Is it too early or too hazardous to state that after all, Mr. Bush is perhaps not as lucky as a U.S. President is expected to be? For look at what happened. The three following statements may hardly go unnoticeable:
1 – First, he inaugurated his era with the biggest catastrophe that ever occurred in the USA since Pearl Harbor: 9/11. Indeed, he was for nothing in this blow to the American pride. Indeed, the carnage helped gathering American people together behind the leadership of Mr. Bush, as few presidents in American history could claim. But let’s stay lucid; this is not the kind of popularity a wise leader might seek. For it is factitious, built on fear, and provided more by necessity than by conviction. Of course, people need to judge their leaders over their decisions in time of war or peace. In this case, Mr. Bush inaugurated an era of war in time of peace, which is rather a peculiarity not only of his rule but also of his character. Another leader would perhaps not over-dramatized 9/11 to the extent of dividing the world in two axes (good and evil) and deciding that ” those who are not with us are against us”. After all, what made Mr. Bush believe that 9/11 was a declaration of war? Who can declare war but states? If we consider that Al Qaeda is a “state”, then the Americans should have known that the war declaration preceded 9/11, and the latter event was only one of its consequences. And if Al Qaeda was a state, then it should have disappeared with the Taleban who hosted it. But everybody knows that this is not the case. Not only Al Qaeda has survived the war in Afghanistan, but it has also perpetrated other crimes in several places: From Jerba in Tunisia, to Bali in Indonesia, to mention only the most murderous. These examples show by the way the fallacy of the belief that Al Qaeda targets only the American citizens and interests. Either in Jerba or in Bali, the victims had really nothing to do with America as a country and as a policy. In the first case, they were German citizens visiting one of the oldest synagogues of Africa. In the second, the majority were Australian tourists, and their country is not known to be more involved in Middle East conflicts than the Bahamas or the Canaries Islands. Hence, the excess of the American reaction toward 9/11 if it is based on the belief that this kind of terrorism concerns exclusively the USA.
2 – Second statement: under the stress of the terrorism threat – which is real-, the American administration has come to see the entire world through this special looking-glass, which has ended in coloring that same much complicated world into two exclusive colors: Black and white. Evil and good. With us and against us. Etc… In this context, obsessed with the hunt for terrorists, the Administration omitted a major rule of human behavior and state-to-state relations, which says that you cannot rely on your friends during the crisis if you do not bother to entertain the relationship with them. Indeed, Mr. Bush was not unlucky when he won a much-disputed presidency against his Democrat rival, Al Gore. But maybe it is good to recall that according to the statements issued by the much-respected Zogby’s organization – Arab American Institute- the majority of the Arab-American citizens has been committed to voting for Bush, in hope that the Arabs would obtain something in return.
Much to their disappointment, the American Arabs found themselves – paradoxically – the first victims of Bush’s reaction to the 9/11 tragedy. To say that they have not been spared suspicion, arrests, interrogatories, etc, is today a banality. Some of them had to go through the humiliating ordeal of being held in custody by the FBI. Indeed, they were released, but the damage was done. It is not easy to be considered as a potential enemy because of the race or of the religion, when one is an integrated part of the nation. Some of my friends in the USA complained about these violations of their rights. One of them, – a leading editor of an online magazine- told me that his family and he were fed up with all those prejudices against the Arab-Americans. Even his kids were not spared the mockery and the harassment of some of their school-comrades. This is what happened on the internal scene, and I just don’t know how much it may be helpful to re -build Mr. Bush popularity inside the Arab and Muslim community of the USA.
On a broader scale, was it really fortunate that when the new American President decided to go hunting for Mr. Saddam Hussein once and for all, two among his key-allies in Europe and the Middle East, decided to play the other way round? In effect, Mr. Chirac in France, and Prince Abdullah in the Saudi Kingdom, seem agreeing upon resisting another war against Iraq. This is far from being a little trouble, at least because Paris holds a veto power in the Security Council that is able to nullify any decision not fitting with its view; and because without the support of Saudi Arabia a war against Iraq would be really disastrous in the region.
If it is known that France has some important assets in Iraq – particularly in the oil industry – that should be taken in consideration, the Saudis have more to complain about concerning the American behavior. Here comes the third statement:
3 – Mr. Bush’s reaction to 9/11 as well as his response to the Saudi propositions concerning an Israeli- Arab mutual recognition (offered in Beirut Arab summit) were hardly convincing and sparing the Saudi-American special relationship. First, the Saudis were offended by the fact that they have been assimilated to the terrorists. The American media campaign against them outrun sometimes the limits of what is rational and acceptable. To hold the Saudi Monarchy responsible for a crime perpetrated by 15 outlaws, is similar to holding the US government responsible for what happened, because although the CIA and the FBI and the other security agencies knew the magnitude of the terrorist threat emanating from Al Qaeda since years, they could do nothing to prevent it. Second, the Saudis were struck with stupor and indignation because the offer of Prince Abdullah for a peace deal with the Israelis promising full acceptance of the Jewish state by the Arabs in return for its withdrawal from the 1967’s occupied lands, was merely being ignored by the Americans, who continued meanwhile to give support and assistance for the much aggressive policy of Prime Minister Sharon.
The situation engendered by these clumsy dealings of the Bush administration is now far from being favorable. On two levels at least – the anti-terrorist war and the Iraqi question- the problems are obvious. There is no longer any agreement of principles between the USA and its allies – in Europe and the Middle East-, since the principles diverge. What is considered as a priority in Washington is not seen necessary at all by the allies. The deteriorating conditions in the Palestinian territories, and the persistence of the violence, worsen the situation and make the choices of all the parties even harder.
Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.