Date: 	Fri, 13 Feb 1998 23:25:42 -0500
From: Eric Fawcett 
Subject: Edward Said artice on Iraq Crisis


It would be a mistake, I think, to reduce what is happening between Iraq
and the United States simply to an assertion of Arab will and sovereignty
on the one hand versus American imperialism, which undoubtedly plays a
central role in all this. However misguided, Saddam Hussein's cleverness
is not that he is splitting America from its allies (which he has not
really succeeded in doing for any practical purpose) but that he is
exploiting the astonishing clumsiness and failures of US foreign policy.
Very few people, least of all Saddam himself, can be fooled into believing
him to be the innocent victim of American bullying; most of what is
happening to his unfortunate people who are undergoing the most dreadful
and unacknowledged suffering is due in considerable degree to his callous
cynicism -- first of all, his indefensible and ruinous invasion of Kuwait,
his persecution of the Kurds, his cruel egoism and pompous self-regard
which persists in aggrandizing himself and his regime at exorbitant and,
in my opinion, totally unwarranted cost. It is impossible for him to plead
the case for national security and sovereignty now given his abysmal
disregard of it in the case of Kuwait and Iran.

Be that as it may, US vindictiveness, whose sources I shall look at in a
moment, has exacerbated the situation by imposing a regime of sanctions
which, as Sandy Berger, the American National Security adviser has just
said proudly, is unprecedented for its severity in the whole of world
history. 567,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the Gulf War, mostly as a
result of disease, malnutrition and deplorably poor medical care.
Agriculture and industry are at a total standstill. This is unconscionable
of course, and for this the brazen inhumanity of American policy-makers is
also very largely to blame. But we must not forget that Saddam is feeding
that inhumanity quite deliberately in order to dramatize the opposition
between the US and the rest of the Arab world; having provoked a crisis
with the US (or the UN dominated by the US) he at first dramatised the
unfairness of the sanctions. But by continuing it as he is now doing, the
issue has changed and has become his non-compliance, and the terrible
effects of the sanctions have been marginalised. Still the underlying
causes of an Arab/US crisis remain.

A careful analysis of that crisis is imperative. The US has always opposed
any sign of Arab nationalism or independence, partly for its own imperial
reasons and partly because its unconditional support for Israel requires
it to do so. Since the l973 war, and despite the brief oil embargo, Arab
policy up to and including the peace process has tried to circumvent or
mitigate that hostility by appealing to the US for help, by "good"
behavior, by willingness to make peace with Israel. Yet mere compliance
with the US's wishes can produce nothing except occasional words of
American approbation for leaders who appear "moderate": Arab policy was
never backed up with coordination, or collective pressure, or fully agreed
upon goals. Instead each leader tried to make separate arrangements both
with the US and with Israel, none of which produced very much except
escalating demands and a constant refusal by the US to exert any
meaningful pressure on Israel. The more extreme Israeli policy becomes the
more likely the US has been to support it. And the less respect it has for
the large mass of Arab peoples whose future and well-being are mortgaged
to illusory hopes embodied, for instance, in the Oslo accords.

Moreover, a deep gulf separates Arab culture and civilization on the one
hand, from the United States on the other, and in the absence of any
collective Arab information and cultural policy, the notion of an Arab
people with traditions, cultures and identities of their own is simply
inadmissible in the US. Arabs are dehumanized, they are seen as violent
irrational terrorists always on the lookout for murder and bombing
outrages. The only Arabs worth doing business with for the US are
compliant leaders, businessmen, military people whose arms purchases (the
highest per capita in the world) are helping the American economy keep
afloat. Beyond that there is no feeling at all, for instance, for the
dreadful suffering of the Iraqi people whose identity and existence have
simply been lost sight of in the present situation.

This morbid, obsessional fear and hatred of the Arabs has been a constant
theme in US foreign policy since World War Two. In some way also, anything
positive about the Arabs is seen in the US as a threat to Israel. In this
respect pro-Israeli American Jews, traditional Orientalists, and military
hawks have played a devastating role. Moral opprobrium is heaped on Arab
states as it is on no others. Turkey, for example, has been conducting a
campaign against the Kurds for several years, yet nothing is heard about
this in the US. Israel occupies territory illegally for thirty years, it
violates the Geneva conventions at will, conducts invasions, terrorist
attacks and assassinations against Arabs, and still, the US vetoes every
sanction against it in the UN. Syria, Sudan, Libya, Iraq are classified as
"rogue" states. Sanctions against them are far harsher than against any
other countries in the history of US foreign policy. And still the US
expects that its own foreign policy agenda ought to prevail (eg., the
woefully misguided Doha economic summit) despite its hostility to the
collective Arab agenda.

In the case of Iraq a number of further extenuations make the US even more
repressive. Burning in the collective American unconscious is a
puritanical zeal decreeing the sternest possible attitude towards anyone
deemed to be an unregenerate sinner. This clearly guided American policy
towards the native American Indians, who were first demonized, then
portrayed as wasteful savages, then exterminated, their tiny remnant
confined to reservations and concentration camps. This almost religious
anger fuels a judgemental attitude that has no place at all in
international politics, but for the United States it is a central tenet of
its worldwide behavior. Second, punishment is conceived in apocalyptic
terms. During the Vietnam war a leading general advocated -- and almost
achieved -- the goal of bombing the enemy into the stone age. The same
view prevailed during the Gulf War in l99l. Sinners are meant to be
condemned terminally, with the utmost cruelty regardless of whether or not
they suffer the cruelest agonies. The notion of "justified" punishment for
Iraq is now uppermost in the minds of most American consumers of news, and
with that goes an almost orgiastic delight in the gathering power being
summoned to confront Iraq in the Gulf.

Pictures of four (or is now five?) immense aircraft carriers steaming
virtuously away punctuate breathless news bulletins about Saddam's
defiance, and the impending crisis. The President announces that he is
thinking not about the Gulf but about the 21st century: how can we
tolerate Iraq's threat to use biological warfare even though (this is
unmentioned) it is clear from the UNSCOM reports that he neither has the
missile capacity, nor the chemical arms, nor the nuclear arsenal, nor in
fact the anthrax bombs that he is alleged to be brandishing? Forgotten in
all this is that the US has all the terror weapons known to humankind, is
the only country to have used a nuclear bomb on civilians, and as recently
as seven years ago dropped 66,000 tons of bombs on Iraq. As the only
country involved in this crisis that has never had to fight a war on its
own soil, it is easy for the US and its mostly brain-washed citizens to
speak in apocalyptic terms. A report out of Australia on Sunday, November
l6 suggests that Israel and the US are thinking about a neutron bomb on
Baghdad.

Unfortunately the dictates of raw power are very severe and, for a weak
state like Iraq, overwhelming. Certainly US misuse of the sanctions to
strip Iraq of everything, including any possibility for security is
monstrously sadistic. The so-called UN 661 Committee created to oversee
the sanctions is composed of fifteen member states (including the US) each
of which has a veto. Every time Iraq passes this committee a request to
sell oil for medicines, trucks, meat, etc., any member of the committee
can block these requests by saying that a given item may have military
purposes (tires, for example, or ambulances). In addition the US and its
clients -- eg., the unpleasant and racist Richard Butler, who says openly
that Arabs have a different notion of truth than the rest of the world --
have made it clear that even if Iraq is completely reduced militarily to
the point where it is no longer a threat to its neighbors (which is now
the case) the real goal of the sanctions is to topple Saddam Hussein's
government. In other words according to the Americans, very little that
Iraq can do short of Saddam's resignation or death will produce a lifting
of sanctions. Finally, we should not for a moment forget that quite apart
from its foreign policy interest, Iraq has now become a domestic American
issue whose repercussions on issues unrelated to oil or the Gulf are very
important. Bill Clinton's personal crises -- the campaign-funding
scandals, an impending trial for sexual harassment, his various
legislative and domestic failures -- require him to look strong,
determined and "presidential" somewhere else, and where but in the Gulf
against Iraq has he so ready-made a foreign devil to set off his blue-eyed
strength to full advantage. Moreover, the increase in military expenditure
for new investments in electronic "smart" weaponry, more sophisticated
aircraft, mobile forces for the world-wide projection of American power
are perfectly suited for display and use in the Gulf, where the likelihood
of visible casualties (actually suffering Iraqi civilians) is extremely
small, and where the new military technology can be put through its paces
most attractively. For reasons that need restating here, the media is
particularly happy to go along with the government in bringing home to
domestic customers the wonderful excitement of American self-
righteousness, the proud flag-waving, the "feel-good" sense that "we" are
facing down a monstrous dictator. Far from analysis and calm reflection
the media exists mainly to derive its mission from the government, not to
produce a corrective or any dissent. The media, in short, is an extension
of the war against Iraq.

The saddest aspect of the whole thing is that Iraqi civilians seem
condemned to additional suffering and protracted agony. Neither their
government nor that of the US is inclined to ease the daily pressure on
them, and the probability that only they will pay for the crisis is
extremely high. At least -- and it isn't very much -- there seems to be no
enthusiasm among Arab governments for American military action, but beyond
that there is no coordinated Arab position, not even on the extremely
grave humanitarian question. It is unfortunate that, according to the
news, there is rising popular support for Saddam in the Arab world, as if
the old lessons of defiance without real power have still not been
learned.

Undoubtedly the US has manipulated the UN to its own ends, a rather
shameful exercise given at the same time that the Congress once again
struck down a motion to pay a billion dollars in arrears to the world
organization. The major priority for Arabs, Europeans, Muslims and
Americans is to push to the fore the issue of sanctions and the terrible
suffering imposed on innocent Iraqi civilians. Taking the case to the
International Court in the Hague strikes me as a perfectly viable
possibility, but what is needed is a concerted will on behalf of Arabs who
have suffered the US's egregious blows for too long without an adequate
response.


This article by Edward Said was first published in Arabic in Al-Hayat, 
London, and in English in Al Ahram Weekly, Cairo.