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Distributed September 8, 2003
Contact Mark Nickel

About 875 Words

William O. Beeman
Fixing Iraq Bush’s way won’t make America safer

Americans should not fool themselves into thinking that the $87 billion President Bush will request for Iraqi reconstruction is being spent for national defense. The only way to stop terrorism is for the United States to stop being a magnet for terrorist operations. That means, among other things, internationalizing military operations and treating Muslim people and Islamic culture with the respect accorded to other peoples and nations.

President George Bush called Iraq the “central front in the war on terrorism” in his televised address to the American public September 7. This is a drastically inaccurate assessment. If President Bush is trying to sell the horrendously expensive Iraqi reconstruction to the U.S. citizenry as a primary defense measure, Americans are truly facing a crisis in leadership.

The President’s speech was designed to address the disappointment of U.S. citizens with the progress of the Iraqi occupation. It was a hard sell. Bush’s approval ratings are dropping, and no wonder: Every pronouncement made by the Bush administration about the Iraq conflict has proven false, and Americans are slowly realizing this:

  • The weapons of mass destruction that were the ostensible justification for the war have not been found;
  • The asserted connection between Saddam Hussein and the Al-Qaeda, the perpetrators of the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States, has proven to be non-existent;
  • The claim that the engagement in Iraq would be short is patently false;
  • The prediction that Iraqis would welcome the United States as a liberator has literally been “shot down,” as more U.S. troops have died since the end of the primary combat than during the initial invasion;
  • The supposed “easy” capture of Saddam Hussein has not been accomplished;
  • The promise that the destruction of the Saddam Hussein regime would result in reduced international terrorism has also proved incorrect.

Given so many false and inaccurate statements, why should Americans now believe that the $87 billion requested by the President to reconstruct Iraq will make America any safer from terrorism?

Unfortunately, they are right to be skeptical. President Bush continues to mislead the public.

First, he continues to characterize “terrorism” as a monolithic force, much like Communism was treated during the cold war. He sometimes uses other hyperbolic characterizations, such as “the enemies of freedom” to talk about people who are launching violent attacks anywhere, whether it be in Indonesia, Saudi Arabia or Iraq itself.

In truth, each violent attack has its own history, its own genesis and its own organizational structure. There is no central authority organizing these attacks, nor is there a uniform ideology governing them. Moreover, groups angry with the United States are spread over half the earth.

Even in Iraq, the attacks are coming from a variety of sources, not exclusively from the Ba’athist leftovers identified by the Bush administration. There are at least 15 different groups in Iraq opposing the U.S. presence, according to Iraq insurgency expert Ahmed Hashim of the U.S. Naval War College. Some are religious-based, some are socialist, or secular and nationalist. Far from being “enemies of freedom,” they all have one aim, to get the United States, as an occupying power, to leave, and allow the Iraqis to govern themselves.

Even if Iraq were completely rebuilt and re-organized to President Bush’s satisfaction, it is now clear that resistance groups elsewhere, such as Hamas, would continue their activities. The Bush assessment that such groups could not continue operations without Iraqi state support is obviously false. Other violent groups in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Egypt and other areas in the Islamic world will also continue their independent existence no matter what is done in Iraq. Many of these groups only target the United States anyway, because Washington supports other repressive regimes. Most important, every time the United States kills someone in the Middle East, it creates more U.S. enemies in the future, as children and youth grow up bent on revenge.

To be sure, having destroyed Iraq, the United States now must put it back together again, however much money it takes. But Americans should not fool themselves into thinking that this money is being spent for national defense, however well that might play with the U.S. public according to Karl Rove’s spin shop.

The hard truth that the White House neoconservatives will not face is that the only way to stop terrorism is for the United States to stop being a magnet for terrorist operations. This means doing things like internationalizing or withdrawing U.S. military operations from the Islamic world; taking a more even-handed stance with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian disaster; removing support from oppressive dictators and local strongmen; and treating Muslim people and Islamic culture with the respect accorded to other peoples and nations.

The neocons deride ideas like this as the “blame America first” position. It is not that at all. It is rather the “America grow up” position. Pointing fingers, creating bogeymen and false monoliths, and buying, bribing or blasting out of difficult situations in international relations is infantile behavior, not worthy of our national leaders.

Paradoxically, fixing Iraq the right way will do a great deal to help America be more secure and heal its breaches with the world. This means empowering the Iraqis immediately to make their own national decisions without Paul Bremer’s veto, financing Iraqi industry (not Halliburton and Bechtel) as far as possible to carry out reconstruction, and fostering open, internationalized trade to the widest extent.

If President Bush and his advisors would make a few steps toward mature statesmanship in these directions, the United States would have some hope of achieving the kind of safety and harmony all Americans desire.

William O. Beeman teaches anthropology and is director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He is author of the forthcoming books Double Demons: Cultural Impediments to Iranian-U.S. Understanding and Iraq: State in Search of a Nation.

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