Bush's Big Stick
With Vice President Dick Cheney describing the presidential election result as "a broad, nationwide victory," secured on the platform of an unapologetically hard-line foreign policy, the world should expect more of the same from President George W. Bush and his administration in the "war on terror" he declared on Sept. 12, 2001.
Specifically, this means Bush, Cheney, and their coterie of neoconservative ideologues will continue to visualize the ill-defined war on terrorism in purely military terms, and deploy the Pentagon as their primary instrument to win it. What this has undoubtedly translates into is: one, the already initiated assault on Falluja in Iraq to destroy a bastion of insurgents resisting the occupation of their country; and two, ratcheting up pressure on Iran under the rubric of "countering Tehran's nuclear arms ambitions."
The assault on Fallujah – and the intended confrontation with Iran – is taking place in a context in which anti-American feeling, already rife in the Muslim world, is rising yet again in the wake of a recent report from Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. It concluded that some 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died between March 2003 (when the Bush administration with its British allies invaded Iraq) and September 2004; that the largest number of these deaths were caused by the unleashed air power of the invading and then occupying armies; and that women and children had suffered most.
In other words, the invaders may have managed to kill up to a third as many Iraqis in a year-and-a-half as President Saddam Hussein did in his 24-year dictatorial rule. This comparison led the Riyadh-based, pro-government Saudi Gazette to ask rhetorically, "If this is a war on terror, then who are the terrorists and who are the terrorized?"
The net result of Washington's escalating confrontation with Muslim countries and peoples under various guises will only be to widen further the gulf that already exists between the United States and Muslims in general, paving the way for a much-dreaded "clash of civilizations" that never need have happened.
Attacking the Fly on the Horse
The Bush administration is attacking Falluja despite warnings from Ghazi al Yawar, Interim President of Iraq, Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Shaikh Muhammad Bashar al Faidhi of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which represents 3,000 mosques; despite the string of bombs that killed at least 34 in Samarra on Saturday, a northern city recently "retaken" from the insurgents and now plagued by fighting between the local police and the American-trained Iraqi National Guard.
"I completely disagree with people who see a need to decide [Fallujah] through military action," Interim President Yawar said. "The coalition's handling of this crisis is wrong. It is like someone firing bullets at his horse's head because a fly landed on it; the horse died and the fly went away."
In his letter to the American, British, and Iraqi governments on Oct. 31, Kofi Annan insisted that the escalation in violence that the taking of Fallujah represented would be "very disruptive for Iraq's political transition" and would also put civilian lives at risk. He added that he wanted the UN to help prepare for elections in Iraq in January, but feared that a further rise in violence could disrupt the process. "I have in mind not only the risk of increased insurgent violence, but also reports of major military offensives being planned by the multinational force in key localities such as Fallujah," he wrote.
Shaikh al Faidhi, on the other hand, was not so diplomatic. "If the U.S. invades Fallujah or any other city in Iraq, all the clerics in Iraq will call for a boycott of the election," he stated. Even if the phrase "all the clerics" were to be qualified with "Sunni Arab," that would still mean one-fifth of the Iraqi population concentrated in the country's crucial areas.
A majority of the residents of Baghdad, which accounts for one quarter of the national population of 25 million, are Sunni. So too are the inhabitants of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, not to mention the resistance cities of Fallujah and Ramadi.
It is worth recalling what happened last April when the Pentagon mounted an offensive against Falluja in retaliation for the murder of four Americans working for a Pentagon security contractor. A four-week long running battle with the Iraqi insurgents ensued in which the application of overwhelming force by the U.S. Marines led to nearly 600 Iraqi deaths, mostly civilian, and 65 American military fatalities. And yet during that period the Pentagon kept reducing its demands in stages until rebel demands that only Iraqis should police Falluja and that the Marines should withdraw to their bases were essentially accepted.
In the glow of his electoral victory, George Bush is unlikely to grasp the significance of this statement of Annan's in his letter: "The threat or actual use of force not only risks deepening the sense of alienation of certain communities, but would also reinforce perceptions among the Iraqi population of a continued military occupation."
Long used to blocking unwelcome reality, the President and his advisors are no more likely to take note of what is happening on the ground in Samarra, a city the U.S. military reconquered from the insurgents – for the third time – in early October, and handed over to the interim Iraqi government. Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi now holds Samarra up as a model for the fate of other rebellious cities still to be retaken, and yet it is an omen of what a military approach to the Iraqi situation is likely to yield.
Forced underground but not out of town, insurgents in Samarra, a predominantly Sunni settlement, are now so well organized that on Nov. 6 they were able to set off four car-bomb explosives within minutes of one another. On the government's side, fighting has already broken out between the interim government's National Guard, whose troops have been recruited from Baghdad and predominantly Shiite areas of southern Iraq, and the local police, a Sunni force, which is heavily infiltrated by the insurgents or their associates.
Since their arrival in the city, the National Guardsmen have been breaking into home without warrants, arresting people arbitrarily, and firing into the air at random. As for the local police, they extract bribes from the Samarrans and cooperate with criminal gangs. "We are now caught between an arbitrary authority [the National Guard] and a corrupt authority [the police]," was the way Hisham Nouri al Samarrai, a tribal leader on the local council, summed up the situation.
An attack on Fallujah, say most analysts, will act as a catalyst, uniting disparate resistance groups throughout Iraq. It is also expected to increase resentment among Iraqis and swell insurgent ranks. It's worth remembering that the siege of Falluja in April was the tipping point when insurgents – hitherto seen by most Sunni Arabs as imbued with Islamic fundamentalism – gained popularity. Fellow Sunnis, witnessing the carnage the Americans had caused in the besieged city, shed their fear of religious fanaticism and embraced the resistance fighters and their cause. It also gained the Sunni insurgents sympathy in a section of the Shiite community which put nationalism above sectarian affiliations. This time radical Shia cleric Hojatalislam Muqtada al Sadr has already expressed solidarity with the insurgents in Fallujah with whom he shares the aim of establishing an Islamic republic in Iraq.
Following tactics they had already developed in Samarra in late September, most Iraqi and foreign insurgents have already left Falluja for other destinations in the Sunni heartland. Those who have stayed behind will undoubtedly fight to the death, and the resulting heart-rending carnage – shown on numerous Arab satellite channels – is sure to intensify anti-American feelings not only among Iraqis but also among the inhabitants of the surrounding Sunni-majority countries of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey.
Finally, a pacified and half-razed Fallujah, handed over to the Allawi's interim government, will most likely only replicate the recent history of Samarra.
No Carrots, All Stick
In speeches last week in Europe, Iyad Allawi singled out Iran among Iraq's neighbors for being uncooperative. This was not accidental. He was echoing his master's voice, that of the man who installed him as the Interim Executive Prime Minister – George W. Bush. Nor is it accidental that the Bush administration has refused point blank to endorse the package that the European Union trio – France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – has offered Iran as a way to begin to settle the nuclear issue, even though the offer was backed by the European Union summit in Brussels on Friday.
"A full and sustained suspension of all [uranium] enrichment and reprocessing activities, on a voluntary basis, would open the door for talks on long-term cooperation offering mutual benefits," said the EU communiqué. It further pledged resumption of suspended negotiations on a Trade and Cooperation Agreement between Iran and the EU.
Earlier, when shown the EU trio package, John Bolton, the neoconservative American undersecretary for arms control and international security at the State Department, said, "I don't do carrots."
In contrast, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei, delivering his weekly sermon on Friday in Tehran, repeated his opposition to "the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons," which, he asserted, are forbidden under Islam. "They [the Americans and Israelis] accuse us of pursuing [a] nuclear weapons program," he added. "I am telling them as I have said before that we are not even thinking about nuclear weapons."
Yet Washington is pressing its allies to start drafting a UN Security Council resolution of condemnation as a preamble to imposing sanctions against Iran. There can be little doubt that, even before its second term begins, a re-energized Bush administration is thinking once more of assembling "a coalition of the willing" – this time to wield against Iran, which is still firmly ensconced in its "Axis of Evil" along with North Korea. "They [the Americans] wanted an international coalition against Iraq," mused Jaswant Singh, former foreign minister of India, whose country refused to join the Iraqi version of the coalition. "But they ended up getting virtually an international alliance against America."
Unfortunately for the world at large, there is no sign yet that the Bush administration's disastrously flat learning curve has risen even by a fraction of an inch. The disjunction between the perceptions of policy-makers in Washington and Muslims abroad is so total that our planet is certain to become ever less safe as the new four-year term of the Bush White House unfolds.