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http://www.dailystar.com.lb/opinion/17_07_03_d.asp How the Arabs performed dismally in Iraq Now that the Iraq war is over, it is imperative to assess how the Arab world performed both during and after the crisis. It was clear that there were multiple views and fault lines within Arab ranks, and these were glossed over. Splits existed not only between Arab states, but also between Arab regimes and their publics as well as between the Arab and Iraqi publics. Many Arabs failed to fully appreciate the predicament of Iraqis terrorized by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Ideology and elite interests took precedence over human rights and freedom. To be blunt, Arabs were at times as guilty of double standards and contradictions as was the US. Arab states gave little thought to a strategy that would have saved the Iraqi people and pre-empted the US-led invasion, at Saddam Hussein’s expense. Given the determination of US President George W. Bush’s administration to attack Iraq, the Arabs could not have it both ways saving both the Baath regime and its people. They had to make an unambiguous decision to favor the latter. But this required a complex decision-making process, visionary leadership and a hardened sense of realistic politics. What transpired instead were vacuous formalities, equivocation, procrastination, recrimination and inaction. The dismal performance of the Arab states and publics may be explained by the closed nature of the Arab political order, its crisis of political legitimacy and the deepening dependency of the states in the region on the US. Despite this dependency, Arab states could have advanced their interests and those of the Iraqis dependency does not and should not imply total subservience. The Iraqi crisis did not just further discredit and weaken the Arab League. It exposed the inadequacy of concepts used to understand the nature of Arab politics the meaning of Arab solidarity and unity, the role of the Arab League and Arab public opinion and the meaning of “Arabness” in the Middle East subsystem. Never had the gap been so large between official Arab rhetoric and reality as before and during the war, a situation exacerbated by US unwillingness to seek Arab help in the Iraqi crisis. No wonder Arab public cynicism and alienation reached dangerous proportions. No wonder Arabs had little input or influence over the course of events in Iraq, even though the war occurred in their heartland, shaking the foundation of the Arab political order. American officials spent considerable time and effort negotiating with Turkey, offering billions of dollars for use of its military bases. They also held talks with Iranian representatives to ensure Iran’s neutrality during the war. In contrast, Arab support was taken for granted and no concessions were negotiated. The US had no impetus to take the Arabs seriously, as they failed to articulate a convincing collective stance on Iraq. In the end, most Arab states accepted the inevitable. Their key concern was to limit the domestic reverberations of the Iraqi crisis, but also to please the Bush administration and avoid being targeted by its hard-liners. Although publicly Arab leaders said they were opposed to the war, several of them provided vital and unconditional logistical support to US forces. They neither demanded a specific role in Iraq’s political and economic reconstruction, nor did they link the Iraqi crisis to a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Now, three months after the end of the war, Arab states have little to say about their vision for a post-Baath Iraq. Beyond generalities about the need for Iraqis to govern their own country, Arab states have not clarified the role they would like to play in the new Iraq. What political models or systems are they willing to support? The Arab League has produced no policy papers to determine what contributions member states can make to assist Iraq. What pressures can the Arab states mobilize? Public pronouncements must be translated into policy initiatives. For example, why not table a proposal to deploy 70,000 Arab troops in Iraq, within the context of an international force, to secure the peace and enable Iraqis to determine their own affairs? One condition for the deployment of this force would be that the US immediately hand over power to the Iraqis, even if its forces remain in place. To be fair to Arab leaders, it is not their lack of will but of vision that prevents them from actively participating in Iraq’s reconstruction. It is the Bush administration’s hard-liners who oppose involving the international community in Iraq, particularly Arab states, lest they recreate the new Iraq in their own authoritarian image. However, given the deteriorating Iraqi situation, more voices in the US are calling for bringing in outside parties to secure peace and assist in the socioeconomic, if not the political, reconstruction of Iraq. Regardless of what one thinks of the American occupation of Iraq, its failure would have devastating repercussions on Iraq and the region. It is in Iraq’s interest (as well as that of the Arab world and the US) that the country stands on its own feet and begins a process of social reconciliation. Three questions are in order: Will Bush administration neoconservatives relent in their opposition to involving the world community, including Arab states, in Iraq’s reconstruction? Will the Arabs develop plans regarding contributions they could make to the stability, security and development of a new Iraq? And what role can Arab civil societies and institutions play in assisting their Iraqi counterparts in rebuilding their own state and society? Fawaz A. Gerges holds the Christian Johnson Chair in international affairs and the Middle East at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. He is the author of America and Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests? He wrote this commentary for THE DAILY STAR _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk