American Institute of International Studies
Seminar June 15, 2006
U.S. Middle East Policy : The Search For Security
Professor Stephen Zunes
Coordinator of the Peace and Justice studies
University of San Francisco Department of Politics
By: Mertze Dahlin
In furthering the continuance of raising public opinion and the understanding of our foreign policy, the audience was fortunate in attending this lecture by Professor Stephen Zunes. He emphasized the importance being an active and educated citizenry. He emphasized that we must also take part in the political process in order to maintain a true understanding of what goes on in this world. If we just leave it to those who are in power in Washington, we will only get in trouble. We should take advantage of the benefits of democracy as many in the world are denied this procedure. Many in this room have families still overseas and you all have a lot to contribute.
Prof. Zunes declares that America is blessed by our security, we have two oceans located on the East and on the West and two friendly neighbors to our North and South. Our country should be the most secure nation on earth - yet we spend more on our military than all other countries combined, and we continue to feel insecure. Another strange phenomenon is that we were the only country who felt that we were in danger from Saddam Hussain and his regime in Iraq. It sounds absurd but enough people believed it in order to be convinced that the best way to protect our security was to invade that country. The irony is that when Saddam Hussain really did have an arsenal of medium range missiles and did have the fifth largest army in the world and did constitute a threat - not to the United States, but to our allies in the region, we were quietly supporting their regime.
Years later, after the strictest sanctions in our world history and after disarming the military and after the UN supervised the dismantling of chemical and biological weapons, it was only then that it was seen than an invasion was the best thing that we could do.
There is a lesson here that security can be subjective. Yes, security can be manipulated as it was with Adolf Hitler who justified the invasion of Czechoslovakia because “it was a dagger at our loins threatening our German national security” and also in the case of the Soviet Union who had similar feelings against Hungary and also Czechoslovakia. Nowadays it is difficult for countries to justify wars of aggression. They may want land or resources or whatever, but it is now possible to convince people that a threat exists.
We recall a Carribean island of Grenada in which. suddenly it became an intolerable threat and required a U.S. invasion. It is frightening that although we have such an educated population, it shows how easily people can be fooled. These actions made in the name of National Security actually made us less secure. It creates a kind of reaction that can later be used against us.
As an example, it was seen as being in our best interest to overthrow Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. We brought in the Shah who was an ally of the West and wanted to modernize the country, but did so in a rather draconian way by denying the basic rights and liberties of its citizens. That alienated large sectors of the population. The United States helped to create, arm and train the dreaded secret police known as the Savak. They tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Iranians. They were so successful at crushing the democratic and secular opposition that the only place the opposition could organize and the Savak could not penetrate was the Mosques. So when the revolution arose, it had an Islamic orientation. A regime that was far worse for our security interest than Muhammad Mossadegh ever was.
We can mention several interventions that the U.S. was involved in. Two Libyan cities in 1986 were bombed by the U.S. in retaliation for Libyan support for radical Palestinian factions who bombed a Berlin discotheque that killed two American GI’s. More than 60 Libyan civilians died in that action finally resulting in a Pan Am Airliner to be blown up in Lockerbie Scotland killing hundreds of Americans.
In other cases, President Clinton ordered the bombing of a supposed chemical weapons laboratory owned by Usama Bin Laden outside of Khartoum in the Sudan. It was not a chemical weapons factory, Bin Laden had nothing to do with it. It was a pharmaceutical laboratory responsible for manufacturing over half the vaccines and antibiotics for that part of the country. The German ambassador estimated that thousands of civilians, mostly children, died from not having access to these vaccines and antibiotics.
The Sudanese government was faced, even threatened by people rising up against their misrule. As soon as the bombing occurred, these same people who were protesting their government, now condemned the U.S. aggression. It is this same regime that is responsible for genocide in Darpur, their new lease on life. That same government had made arrangements to hand over a group of Al Qaida suspects along with documents. As a result of this bombing, they reneged on this agreement. We never got the suspects, we never got the documents which many people within the U.S. intelligence committee believe could have revealed the 9/11.
Also in 1958 and 1983 our disastrous intervention in Lebanon which appeared to have short term benefit but really ended up having long term negative consequences. Many analysts refer to this as “blow- back”, with unintended consequences. It is interesting how so many things done in the interest of national security actually make things worse. We can only imagine the consequences we will face with Iraq down the road..
In Afghanistan for example, clearly the Afghan people were subjected to aggression by the Soviet Union. Clearly they had a right to resist. I found it very striking that of seven separate Mujahadeen groups that were fighting the Afghans, 80% of U.S. aid went to the most extreme hard-line of those groups, why, because we felt they would be less likely to compromise, we wanted to believe that the Soviets tried.. This prolonged the Afghan war, prolonged the suffering of the Afghan people. An African saying is “when elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled”. It shows how the Third World has suffered because of the machination of the world powers.
When the communists were driven out of Afghanistan, disintegration of the society began and the war lords, opium magnates, and chaos entered. Survival was now a real struggle. Desperate for order, desperate for stability, the Afghans were led to welcome in the Taleban despite their extremism, at least they brought some stability and order. They welcomed the opportunity to take over most of the country. Of course the Afghan people suffered as a result of giving sanctuary to Bin Laden who had been expelled from the Sudan earlier as the result from 9/11 and subsequent tragedies.
I have fear about the “blow-back” that will result from Iraq in spite of what we have experienced now in that more than 2500 U.S. soldiers have been killed, plus the loss of tens of thousands of Iraqis, mostly civilians. There is the estimated one trillion dollars in outright costs of the war which includes the interest in our national debt. Also to be considered is the Veterans’ benefits, V.A. hospitals for the seriously wounded and many other costs.
Just as the Afghan war educated and brought before us a whole generation of “Jihadists” who came to our shores on that tragic morning of 9/11, we can only imagine how it will be even if things will be somehow miraculously resolved in Iraq tomorrow. What will we be facing ten to twenty years down the road as consequences of our actions.
There are many more examples but we should stress that there can be other alternatives.
Fifty years ago, Great Britain, France and Israel decided to do their own version of regime change against the Nationalist Regime of Gamel Abdul Nasser of Egypt. The British and French were upset about his nationalization of the Suez Canal company. The French had additional grievances about his support for the Algerian revolutionaries and the British for the tax on British bases in Egypt. The Israelis were upset for his support for the Palestinian Fedayeen and the Egyptian minister on the Gaza Strip attacking targets in Israel. They wanted to get rid of this guy.
They worked out a deal where Israel would strike across the largely barren Sinai Peninsula and the British and French would then say “oh dear, they threatened the Suez Canal and international commerce, we must intervene and separate the sides”. The Israelis didn’t advance quite as quickly as we had thought so when the British and the French began to intervene, the fighting was still quite a few miles to the East and the plot was exposed and so the U.S. faced a dilemma - which side should we be on?
You would think that given how close the U.S. is to Britain, France and Israel, our closest Allies, and given that Nasser was this radical Arab Nationalist Dictator who was a real problem for U.S. policy interests, that we of course would have sided with our Allies. And yet, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, stood up to the principles of International Law. He said, even though these are our Allies, even though we don’t like Nasser, you can’t engage in this kind of regime change, this is a total violation of the United Nations charter. This is a total violation of the very principle we fought and died for in WWII, that countries don’t have a right to interfere and overthrow a government because we don’t like them. This is wrong. And just the very week before they have stood up against Soviet aggression against Hungary when the Warsaw Pact crushed the NIGER regime that was trying to bring some Democratic reforms to that communist country. Just as we stood up against Soviet aggression, we must stand up against the British, French and Israeli aggression.
The U.S. was able to apply enough leverage - even though it was just a few days before a presidential election, to force those governments to back down. Eisenhower was still re-elected by a landslide.
As a result of these incidents that happened in the Middle East, many people told me that strangers would come up to you in the streets and give you a hug - you are an American, thank you, we are so happy about what you did. America had never been so popular. So beloved in the Middle East, why, because we stood up to principle. And there is an important lesson - we are now told that people in the Middle East hate us because of our values, that’s wrong.
We get in trouble not because of our values, but when we stray away from those values which are; when we stand up for International Law, when we stand up for freedom, when we stand up for democracy. But not in “selective” ways, as, we must have democracy from Damascus to Tehran and not from Riyadh to Cairo. That just doesn’t work. It is seen as self-serving, it is seen as hypocritical, and it is. We should also stand up for the Security Council resolutions, not just when it regards Iraq, or Libya or Sudan, or Iran, but including those directed to and about Israel, Morocco, Turkey and India.. We need to stand up for arms control.
We need to stop the spread of Nuclear weapons, not just in Iran, but also the Indian Sub-Continent and Israel. We must indeed look very critically at our own obligations under the non-proliferation’s treaty. In return for restricting the new development of nuclear weapons by new countries, the existing nuclear powers are required to take tangible steps towards nuclear disarmament which the U.S. and the other nuclear powers yet needs to do. Indeed, the U.S. has blocked efforts of the UN to declare a nuclear weapons free zone for the Middle East, so much of what already exists in Africa, Latin America and South East Asia, but why? Because we have the right to say who can have the weapons of mass destruction and who doesn’t.
We are rejecting law-based, universal principles in return for a timed nuclear apartheid. It simply not only raises moral issues, it simply will not work. Whenever you try to impose a regime of haves and have-nots from the outside, it just simply makes the have-nots try harder to become that. Why would Iran want to develop a nuclear weapon. I hope they don’t. Frankly, I hope they don’t even develop nuclear power, I don’t think it’s as safe, or effective especially if they have a lot of oil. Even putting that aside, assuming they are developing nuclear weapons someday, why would they do that?
Perhaps because their nearest neighbor to the East, Pakistan has a nuclear weapon and India has nuclear weapons and Israel has a huge arsenal of weapons and the U.S. is threatening to attack Iran and we have a nuclear arsenal. Let’s say you are an Iranian Military official and you saw your country listed along with Iraq and North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil and you saw Iraq, which has given up a nuclear weapons program and which it brought back in belatedly, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, and in spite of doing what they should have done, they got invaded anyway and their government was overthrown and their country occupied.
The other member of the “Axis of Evil”, North Korea, threw out the inspectors, reneged on the Nuclear non-proliferation Treaty, and started developing nuclear weapons. That regime is still in power. What lesson do you learn from that? If you disarm, you will be invaded, if you develop nuclear weapons, you will stay in power. In other words, if they are developing nuclear weapons, it’s on good terms. Most countries are developing nuclear weapons. Now remember, the only county that has actually used nuclear weapons, is the United States on two Japanese cities in 1945. And so here we have this paradox in the effort for National Security; we try to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, we are engaged in the very policies that encourages those countries to do this. Then this is part of the paradox. It is a weakening in our security. Because we reject universal standards, instead, we arrogantly insist that we get to decide which countries can do what, when.
I want to give a little “aside” about the origins of Iran’s nuclear program. It was started back in the 1950's as part of the “Atoms for Peace” program in the Eisenhower administration. The U.S. supplied Iran with its first nuclear reactor, its first nuclear fuel. This increased in the Kennedy, Nixon and Johnson administrations, under the rule of the Shah. In the Ford administration, President Gerald Ford was presented with a proposal. The U.S. would sell eight major digital reactors to the government of Iran along with nuclear fuel and along with laser technology capable of reprocessing uranium.
President Ford initially was skeptical according to an article by the Washington Post. Why would they need all this nuclear power plants when they have all this oil and natural gas? But his advisors said no, don’t worry, this is a legitimate power generation, there is nothing military about it. Guess who his advisors on this were? Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfield, his Chief of Staff, Dick Cheney and the head of the State Departments office of Arms Proliferation, Paul Wolfawitz. The very people that today are saying that Iran must be developing nuclear weapons because why would they need to have nuclear power on top of all this oil?
This is the dilemma, one thing positive that has come to light in recent years has been a recognition, at least a verbal recognition by this Bush administration that there is a strong correlation between the lack of democracy and the threat of terrorism and extremism. For many years, the U.S. has backed autocratic regimes creating the limit President Kennedy had warned us about, those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.
The problem though, for us is that we look at the 9/11 highjackers and where they came from, where Al Qaida’s leadership came from, where the money trail came from. It didn’t come from Saddam. It didn’t come from Iran. It didn’t come from Syria. It came from U.S. backed regimes, it came from Saudi Arabia, it came from Egypt, United Arab Emerates and others, which to this day are directly supported by the United States. Al Qaida’s first attack against U.S. interests took place back in 1995 against U.S. servicemen in Saudi Arabia at Riyadh who were training the Saudi National Guard which is used for internal security, that is to say, repression. These fighters were attacked again by a suicide bomber just a few years ago.
Even though we have every reason to be proud as Americans of our individual liberties and democratic institutions, that’s not what most people in the Middle East see. They don’t see our freedoms and liberties, they see “Made in the USA” on tear gas canisters and bomb cases. They associate their repression by dictatorships and occupation armies that are armed and supplied by the U.S. They know about the U.S. continually vetoing the UN Security Council Resolutions demanding that Israel live up to its international obligation as an occupying power. These are the kinds of things that bring threats to our security. Look at Bin Laden’s manifestos over the years, he hasn’t talked about creating a democracy, and how bad it is because, as you know, most people in the Arab and Islamic world, would like more faith in democracy. What he talks about is U.S. support for dictatorial regimes. U.S. support for the Israeli occupation, the humanitarian consequence of U.S. policy towards Iraq, both subsequent to and before the 2003 U.S. invasion.
He says these things because he knows that even if a tiny percentage of Muslims support his ideology and tactics, the vast majority identify with these issues. Because as millions of you know Bin Laden is not an authority on Islam, he is a businessman by training. As a businessman, he knows how to take a need, a desire of the population and try to connect it with his product, which in this case is his extremist apocalyptic, genocidal ideology.
There are people who say why should we listen to what Bin Laden has to think or say any more than that about Timothy McVey or Charley Manson or anybody else. The reason is I think that there is a distinction between extremists who take positions that virtually have no appeal to the general population. After all, in the democracies, either through the electoral process or through popular protests or civil disobedience - whatever, we have non-violent means of addressing our grievances to make a change and in other societies, it is far more difficult to do that especially when you have a great power like the United States backing the oppressive regime or the occupying army in question.
Even people with extreme theologies, if they can talk about issues that resonate with the people, even if only a tiny percentage joined their movement, that’s still enough to maintain a threat to our security. The fact is, and this is a big thing in my book, is that the more the U.S. is militarizing the Middle East, the less secure it becomes.
In his final ten to fifteen years in power, Saddam Hussain was not a major player in international terrorism. Iraq was not the scene of a terrorist threat, but it sure is now. It is a breeding ground. We are seeing more and more. Hamas and Islamic Jihad did not exist until years of Israeli occupation, and Hamas did not come close to majority support of the Palestinians until the U.S. manipulated peace process was clearly reigned against the Palestinians in terms of establishing a viable state alongside of Israel. Palestinians just saw more and more settlements. More and more plan confiscations, more and more homes being destroyed along with corruption of Palestine’s authority. They saw Hamas as an alternative to what was clearly a peace process that was not bringing any real peace to the people of Palestine.
My argument is that if the U.S. supported a policy based more on human rights, international Laws and the state of development, unless on arms transfers, air strikes nations due to sanctions and the like, would not only be more consistent with our principles, but also make us a lot safer. What gives me hope, is that there is no real contradiction between those who have traditionally critiqued U.S. foreign policy, human rights, international law, normative moral values and those who have focused on U.S. foreign policy from National Security interests and Defense etc. There is no contradiction between the two. That is why you have people like traditionally fairly conservative real “qualitique” political Scientists saying a lot of the same things that someone like me, generally being identified with the democratic left, essentially saying the same kinds of things, and seeing an unprecedented convergence between these two traditions.
We can clearly see that the policies of the Bush administration, as often as not supported by the Democrats as well, has gotten us into Big, Big trouble. Because I believe we all care about our country’s security, we all care about basic ethical values, and I think that by bringing these together and pointing out that it’s not an either/or issue, we are one and the same. We can recognize and articulate in that policy through the understanding that America’s greatest strength and the best hope for our national security is not our weapons of destruction in our far flung military might, but fortitude, caring and our noble values in the American people.