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Pax Americana — playing games with the Arabs
By Karamatullah K. Ghori

The Name of the Game in Somalia is Oil

Toronto: The apparent failure of Vice President Dick Cheney, in a whirlwind 11 nation tour in 10 days, to ‘sell’ to his Arab interlocutors the latest Bush plan to ‘take out Saddam’ in yet another American blitz against Iraq, has caused consternation among the Washington hawks. It is back to the drawing boards for them, for another strategy that would hook the Arabs on it.

Cheney’s mission, meticulously planned for weeks and fine-tuned to give his sagging image a big boost, was doomed before it began. Two developments worked against its success. One, was the brute antics of Israel’s Ariel Sharon who apparently fashioned his own agenda against the Palestinians at his mercy to blend with Bush’s ‘war on terrorism.’

Sharon is a soul-mate of Bush and Cheney. The three have a lot in common with each other in their inveterate hatred of the Muslims, in general, and the Arabs, in particular. September 11 gave a hefty boost to Sharon’s plans to crush the Palestinian intifada with a ferocity for which he has been known since his butchery of the Palestinians in Beirut’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982. Bush’s declaration of war on terror gave a blank cheque to Sharon to let loose a reign of terror never seen before in the occupied lands. He became emboldened with the Americans turning a blind eye to his use of their supplied state-of-the-art weapons against unarmed Palestinian protesters.

Palestinians being killed by scores every week did not raise any eye-brows in Washington. Nor did Yasser Arafat’s incarceration in Ramallah; nor, for that matter, the systematic dismantling of the Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure by American F-16s, American Abram tanks and Israeli bulldozers. All this was in complete harmony with Bush’s own open-ended war on terror. And the Palestinian struggle to attain their long-delayed nationhood has been seen by the Israeli lobbies and powerful Jewish brokers in Washington as a terrorist movement.

However, America’s antipathy to the Palestinians, and complicity with Sharon’s virtual ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians from their own land, rattled the Europeans sans, of course, Tony Blair’s loyalist Britain. The daily carnage of the Palestinians, brought live to their family rooms every evening, also unusually stirred the Arab leadership into taking an initiative the world had almost given up hope for. The world least expected the Saudis, Washington’s oldest and most conservative friends in the Middle East, to become the authors of such an initiative.

Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah’s bold plan to bite the bullet and offer full recognition to Israel in return for its withdrawal to pre-1967 border was the second reason of the failure of Cheney’s much-touted visit to allies in ME. Revealed to Thomas Friedman, the New York Times’ Israel-friendly columnist, Abdullah’s imaginative plan put Washington on the defensive. It caught the Jewish lobbies in America—used to lambasting the Arabs for lack of imagination, grit and initiative—by complete surprise. Here was the most orthodox Arab state showing willingness to cut the Gordian Knot and put paid to a political impasse that has cost more than a thousand lives amongst the Palestinians since their second intifada began 18 months ago. Abdullah also left no doubt that his effort would be focused on selling the plan to his Arab peers at the Arab League Summit in Beirut, due to begin on March 27.

Abdullah’s inspired plan shifted the spotlight away from Cheney’s trumpeted scheme to drum up support in the ‘friendly’ Arab capitals for phase two of Bush’s ‘ war on terror.’ To begin with, nobody in the Arab world was prepared to get on board the Bush-Cheney tumbrel to give another bloody nose to Iraq, this time with the much-ballyhooed objective of ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein.

The case against Iraq is weak, as everyone outside the Washington lobby of blatant power politics knows. There is no evidence to corroborate the charge by the Bush-Cheney hawks that Saddam Hussein is building and stock-piling weapons of mass destruction. But Bush and company, driven by the heady intoxication of pax americana, want the rest of the world to accept their version of Saddam as gospel truth, and act according to Washington’s agenda. But this agenda is, in fact, nothing but a vendetta against Iraq. It is the unfinished agenda of Daddy Bush that the son wants to take to its logical denouement.

Bush is determined to remove Saddam from power because without this being done the geo-strategic ambience in the region will never be completely fool-proof for Israel. The chessboard must be so arranged as to leave no possibility of anyone even remotely challenging Israel’s singular might as the regional sentinel of world’s lone super power. It is a classical role reversal of the tail wagging the dog.

The powerful oil lobby, which has invested heavily in both Bush and Cheney, also wants Saddam’s eclipse and the emergence of a pliable successor regime that would allow American oil companies to dominate the post-Saddam economic scene in Iraq. This lobby is overtly worried that Saddam has parceled out lucrative, post-dated, oil concessions to the Russians, the Chinese, the French and even the Italians. The American oil companies have not garnered any benefits because of their government’s hostility to the Saddam regime. But Iraq , most likely, is sitting over the richest deposits of oil in the world. Its proven reserves make it second only to Saudi Arabia. However, many oil industry insiders believe Iraq’s potential estimated reserves of 400 billion barrels plus may comfortably surpass the Saudi reserves of around 350 billion barrels. It is a bonanza that American oil cartels would not like to be deprived of. After all, they have, in Bush and Cheney, the most corporate-friendly team in Washington.

But all this was under threat of becoming unstuck because of Sharon’s unremitting brutality against the hapless Palestinians. The Bush administration looked the other way , as if Sharon was doing precisely what was expected of him, until Sharon went into the Palestinian refugee camps to refresh the world’s memory about his bestiality in Beirut 20 years ago. That catalyst left Bush with no other option but draw the line for Sharon. Enough was enough, not because Bush had suddenly felt remorse or regret for the Palestinians. No, far from that. The danger was that the Arab world was getting alarmingly agitated at the daily spectacle of Palestinian women and children being mauled by Sharon’s blitz. Bush’s ambition to get some of the Arabs on board against Iraq was in imminent threat of being buried in the rubble of Palestinian refugee camps. And, on the heels of this daily massacre came Abdullah’s bold venture which pulled the rug from under Cheney’s mission. Bush found himself in a corner. He had to act to get out of his corner.

It was in this background that U.S. allowed , for the first time in 20 years, a Security Council resolution critical of Israel to pass earlier in March, in the middle of Cheney’s 11-nation tour. The SC resolution proclaimed the ultimate viability of two states, one Israeli and one Palestinian, side by side in Palestine.

Cheney himself also tried to give a boost to his moribund mission by announcing, in his sojourn in Israel, his willingness to meet with Yasser Arafat. Until now, neither Bush nor even Cheney , had ever condescended to meet with Arafat. This was not only a posture of raw arrogance but also betrayed their pro-Israeli obsession and hostility to the Palestinians.

And yet Cheney’s change of tack did not cloak his abiding contempt for the Palestinians, and his denigration of their struggle. He would meet Arafat, he said, only if the latter put a complete end to Palestinian hostility. Which, stripped of its sugar coating, amounts to the Palestinian struggle for freedom being nothing but a violent, terrorist campaign to the Americans, as much as it is to the Israelis.

How would Arafat get a good-conduct certificate to satisfy Cheney , and from whom ? He should abide by the demands contained in the Tenet Plan, named after the current CIA chief, who had earlier drawn up a roster of action for both the Palestinians and the Israelis as a precursor to cease-fire and subsequent peace parleys between them. The ‘ character certificate’, once Arafat complied to satisfaction, will be given by General Zinni, the Bush trouble-shooter rushed to the scene to shore up Cheney’s adrift mission.

But the Tenet plan also demands action of Israel. Such as, no incursion into Palestinian controlled territories; no provocations by the well-armed Israeli settlers on the Palestinian lands; and pull-back by the Israeli military to positions they were in before September 2000 when Sharon’s inflammatory visit to Al-Quds unleashed the current Palestinian intifada.

That there is no modicum of American faith in the Palestinians, or in their leadership, is beyond doubt. Within 48 hours of Cheney coming up with his new tack to beguile the Palestinians, the U.S. Senate got into damage control in favour of Israel. 52 Senators, out of 100, sent a letter to Bush, on March 21, pleading that there should be no meeting of Cheney’s with Arafat. The letter, among other expressions of concern for Israel, reiterated abiding support for Israel and held that " staunch friend and ally ( Israel ) of the United States" was within its rights to " take necessary and appropriate measures to ensure the security of its people."

This American concern for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis has, in larger measure, been dictated by a sense to protect the Israelis from being exposed to increasing risks and dangers because of Sharon’s incontinent urge to finish off the Palestinians. The toll has been mounting as much for the Israelis as for the Palestinians. A recent New York Times study found that the casualty ratio between the Palestinians and the Israelis was 25 Palestinians for 1 Israeli in the first intifada 15 years ago, but has come down, lately, to only 3 Palestinians for each Israeli killed. This has sent alarm bells ringing in both Israel and the U.S., where the Jewish lobbies feel highly concerned for this lethal fallout of Sharon’s purblind persecution of Palestinians on the Israeli people.

But on a larger canvas, Sharon was doing irretrievable damage to Bush’s vendetta against Iraq, and had to be stopped. At the same time, some foil had to be engineered to make the Arabs believe that Washington wanted equity between the Palestinians and its " staunch friend and ally." But the foil did not last long. As of now, under congressional pressure from pro-Israeli lobbies, Cheney has declared that he would not be meeting Arafat because the latter has not met his conditions. And, in tandem with Cheney, Sharon is still dragging his foot on whether Arafat should be allowed to travel to Beirut for the Arab Summit, on March 27.

All this dissembling and packaging by Bush do not deter him from pursuing his plans , eventually, against Iraq. The hawks in the Pentagon have their work cut out. To give an enlarged roster of options to Bush, Pentagon has updated its ‘Nuclear Posture Review’ for the President to lower the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons against potential enemies. In addition to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, already covered under Bush’s " axis of evil", the latest list of enemies deserving " vaporization" from American nuclear weapons includes Libya, Syria, China and Russia. The Review was leaked, to coincide with Cheney’s mission to ME, to the Los Angles Times, and quickly became public property. The leak’s obvious intent could be none other than knocking the fear of the U.S. nuclear might into the hearts of the ‘enemies.’

It is unthinkable that Washington would dare to use even its tactical nuclear weapons against China or Russia, or even North Korea, for fear of swift pay-back in- kind. That leaves the four remaining ( Muslim ) states, neither of whom has the capability to return Washington’s compliment in- kind. Some administration apologists were quick to clarify that recommendation to use tactical nukes aimed only to hit underground targets hard to ‘take out’ with conventional weapons. This is Iraq-specific. Saddam’s fabled underground bunkers are reputed to be conventional weapons-proof.

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