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Edward Said on the Iraq Crisis (fwd)

thought you might find this interesting.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 06 Feb 98
Subject: Edward Said on the Iraq Crisis 

Apocalypse Now
by Edward Said
It would be a mistake, I think, to reduce what is happening 
between Iraq and the United States simply to an assertion 
of Arab will and sovereignty on the one hand versus 
American imperialism, which undoubtedly plays a central 
role in all this. However misguided, Saddam Hussein's 
cleverness is not that he is splitting America from its 
allies (which he has not really succeeded in doing for any 
practical purpose) but that he is exploiting the 
astonishing clumsiness and failures of US foreign policy. 
Very few people, least of all Saddam himself, can be fooled 
into believing him to be the innocent victim of American 
bullying; most of what is happening to his unfortunate 
people who are undergoing the most dreadful and 
unacknowledged suffering is due in considerable degree to 
his callous cynicism -- first of all, his indefensible and 
ruinous invasion of Kuwait, his persecution of the Kurds, 
his cruel egoism and pompous self-regard which persists in 
aggrandizing himself and his regime at exorbitant and, in 
my opinion, totally unwarranted cost. It is impossible for 
him to plead the case for national security and sovereignty 
now given his abysmal disregard of it in the case of Kuwait 
and Iran.
Be that as it may, US vindictiveness, whose sources I shall 
look at in a moment, has exacerbated the situation by 
imposing a regime of sanctions which, as Sandy Berger, the 
American National Security adviser has just said proudly, 
is unprecedented for its severity in the whole of world 
history. 567,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the Gulf 
War, mostly as a result of disease, malnutrition and 
deplorably poor medical care. Agriculture and industry are 
at a total standstill. This is unconscionable of course, 
and for this the brazen inhumanity of American 
policy-makers is also very largely to blame. But we must 
not forget that Saddam is feeding that inhumanity quite 
deliberately in order to dramatize the opposition between 
the US and the rest of the Arab world; having provoked a 
crisis with the US (or the UN dominated by the US) he at 
first dramatised the unfairness of the sanctions. But by 
continuing it as he is now doing, the issue has changed and 
has become his non-compliance, and the terrible effects of 
the sanctions have been marginalised. Still the underlying 
causes of an Arab/US crisis remain.
A careful analysis of that crisis is imperative. The US has 
always opposed any sign of Arab nationalism or 
independence, partly for its own imperial reasons and 
partly because its unconditional support for Israel 
requires it to do so. Since the l973 war, and despite the 
brief oil embargo, Arab policy up to and including the 
peace process has tried to circumvent or mitigate that 
hostility by appealing to the US for help, by "good" 
behavior, by willingness to make peace with Israel. Yet 
mere compliance with the US's wishes can produce nothing 
except occasional words of American approbation for leaders 
who appear "moderate": Arab policy was never backed up with 
coordination, or collective pressure, or fully agreed upon 
goals. Instead each leader tried to make separate 
arrangements both with the US and with Israel, none of 
which produced very much except escalating demands and a 
constant refusal by the US to exert any meaningful pressure 
on Israel. The more extreme Israeli policy becomes the more 
likely the US has been to support it. And the less respect 
it has for the large mass of Arab peoples whose future and 
well-being are mortgaged to illusory hopes embodied, for 
instance, in the Oslo accords.
Moreover, a deep gulf separates Arab culture and 
civilization on the one hand, from the United States on the 
other, and in the absence of any collective Arab 
information and cultural policy, the notion of an Arab 
people with traditions, cultures and identities of their 
own is simply inadmissible in the US. Arabs are 
dehumanized, they are seen as violent irrational terrorists 
always on the lookout for murder and bombing outrages. The 
only Arabs worth doing business with for the US are 
compliant leaders, businessmen, military people whose arms 
purchases (the highest per capita in the world) are helping 
the American economy keep afloat. Beyond that there is no 
feeling at all, for instance, for the dreadful suffering of 
the Iraqi people whose identity and existence have simply 
been lost sight of in the present situation.
This morbid, obsessional fear and hatred of the Arabs has 
been a constant theme in US foreign policy since World War 
Two. In some way also, anything positive about the Arabs is 
seen in the US as a threat to Israel. In this respect 
pro-Israeli American Jews, traditional Orientalists, and 
military hawks have played a devastating role. Moral 
opprobrium is heaped on Arab states as it is on no others. 
Turkey, for example, has been conducting a campaign against 
the Kurds for several years, yet nothing is heard about this 
in the US. Israel occupies territory illegally for thirty 
years, it violates the Geneva conventions at will, conducts 
invasions, terrorist attacks and assassinations against 
Arabs, and still, the US vetoes every sanction against it in 
the UN. Syria, Sudan, Libya, Iraq are classified as "rogue" 
states. Sanctions against them are far harsher than against 
any other countries in the history of US foreign policy. And 
still the US expects that its own foreign policy agenda 
ought to prevail (eg., the woefully misguided Doha economic 
summit) despite its hostility to the collective Arab agenda.
In the case of Iraq a number of further extenuations make 
the US even more repressive. Burning in the collective 
American unconscious is a puritanical zeal decreeing the 
sternest possible attitude towards anyone deemed to be an 
unregenerate sinner. This clearly guided American policy 
towards the native American Indians, who were first 
demonized, then portrayed as wasteful savages, then 
exterminated, their tiny remnant confined to reservations 
and concentration camps. This almost religious anger fuels 
a judgemental attitude that has no place at all in 
international politics, but for the United States it is a 
central tenet of its worldwide behavior. Second, punishment 
is conceived in apocalyptic terms. During the Vietnam war a 
leading general advocated -- and almost achieved -- the 
goal of bombing the enemy into the stone age. The same view 
prevailed during the Gulf War in l99l. Sinners are meant to 
be condemned terminally, with the utmost cruelty regardless 
of whether or not they suffer the cruelest agonies. The 
notion of "justified" punishment for Iraq is now uppermost 
in the minds of most American consumers of news, and with 
that goes an almost orgiastic delight in the gathering 
power being summoned to confront Iraq in the Gulf.
Pictures of four (or is now five?) immense aircraft 
carriers steaming virtuously away punctuate breathless news 
bulletins about Saddam's defiance, and the impending 
crisis. The President announces that he is thinking not 
about the Gulf but about the 21st century: how can we 
tolerate Iraq's threat to use biological warfare even 
though (this is unmentioned) it is clear from the UNSCOM 
reports that he neither has the missile capacity, nor the 
chemical arms, nor the nuclear arsenal, nor in fact the 
anthrax bombs that he is alleged to be brandishing? 
Forgotten in all this is that the US has all the terror 
weapons known to humankind, is the only country to have 
used a nuclear bomb on civilians, and as recently as seven 
years ago dropped 66,000 tons of bombs on Iraq. As the only 
country involved in this crisis that has never had to fight 
a war on its own soil, it is easy for the US and its mostly 
brain-washed citizens to speak in apocalyptic terms. A 
report out of Australia on Sunday, November l6 suggests 
that Israel and the US are thinking about a neutron bomb on 
Unfortunately the dictates of raw power are very severe 
and, for a weak state like Iraq, overwhelming. Certainly US 
misuse of the sanctions to strip Iraq of everything, 
including any possibility for security is monstrously 
sadistic. The so-called UN 661 Committee created to oversee 
the sanctions is composed of fifteen member states 
(including the US) each of which has a veto. Every time 
Iraq passes this committee a request to sell oil for 
medicines, trucks, meat, etc., any member of the committee 
can block these requests by saying that a given item may 
have military purposes (tires, for example, or ambulances). 
In addition the US and its clients -- eg., the unpleasant 
and racist Richard Butler, who says openly that Arabs have 
a different notion of truth than the rest of the world -- 
have made it clear that even if Iraq is completely reduced 
militarily to the point where it is no longer a threat to 
its neighbors (which is now the case) the real goal of the 
sanctions is to topple Saddam Hussein's government. In 
other words according to the Americans, very little that 
Iraq can do short of Saddam's resignation or death will 
produce a lifting of sanctions. Finally, we should not for 
a moment forget that quite apart from its foreign policy 
interest, Iraq has now become a domestic American issue 
whose repercussions on issues unrelated to oil or the Gulf 
are very important.
Bill Clinton's personal crises -- the campaign-funding 
scandals, an impending trial for sexual harassment, his 
various legislative and domestic failures -- require him to 
look strong, determined and "presidential" somewhere else, 
and where but in the Gulf against Iraq has he so ready-made 
a foreign devil to set off his blue-eyed strength to full 
advantage. Moreover, the increase in military expenditure 
for new investments in electronic "smart" weaponry, more 
sophisticated aircraft, mobile forces for the world-wide 
projection of American power are perfectly suited for 
display and use in the Gulf, where the likelihood of 
visible casualties (actually suffering Iraqi civilians) is 
extremely small, and where the new military technology can 
be put through its paces most attractively. For reasons 
that need restating here, the media is particularly happy 
to go along with the government in bringing home to 
domestic customers the wonderful excitement of American 
self- righteousness, the proud flag-waving, the "feel-good" 
sense that "we" are facing down a monstrous dictator. Far 
from analysis and calm reflection the media exists mainly 
to derive its mission from the government, not to produce a 
corrective or any dissent. The media, in short, is an 
extension of the war against Iraq.
The saddest aspect of the whole thing is that Iraqi 
civilians seem condemned to additional suffering and 
protracted agony. Neither their government nor that of the 
US is inclined to ease the daily pressure on them, and the 
probability that only they will pay for the crisis is 
extremely high. At least -- and it isn't very much -- there 
seems to be no enthusiasm among Arab governments for 
American military action, but beyond that there is no 
coordinated Arab position, not even on the extremely grave 
humanitarian question. It is unfortunate that, according to 
the news, there is rising popular support for Saddam in the 
Arab world, as if the old lessons of defiance without real 
power have still not been learned.
Undoubtedly the US has manipulated the UN to its own ends, 
a rather shameful exercise given at the same time that the 
Congress once again struck down a motion to pay a billion 
dollars in arrears to the world organization. The major 
priority for Arabs, Europeans, Muslims and Americans is to 
push to the fore the issue of sanctions and the terrible 
suffering imposed on innocent Iraqi civilians. Taking the 
case to the International Court in the Hague strikes me as 
a perfectly viable possibility, but what is needed is a 
concerted will on behalf of Arabs who have suffered the 
US's egregious blows for too long without an adequate 

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