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The US Could Stay In Post-Saddam Iraq To Transform The Middle East Through Democracy.

** The US Will Find An Invasion Of Iraq To Be Tough Diplomacy, With Germany Warning Against An Attack On Baghdad; Even Britain Is Showing Less Enthusiasm, Now That The Washington Seems Ready To Move To The Next Phase - A British Minister Has Visited Libya For The First Time In 20 Years

** But Once The Bombing Starts All Europeans Will Fall In Line And Stay There As Long As It Appears That Saddam Would Be Overthrown

NICOSIA - Arab intellectuals watching the global debate on US options to overthrow Saddam Hussein sense that the Bush administration has a far more ambitious agenda for the Middle East than is perceived by regimes in the region. They believe the central aspect of this agenda crystallised after a careful interpretation of the Sept. 11 attacks by neo-conservative US strategists respected by the administration. It includes fostering pluralism throughout the region, beginning with Iraq and drawing on lessons learned in Afghanistan.

The grand objective is to transform the region as Germany and Japan were changed after World War II. Whether or not this can be done will depend on the ability of the US to sustain its objectives and not get sidetracked by established relationships and preferences related to existing regimes. The debate within the US is historic as it is about shifting the American role from "neo-isolationism" - which many had expected from the Republicans in early 2001 - to what critics in the Middle East and Europe call "neo-colonialism".

The outlines of this shifting role are clear in the debate within the US. Europeans in general have tended to be critical of the neo- conservative American worldview, but influential commentators like Samuel Brittan have backed the Bush administration's approach. The outlines are also clear in American lawmakers' demands to know about plans for post-Saddam Iraq. The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Joseph Biden, a Democrat, and the committee's ranking Republican Senator Richard Lugar, asked in a recent article in 'The New York Times': "... when Saddam is gone, what would be our responsibilities?... We need to assess what it would take to rebuild Iraq economically and politically. Addressing these questions now would demonstrate to the Iraqi people that we are committed for the long haul".

The answer, in the thinking of neo-conservative ideologues like William Kristol and Robert Kagan, appears to lie in a unilateralist and neo-colonialist US approach to global affairs. Kagan dismisses European criticism as reflecting post-cold war expectations of a "Kantian paradise" of perpetual peace, noting that such hopes were dashed by the ground realities - which are more like a "Hobbesian" world of near anarchy in which the US must act aggressively to guard its interests. Recognising the US role as the sole superpower, Kagan and Kristol wrote in 1996 that the US "hegemony must be actively maintained, just as it was actively obtained. ... Any lessening of that influence will allow others to play a larger part in shaping the world to suit their needs".

This logic has been given a big boost by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and their aftermath, with Vice President Dick Cheney and other hardliners in power betting on unilateralism in American foreign policy. The Bush administration's implementation of this neo-colonial vision, according to the Arab intellectuals, could be based on the following requirements or developments:

1. There must be a sustained US military presence in Iraq after Saddam is overthrown. The purpose would be to help establish a federal democracy to become a model for changes which Washington wants to see copied in other parts of the Arab/Muslim world. It would first involve installing a US general as a provisional administrator of the country, who will establish law and order and prevent a dismemberment of Iraq. The transition towards a federal democracy may take many months, or years, after the war has come to an end.

There are enough senior US military officers who have retired from service and are capable of filling the role of administrator. They include Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who was in charge of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-91; Gen. Wesley Clark, who as Supreme Allied Commander Europe oversaw the Bosnia campaign; and Gen. Anthony Zinni, the well-regarded former Commander in Chief of the Central Command who was replaced by Gen. Tommy Franks. Franks now is in charge of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Appointing an American, rather than a local, officer as administrator would ensure motivation to complete the task and secure a smooth transition to democracy.

2. Pressure on the Iranian theocracy and Arab states to democratise and liberalise must be applied and maintained, regardless of whether they are classified as allies or "rogues". Early signs of such pressure are apparent. Bush has declared that Washington no longer looks to the government of President Mohammed Khatami to deliver real change in Iran, and would be appealing directly to the Iranian people. Some US officials and congressmen have called for "regime change" in Iran, and this approach will strengthen if the campaign against Saddam is successful (see the Iranian perspective in News Service No. 6).

Judging from the tough anti-Saudi rhetoric coming out of the US, pressure on Riyadh is relatively greater than on Tehran. This is because Iran has always been under US pressure. But for Saudi Arabia it is a new experience, and the royal family seems uncertain about the way it should react. In view of geo-political considerations related to the Arab-Israeli situation, Saudi Arabia has asked for the US to end its military presence in the kingdom, with the American troops having recently moved the US Middle East command and control HQ from the Prince Sultan air base at Al Kharj (south of Riyadh) to Al Udaid base in Qatar.

Causing alarm in Riyadh are scenarios coming out of the US which suggest the kingdom could collapse. One scenario reported in the US press in recent weeks expects the US to effect a partitioning of Saudi Arabia into three different entities, with the oil-rich Eastern Province to become an American protectorate. A report in 'The Washington Post' of Aug. 6 said a briefing given on July 10 the Defense Policy Board, a top Pentagon advisory body, described Saudi Arabia as an "enemy" of the US, and "recommended that US officials give it an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its oil fields and its financial assets invested in the United States". The briefing described Saudi Arabia as "the kernel of evil, the prime mover (of terrorism), the most dangerous opponent" in the Middle East.

While the Saudi press went ballistic with this, US Secretary of State Colin Powell subsequently called Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal to say the briefing did not reflect official US policy. But Washington did not deny the fact that the Pentagon briefing was attended by serving administration officials. The Arab intellectuals speculate that, rather than warn Riyadh formally about the contents of the briefing, the Bush administration could be playing a double game. A formal warning would foreclose US options. A leak through the briefing and the press is more effective: if the Saudis quietly do what Washington wants them to do, this approach would be much cheaper for the US.

Regimes already on the rogue list - like Libya and Syria for instance - are more alarmed as such US views about Saudi Arabia, one of Washington's closest allies in the region, suggest an even tougher line against them.

The Arab intellectuals suggest that a system of reward and punishment may gradually be introduced to underpin the neo-colonial approach. The worst punishment would be military intervention for "regime change". The best reward would be recognition as a member of the community of democracies with maximum trade, financial aid and strategic benefits. This does not mean, however, that democracy by itself will be sufficient to persuade the US that a country no longer poses any threat to its interests.

There could be direct but selective intervention aimed at altering the educational, legal, economic and information systems in the region. This aspect would be even more sensitive, in some respects, than the question of democracy for the people of the region. It would touch the core of the "civilisational" issue that neo-conservatives in the US believe lie at the root of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. To alter educational and legal systems, for instance, would require a change of mindset and a different approach to living.

In the Middle East, the vast majority of the population consists of Muslims whose guidelines for life are written in interpretations of the Koran done in minute detail. Whether the US can introduce change at this level remains to be seen. If it cannot, it is unclear whether introducing "regime change" and "democracy" would have any meaning in terms of American security.
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Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 12, 2002
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