The lessons that should not be learnt


Israeli and US officials have been talking about the need for various other Arab regimes to learn the lesson from the scenes of anti-Saddam Iraqis celebrating in the centre of Baghdad. Certainly the lesson of April 9 in Baghdad is that oppressive dictators will one day have to face their people. While it is important for people and leaders to learn the lessons of this war in Iraq, there are lessons that should not be learnt.

America and its allies should be careful about basking too much in the glory of this victory.

The lessons to oppressive regimes are not necessarily an indication to foreign liberators. What the US could do in this case cannot necessarily be repeated in another country, no matter how noble the cause might seem. The act of meddling in the affairs of other peoples, changing regimes and using brute force to impose foreign will on another people are lessons that don’t automatically repeat themselves.

Despite seemingly lofty goals of removing dictators, the world’s superpower needs to know the limits of military power. In many cases arrogant thinking has often led to the demise of countries and empires who felt they could wield their power against peoples and leaders the world over with little attention given to local needs.

For example, it is a mistake to compare the situation of Iraq with that of Palestine. The source of the Palestinian people’s desire for freedom and nationhood is not the result of Palestinians blindly following the political desires of Yasser Arafat. So, unlike what Israelis think or wish, the Palestinian situation is not a case where the lesson of Baghdad applies.

Similarly, America and its allies should not fall in the trap of thinking that because of their success in Iraq they could force their will on nearby countries like Syria or Iran. Not that these countries don’t need to have an injection of democratic reform. But democracy is not a US export item that can be delivered using Abram tanks, cruise missiles, F-18s and B-52 bombers. There is a lot that can be done politically, but there is definitely a limit to what can be done militarily.

The American success in Iraq should be viewed with extreme caution. The images of cheering Iraqis notwithstanding, the feelings of many in the Arab world and in other parts of the world towards America are not pleasant. Even in Iraq, those people who have lost loved ones or property will not easily forget the price they had to pay in order to reach this point. America also sacrificed many of its own principles in order to be able to do what it did in Iraq. Bypassing the UN and dividing Europe is a heavy price that leaves a bad memory in the minds and hearts of the international community, no matter what the end result is. Few will believe that this was only done for the sake of the oppressed Iraqis.

The gap between America and the Arabs that the war on Iraq has exposed needs to be quickly bridged. Much will depend on how the Americans will handle their new role. Mistakes in their position will be costly, with ramifications in the form of creating troubles for America and Americans and will feed Ben Ladens.

Around the world, many will also not forgive the Americans for their seemingly deceitful ways to accomplish their goals. Once the fight started, the Americans and their allies seemed to have forgotten about the weapons of mass destruction as they concentrated on toppling the Saddam regime. Many will not easily accept that the ends justify the means. World public opinion will continue to demand a higher standard of the world’s only remaining superpower.

Supporters of democracy and the need for people to determine their own fate will have mixed feelings about the happy Baghdad scenes of relieved Iraqis. While believing in the goal, they question the process that led to it. They certainly would not accept the concept that the lesson that should be learnt from the scenes in Baghdad can be easily repeated in other countries or regions simply with the wink of an American general.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist from Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University which owns and runs Al Quds Educational Television. In May 2001, Mr. Kuttab received the International Press Institute’s award as one of fifty press freedom heroes in the last fifty years.