more independent government in Lebanon, traditionally one of the more pro-Western Arab states.

At the center of the Syrian dispute with Israel is the Golan Heights, the southwestern corner of Syria, which Israel has occupied since 1967. The Syrians have agreed to demilitarize the Golan, allow for international monitors, and provide other security guarantees in return for an Israeli withdrawal. The Israelis, however, have still not committed to totally withdraw.

Despite an international outcry, the Israelis have effectively annexed the territory, announcing its direct administration under Israeli law as of 1981, contrasting with their ongoing military rule of parts of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank. The Golan’s fertile farmland, generous water resources, and strategic topography make it difficult, in the minds of many Israelis, to give up this territory. In addition, Israeli failure to withdraw flouts longstanding principle in international law regarding the inadmissibility of territorial acquisition by force, re-stated in the preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which the U.S. has long insisted be the basis of the peace talks.

During the 1980s U.S. policy was geared toward confronting Syria. President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Council advocated a tough policy of challenging Syria with both American and Israeli military power. Indeed, there has long been great hostility toward the Syrian government in the United States and little support for its insistence on ending Israel’s occupation of the Golan, despite formal U.S. endorsement of the concept of “land for peace” as spelled out in UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

Syria was long considered by Washington to be unreasonably hard-lined for its rejection of these resolutions. Now that Syria has dramatically moderated its policies and has accepted resolutions 242 and 338 as the basis of negotiations, it appears that the U.S. suddenly considers the Syrians to be hard-lined for their insistence on the resolutions’ strict implementation. The result is an impasse that can be broken only by a shift in U.S. policy.

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Key Problems

* For more than three decades, the U.S. has tolerated Israel’s ongoing violations of international law and human rights in the occupied Golan.

* U.S. policy has refused to question Israel’s exaggerated security concerns regarding its potential withdrawal from Syrian territory.

* The U.S., in backing most of Israel’s demands, has gone well beyond the requirements of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, long presented as the basis of the negotiations.

The United States convened peace talks between Syria and Israel in 1991 in Madrid as part of a broader peace process initiated after the Gulf War. Israel broke off the talks in 1996 and resumed negotiations in late 1999. The two sides came close to an agreement in early 2000, but talks broke down regarding the demarcation of the border. The Israeli government of Ariel Sharon, without any apparent U.S. objections, has refused to seriously consider any withdrawal and has not returned to the bargaining table.

The U.S. has poured billions of dollars worth of economic and military assistance to Israel since it seized the Golan Heights in 1967, in part to challenge Syria and its demand for the restoration of its conquered territory. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to call for the end of Syria’s economic boycott of Israel and the normalization of relations while failing to insist upon a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan or even an end to its human rights abuses and the withdrawal of its illegal settlements.

Unlike in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the vast majority of the Arab population in the Golan region was expelled following the Israeli conquest, thus relieving Israel of many of the burdens of occupation. The Syrians expelled from the Golan in 1967 (counting descendants) now number as many as 300,000 and remain refugees in their own country. Only five villages remain, consisting of members of the Druze minority, who engaged in Gandhian-style nonviolent resistance against the occupation in the early 1980s, only to be brutally suppressed by Israeli forces without any apparent U.S. objections.

Few Americans recognize that Syrians are at least as frightened of Israel as Israelis are of Syria. The Israelis have on several occasions bombed Damascus, though the Syrians have never successfully attacked Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Indeed, Damascus currently remains within range of Israeli artillery. The Israelis, meanwhile, insist that if they withdraw their forces from the Golan, demilitarization must occur exclusively on the Syrian side.

Virtually all official U.S. statements on security issues have focused exclusively on Israeli security concerns, often reiterating that between 1948 and 1967, Syrian gunners would periodically lob shells from the Golan Heights into civilian areas within Israel. However, according to UN peacekeeping forces stationed along the border during that period, Israel engaged in far more cease-fire violations and inflicted far greater civilian casualties than did Syria. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan acknowledged in his diaries in 1967 that there was no clear strategic rationale for seizing the territories, and he later admitted to an Israeli reporter that the Golan was seized out of greed for its waters and fertile farmland. Many contemporary Israeli strategic analysts agree.

Without Soviet support, Syrian military power has fallen dramatically while Israel’s has been further strengthened, in large measure with U.S. assistance. Indeed, in this era of medium-range missiles, controlling high ground such as the Golan would not yield Syria a significant military advantage. Despite this—and despite Israel’s unprecedented military advantage—successive Israeli governments have convinced much of the Israeli public and Israel’s supporters in the United States that retaining this territory is critical to Israel’s survival.

The U.S. continues to include Syria on its list of “terrorist states,” even though the State Department has admitted they have no evidence of the Syrian government being linked to any terrorist attacks since 1986. Being on the list denies Syria access to foreign aid and certain high-technology imports. Washington has offered to remove Syria from the list only if it makes peace with Israel largely on U.S.-Israeli terms.

Given that Israel is widely viewed in the U.S. as a pro-Western democracy and that Syria is a dictatorship that once had close ties with the Soviets, there has been an understandable bias in the U.S. toward Israel in the peace process. This perspective is compounded by the fact that for most of Israel’s history, the Syrians refused to negotiate, financed terrorist groups that attacked Israeli civilians, and sought Israel’s destruction. As a result, few Americans recognize the fact that, in the current negotiations, Syria’s position is actually more moderate than Israel’s, since Syria is more consistent with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, or “land for peace,” which the U.S. pledged would be the basis of the talks when they opened in Madrid in 1991.

The U.S. claims it is being even-handed with Israel and Syria. Yet even taking the “middle ground” between the two parties would not be reasonable, since Syria’s demand for full withdrawal from the Golan is backed by the explicit edict of a legally binding document on which the peace process is based, while the Israeli demands not yet met by Syria have no such legal basis.

Currently, Congress is considering bipartisan legislation to impose tough sanctions on Syria with the stated aim of halting Syria’s alleged support for terrorism. The sanctions would also target what the congressional sponsors refer to as Syria’s “occupation” of Lebanon. In addition, the sanctions would aim to stop Syria’s development of weapons of mass destruction and to end its importation of Iraqi oil. In doing so, the congressional sponsors of the sanctions measure hope to “hold Syria accountable for its role in the Middle East.” Given Israel’s sizable arsenal of nuclear and chemical weapons, its repressive occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory, and widespread attacks against civilians, such a sanctions policy would add more weight to the criticism that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is not even-handed.

Toward a New Foreign Policy

Key Recommendations

* The United States should place greater emphasis on human rights and international law in dealing with Israel and Syria.

* In seeking a Middle East peace settlement, Washington should not send additional arms to this overly militarized region nor should it compensate Israel for relocating settlers who occupied Syrian land illegally.

* Pressuring the Israeli government for a full withdrawal from occupied Syrian territory in return for security guarantees is in Israel’s best interest and is therefore consistent with America’s historic commitment to Israel.

To play a reasonably constructive role in seeking a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the U.S. should approach any new peace talks from the perspective of upholding UN Security Council resolutions, international law, and the long-term stability of the region and must not succumb to its ideological and geopolitical biases. U.S. leaders must also recognize the enormous progress Syria has made toward making peace with Israel. Thus far, Washington has failed to do either of these. The U.S. must either take a more responsible role as mediator or hand the task over to the United Nations, the European Union, or some other more objective body.

More than 15,000 Israeli settlers have colonized the Golan in defiance both of international law—which prohibits the transfer by the occupying power of its inhabitants into land seized by military force—and of explicit United Nations Security Council resolutions whose enforcement is currently blocked by Washington. Unlike the Jewish settlers on the West Bank—many of whom claim strong religious and historical ties to the region—settlers in the Golan have less emotional attachment and are there more for financial and aesthetic reasons. As a result, despite the protests of a small right-wing minority among them, these settlers could probably be coaxed to leave through generous financial incentives and other government efforts short of forced expulsion.

However, the U.S. should not be expected to pay for this withdrawal. The Clinton administration was reportedly willing to spend up to $17 billion to support a Syrian-Israeli peace agreement. Yet it is doubtful that such a sum would promote peace. As much as $10 billion would go to relocate Israeli settlers from the Golan. Not only is the price tag of approximately $650,000 per settler excessive, but Israel should not be given any money to relocate settlers who built homes illegally on other people’s land in violation of international law and UN Security Council resolutions.

Much of the remaining money would come in the form of military aid to Israel, adding still more sophisticated armaments to an already-overmilitarized region. Similar increases in U.S. arms to the region followed peace agreements between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan. The U.S. already sent an additional $1.4 billion in military assistance to Israel in 1999 as part of the 1998 Wye River Agreement. Instead, Washington should insure that these long-overdue peace agreements result in the demilitarization of the region, as has occurred with most peace treaties historically. If it wants to be helpful, the U.S. should use the peace process as an opportunity to get serious about arms control.

The primary obstacle at this point to Syria making peace with Israel remains the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Syrian regime, like other autocratic Arab governments historically, has used the plight of the Palestinians to advance its political aims, though it is very unlikely it would risk its own security for the Palestinian cause. Should Israel make peace with Syria, it would also likely make peace with Lebanon, whose foreign policy has essentially been controlled by Damascus since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990. In effect, Israel can have the Golan or it can have peace; it cannot have both. Thus, Israel would be far more secure without the Golan than with it. Many Israelis, including some top military officials, recognize this.

If Washington is really concerned about Israel’s security, the U.S. must insist that Israel withdraw from the Golan after receiving reasonable security guarantees from Syria or risk losing U.S. military and economic aid. Without such U.S. pressure on the Israeli government to compromise, it will be hard for any Israeli prime minister to be willing to withdraw.

If there is evidence that Syria still meets the criteria of a terrorist state, it should remain on the list and if it does not, it should be removed. Its classification should not be linked to Syrian capitulation to Israeli demands. Other sanctions should not be imposed unless the U.S. has exhausted other means to effect a change in Syrian policies and such restrictions are applied to all states in the region—including America’s allies.

Finally, the United States must make human rights a cornerstone of its Middle East policy, insisting on greater human rights and democracy in Syria and elsewhere in the Arab world while requiring Israel to end its human rights abuses in the occupied territories.


How Much Power Will the New Iraqi Government Really Have?

Much attention was paid in the run-up to the January 30 elections in Iraq regarding how the lack of security in much of the country, combined with the decision by major Sunni Arab parties to boycott in protest of recent U.S. attacks on several major urban areas, could thereby skew the results and compromise the resulting government’s credibility. Related concerns include the prospect of this election and the government that emerges exacerbating the divisions between Shiite Arabs, Sunni Arabs, and Kurds.

Perhaps an even bigger question is what kind of power this new government will actually have.

While some Iraqis are cautiously optimistic that the election of a national assembly could bring about real improvements to their lives, they could find themselves very disappointed.

It would not be the first time. Indeed, most Iraqis appear to have initially been willing to give the transitional government established this past June a chance, just as they were in the early days of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), the advisory body appointed by U.S. occupation authorities soon after the March 2003 U.S. invasion. In both cases, however, it soon became apparent that neither of these bodies had much real power. Furthermore, both were dominated by recently-returned exiles who seemed to be more concerned with their personal ambitions than the best interests of the nation.

To declare simply that American forces in Iraq are no longer an occupation army but are there at the request of a sovereign Iraqi government has not been enough to assuage most Iraqis. The majority of Afghans in the 1980s and South Vietnamese in the 1960s never saw the regimes in Kabul and Saigon as legitimate. These unpopular dictatorships came to power and maintained their control only as result of superpower intervention. The foreign forces directed from Moscow and Washington were seen by the majority of the subjected populations as occupation armies and, even with enormous advantages in firepower, were eventually forced out. In addition, despite continued infusions of large-scale military assistance to these regimes, both were overthrown within just a few years of their patrons’ departures.

Similarly, despite last June’s formal handover to a transitional government, American forces and the dwindling number of Coalition allies are still seen by the vast majority of Iraqis as occupiers. Polls show that a sizeable majority of Iraqis want U.S. forces out. The ongoing American military presence, and particularly recent U.S. offensives in Fallujah and elsewhere, has been provoking insurgents and terrorists faster than they can be killed. In order to be seen as having any real legitimacy in the longer term, whatever Iraqi government comes to power following Sunday’s election will need to assert its independence from U.S. control.

It also remains to be seen as to whether the United States will allow the new government (likely to be dominated by Shiite parties with a strong Islamist and nationalist agenda) to assert their authority. Will the United States really defend freedom and democratic rule in Iraq if it results in a government that pursues policies seen to be contrary to American strategic and economic interests? Or (like Saddam’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction and the absence of any operational, financial, or logistical links to al-Qaida) will “the establishment of democracy in Iraq” prove to be yet another deception of the American public in order to justify the U.S. takeover of that oil-rich nation?

The “Transitional Government

The decision this past June by U.S. occupation authorities to formally transfer power to Iraqis two days early likely stemmed from security concerns, wanting to deny terrorists an opportunity for a dramatic strike. In many respects, however, it was emblematic of how little real change the handover meant in actuality. In any case, a small, short, hurried, and unannounced ceremony was hardly an auspicious beginning of Iraqi self-rule.

(The transition ceremony was eerily reminiscent of the 1985 inauguration ceremony of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos following his fraudulent re-election, which took place inside his residence at a point when he had essentially lost control of virtually the entire country beyond the palace walls. As White House spokesperson Larry Speakes, when asked by reporters about the ceremony, replied, “I understand it’s going to be a low-key affair.”)

Originally, the June “transfer” was planned to be a grand public event, with parades and speeches, highlighted by President Bush (already in neighboring Turkey at the conclusion of the NATO summit) coming down to join the festivities to formally hand over power. Instead, President Bush was informed of the handover in a hand-written note from his National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, to which the president scribbled his now famous response, “Let freedom reign!,” an oxymoron which in many ways represents the contradictions inherent in any effort to forcefully impose a liberal democratic system through conquest and subjugation.

The establishment of the new government following Sunday’s election will be taking place in an even more dire security situation.

The transitional Iraqi government has not had the power to overturn many of the edicts of the former American viceroy Paul Bremer and his Iraqi appointees in the IGC, and was therefore unable to chart an independent course. Even in cases where the transitional government technically could have overturned U.S.-imposed laws, it required a consensus of the president, prime minister, vice premiers and other government officials, so (not surprisingly) virtually all these laws have remained in effect.

These include such important decisions as the privatization of public enterprises, the allowance for 100% repatriation of profits by foreign corporations, a flat tax of 15%, the right of foreigners to own up to 100% of Iraqi companies, and other neoliberal economic measures. While there is little question that at least some liberalization of the economy, after years of state control under Saddam’s dictatorship, is necessary for the country’s economic health, Iraqis resent such important economic issues being decided by an occupying power which clearly has a strong vested economic interest in their country.

Nor has the transitional government had the power to prosecute any Americans for crimes committed while in Iraq, no matter how serious. Iraqis have found such legal extraterritoriality, a practice once common in colonial outposts of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, particularly degrading.

The transitional government has also been unable to exercise much authority when it comes to security, since U.S. forces have been able to operate throughout the country at will, and the “sovereign” Iraqi government has had no right to limit their activities. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that U.S. forces and their sprawling bases throughout Iraq (which are being expanded in ways that appear to indicate an intention to stay for the long term) were no different than U.S. bases in Germany or South Korea. However, unlike Iraq, the United States does not have a right to bomb German or South Korean cities without permission of their governments.

Similarly, the U.S. ambassador John Negroponte, has not been (as the Bush administration has claimed) “just like any other ambassador,” given that many of the more than 1500 Americans attached to his “embassy” hold prominent positions throughout virtually every Iraqi ministry and his office controls much of the Iraqi government’s budget. (Negroponte has had some practice for this sort of thing: He was widely considered to be at least the second most powerful man in Honduras when he was U.S. ambassador in Tegucigalpa in the 1980s, given the large numbers of American troops in the country and the dependence of the regime on U.S. military and economic support.)

Until the Iraqi government has full control over military and security affairs within its borders and authority over its economic and social policy, Iraq remains an occupied country. There cannot be limited sovereignty any more than one can be a little bit pregnant.

Despite the reluctant stamp of approval by the UN special envoy and the UN Security Council of the transitional government, the fact remains that the president, prime minister, and virtually all other major positions in the interim Iraqi government were filled by members of the IGC, which was appointed by U.S. occupation authorities.

The most important and influential figure in the government has been Ayad Allawi. Prior to his appointment as prime minister, polls of Iraqis showed that Allawi’s popularity ranked quite low in terms of personal support. His earlier career as a Baathist, which included active support for political repression, combined with his later years in exile with ties to the CIA and anti-government terrorist groups, have raised concerns regarding his commitment to democracy and human rights. He has proven to be an unpopular leader, particularly because of his autocratic governing style and his support for offensive military actions by U.S. and Iraqi government forces that have resulted in large-scale civilian casualties.

President Ghazi al-Yawar was initially viewed suspiciously by many Iraqis because of his Saudi ties, his many years in exile, and his membership in the IGC, though he has since gained some credibility for his criticism of U.S. counter-insurgency tactics. He wields very little power, however, even compared with the prime minister.

Just as the Soviet Red Army, which had freed eastern European nations from Nazi occupation at the end of World War II only to forcibly impose a Soviet-style political and economic system and foreign policy priorities onto compliant governments of their own creation, the United States is seen by increasing numbers of Iraqis as having similarly imposed its own priorities onto Iraq. The Eastern Europeans eventually won their freedom largely through protracted, nonviolent struggles to create democratic systems. The Iraqis, however, are already in open rebellion, they are utilizing guerrilla warfare and terrorism, and much of the organized resistance does not seek a democratic society as their ultimate objective.

Tragically, the longer the United States is seen as an occupier, the credibility of pro-democratic political figures will decline and support for more extremist elements will grow.

After the Elections

How much power the national assembly will be able to wield is in question. The Transitional Administrative Law, which was imposed by U.S. occupation authorities, remains the law of the land in Iraq. Amendments can only be passed with a three-quarters majority of the National Assembly as well as the unanimous support of the Presidential Council. Due to their advantages in organization and funding, parties dominated by pro-American exiles could easily get at least 25% of the vote and/or at least one member of the Presidential Council, thereby leaving these unpopular laws in place. Members of the “control commissions” (including those overseeing the media and public finances) are dominated by American appointees and are scheduled to serve until at least 2009. American appointees also dominate the judiciary, which can challenge government rulings.

Furthermore, given the current level of the insurgency and the inadequacies of the Iraqi army, the government’s very survival may depend on ongoing cooperation with American prerogatives.

Even if the United States allows the new Iraqi government to assert their authority, however, it will still face serious problems with its credibility.

Perhaps most important is the restoration of basic services. Everyone from the General Accounting Office to various development agencies has underscored the fact that Iraqis are worse off now than they were prior to the U.S. invasion.

In contrast to the 1991 Gulf War, where (despite severe economic sanctions and heavier bombing damage inflicted upon the Iraqi infrastructure than in the 2003 invasion) the Iraqi government was able to restore electrical power and most other basic services on its own within months; large areas of Iraq still lack electrical power and basic services nearly three years after the war began. While sabotage by anti-occupation forces has certainly made reconstruction difficult, there are also widespread charges of incompetence and corruption by U.S. contractors, who have shown a clear preference for bringing in skilled workers from the United States and elsewhere despite the presence of large numbers of qualified Iraqis desperately in need of employment.

Whatever the reason, the ability of the new government to rebuild the infrastructure and restore basic services is far more important to most Iraqis than its ideological orientation or ethnic makeup. The big question is whether the United States will forgo the bonanza offered to American contractors under the present arrangement in order to allow the new Iraqi government a chance to prove itself capable of providing basic services and tackling the country’s debilitating high rate of unemployment.

A second big test of the government will be in its ability to halt the violence, both the widespread street crime (such as armed robbery, kidnapping, rape, and murder) which has dramatically worsened since the U.S. invasion as well as the violent insurgency against the U.S. occupation and its supporters. Though the use of terrorism by some elements of the resistance is not winning them converts, most Iraqis still end up blaming the United States, since it was the U.S. forces that ousted the government and dismantled its security apparatus which, despite its extreme brutality, was able to maintain stability and order.

A related challenge to the new government would be the temptation of radicals, particularly outsiders, to continue to engage in provocative actions designed in part to trigger counter-measures by U.S. or Iraqi government forces that inevitably result in still more civilian casualties and thereby further alienate the population from the United States and its Iraqi surrogates.

Also problematic are the conflicting desires of the Kurds, the Shiite Arabs, and the traditionally dominant Sunni Arabs, in governing the country. Though concerns over Kurdish rights and calls for some kind of federal system are quite reasonable in themselves, most Iraqis see this as an effort by the United States to divide and rule. The Shiite majority, meanwhile (having been systematically denied power by the Ottoman, British, Hashemite and Baathist rulers) are understandably disappointed that on the verge of finally being able to become the dominant political force, they are suddenly being told they must defer to the interests of the minority Kurds and Sunnis. (An appropriate analogy might be an American city where, just as African-Americans are finally poised to constitute an electoral majority, the city charter is revised that devolves power away from City Hall or changes the election of the city council from city-wide to district elections.)

Even if one was to assume the best of intentions by the Bush administration, the United States has so alienated the Iraqi people that virtually everything Americans do in Iraq is now seen through skeptical eyes. Therefore, the more the United States can refrain from limiting the power of the new government or influencing its political direction, the more successful it is likely to be.

It is possible that the ascension of an elected national assembly and the writing of a constitution could indeed mark the beginnings of the establishment of a more stable, prosperous and pluralistic Iraq. However, it would require putting into practice far more enlightened and deferential policies towards the new government in Baghdad than the Bush administration has thus far shown itself willing to implement.

What the Bush administration and most members of Congress of both parties fail to acknowledge is that Iraq cannot be pro-American without being at least somewhat autocratic and it cannot be democratic without being at least somewhat anti-American. The United States can have an Iraq that serves as a key strategic ally and close economic partner or it can have an Iraq with a legitimate representative government. Unless there is a radical change in U.S. policy, it cannot have both.

The Dangerous Implications of the Hariri Assassination and the U.S. Response

The broader implications of the February 14 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was seen by many as the embodiment of the Lebanese people’s efforts to rebuild their country in the aftermath of its 15-year civil war, are yet to unfold. A Sunni Muslim, Hariri reached out to all of Lebanon’s ethnic and religious communities in an effort to unite the country after decades of violence waged by heavily armed militias and foreign invaders.

The assassination took place against the backdrop of a growing political crisis in Lebanon. This began in September 2004, when Syria successfully pressured the Lebanese parliament, in an act of dubious constitutionality, to extend the term of the unpopular pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, a move roundly condemned by the international community. Washington was particularly virulent in its criticism, which can only be considered ironic, given that the United States attempted a similar maneuver back in 1958 to extend the term of the pro-American president Camille Chamoun. The result was a popular uprising suppressed only when President Dwight Eisenhower sent in U.S. Marines.

Hariri had his critics, particularly among the country’s poor majority whose situation deteriorated under the former prime minister’s adoption of a number of controversial neo-liberal economic policies. A multi-billionaire businessman prior to becoming prime minister, there were widespread charges of corruption in the awarding of contracts, many of which went to a company largely owned by Hariri himself. A number of treasured historic buildings relatively undamaged from war were demolished to make room for grandiose construction projects.

The size and sophistication of the explosion which killed Hariri, his bodyguards, and several bystanders have led many to speculate that foreign intelligence units may have been involved. Initial speculation has focused on the Syrians, who had previously worked closely with Hariri as prime minister. That relationship was broken by the Syrians’ successful effort to extend the term of President Lahoud, with whom Hariri had frequently clashed as prime minister. As a result, Hariri was poised to lead an anti-Syrian front in the upcoming parliamentary elections in May.

Hariri made lots of other enemies as well, however, including rival Lebanese groups, the Israeli government, Islamic extremists, and powerful financiers with interests in his multi-billion dollar reconstruction efforts. A previously-unknown group calling itself “Victory and Jihad in Syria and Lebanon” claimed responsibility for the attack, citing Hariri’s close ties to the repressive Saudi monarchy. As of this writing, there is no confirmation that they were responsible for the blast or if such a group even exists.

While Syria remains the primary suspect, no evidence has been presented to support the charge. Damascus has publicly condemned the killings and denied responsibility. Syria’s regime, while certainly ruthless enough to do such a thing, is usually not so brazen. They would have little to gain from uniting the Lebanese opposition against them or for provoking the United States and other Western nations to further isolate their government.

The United States, however, has indirectly implicated Syria in the attack and has withdrawn its ambassador from Damascus.

Syria’s Role in Lebanon

Syrian forces first entered Lebanon in 1976 at the invitation of the Lebanese president as the primary component of an international peacekeeping force authorized by the Arab League to try to end Lebanon’s civil war. The United States quietly supported the Syrian intervention as a means of blocking the likely victory by the leftist Lebanese National Movement and its Palestinian allies. As the civil war continued in varying manifestations in subsequent years, the Syrians would often play one faction off against another in an effort to maintain their influence. Despite this, they were unable to defend the country from the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion in 1982, the installation of the Phalangist leader Amin Gemayel as president, and the U.S. military intervention to help prop up Gemayel’s rightist government against a popular uprising. Finally, in late 1990, Syrian forces helped the Lebanese oust the unpopular interim Prime Minister General Michel Aoun, which proved instrumental in ending the 15-year civil war. (Given that General Aoun’s primary outside supporter was Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the United States quietly backed this Syrian action as well.)

The end of the civil war did not result in the end of the Syrian role in Lebanon, however. Most Lebanese at this point resent the ongoing presence of Syrian troops and Syria’s overbearing influence on their government.

The Bush administration, Congressional leaders of both parties, and prominent media commentators have increasingly made reference to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Strictly speaking, however, this is not an occupation in the legal sense of the word, such as in the case of the Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara or Israel’s occupation of Syria?s Golan region and much of the Palestinian Gaza Strip and West Bank (including East Jerusalem), all of which are recognized by the United Nations and international legal authorities as non-self-governing territories. Lebanon has experienced direct foreign military occupation, however: from 1978 to 2000, Israel occupied a large section of southern Lebanon and from June 1982 through May 1984 much of central Lebanon as well, resulting in the deaths of thousands of Lebanese civilians.

A more accurate analogy to the current Syrian role would be that of the Soviets in the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe during much of the Cold War, in which these nations were effectively client states. They were allowed to maintain their independence and distinct national institutions yet were denied their right to pursue an autonomous course in their foreign and domestic policies.

Currently, Syria has only 14,000 troops in Lebanon, mostly in the Bekaa Valley in the eastern part of the country, a substantial reduction from the 40,000 Syrian troops present in earlier years. This does not mean that calls for an immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces and an end to Syrian interference in Lebanon’s political affairs are not morally and legally justified. However, the use of the term “occupation” by American political leaders is an exaggeration and may be designed in part to divert attention from the continuing U.S. military, diplomatic, and financial support of the real ongoing military occupations by Israel and Morocco.

In September of last year, the United States along with France and Great Britain sponsored a resolution before the UN Security Council which, among other things, called upon all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon. UN Security Council resolution 1559 was adopted with six abstentions and no negative votes and builds upon UN Security Council resolution 520, adopted in 1982, which similarly calls for the withdrawal of foreign forces.

The Bush administration, with widespread bipartisan Congressional support, has cited Syria’s ongoing violation of these resolutions in placing sanctions upon Syria. Ironically, however, no such pressure was placed upon Israel for violating UNSC resolution 520 and nine other resolutions (the first being adopted in 1978) calling on Israel to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. In fact, during the Clinton administration, the U.S. openly called on Israel to not unilaterally withdraw from Lebanon as required, even as public opinion polls in Israel showed that a sizable majority of Israelis supported an end to the Israeli occupation, during which hundreds of Israeli soldiers were killed.

Today, many of the most outspoken supporters of a strict enforcement of UNSC resolution 1159 such as Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California were also among the most prominent opponents of enforcing similar resolutions when they were directed at Israel. In short, both Republicans and Democrats agree that Lebanese sovereignty and international law must be defended only if the government challenging these principles is not a U.S. ally.

(Israel was finally forced out of Lebanon in May 2000 as a result of attacks by the militant Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. Four months later, the Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip began. Militant Palestinians claim they were inspired by the fact that Israel ended its 22-year occupation not because of the U.S.-led peace process and not because of the United Nations which was blocked by the United States from enforcing its resolutions but because of armed struggle by radical Islamists. Though, for a number of reasons, such tactics are unlikely to succeed in the occupied Palestinian territories, the support of extremist Islamist groups and their use of violence by large sectors of the Palestinian population under Israeli occupation can for the most part be attributed to the United States refusing to support an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon through diplomatic means.)

What Next?

Whether or not the Syrians played a role in Hariri’s assassination, his death will likely escalate pressure by the Lebanese to challenge Syria’s domination of their government. Once centered primarily in the country’s Maronite Christian community, anti-Syrian sentiment is growing among Lebanese from across the ethnic and ideological spectrum. Ultimately, the country’s fate will be determined by the Lebanese themselves. If the United States presses the issue too strongly, however, it risks hardening Syria’s position and allowing Damascus to defend its ongoing domination of Lebanon behind anti-imperialist rhetoric.

While there are many areas in which the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad should indeed be challenged, such as its overbearing influence in Lebanon and its poor human rights record, there is a genuine fear that increased U.S. efforts to isolate the regime and the concomitant threats of military action against Syria will undermine the efforts of Lebanese and Syrians demanding change.

One major problem is that most charges against the Syrian government by the Bush administration and the Congressional leadership of both parties are rife with hyperbole and double standards.

For example, the United States has demanded that Syria eliminate its long-range and medium-range missiles, while not insisting that pro-Western neighbors like Turkey and Israel with far more numerous and sophisticated missiles on their territory similarly disarm. The United States has also insisted that Syria unilaterally eliminate its chemical weapons stockpiles, while not making similar demands on U.S. allies Israel and Egypt which have far larger chemical weapons stockpiles to do the same. The United States has demanded an end to political repression and for free and fair elections in Syria while not making similar demands of even more repressive and autocratic regimes in allied countries like Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Contrary to U.S. charges that Syria is a major state supporter of international terrorism, Syria is at most a very minor player. The U.S. State Department has noted how Syria has played a critical role in efforts to combat al-Qaida and that the Syrian government has not been linked to any acts of international terrorism for nearly twenty years. The radical Palestinian Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have political offices in Damascus, as they do in a number of Arab capitals, but they are not allowed to conduct any military activities. A number of left-wing Palestinian factions also maintain offices in Syria, but these groups are now largely defunct and have not engaged in terrorist operations for many years.

Much has been made of Syrian support for the radical Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah. However, not only has Syrian support for the group been quite minimal in recent years, the group is now a legally recognized Lebanese political party and serves in the Lebanese parliament. During the past decade, its militia have largely restricted their use of violence to Israeli occupation forces in southern Lebanon and in disputed border regions of Israeli-occupied Syria, not against civilians, thereby raising serious questions as to whether it can actually still be legally considered a terrorist group.

Currently, the Bush administration has expressed its dismay at Russia’s decision to sell Syria anti-aircraft missiles, claiming that it raises questions in regard to President Vladimir Putin?s commitment against terrorism. The administration has been unable to explain, however, how selling defensive weapons to an internationally-recognized government aids terrorists.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Congressional leaders have also accused Syria of threatening the Arab-Israeli peace process. However, Syria has pledged to provide Israel with internationally-enforced security guarantees and full diplomatic relations in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from Syrian territory seized in the 1967 war, in concordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, long recognized as the basis for peace. They have also called for a renewal of peace talks with Israel, which came very close to a permanent peace agreement in early 2000. However, the right-wing U.S.-backed Israeli government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused to resume negotiations and pledges it will never withdraw from the Golan, thereby raising questions as to whether it is really Syria that is primarily at fault.

Another questionable anti-Syrian charge is in regard to their alleged support of Saddam Hussein and ongoing support of anti-American insurgents in Iraq. In reality, though both ruled by the Baath Party, Syria had broken diplomatic relations with Baghdad back in the 1970s and was the home of a number of anti-Saddam exile groups. Syria and Iraq backed rival factions in Lebanon’s civil war. Syria was the only country to side with Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and contributed troops to the U.S.-led Operation Desert Shield in reaction to Iraq?s invasion of Kuwait. Syria, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2002, supported the U.S.-backed resolution 1441 demanding Iraqi cooperation with UN inspectors or else face severe consequences. The Syrian government has substantially beefed up security along its borders with Iraq and U.S. military officials have acknowledged that relatively few foreign fighters have actually entered Iraq via Syria. Most critically, there is no reason that Syria would want the insurgents to succeed, given that the primary insurgent groups are either supporters of the old anti-Syrian regime in Baghdad or are Islamist extremists similar to those who seriously challenged the Syrian government in 1982 before being brutally suppressed. Given that Assad’s regime is dominated by Syria’s Alawite minority, which have much closer ties to Iraq’s Shiites than with Sunnis who dominate the Arab and Islamic world, and that the Shiite-dominated slate which won the recent Iraqi elections share their skepticism about the U.S. role in the Middle East, they would have every reason to want to see the newly-elected Iraqi government succeed so U.S. troops could leave.

Despite the highly-questionable assertions which form the basis of the Bush administration’s antipathy toward Syria, there have essentially been no serious challenges to the Bush administration’s policy on Capitol Hill. Indeed, Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid have strongly defended President George W. Bush’s policies toward Iraq and Lebanon and helped push through strict sanctions against Syria based upon these same exaggerations and double standards. During the 2004 election campaign, Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, criticized President Bush for not being anti-Syrian enough.

Among the few dissenters is Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who expressed his concern to Secretary of State Rice during recent hearings on Capitol Hill that the tough talk against Syria was remarkably similar to what was heard in regard to Iraq a few years earlier. One of only eight members of Congress to vote against the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act in the fall of 2003, he warned his fellow Senators that the language was broad enough that the administration might later claim it authorized military action against Syria.

As long as the vast majority of Democrats are afraid to appear soft toward the Syrian dictatorship and as long as so few progressive voices are willing to challenge the Democrats, President Bush appears to have few obstacles in his way should he once again choose to lead the country to war.


The Release of Mordechai Vanunu and U.S. Complicity in the Development of Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal

The recent release on April 22 of Mordechai Vanunu from an Israeli prison provides an opportunity to challenge the U.S. policy of supporting Israel ’s development of nuclear weapons while threatening war against other Middle Eastern states for simply having the potential for developing such weaponry.

Vanunu, a nuclear technician at Israel ’s Dimona nuclear plant, passed along photographs he had taken inside the plant to the Sunday Times of London in 1986. His evidence demonstrated that Israel had developed up to two hundred nuclear weapons of a highly advanced design, making it the world’s sixth-largest nuclear power. For his efforts, agents from the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, kidnapped him from Rome and brought him to Israel1 to stand before a secret tribunal that convicted him on charges of espionage and treason and sentenced him to eighteen years in prison under solitary confinement.

Though labeled a spy and a traitor, he was in fact simply a whistle-blower who became “a martyr to the causes of press freedom and nuclear de-escalation.”2 He never received any money for this act of conscience, which he took upon recognizing that Israel ’s nuclear program went well beyond its need for a deterrent and was likely offensive in nature. A former strategic analyst at the Rand Corporation observed that Vanunu’s revelations about Israel ’s nuclear program demonstrated that: “Its scale and nature was clearly designed for threatening and if necessary launching first-use of nuclear weapons against conventional forces.”3 Prior to Vanunu’s revelations, many suspected that Israel ’s nuclear program was limited to tactical nuclear artillery and naval shells.

Israel is one of just four countries–the others being Pakistan, India, and Cuba–that has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. UN Security Council resolution 1172 urges all countries to become parties of the treaty.4

It is noteworthy that Israel finds whistle-blowing more threatening than actual spying. None of the half dozen spies convicted in Israel for nuclear espionage served as much time in prison as has Vanunu.5

Vanunu, who has been referred to by Daniel Ellsberg a s “the preeminent hero of the nuclear era,”6 has been awarded the Sean McBride Peace prize, the Right Livelihood Award, and an honorary doctorate from a Norwegian university. He has also been repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The European parliament, former President Jimmy Carter, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the Federation of American Scientists, and many other prominent individuals and organizations have long called for Vanunu’s release. By contrast, with few notable exceptions–such as the late Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota –there has been virtually no support in Congress. The four administrations in office during Vanunu’s confinement have been even less supportive. For example, in response to an inquiry by Tom Campbell, the former Republican Congressman from California , Clinton ’s assistant secretary of State Barbara Larkin claime d that Vanunu had had a fair trial and was doing well in prison.7

This lack of U.S. support for Vanunu is just one part of the longstanding U.S. acquiescence of Israel ’s nuclear program.

Israel has long stated that it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East, which is a rather disingenuous commitment given that U.S. planes and warships have been bringing nuclear weapons into the region since the 1950s. Israel is generally believed to have become a nuclear power by 1969. The newly elected President Richard Nixon and his chief foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger privately endorsed Israel ’s program that year. They quickly ended the regular U.S. inspections of Israel ’s Dimona nuclear center. This was of little consequence, however, since these “inspections” were pro forma and not taken seriously. (President Lyndon Johnson demonstrated his lack of concern over the prospects of Israel becoming a nuclear power by rejecting calls that one of the early major weapons sales to Israel be conditioned on Israel signing the NPT.) The Nixon administration went to great lengths to keep nuclear issues out of any talks on the Middle East . Information on Israeli nuclear capabilities was routinely suppressed. The United States even supplied Israel with krytrons (nuclear triggers) and supercomputers that were bound for the Israeli nuclear program.8

Under the Carter administration, which took the threat of nuclear proliferation somewhat more seriously than other administrations, the issue of Israel ’s development of nuclear weaponry was not raised publicly. When satellite footage of an aborted nuclear test in South Africa ’s Kalahari Desert gave evidence of a large-scale presence of Israeli personnel at the test site, the Carter administration kept it quiet.9 Two years later, when a U.S. satellite detected a successful joint Israeli-South African atomic bomb test in the Indian Ocean , the Carter administration rushed to squelch initial media reports. According to Joseph Nye, then-Deputy Under Secretary of State, the Carter administration considered the Israel ’s nuclear weapons program a low priority.10

Top officials in the Reagan administration made a conscious effort to keep information on Israel ’s nuclear capability from State Department officials and others who might have concerns over nuclear proliferation issues.11 The senior Bush administration sold at least 1,500 nuclear “dual-use” items to Israel , according to a report by the General Accounting Office, despite requirements under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that the existing nuclear powers like the United States not help another country’s nuclear weapons program “in any way.”12

The Israeli media reported that President Clinton wrote rightist Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in 1998 pledging that the United States would continue to protect Israel ’s nuclear program from international pressure. According to Haaretz, “the United States will preserve Israel ’s strategic deterrence capabilities and ensure that Middle East arms control initiatives will not damage it in the future. The Clinton letter provides written–if secret–backup to the long-standing agreement between Jerusalem and Washington over the preservation of Israel’s nuclear capabilities if Israel maintains its policy of ‘ambiguity’ and does not announce publicly that it has the bomb.”13

Meanwhile, Congress has for many years made it clear to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other responsible parties that it did not want to have anything revealed in an open hearing related to Israel ’s nuclear capability. A major reason is that there are a number of laws that severely restrict U.S. military and technical assistance to countries that develop nuclear weapons. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. arms exports, which are highly profitable for the politically influential arms industry.

Outside of Washington , top Israeli nuclear scientists have had open access to American institutions and many leading American nuclear scientists had extended visits with their counterparts in Israel , in what has been called “informational promiscuity” in the seepage of nuclear intelligence.14

In addition, given the enormous costs of any nuclear program of such magnitude, it would have been very difficult for Israel to develop such a large and advanced arsenal without the tens of billions of dollars in unrestricted American financial support. More than simply employing a double standard of threatening perceived enemies for developing nuclear weapons while tolerating development of such weapons by its allies, the United States has, in effect, subsidized nuclear proliferation in the Middle East .

In order to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq , President George W. Bush, Senator John Kerry, and others argued that Iraq had an ongoing nuclear weapons program in violation of UN Security Council resolution 687. (In reality, the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency had determined in 1998 that Iraq’s nuclear program had been completely dismantled and IAEA inspections in the months immediately prior to the U.S. invasion and exhaustive searches by U.S. forces subsequently have confirmed that assessment.) What both Republican and Democratic leaders have failed to observe, however, is that Israel remains in violation of UN Security Council resolution 487, which calls on Israel to place its facilities at Dimona under IAEA trusteeship. Despite bipartisan efforts in Congress to seek repeal of that resolution, it is still legally binding. Bush and Kerry, however, believe that UN Security Council resolutions, like nuclear non-proliferation, do not apply to U.S. allies.

Within Israel , however, there was much debate among Israeli elites regarding the wisdom of developing nuclear weapons. Some Israeli leaders–ranging from former Labor Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Yigal Allon to former Likud Defense Minister Raful Eitan–argued that a nuclear Israel would increase the possibility of Arab states developing weapons of mass destruction and launching a first strike against Israel .15 Give the country’s small size, Israel might not have a credible second-strike capability. There is also the fact that most of Israel ’s potential nuclear targets are close enough so that a shift in wind could potentially send a radioactive cloud over Israel .

Furthermore, while one could make a case for an Israeli nuclear deterrent up through the mid-1970s, Israel’s qualitative advantage in conventional forces relative to any combination of Arab states developed subsequently–resulting in large part from a prodigious amount of taxpayer-funded arms transfers from the United States–would appear to weaken the case for a nuclear weapons development. Furthermore, Israel has an extensive biological and chemical weapons program that far surpasses those of any potential hostile power and–combined with vastly superior delivery systems–would constitute a more-than-adequate deterrent.

Vanunu was forced to remain in solitary confinement until 1998, when ongoing pressure from human rights groups forced the Israelis to end his segregation, though he was still not allowed to talk with fellow prisoners. Amnesty International, for example, observed that the prolonged isolation of Vanunu constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and violated international human rights law.16 The eleven and a half years in solitary confinement has reportedly taken a psychological toll, raising concerns that he may not be a credible voice in the cause of nuclear non-proliferation upon his release.

It appears, however, that Israel ’s U.S.-backed rightist government may not give him a chance. On March 9, Israeli Attorney General Mordechai Mazuz said that Vanunu’s release from prison “will create a significant danger to state security” and that there will likely be major restrictions placed upon his movements and what he can say without the risk of returning to prison.17 Though the Moroccan-born Vanunu had decided to leave Israel prior to his 1986 kidnapping, he had converted to Christianity during an extended stay in Australia the previous year, and has stated that he would like to emigrate to the United States , the Israeli government will reportedly bar him from leaving the country.18

Like Israel , the United States has acknowledged its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear adversaries. And, like in Israel , there is an obsession with secrecy that allows the government to get away with dangerous and destabilizing nuclear policies that risk a nuclear catastrophe. It is not surprising, then, that the United States has failed to challenge the Israeli government’s policy toward this courageous nuclear whistle-blower.

As Ellsberg has observed, “The cult and culture of secrecy in every nuclear weapons state has endangered and continues to threaten the survival of humanity. Vanunu’s challenge to that wrongful and dangerous secrecy must be joined worldwide.” 19

End Notes

[1] The woman who lured Vanunu was an American working for the Mossad.

[2] The Sunday Times, December 27, 1992.

[3] Daniel Ellsberg, “ Mordechai Vanunu’s Meaning for the Nuclear Age,” Blaetter fuer deutsche und internationale Politik, April 2004.

[4] UN Security Council Resolution 1172 (1998), article 13.

[5] P. R. Kumaraswarmy, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 1999.

[6] Ellsberg, op. cit.

[7] http://www.nonviolence.org/vanunu/archive/f99howstatedept.html.

[8] Seymour Hersch, The Sampson Option, New York: Random House, 1991, p. 209-214.

[9] Ibid., p. 268.

[10] Cited in Ibid., p. 283.

[11] Ibid., p. 291.

[12] Jane Hunter, “A Nuclear Affair,” Middle East International, 24 June 1994, pp. 12-13.

[13] Aluf Benn, “A President’s Promise: Israel Can Keep its Nukes,” Ha’aretz, May 14, 2000.

[14] Helena Cobban, “ Israel’s Nuclear Game: The U.S. Stake,” World Policy Journal, Summer 1988, pp. 427-428.

[15] David Twersky, “Is Silence Golden? Vanunu and Nuclear Israel,” Tikkun, (Vol 3, No. 1).

[16] Amnesty International, October 1991.

[17] Gideon Alon, “AG Mazuz: Vanunu significant danger to state security.” Ha’aretz, March 9, 2004 .

[18] Yossi Melman, “Security sources: Vanunu applied for passport,”Ha’aretz, March 10, 2004 .

[19] Ellsberg, op. cit.


Iraq: Two Years Later

In a series of articles written between June 2002 and February 2003, I predicted that if the United States invaded Iraq, it was highly unlikely that we would find any of the weapons of mass destruction or WMD programs that the Bush administration and the congressional leadership of both parties claimed Iraq possessed in their effort to justify an American takeover of that oil-rich country. I also predicted that no operational links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaida would be found and that a U.S. invasion would encourage terrorism rather than discourage it. Finally, I predicted that we could find ourselves virtually isolated in the international community facing a bloody counter-insurgency war with no end in sight.

In the two years since the Bush administration went ahead and invaded Iraq anyway, I take little satisfaction in being right.

Neither U.S. military action nor the Iraqi elections held on January 30 have thus far done anything to calm the insurgency and have appeared to exacerbate ethnic tensions.

Since the U.S. invasion, tens of thousands of Iraqis–mostly civilians–have been killed. Malnutrition among children has doubled and childhood mortality has tripled. More than one million refugees have fled the country to avoid the car bombs, assassinations, kidnappings, martial law, deadly roadblocks, and artillery and air strikes from American forces. Lines for fuel can be days long, there are widespread shortages of food and medicine, prices for food and other necessities have greatly inflated, and over half the population is unemployed. In short, a lot more people are suffering and dying in the two years since the U.S. invasion than in the two years prior to the U.S. invasion. And, as long as that is the case, the insurgency will probably continue.

Despite the largely successful efforts of the Bush administration to cover up the extent of U.S. torture of Iraqi prisoners, it now appears that the revelations of abuse in the Abu Ghraib prison were just the tip of the iceberg. Given that the overwhelming majority of detainees are not terrorists or guerrillas, but simply ordinary young Iraqi men arrested in massive sweeps by U.S. occupation forces, popular outrage at the United States has grown enormously.

The torture of prisoners, the use of heavy weaponry against crowded urban neighborhoods, the shooting at cars filled with civilians at checkpoints, and related actions against innocents have done little to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. The evidence is growing that the United States is creating insurgents faster than our Army can kill them.

Given the tribal and family ties among Iraqis that transcend sectarian differences, fears of civil war between Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs have probably been exaggerated, in part as a means to justify the ongoing U.S. occupation. There is no question, however, that the U.S. invasion and occupation have worsened ethnic divisions. For example, the United States removed large numbers of the mostly secular urban professional and managerial classes who worked for the old Iraqi state and re-established an interim government based along religious and ethnic lines, where sectarian, ethnic, and tribal biases, as well as nepotism, have plagued efforts to rebuild government ministries. In addition, U.S. forces have utilized Kurdish fighters in its battles against Arab insurgents, increasing tensions between those two communities.

The Costs of War at Home

In addition to more than 1,500 American deaths and record numbers of soldiers coming home with amputations, blindness, and other serious injuries, the widespread psychological trauma from fighting this kind of war has been taking its toll on our soldiers as well.

Polls now show that a full 59% of Americans believe that U.S. troops out should be pulled out of Iraq within a year.

Despite this, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in mid-March by an overwhelming 388-43 majority to support an $81 billion supplemental spending bill, much of it to further prosecute the war in Iraq. This came just after revelations that U.S. administrators cannot account for more than nine billion dollars they spent in Iraq. The Center for Strategic and International Studies reported that only 27% of the reconstruction funds have gone to help Iraqis, with the rest going to security, waste, fraud, overhead, and profits.

The January 30 Elections

Despite the many problems and limitations of the January 30 Iraqi election, it was a remarkable testament to the Iraqi people’s desire for self-determination and for an accountable government. Two of the country’s three major ethno-religious communities came out en masse against great odds in an impressive attempt to establish at least some semblance of self-determination after decades of dictatorial rule followed by more than a year and a half of U.S. military occupation.

The Iraqi election had few international observers, experienced widespread irregularities, was boycotted in a number of key provinces, and was held under the rule of a foreign occupying power that had imposed the electoral laws and selected the electoral commission that oversaw it. As President George W. Bush recently said, in reference to Lebanon, “You cannot hold free and fair elections under foreign military occupation.”

However, despite not meeting most internationally recognized criteria for a legitimate election, it was a certainly an improvement over the utter lack of electoral democracy under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, and the opportunity to participate in the process was clearly welcomed by most Iraqis.

So, on balance, the Iraqi election should be seen as an important step forward.

In no way, however, does this legitimate the illegal and disastrous U.S. invasion of that country.

Indeed, the fact that Iraq had a direct election for its National Assembly–which will be charged with writing the country’s new constitution–came despite, rather than because of, the efforts of President George W. Bush.

It should be remembered that the Bush administration, during most of the first year of the U.S. occupation, strongly opposed holding direct elections. Initially, the United States supported the installation of Ahmed Chalabi or some other compliant pro-American exile as leader of Iraq. When it became evident that that would be unacceptable, U.S. officials tried to keep their viceroy, Paul Bremer, in power indefinitely. When it became clear that Iraqis and the international community would not tolerate that option either, the Bush administration pushed for a caucus system where appointees of American appointees would choose the new government and write the constitution. When that was met in January 2004 by hundreds of thousands of Iraqis taking to the streets protesting the U.S. proposal and demanding a popular vote, only then did President Bush give in and reluctantly agree to allow direct elections to move forward.

Instead of going ahead with the election in May 2004 as called for by Ayatollah Sistani and other Iraqi leaders, U.S. officials postponed the elections until January 2005. As a result of this delay, the security situation continued to deteriorate so that by the time the elections finally took place, the large and important Sunni Arab minority was largely unable or unwilling to participate. In most Sunni-dominated parts of the county, it was physically unsafe to go to the polls due to threats by insurgents. In addition, the major Sunni parties–angered at the enormous numbers of civilians killed in recent months in U.S. counter-insurgency operations–had called for a boycott.

Parties opposed to the ongoing U.S. military presence in their country won the overwhelming majority of the votes in January’s election. Exit polls showed a clear majority cited getting the U.S. military out as a major impetus for voting. The pro-Washington slate led by the U.S.-appointed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi–despite enormous advantages in funding and organization–came in a poor third. A centerpiece of the platform of the United Iraqi Alliance, which won over half of the seats in the new National Assembly, is for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces from their country.

The Sunnis and Shiites are united in their desire for U.S. forces to leave; their differences are primarily tactical. Most Sunnis believe that any election under foreign military occupation is illegitimate and the withdrawal of U.S. forces must be forced by military means. By contrast, most Shiites have decided that the best way to get the Americans out is through elections, which would make possible a legitimate Iraqi government that could then negotiate a phased withdrawal.

Establishing a Credible Government

Six weeks following the Iraqi elections, no government has yet been formed, with the initial hopes expressed immediately following the elections dissolving into growing disillusionment. The U.S.-backed interim constitution requires supermajorities in order to govern and the Kurdish alliance, which won more than a quarter of the vote, is pressing hard for an autonomous Kurdistan, the restoration of Kurdish property rights in the northern city of Kirkuk, and the right to maintain a separate armed force. Until that time when a new government can be agreed upon, the U.S.-appointed interim government remains in power.

Once the new government is formed, there will be strong pressure from Iraqis to get U.S. forces out of Iraq soon, in order to prove to the large numbers of Iraqis who support the insurgents that they are not just a puppet regime of foreign occupiers. At the same time, because of the heightened insurgency resulting from the U.S. postponement of the election, it may be very difficult for them to survive the ongoing armed uprising in the Sunni heartland with such a small number of adequately trained and dependable armed forces of its own. As a result, it appears they will be forced to allow American troops to remain.

The new government is faced not only with an insurgency–led primarily by a combination of supporters of the old regime, secular Arab nationalists, and Sunni Islamists–but with a massive crime wave, a lack of reliable electricity and fuel, rising ethnic tensions, and extensive damage to the civilian infrastructure from U.S. bombing. Perhaps emblematic of the challenges facing Iraq, the March 17 New York Times described how many Iraqis were unable to watch the historic opening session of the newly elected national assembly because there was no electricity or because their televisions had been stolen.

Indeed, there are still serious questions as to whether the United States will even allow the Iraqi people to fully exercise their right to self-government.

The platform offered by the victorious United Iraqi Alliance calls for the state to guarantee a job for every able-bodied Iraqi, to support home construction, to cancel debts and reparations, and use the nation’s oil wealth for the country’s economic development. This is a direct challenge to the neoliberal economic policies imposed by U.S. occupation authorities, such as the decision to privatize much of the country’s public assets, instigate a flat tax of 15%, and allow for unrestricted foreign investment and repatriation of profits. However, most of these economic policies were imposed under Bremer’s Transitional Administrative Laws, which are almost impossible for the new government to overturn.

In addition, U.S. citizens in Iraq continue to enjoy extraterritorial rights, in that they cannot be prosecuted in Iraq for any crime, no matter how serious. U.S. military forces–numbering over 150,000–can move and attack anywhere in the country without the government’s consent. Americans have prominent positions in virtually every Iraqi government ministry and largely control their budgets. U.S. appointees with terms lasting through 2009 are in charge of “control commissions” that oversee fiscal policy, the media, and other important regulatory areas. Similarly, U.S. appointees also dominate the judiciary, which has the power to overturn any law passed by the newly elected government.

There is little question that the most powerful political institution in Iraq–in terms of resources, organization, and military power–is the United States mission and it will likely remain so for the indefinite future.

Iraq’s new leadership was elected in a largely democratic process and clearly enjoys the support of large sectors of the Iraqi population. Contrary to charges by some critics, they are not puppets of the United States. However, unless the Bush administration is willing to allow this democratically elected government to exercise genuine sovereignty and thereby prove its legitimacy, it will not bring this devastated country any closer to peace and stability.

Dealing with the Insurgency

Since the United States disbanded Iraq’s military and security forces soon after its 2003 invasion, the vacuum has been filled by scores of armed militias. The United Nations estimates as many as 43 different insurgent groups, ranging from loyalists to the old regime, radical Islamists, independent nationalists, foreign terrorists, and others. The high rate of civilian casualties–inevitable in counter-insurgency warfare waged by a modern army–has resulted in a growing number of recruits to the insurgents’ campaign, not surprising in the largely tribal Sunni Arab regions, where vengeance remains a powerful social ethic. The number of armed fighters and their active supporters may now total as many as 200,000. The U.S. destruction this past November of more than two-thirds of the city of Fallujah, once the home of 300,000 people, was not only a war crime and a moral travesty, it was strategic disaster, spreading insurgent operations to neighboring provinces, where they now control all or parts of a number of towns and cities. Most of the roads leading in and out of Baghdad are impassable.

With four more members of the “coalition of the willing,” the Dutch, Polish, Ukrainian, and Italian militaries, pulling out, the United States and Great Britain have found themselves increasingly isolated. Few of the token foreign forces in the “coalition” saw any combat anyway, restricting their activities to construction, medical assistance, and other aid. The most significant forces outside the American and British militaries have been mercenaries, including thousands of Americans and British military veterans, as well as South Africans, Serbs, and Nepalese Gurkhas.

The tactics of insurgents are alienating growing numbers of Iraqis. With American forces more difficult to attack, holed up in their heavily defended and fortified bases, insurgents have increasingly attacked undefended civilian targets. At the same time, the Iraqi Ministry of Health has estimated that American forces have killed almost three times as many Iraqi citizens as did the insurgents.

Meanwhile, the U.S.-trained Iraqi army has had the propensity to desert in large numbers when ordered to fight other Iraqis. For those who do fight, the Iraqi army has developed a reputation of being even more ruthless and trigger-happy than the Americans, with the additional problem of widespread corruption at all levels.

What Next in Iraq?

Given the strong nationalist and Islamist identity of most Iraqis and the widespread resentment of the United States, it is hard to imagine a truly representative government that would support U.S. military and economic goals in the Middle East. While not admitting it publicly, it is becoming increasingly clear that Iraq will either have a democratic government or a pro-American government. It cannot have both.

Though he is not seeking a top post, it is widely expected that the most powerful figure in the new government will be the senior Shiite cleric Abdelaziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who collaborated closely with the Islamic leadership in Iran during his 20 years of exile in that country. A longtime critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East, Hakim was bypassed by U.S. occupation forces when they chose Iraq’s interim leaders after the invasion and occupation of the country in March 2003. While not likely to try to implement direct clerical rule, there is little question that Hakim and his followers envision state based upon a rather hard line interpretation of Islamic law.

Their likely coalition partners are the Kurdistan Alliance which, while traditionally more pro-American and not as strongly Islamic-identified as the Shiite coalition, is led by Jalal Talabani, who is also close to the Iranian government.

Despite claims by the Bush administration that a democratic Iraq would be friendly to American interests in the Middle East and be good for Israel, there are good reasons to think otherwise. For example, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, the largest bloc of the UIA, is close to the radical Lebanese Hizbullah and their rallies have included chants of “Death to Israel!”

In effect, the Bush administration is currently putting American lives on the line to defend an incipient anti-American and anti-Israeli government.

Meanwhile, Iraqi calls for a withdrawal of American forces are growing. According to the January 31, 2005 issue of Newsweek, polls show that “an ever larger majority of Iraqis want the Americans to leave.”

Despite this, President Bush declared in his State of the Union address that U.S. forces will stay in Iraq until it becomes “a country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors, and able to defend itself,” which even optimistic observers believe could take years. As a result, the United States may try to remain in Iraq indefinitely in order to force concessions from the new government. Given that the U.S. decision to delay the elections has created a situation where the new government is dependent on the United States for its survival, this leaves the Bush administration a lot of leverage.

There are some indications that a deal may be in the works where, in return for Washington allowing the Iraqi government to impose its ultra-conservative interpretations of Islamic law, the government would accede to some of the neoliberal economic policies favored by Washington, which Naomi Klein in The Nation has labeled the “oil for women program.”

At the same time, it is doubtful that the millions of Shiites who elected the government on its left-leaning economic policy and its anti-occupation stance would allow such an arrangement to go into effect. And, given the difficulty U.S. forces have had with the insurgency among the Sunni minority, dealing with a full-scale insurgency by the Shiite majority would be utterly impossible. The people of Iraq also have a lot of leverage.

As a result, there are reasons to believe that the Bush administration has largely given up on the grand designs the neoconservatives originally envisioned for a post-Saddam Iraq and that they want to cut their losses and get out as soon as possible. If so, it would mean that the primary reason the administration insists that U.S. forces remain for the time being is that a victory by the insurgents would be far worse for U.S. interests in the region and that the political consequences of such a defeat would be enormous. The scaling-back of the more ambitious aspects of the economic agenda is apparent as well: For example, the British Broadcasting Corporation has revealed that the United States had initially planned to sell off much of Iraq’s oil to American corporations. However, U.S. oil companies–worried about Russian-style corruption in such a privatization scheme, and fearing an Iraqi backlash that would only increase attacks upon oil installations–have instead successfully argued for a state-owned oil company that would deal with them on friendly terms.

What Should U.S. Policy Be at this Point?

Given the choice between accepting the status quo and calling for an immediate U.S. withdrawal, the least bad option would probably be the latter. Those two options should not be the only choices, however.

The major problem with an “Out Now!” position is that the armed insurgency among the Sunni minority is strong enough and the new Iraqi army is weak enough that the new government could soon find itself in jeopardy without U.S. forces. Only about 5,000 trained and dependable Iraqi troops have emerged out of the 120,000-man army projected by Bush administration officials. Only about one-third of the 135,000 of the country’s policemen bother to report for duty.

While the ideological orientation of the armed insurgency is diverse, some of its stronger elements–who would likely dominate in the event they seized power–are quite fascistic. In the event that hard-line Sunni Islamists and/or pro-Saddam elements took over, the Shiite militias would likely be mobilized and then there really could be a nasty civil war, complete with massacres and ethnic cleansing on a major scale. In the chaos, the Kurds could make a clean break with the deteriorating Iraqi state by declaring independence, prompting Turkish intervention and the renewal of the Turko-Kurdish war.

Had the United States allowed for direct elections earlier, when the insurgency was much smaller and weaker, the new Iraqi government would probably be more broad-based and could have prevailed; U.S. forces would have probably all returned home by now. Unfortunately, in the Bush administration’s desperate effort to try to control the political and economic direction of Iraq by postponing national self-determination, that window of opportunity has passed.

Are there any alternatives other than maintaining the current catastrophic counter-insurgency military campaign by U.S. forces and advocating a precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq?

While not as simple a slogan as “Out Now!” perhaps the best option for the anti-war movement would be to advocate the following:

an immediate end to all offensive American military operations and a U.S. pullout from population centers;
the repeal of Bremer’s Transitional Administrative Laws imposed under the U.S. occupation, including those privatizing Iraq’s public assets;

all reconstruction money should be sent through the United Nations and monitored carefully;
construction on all long-term U.S. military facilities should cease and plans for permanent U.S. military bases be rescinded;

the training of new Iraqi armed forces should be expedited, with special attention given to respect for internationally recognized human rights;

a generous U.S. aid package, with no strings attached, should be offered to Iraq to rebuild what the United States has destroyed.

No matter what the alternative becomes, it is crucial that U.S. policy in Iraq continue to be scrutinized and challenged. U.S. elected officials who continue to support the current policy should be held accountable. It should be clear at this point that the Bush administration and its supporters in Congress have made one disastrous decision after another and cannot be trusted to do any better in the future. As a result, even though the message is not as clear as it was a little over two years ago when we could simply say “Do not invade Iraq!,” voices of dissent and reason are needed more than ever.


Don’t Credit Reagan for Ending the Cold War

Perhaps the most dangerous myth regarding the legacy of the late President Ronald Reagan is that he was somehow responsible for the end of the Cold War.

Soviet-style communism was doomed in part because it fell victim to the pro-democracy movement that was also then sweeping Latin America and parts of Africa and Asia during this same period. No credit can be given to the Reagan Administration, which was a strong supporter of many of these right-wing dictatorial regimes, such as the Marcos regime in the Philippines.

The Soviet Union and its communist allies in Eastern Europe collapsed primarily because their governments and economies rested upon an inherently unworkable system that would have fallen apart anyway. A centralized command economy can have its advantages at a certain phase of industrialization, when large “smokestack industries”—from machine tools to tanks—dominate manufacturing. Such a system could, for a time, make the Soviets a formidable military power, but was totally incapable of satisfying consumer demand. Thus, the old joke that the Soviets were working on an atomic bomb that could fit inside a suitcase: they had perfected the bomb, but they were still working on the suitcase.

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev’s famous line in the late 1950s that “we will bury you” was not a threat of war, but a reflection that—over the past few decades up to that time—the Soviet economy was growing faster than its Western capitalist counterparts and was projected to surpass that of the West within a couple of decades.

However, as the new wave of industrialization based upon information technologies took off, the economy of the Soviet Union stagnated. Totalitarian systems cannot survive without being able to control access to information. Cracks in the system were becoming apparent as early as the 1970s. North Korea remains the most centralized communist country in both political and economic terms and it has even taken some small steps to liberalize its economy. The other nominally communist governments are China, Vietnam, and Laos, whose economies have largely gone capitalist, and Cuba, which has decentralized and democratized segments of its economy.

In a December 2003 interview, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said the fall of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with the arms race. “When it became clear to us that the one-party model was mistaken, we rejected that model,” he said. “A new generation of more educated people started to be active. Then society required freedom, society demanded freedom.”

It was not Reagan’s military buildup or bellicose threats against the Soviets and their allies that brought down the system. Instead, such threats possibly allowed these regimes to hold on to power even longer as people rallied to support the government in the face of the perceived American threat.

High Soviet military spending, in part as a reaction to the U.S. military buildup that began in the latter half of the Carter administration, certainly hurt the Soviet economy—as it did (and is still doing to) ours. This was, however, only a minor factor.

Then, as has become typical of presidential addresses since the U.S. invasion, there is the rewriting of history:

The reality is that it was the people themselves who brought down the system.

The most significant case was Poland, where—even before Reagan became president—the communist regime was forced to recognize the independent trade-union movement, Solidarity. This helped expose the lie that the communist governments were “workers’ states.” Despite the Polish regime’s decision to ban Solidarity at the end of 1981, pro-democracy Poles continued to organize, as did dissidents in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, the Baltic states and elsewhere. Many of these democratic leaders were openly skeptical of Reagan administration policies. Dissident Czech playwright and later president Vaclav Havel, when asked about Western influences on his movement, replied that he had been more inspired by John Lennon and Frank Zappa than by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

President Reagan’s verbal support for democracy had little credibility in many of these countries. For example, while he denounced Poland’s martial law regime, he was a strong supporter of the more repressive martial law regime then in power in Turkey, a NATO ally. In challenging left-wing governments in the Third World, Reagan backed insurgents with ties to U.S.-backed dictatorships, and, in the case of Afghanistan, even Islamic fundamentalists.

While Ronald Reagan was certainly capable of inspirational leadership, idealism, and personal charm, the myth that he is responsible for the downfall of communism and the end of the Cold War does a disservice to the millions of Eastern Europeans and others who faced the tanks and struggled against great odds for their freedom. It was not American militarism, but massive nonviolent action—including strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, and other forms of ingenious non-cooperation—that finally brought down these communist regimes.


Congress Overwhelmingly Endorses Ariel Sharon’s Annexation Plans

On Wednesday, June 23, 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives, in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, endorsed right-wing Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s efforts to colonize and annex large sections of the Palestinian West Bank, seized by Israel in the June 1967 war.

This was not just another “pro-Israel” (or, more accurately, “pro-Israeli right”) resolution, but an effective renunciation of the post-World War II international system based upon the premise of the illegitimacy of the expansion of a country’s territory by military force.

House Concurrent Resolution 460, sponsored by right-wing Republican leader Tom DeLay, ‘strongly endorses’ the letter sent by President George W. Bush to the Israeli prime minister in April supporting his so-called ‘disengagement’ plan. This unilateral initiative calls for withdrawing the illegal Israeli settlements from the occupied Gaza Strip, but’far more significantly’would incorporate virtually all of the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank into Israel, leaving the Palestinians with a series of non-contiguous and economically unviable cantons, each surrounded by Israeli territory, collectively constituting barely 10% of historic Palestine. (Even in the case of the Gaza Strip, Sharon’s plan would allow Israel to control the borders, the ports, and the airspace, as well as having the right to conduct military operations inside Palestinian areas at will.)

The vote was 407 in favor of the resolution and only 9 opposed.

The Bush letter so overwhelming supported by the House declares that ‘the United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan.” Indeed, the resolution appears to be part of an effort to short-circuit last fall’s Geneva Initiative, a comprehensive peace plan supported by the Palestinian leadership and leading Israeli moderates. In that proposal, the Palestinians agreed that Israel could annex some blocs of settlements, but only along Israel’s internationally recognized borders and only in exchange for an equivalent amount of territory currently part of Israel that would be granted to the new Palestinian state. According to public opinion polls, the majority of Americans’including a majority of American Jews’support this approach over the Bush-backed Sharon so overwhelming endorsed by Congress.

The resolution does not even make mention of the once highly-touted ‘road map’ for Israeli-Palestinian peace that the United States drew up with representatives of Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. The ‘road map’ demanded that any growth in the settlements be frozen and that the remaining outstanding issues, such as borders and the status of Palestinian refugees be left for negotiations between the two parties.

Congressman Pete Stark of California, one of the nine dissenters, observed how the resolution did not call on both Israelis and Palestinians to work together to find a peaceful solution to this conflict, correctly observing that ‘all parties in the process must work together,’ something the resolution notably omitted. Minority leader Nancy Pelosi and Deputy minority leader Steny Hoyer (who was a cosponsor of the DeLay resolution) refused to place a resolution cosponsored by Stark (H.R. 479), which applauds Israelis and Palestinians who are working together to conceive pragmatic, serious plans for achieving peace and encourages both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to capitalize on the opportunity offered by these peace initiatives.

According to Israeli press reports, Sharon brought four separate disengagement plans to Washington requiring various degrees of Israeli withdrawal, but President Bush ended up endorsing the one which allowed Israel to annex the largest amount of Palestinian territory. Now, much to the chagrin of progressive and moderate Israelis, Congress has also chosen to throw its weight behind the most right-wing of the four proposals.

Most observers’including leading Israeli military and intelligence officials’recognize that by leaving the Palestinians with little hope of achieving a viable state through negotiations, this will only swell the ranks of extremist Palestinian groups and produce more terrorism. Congress has rejected this analysis, however, insisting that Sharon’s land grab will somehow ‘enhance the security of Israel and advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.’

The resolution calls for the Palestinian ‘state’ that could eventually emerge to be ‘based on rule of law and respect for human rights,’ but does not call on Israel to respect the rule of law and human rights, which its occupation forces and colonists’according to reputable human rights organization in Israel and elsewhere’are violating on a daily basis.

The resolution also repeatedly cites Palestinian terrorism as the obstacle to peace and security, not the Israeli occupation and repression that has spawned it. Furthermore, the resolution calls for the United States to further strengthen Israel’s military prowess and defends Israel’s right to launch attacks against Palestinian groups that ‘threaten Israeli citizens,’ which presumably includes settlers and their militias which have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including large numbers of children.

In supporting this resolution, Congress has effectively renounced UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel’in return for security guarantees from its Arab neighbors’to withdraw from territories seized in the June 1967 war. All previous U.S. administrations of both parties had seen these resolutions as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace.

These Israeli settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, which deem it illegal for any country to transfer any part of its civilian population onto territories seized by military force. UN Security Council resolutions 446, 452, 465 and 471 explicitly call on Israel to remove its colonists from the occupied territories. The vast majority of these settlements that the Bush-Sharon plan seeks to formally annex into Israel were built after these resolutions were passed.

In an incredible act of chutzpah, however, the resolution claims that Israel should not be expected to withdraw from these settlements ‘in light of new realities on the ground,’ namely the settlements built in violation of these UN Security Council resolutions.

Congress, however, apparently agrees with President Bush that Sharon’s Israel, unlike Saddam’s Iraq, need not abide by UN Security Council resolutions.

In that clause, the resolution refers to the illegal settlements euphemistically as ‘Israeli population centers.’ More significantly, the resolution refers to these settlements as being ‘in Israel,’ effectively already recognizing their annexation.

The resolution also insists that supporting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in Israel’or even in the occupied territories to be annexed by Israel under the Bush-Sharon plan’would not be ‘just’ or ‘fair.’

The Bush letter endorsed by Congress effectively destroys the once highly-touted ‘road map’ and marks the first time in the history of the peace process that a U.S. president has pre-empted negotiations by announcing support of such a unilateral initiative by one party. Both Israel and the United States continue to refuse to even negotiate with Palestine Authority President Yasir Arafat, Palestinian Prime Minister Amhed Qureia, or any other recognized Palestinian leader, on substantive issues dealing with a peace settlement.

Supporting the resolution were the fundamentalist Christian Coalition, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, and other right-wing groups. Leading the opposition to the resolution were Churches for Middle East Peace, the Tikkun Community, and similar progressive organizations. That the entire House Democratic leadership and all but a handful of Democrats overall supported the resolution is demonstrative of just how far to the right the Democratic Party has gone. In short, the Democrats, like the Republicans, now support the neo-conservative doctrine that places the right of conquest over the rule of law.

More fundamentally, Congress’ effective endorsement of an Israeli annexation of land it conquered in the 1967 war is a direct challenge to the United Nations Charter, which forbids any country from expanding its territory through military conquest. The vote, therefore, constitutes nothing less than an overwhelming bipartisan renunciation of the post-World War II international system, effectively recognizing the right of conquest.


House Republicans and Democrats Unite Linking Iraq with 9/11

On the eve of the third anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. House of Representatives–by an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of 406-16–passed a resolution linking Iraq to the al-Qaida attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This comes despite conclusions reached by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, a recent CIA report, and the consensus of independent strategic analysis familiar with the region that no such links ever existed.

The resolution contains appropriate and predictable language paying tribute to the rescue workers and victims’ families. It also notes actions taken by the U.S. government in response to the attacks, such as the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, improvements in intelligence procedures, enhanced coordination between government agencies, and hardening cockpit doors on commercial aircraft. Actions by American allies were noted as well, such as their arrest of key al-Qaida operatives in Europe and elsewhere.

However, the resolution also contains language designed, despite the lack of any credible evidence, to associate the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks.

Al-Qaida = Taliban = Iraq

For example, the resolution states that “since the United States was attacked, it has led an international military coalition in the destruction of two terrorist regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

First of all, there appears to be a calculated ambiguity in the language of that clause through the use of the word “since,” which can mean both “from the time when” as well as “because.”

Secondly, these two military operations were very different: While there was no evidence that the Taliban regime of Afghanistan was directly involved in international terrorism, they undeniably provided the most important base of operations for the al-Qaida terrorist network, which shared their extremist Wahhabi-influenced brand of Islamist ideology. In return, al-Qaida provided direct support for the Taliban by contributing fighters to the Afghan government in the face of military challenges by rebels of the Northern Alliance. Despite concerns over the large numbers of civilians killed as a result of the U.S. bombing and missile attacks and other aspects of U.S. military operations, much of the international community supported the legitimacy of the war effort.

By contrast, despite extraordinary efforts by the U.S. government to find some kind of association between the Islamist al-Qaida and the secular Baathists then in power in Iraq, no such links have been found. Relatively few countries have supported the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq outside of poor debtor nations which received enormous pressure from the United States to do so.

Allegations of Iraqi support of other anti-American terrorist groups appear to be groundless as well. Despite backing Abu Nidal and other secular terrorist groups in the 1980s, Iraqi support for international terrorism declined markedly in subsequent years; the last act of anti-American terrorism the U.S. government formally tied to Iraq was back in early1993. The State Department’s annual study Patterns of Global Terrorism did not list any acts of international terrorism linked directly to the government of Iraq in subsequent years. The most evidence of indirect Iraqi involvement in terrorism the Bush administration has been able to come up with was Iraqi financial support of the tiny pro-Saddam Palestinian group known as the Arab Liberation Front, which passed on funds to families of Palestinians who died in the struggle against Israel, including some families of suicide bombers. Such Iraqi support was significantly less than the support many of these same families have received from Saudi Arabia and other U.S.-backed Arab monarchies. In fact, Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups have received extensive direct support from these countries as well, but apparently not from Iraq.

The resolution goes on to note that “United States Armed Forces and Coalition forces have killed or captured 43 of the 55 most wanted criminals of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, including Saddam Hussein himself.” While this statement is in itself true, there is no evidence to suggest that any of these members of the former Iraqi regime had anything to do with 9/11. As a result, it appears that the House decided to include this clause as an attempt to associate Saddam Hussein’s regime, in the eyes of the American people, with the attacks.

The Saddam–al-Zarqawi–bin Laden Connection

The single most misleading clause in the House resolution claims that “the al-Zarqawi terror network used Baghdad as a base of operations to coordinate the movement of people, money, and supplies.” This charge was originally raised by Secretary of State Colin Powell in his February 2003 speech before the United Nations and has long since been discredited. Indeed, a recent CIA report concluded that there was no evidence that Saddam’s regime had in any way harbored, provided aid, or in any other way support al-Zarqawi.

While the Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his followers were indeed located inside Iraq’s borders prior to the U.S. invasion, they were not based in Baghdad, but in the far north of the country inside the Kurdish safe havens the United Nations had established in 1991, well beyond the control of Saddam’s government.

Indeed, the only evidence the Bush administration has been able to put forward linking the al-Zarqawi terror network to the Iraqi capital was a brief stay that al-Zarqawi had in a Baghdad hospital at the end of 2001, apparently having been smuggled by supporters into the country from Iran and smuggled out days later. The recent CIA report has called even this claim into question, however.

Charges by Powell and other administration officials that al-Zarqawi was affiliated with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden also appears to have little merit. Indeed, there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that the two see each other as rivals.

This apparently fictional al-Zarqawi connection alleged by Congress is significant in that it was a key component of one of the justifications put forward by the Bush administration for invading Iraq in the weeks leading up to the start of the war in March 2003. For if al-Zarqawi was closely aligned with al-Qaida, and if Saddam Hussein was allowing the al-Zarqawi terror network to use Baghdad as a base of operations, and if Saddam was manufacturing weapons of mass destruction, therefore Saddam could pass these weapons on to al-Zarqawi, who would then pass them on to al-Qaida, which in turn could then use them on the United States. Therefore, according to this argument, the United States had to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam’s government in order to protect our nation from a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack.

It appears, then, that the House of Representatives decided to include the long-since disproven claim that “the al-Zarqawi terror network used Baghdad as a base of operations to coordinate the movement of people, money, and supplies” in order to justify the bipartisan vote in October 2002 authorizing the invasion.

(Ironically, since the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, the al-Zarqawi terror network has established extensive cells in Baghdad and elsewhere in the country, which they were unable to do during Saddam’s regime. They are believed to be responsible for many of the most devastating car bombings and other acts of terrorism which have killed hundreds of civilians and wreaked havoc on Iraq since the U.S. takeover of that country during the spring of 2003.)

Bipartisan Efforts to Hide the Truth

This is not the first time that Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives have teamed up to present the invasion of Iraq as a justifiable response to 9/11.

Just days after President Bush forced United Nations weapons inspectors out of Iraq and commenced the U.S. invasion, the House voted 392-11 to express their “unequivocal support and appreciation” to President Bush for leading the nation to war against Iraq “as part of the ongoing Global War on Terrorism.”

Some Democrats have defended that March 2003 vote on the grounds that House members were simply fooled by President Bush and others who insisted Iraq had a close connection with al-Qaida.

However, the fact that Congress would pass another resolution by a similarly one-sided margin long after U.S. military and intelligence officials had gone through many thousands of captured Iraqi documents and had interviewed hundreds of former Iraqi officials and still failed to find any credible evidence of any such ties appears to indicate that there indeed remains a calculated bipartisan attempt to mislead the American people.

Such dishonest rhetoric from the Bush administration has become all too common in the three years since the 9/11 attacks. Why, then, would the Democrats also want to perpetuate such myths that are essentially designed to grant legitimacy to President Bush’s illegal and disastrous invasion of Iraq?

Perhaps, in some cases, they were too busy or too lazy to bother reading the resolution, and just assumed it was a tribute to the 9/11 victims. Perhaps some of them were afraid that the Republicans would accuse them in the fall campaign of “voting against a resolution honoring the brave firefighters” if they did otherwise, and this was just another case of the Democrats wimping out.

However, the real answer may lie in the fact that while a majority of Americans now believe that the United States should have never invaded Iraq, the Democratic leadership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives firmly supported the U.S. invasion of that oil-rich country. More importantly this presidential election year, Democratic nominee John Kerry and his running mate John Edwards both voted in October 2002 to authorize President Bush to launch the war at any time and under any circumstances of his own choosing, a decision that they both defend to this day. As a result, if the American public can be convinced that Iraq somehow had something to do with the 9/11 tragedy, more voters might be willing to see these two Democratic senators not as irresponsible militarists who helped drag the United States into an illegal, unnecessary, and bloody counter-insurgency war, but as bold leaders who acted decisively to defend America from future terrorist attacks.

In short, it appears that neither the Republicans nor the Democrats have any qualms about taking advantage of the anniversary of one of the greatest disasters ever inflicted upon our soil in order to justify the ongoing violence inflicted upon the people of Iraq and upon American soldiers forced to fight there. That these two parties are the only realistic choices we have on a national level this election year is not just a tragedy for the people of Iraq, but a sad testament to the state of American democracy.