ZUNES: THE PROBLEM IS MORE THAN A LACK OF "RESOLVE"
by Stephen Zunes
While Bush's 2007 State of the Union address covered many domestic issues, Bush also laid out his foreign policy approach to Iraq, Iran, terrorism, and democracy promotion. Stephen Zunes, author of "Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism" (Common Courage Press, 2003) annotates the president's speech:
Al-Qaeda and like-minded Sunni extremist groups have generally not targeted moderate governments, but have instead focused their efforts against repressive governments, such as the family dictatorships of the Gulf, the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and the Karimov dictatorship in Uzbekistan. Since its inception, al-Qaeda has principally targeted Saudi Arabia, a repressive theocratic monarchy that has no constitution or legislature, oppresses women, denies religious freedom, and engages in widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. In any case, unlike traditional guerrilla groups for whom a safe haven for operations is critical, al-Qaeda operates through a decentralized network of underground cells and does not need to control any government to organize terrorist operations.
No public statement by al-Qaeda or any of its recognized leaders has ever criticized the United States for supporting liberty. Instead, they have criticized the United States for supporting dictatorial regimes and occupation armies that deny liberty. And, whatever their grievances, there is no serious risk that the United States will retreat from the world. The current debate is whether the United States should continue to exert its power unilaterally through military means or to be a more responsible global citizen that works multilaterally and honors its international legal obligations. And, even if the United States did suddenly pursue an isolationist posture, scores of other countries would do whatever was necessary to prevent al-Qaeda from imposing its will or spreading its totalitarian ideology.
It is grossly misleading to equate these Shia groups with al-Qaeda: Hezbollah and a number of other Shia groups do receive Iranian support and do embrace an extremist ideology but -- unlike al-Qaeda -- they are focused primarily on advancing the interests of the Shiite communities in their respective countries and do not have a global terrorist agenda. In addition, rather than trying to "kill democracy in the Middle East," it was Shia groups that overcame initial American objections to successfully push for direct elections in Iraq and it is Shia groups that are currently pushing for greater democracy in Bahrain against the U.S.-backed Sunni monarchy. Extremist Shiites have killed Americans in Lebanon and Iraq, but only after American troops intervened in their country and began counter-insurgency campaigns that killed large numbers of civilians. Hezbollah has not killed any Americans in well over 20 years -- they stopped not long after U.S. troops withdrew from their country -- and has since become a legal Lebanese political party that has successfully competed in Lebanese elections. Furthermore, unlike al-Qaeda -- which has sought chemical agents and other material for mass killings -- there are no indications that any Shiite groups have sought such weapons.
This is an accurate assessment of the roots of terrorism, yet there are no indications that President Bush is considering a change in U.S. policy from its ongoing military, diplomatic, and financial support of more than a dozen dictatorial regimes in the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. Indeed, all of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other U.S.-backed regimes that repress human freedom, governments that still receive billions of dollars worth of American support for their police and military.
Many Iraqis and Western observers repeatedly warned the Bush administration that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would likely unleash the very kind of sectarian conflict that has unfolded. Prior to the U.S. takeover, Iraq had maintained a longstanding history of secularism and a strong national identity among its Arab population despite its sectarian differences. U.S. occupation authorities -- in an apparent effort to divide and rule -- encouraged sectarianism by dividing up authority in the U.S.-appointed provisional government based not on technical skills or ideological affiliation but ethnic and religious identity. This pattern has continued under subsequent governments, resulting in virtually every political question debated not on its merits but on which group it potentially benefits or harms. This has led to great instability, with political parties, parliamentary blocs, and government ministries breaking down along sectarian lines. Iraq's Sunni Arab minority has long identified with Arab nationalism and distrusts much of the Shiite leadership in large part because they came to power as a result of the U.S. invasion, and some extremists within the Sunni opposition have targeted Shiite civilians in response. Seeing their government faced with a growing insurgency and their community falling victim to terrorist violence, elements within the Shiite-led government have responded by utilizing death squads to target Sunni civilians, with U.S. forces unable or unwilling to stop it. In other words, U.S. policy has contributed greatly to the sectarian violence and is not likely to reverse it. As a result, most Iraqis -- both Sunni and Shiite -- want U.S. forces out of their country. Indeed, the presence of American forces is fueling the insurgency and is helping to undermine the legitimacy of the government. As a result, it is not a matter of "resolve," but whether ongoing U.S. military operations in Iraq are doing more harm than good.
Most reputable accounts indicate that the Iraqi armed forces are not yet in a position to lead American forces in counter-insurgency operations, particularly given the high level of infiltration by supporters of both Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents. In any case, as with most guerrilla wars against foreign occupation armies, most of the fighters live at home or are otherwise capable of melting into the population and laying low until the army completes its sweep and they can then resume fighting. An additional 20,000 troops in a city of over five million is not likely to clear and secure many neighborhoods for more than a very short period of time.
Elements allied with al-Qaeda only represent a tiny fraction of the insurgency and no al-Qaeda operative from Afghanistan has ever been captured or positively identified in Iraq. Most of the insurgency in Anbar consists of homegrown Sunni Islamists, tribal groups, Baathists, and other nationalists. Except for a tiny enclave in the autonomous Kurdish region outside of Baghdad's control, there were virtually no al-Qaeda-affiliated activities in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion in 2003. It is the presence of U.S. forces that has resulted in the emergence of whatever al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists do exist in Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq.
Baghdad was secure from Islamic extremists -- both Sunni and Shiite -- under the secular regime that the United States overthrew in 2003. Under Saddam Hussein's authoritarian rule, Iraq was free from chaos, and the successful UN-sponsored disarmament effort had prevented Iraq from threatening other countries in the region. That an American invasion could unleash forces that would foment chaos in Iraq and threaten the stability of the region was widely predicted beforehand. For example, in September 2002, Arab foreign ministers in Cairo issued a warning that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would "open the gates of hell." As a result, it is ironic that Bush now uses the very chaos and the rise of Islamic extremism for which he was responsible as an excuse for continuing the war he started. Studies from both U.S. government agencies and independent research institutes indicate that the ongoing U.S. war in Iraq -- not the prospect of withdrawal -- has led to growing anti-Americanism and Islamic radicalism. The longer the United States continues to prosecute the war in Iraq, the greater the danger to the United States.
The decision in October 2002 by the leadership of both parties in both houses of Congress to authorize President Bush to invade Iraq at the time and circumstances of his own choosing demonstrates the danger of working in close consultation with the Bush administration. Congressional Democrats -- even when they are in the majority, as they were in the Senate at the time of that fateful vote -- tend to buckle under pressure from the administration on foreign policy. Indeed, the Democratic leadership has ruled out trying to force a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq through cutting funding for the war -- the only real tool at their disposal. And it looks as though they will even fail to block funding for the proposed increase of U.S. combat soldiers fighting in Iraq despite polls showing a majority of the American public would like them to do so. Even if Democrats on such an advisory council did actually display some independence from the Bush administration on policy issues, they will not likely be listened to anyway, given President Bush's failure to heed the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and the Baker-Hamilton Commission.
Meanwhile, the United States has blocked the UN from imposing sanctions on Pakistan, Israel, and India despite those countries' ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolutions related to their nuclear weapons programs. In addition, the Bush administration severely weakened international non-proliferation efforts by entering into a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Indian government despite that country's ongoing defiance of UN Security Council resolution 1172, which calls on India to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.
In reality, President Bush has undermined peace efforts by the UN and European governments by insisting that the Palestinians unilaterally implement their obligations under Phase I of the Quartet's Road Map instead of the original emphasis on mutual and simultaneous efforts by both sides. The Bush administration has also blocked international efforts to stop Israel's ongoing colonization of large swathes of the West Bank (in violation of a series of UN Security Council resolutions) and Israel's construction of a separation barrier deep inside the occupied territory (in violation of a ruling by the International Court of Justice). The Bush administration has also vetoed a series of UN Security Council draft resolutions calling on Israel to end its ongoing violations of international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territories. As a result of these Bush administration policies, the Israeli government has been able to move forward with its U.S.-backed "convergence plan" in which Israel would be able to annex large sections of West Bank territory, leaving the Palestinians in control of a series of non-contiguous cantons surrounded by Israel and constituting well under 20% of historic Palestine. Such an economically unviable mini-state, closely resembling the infamous Bantustans of apartheid South Africa, would not likely be able to live in peace and security with Israel.
Unfortunately, the administration refuses to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Oman, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Chad, or the many other countries ruled by allied regimes that engage in gross and systematic human rights abuses. By only speaking out in support of freedom in countries with autocratic governments the administration does not like but remaining silent in regard to autocratic governments the Bush administration supports, it politicizes the human rights struggle, replaces principle with political expediency, and compromises the struggle for freedom worldwide.
Stephen Zunes is the Foreign Policy In Focus Middle East editor and professor of politics at the University of San Francisco
Albion Monitor January
24, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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