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BTL: Conflict Stymies Bush Plan Against Iraq

BTL Q&A: Israeli-Palestinan Conflict Stymies Bush Plan Against Iraq

BETWEEN THE LINES Q&A from the nationally syndicated radio newsmagazine "Between The Lines"
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in major media

Interview by Scott Harris

* Hussein Ibish of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee says that there is a profound recklessness at work in some elements of the Bush administration who want to push forward with a war against Iraq.

For several months now, the Bush administration has threatened to launch a new war against Iraq. Washington's justification for an attack on Baghdad is based on the unproven allegation that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction and may be developing nuclear capability.

Vice President Dick Cheney's recent visit to the Middle East, designed to gain regional support for future U.S. military action against Iraq, fell short when some Arab heads of state publicly announced their opposition to the war plan. Leaders of the 12 nations Cheney visited were more focused on the escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians -- expressing hope that progress for peace can be made at the Arab League's summit meeting in Beirut -- where Saudi Arabia unveiled their peace initiative.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Hussein Ibish, communications director with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, who discusses the relationship between a possible future U.S. attack on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hussein Ibish: The notion of attacking Iraq I think is incredibly tempting to this administration for multiple reasons. First of all these are, after all, the refugees of the first Bush administration, not just Bush-son-of-Bush, but Secretary of State Colin Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and a whole crew of others who were there for Gulf War Number One and who have lived with the consequences, the supposed failure to get rid of Saddam Hussein, the mistake etc. For someone like Gen. Powell who is actually not a hawk on this issue, it's probably the only accusation that can be thrown against him that has public resonance as a kind of failure in his career or a blot on his copy book.

So there's that and there's also of course the strategic imperative that the United States has had for over 20 years now since the fall of the Shah of Iran - of trying to control the Persian Gulf without having a compliant regime in either of the large countries of the region, Iraq or Iran. So there's been a longstanding strategic imperative to try to get a compliant regime in one of those two capitals. And of course there is great anger at the 9/11 attacks and a kind of sense that this sort of authorizes the United States to do whatever it wants in the Middle East and in the Arab world without compunction. So even if Iraq has nothing to do with this kind of terrorism, nothing to do with Al Qaeda, nothing to do with 9/11, all of which I believe are true, you can still sort of peg this to 9/11 because 9/11 was done by Arabs, and the Iraqis are also Arabs therefore there is a connection, therefore -- "Let's go for it, boys!" Basically that is the argument more or less. So the United States is very keen on that.

But I think as Cheney's recent trip (to the Middle East) showed there is really no enthusiasm in the region for this, because first of all the regional powers, the regional players like say Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc, don't feel in any way Iraq is a threat to them at the moment. When they did feel Iraq was a threat in 1991, they were quite enthusiastic about joining an American led anti-Iraqi coalition. But now I think it is generally recognized in the region and elsewhere that Iraq is a country on its knees, that it's surrounded by enemies and that it's really not in a position to threaten anybody. And if it does have some special weapons, some biological or chemical weapons of some kind, that it's certainly not going to use them. Unless the Saddam government feels that its about to be overthrown, which certainly begs the question why you would want to launch an invasion that might provoke that. So, frankly the regional powers knowing this, and understanding how destabilizing this would be, knowing the United States doesn't have a coherent plan for getting rid of Saddam Hussein. Asking who the next government will be (in Iraq) and receiving only blank stares in reply, are not enthusiastic.

Moreover, I'm sure they've all been pointing out -- in fact, it's well-known they've all been pointing out to Vice President Cheney and to others -- that the nightmare scenario for them, and for the reputation of the United States in the region, would be to have the United States attacking Iraq at the same time that the Israelis are continuing to suppress the Palestinians and enforce their occupation with massive violence. So, that shows no sign of ending and in fact the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis is only intensifying and there's no real positive movement towards starting the kind of political process that would actually end the conflict. So I think the Arab states are extremely concerned that this kind of double whammy just can't be dealt with, with regard to their domestic public opinion. That it's bad enough to have the Israelis going on a rampage against the Palestinians, or bad enough to have the United States launching an unprovoked attack on Iraq.

The combination of the two, I think, is a complete nightmare for the regimes and actually for anyone who wants to try to tell the Arab public that what they're witnessing is not part of a clash of civilizations, is not part of a generalized assault by the Western powers against the Arab world, or against Islam or what have you. In other words, that scenario would fit beautifully into the hands of fanatics like Osama bin Laden, who are trying to sell the Arabs, and so far have not succeeded in convincing them, that there is a generalized conflict going on here. The United States has been making these rather half-hearted moves to try to create a cease-fire (between the Israelis and Palestinians,) but it's totally inadequate and it's actually, I think, quite pathetic.

Between The Lines: Do you think that continued conflict and violence between Israelis and Palestinians will forestall a Bush plan to attack Iraq?

Hussein Ibish: I don't know. It depends on what sort of attack they want to launch. If they want to try bombing and just using some very small amounts of American ground forces and promoting some sort of internal rebellion from I don't know who -- various opposition groups -- you know then, I suppose it's possible. But if the United States is contemplating a scenario where tens of thousands of American troops will be used -- or maybe 100,000 to 200,000, which is what a lot of generals are talking about now -- then certainly that would require the cooperation of Saudi Arabia, certainly Turkey and possibly others as well. For this you need to get an agreement.

And it's possible that if the second scenario is the one that finds favor, that the lack of progress towards a cease-fire might impede the United States in this and make them think twice. But I have to tell you, living in Washington and meeting these administration types -- socially and off the record etc. -- I have to tell you that it's my view that there is a profound recklessness at work in some elements of the administration. There are people you do meet who look you straight in the eye and say in an absolutely convincing way that they simply don't care about Arab public opinion; they're fed up with the Arabs; they've had enough; they're going to get rid of Saddam and they don't care if anybody wants to go along; and they don't care about anybody anyway and the hell with them. This is really an attitude that you see quite a bit of in the Bush administration. I think it bespeaks a profound recklessness and should be very frightening to people.

Between The Lines: Hussein, would you comment briefly on the chances for any breakthrough for a cease-fire as a result of the Arab League meeting?

Hussein Ibish: Well, I don't think there are any chances for a breakthrough as long as the United States refuses to place any pressure whatsoever on Israel to return to the negotiating table. I mean, that's what you've got. We still seem to think that this is just a nuisance that should go away and we don't seem to understand what those Palestinians are so worked up about and we really don't seem to care.

Contact the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee by calling (202) 244-2990 visit their Web site at

See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: for the week ending 4/5/02.

Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending April 5, 2002.

©2002 Between The Lines, All Rights Reserved

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