It was somehow sadly appropriate, and politically symbolic, that the first military action ordered by the new American president, George W. Bush, Jr., was the attack last week against five Iraqi military targets near Baghdad. The joint attack by the United States and Great Britain continues a decade-old tradition of using air power to enforce a political policy to contain the Iraqi regime and prevent any new Iraqi aggression against neighboring countries.
I say the move is sadly appropriate because it repeats the record of the Clinton administration, which also made its first military move by attacking Iraqi targets in June 1993. The fact that the next U.S. administration had to do the same thing for its inaugural act should tell us something about the efficacy of such tactics. And the attack is symbolic because we now have Bush the son seemingly perpetuating the policies of his father and of President Clinton, both of whom were unable to find a way to move beyond military air strikes in dealing with the Iraqi government.
We are now ten years after the end of the 1991 Gulf war, and just days before U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits the region, in part, he says, to assess conditions there ten years after the forces that he commanded achieved their victory over Iraq. This latest Anglo-American military attack is another sign that such unilateral militarism, combined with the harsh economic embargo against Iraq, are only partially successful.
They may prevent Iraq from attacking Kuwait, but in most other ways they work against long-term U.S. and U.K. interests in the region and do not address the underlying issues that remain relevant, ten years after the 1991 Gulf war. Those issues include promoting sustainable security and stability in the Gulf region, living with indigenous powers that emerge in the area, enhancing the credibility and relevance of U.N. resolutions in Iraq, Kuwait and other parts of the region, and defining appropriate roles for foreign powers in the Middle East.
The attacks last week were presented here in the United States as defensive acts that were required to protect American and British war planes that were enforcing the no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq a rather stunning performance of intellectual head-stands that has not been witnessed from the Anglo-American neo-colonial crowd for some time. The no-fly zones are not mandated by the United Nations and have no legitimacy in international law, and the American and British planes enforcing the zones are nothing less than old-fashioned imperial outposts in modern, high-tech clothing. Since the Iraqi defensive systems that were hit were around the capital Baghdad, the Anglo-American message is that Iraq should not be allowed to defend itself. The political and moral dimensions of such outright imperial behaviour by the British and Americans are so obvious that even their partners in the Western industrialized world are embarrassed by such a policy, and some of them openly criticize it.
The double irony is that while the Anglo-American attacks enter their second decade, the Iraqi leadership remains in place with its same attitudes, its support among the Arab world remains strong and may be growing, and there is little likelihood that the United Nations and Iraq can agree on re-establishing the inspections system that was designed to ensure that Iraq does not produce or deploy weapons of mass destruction, such as nuclear, biological or chemical warfare weapons. These attacks may be important for the political and hormonal macho-needs of the U.S. and U.K. leaders, but they have little direct relation to promoting long-term stability in the Middle East. They probably do the opposite, by at once increasing sympathy and support for Iraq in the area, the vulnerability of Iraqs small neighbors and their dependence on foreign protection, and anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments in the region.
The latter is because the attack last week also renews the issue of double standards in Anglo-American enforcement of U.N. resolutions. More and more voices are heard asking why the U.S., U.K. and others use military force to implement U.N. resolutions in Iraq and Kosovo but do not apply the same diplomatic muscle to implementing U.N. resolutions that, say, prohibit the building or expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Arab lands. This is a very live and large issue in the minds of the Arab people and many others around the world, and it will not go away simply because it is annoying to the American, British and Israeli leaderships.
Colin Powell will visit a Middle East region next week that remains plagued by massive internal constraints of autocracy, mismanagement, corruption, disparities, and other problems that stem from the region itself. But our region also suffers the continued problem of being subjected to the hypocritical double-standards of foreign powers who have come to this area for several centuries and used their military power almost at will. The fact that the U.S. and U.K. governments still need to make routine military attacks against an Iraqi leadership whose defiance seems to strike an anti-imperial chord among most of the Arab World suggests that we are not dealing here with the simple equation that Washington and the mainstream American mass media have tried to portray this week: Iraq is an inveterate bad guy that needs to be beaten up regularly and it is the White Mans burden in Washington and London to do the beating up.
The view from much of the Middle East is rather that Iraq used morally unacceptable and politically ineffective policies a decade ago when it attacked Kuwait, and the Americans and British are now using equally unacceptable and ineffective policies in their continued attempt to destroy an Iraqi state that has been a regional power in this area for probably more years than there are cattle on George Bushs ranch.