- It has been apparent to all but the purblind--a defect
in understanding assiduously cultivated by America's mass media--that the
war United States is ready to wage against Iraq has almost nothing to do
with its security.
- In an age when the people believe that their voices must
be heard, the United States must sell its wars the way corporations sell
their products. In the past, the people were asked to lay down their lives
for visions of glory; now, governments appeal to their self-interest. The
first Gulf War had to be fought to protect American jobs. If Saddam Hussain
stayed in Kuwait, he would raise the price of oil, and Americans would
lose their jobs.
- The argument this time is different. It had to be weightier
than any fear of losing jobs. This new war seeks regime-change; it involves
greater risks. American forces must invade Iraq, defeat the Iraqi army,
occupy Baghdad, and stay around, even indefinitely. Americans understand
that "regime-change" is serious business. They would not back
this war unless Iraq threatened American lives. That explains why the war
against Iraq had to supersede the war against terrorism, and why Saddam
replaced Osama as the new icon of America's loathing.
- This substitution was quite easily executed. Most Americans
take the President at his word when he talks about foreign enemies; this
trust comes more easily when a Republican occupies the White House. George
Bush told Americans that Saddam Hussein possesses weapons of mass destruction,
and he had to be stopped before he could transfer them to Al-Qaida. (Why
hadn't he done this already?) For many Americans, it was an open and shut
case. Saddam had to be removed.
- The flaws in this argument did not matter. If Saddam
hadn't used WMDs during the first Gulf War--when his army was being pummeled--why
would he use them now? The CIA warned that a war, or the threat of it,
would increase the risk of Iraq using WMDs. Others, like Scott Ritter,
a former chief weapons inspector for the UN, pointed out that Iraq did
not have any WMDs that mattered. More than 90 percent had been destroyed
by inspectors; if any escaped, they would be past their shelf life. At
least initially, few Americans gave any credence to these doubts, though
that has been slowly changing.
- Why then is United States straining to go to war against
- The most popular theory on the left is that this war
is about oil. According to one version of this theory, the White House,
a captive of oil interests, wants to corner Iraq's oil for American oil
corporations. I do not find this credible. The power brokers in United
States would not allow a single industry lobby, even a powerful one, to
drag the country into a war which could hurt all of them, and perhaps badly,
if the war plans went awry and produced a spike in oil prices. At the least,
it is doubtful if oil interests, on their own, can account for the unobstructed
rush to a mad war.
- There is another oil theory. It argues that the American
economy needs cheaper oil; this will save tens of billion dollars. Once
Saddam has been removed, and Iraq's oil supply restored to levels that
existed before the first Gulf War, the oil prices will come down substantially.
It is hard to reconcile this theory with a US-imposed sanctions regime
that has drastically curtailed Iraq's oil output for the past twelve years.
If there were concerns that Saddam might use the oil revenues for a military
build-up, that could be addressed by an inspections regime and selective
- There is also a third oil theory, one offered recently.
It maintains that this war preempts the Euro threat to the hegemony of
the dollar. By pegging oil to the dollar, OPEC has been a key player in
the arrangements that have maintained the dollar as the currency of international
reserve. In October 2000, Saddam Hussein offered the first challenge to
this system by switching Iraq's dollar reserves to Euro. If OPEC follows
Iraq's lead it could spell trouble for the dollar. This can only be stopped
by dismantling the OPEC, and this demands war against Iraq.
- An OPEC challenge to the dollar sounds naÔve at
best. This is hardly the kind of revolutionary action we can expect from
an OPEC packed with client states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar,
and UAE; the oil price hike of 1974 could only occur in the backdrop of
the Cold War. A precipitate dethronement of the dollar could produce consequences
for United States and the world economy which would make the East Asian
financial crisis of 1997 look like a storm in a teacup. Not even the EU
would push for such results. On the other hand, there is a small chance
that the war itself might validate this theory--if it convinced OPEC that
the war aims to dismantle the oil cartel.
- If it isn't oil, then, is this civilizational war, a
war of the Christian West against Islam? This conjecture flies in the face
of some obvious facts. First, this is America's war. It is opposed by two
key Western allies, France and Germany; and apart from Britain and Israel,
the support of other Western countries lacks depth. More to the point,
the overwhelming majority of Westerners outside the United States oppose
this war. In United States itself, the anti-war sentiment has grown rapidly,
and the most recent polls indicate a majority against the war if it happens
without the support of the United Nations.
- Is it then America's war against Islamists? Even that
is doubtful. Apart from the right-wing Christian extremists, led by the
likes of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, nearly all Christian denominations
have come out against the war. Everyone would agree that Al-Qaida constitutes
the most serious Islamist threat to United States; they had proved it on
September 11, 2001. And yet, we are ready to push this threat aside in
order to wage war against one of the most decidedly secular of Arab states,
one that spent ten years waging war against 'fundamentalist' Iran? Why
not Wahhabi Saudi Arabia which supplied 16 of the 19 hijackers of September
11. Why not Shiite Iran? Their turn too will come, one hears neoconservative
voices, to be followed by Syria, Egypt and Pakistan.
- Why then is United States ready to wage this war against
Iraq, ostensibly against its own best interests? Most sensible people agree
that this is a war whose consequences cannot be controlled, or even foreseen.
It may destabilize friendly regimes, bringing radical Islamists to power
in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It may disrupt oil supplies, causing a price
hike at a time when the global economy already weak and vulnerable to shocks.
It may force Saddam to use his chemical and biological weapons--if he has
them--leading United States to nuke Baghdad or Basra. It may fuel global
terrorism for years to come, leading to attacks on American interests globally.
- These anomalies quickly melt away if we are willing to
entertain a sel-dom-aired hypothesis. This may not be America's war at
all, much less a war of the West against Islam or Islamists. Instead, could
this be Israel's war against the Arabs fought through a proxy, the only
proxy that can take on the Arabs? This will most likely provoke derisive
skepticism. Could the world's only superpower be persuaded to fight Israel's
war? Is it even possible? Could the tail wag this great dog?
- Consider first Israel's motives. Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Syria and Pakistan do not threaten the United States; but they are
a threat to Israel's hegemonic ambitions over the region. This conflict
between Israel and her neighbors was written into the Zionist script. A
Jewish state could only be inserted into Palestine by resort to a massive
ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. After such inauspicious beginnings, Israel
could only sustain itself by keeping its neighbors weak, divided, and disoriented.
It has since waged wars against Egypt in 1956; against Egypt, Syria and
Jordan in 1967; against Iraq in 1981; against Lebanon, since 1982; and
against Palestinians continuously since 1948.
- Israel's contradictions have deepened since the mounting
of the second Intifada. When the Palestinians rejected the Bantustans offered
at Oslo, Israel chose Ariel Sharon, a war criminal, to ratchet its war
against Palestinian civilians. Faced with Apaches, F-16s, tanks and artillery,
in desperation, the Palestinians turned increasingly to suicide bombings.
Sharon's brutal war was not working, and Israel's losses began to catch
up with Palestinian casualties. In April 2002, Israeli tanks reoccupied
the Palestinian towns, destroyed Palestinian civilian infrastructure, increasingly
placing Palestinians under curfews, sieges, destroying their workshops,
stores, hospitals, orchards and farms. This was the new strategy of slow
ethnic cleansing through starvation.
- This slow ethnic cleansing is only a stopgap. The most
serious threat which Palestinians pose is demographic: their growing population
could soon turn the Jews into a minority inside greater Israel. Since the
Palestinians won't live under an Israeli aparthied, the Likud, with growing
popular support, is turning to Israel's second option. If the aparthied
plan were to fail, Israel would engage in large-scale ethnic cleansing
of Palestinians, more massive than the ones implemented in 1948 and 1967.
- But Israel cannot do this alone. This ethnic cleansing
can only be implemented in the shadow of a major war against the Arabs,
a war to Balkanize the region, a war to bring about regime-change in Iraq,
Syria and Iran, a war that only United States can wage. Israel needs United
States to wage a proxy war on behalf of Israel.
- It should be clear that Israel has the motive; but does
it also possess the capability to pull this off? Is it possible for a small
power to use a great power--the only superpower, in this case--to wage
its own wars. Historically, great powers have often waged wars through
lesser proxies; but that does not mean that this relationship can never
- What makes this eminently possible is the way an indirect
democracy--in particular, democracy in United States--works. The demos
elect candidates picked by powerful lobbies, ethnic, industry and labor
lobbies; once elected, the officials work for the lobbies. By far the most
powerful political lobby in this country works for Israel, led by American
Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC). There is scarcely a member of the
Congress whose election campaigns have not been funded by AIPAC; several
are funded quite heavily. The power of the pro-Israel lobby in United
States, however, does not start or end with AIPAC. The result of this massive
power is a Congress packed with Israeli yes-men. No member of the Congress
has dared to contradict Israeli interests and remained in office. Just
last year, two members of Congress, Earl Hilliard and Cynthia McKenny,
were defeated by pro-Israeli money because they had stepped out of line.
- Consider some of the achievements of the pro-Israeli
lobby over the years. First, an estimate of the cost of Israel to US taxpayers.
Since 1985, without debate or demurral, the Congress has sheepishly voted
an annual foreign aid package of $3 billion to Israel, nearly two thirds
of this in outright grants, and constituting one-third of all US foreign
assistance. When estimated in 2001 constant dollars, the total foreign
aid to Israel since 1967 adds up to $143 billion. That amounts to a
transfer of $28,600 for every Jewish citizen of Israel.
- The official aid is only a small part of the cost of
Israel to the US economy. We need to account for loan guarantees and write-offs,
bribes paid to Egypt and Jordan in support of our Israeli policy, subsidies
to Israel's military R&D, boost in oil prices (attributed to US support
for Israel in the 1967 war), losses due to trade sanctions imposed on Israel's
enemies, etc. When Thomas Stauffer, a consulting economist in Washington,
added up all these costs, he concluded that since 1973 Israel has cost
the United States about $1.6 trillion. In per capita terms, this amounts
to $320,000 for every Jewish citizen of Israel.
- The US record on vetoes cast in UN Security Council constitutes
another major achievement of the pro-Israel lobby. The US has cast 73 vetoes
out of the 248 cast by all permanent members of the Security Council. On
38 occasions, these vetoes were cast to shield Israel from any criticism
directed against its violation of human rights of Palestinians or the territorial
rights of its neighbors. On another 25 occasions, US abstained from such
a vote. This does not include the votes cast by United States--along
with Israel, Tuvalu and Nauru--against UN General Assembly resolutions
criticizing Israeli violations of human rights or Security Council resolutions.
It would be difficult to maintain that the strategic interests of United
States always demanded such a consistent voting record on Palestine.
- I am aware that the notion of an Israeli proxy war against
Iraq will be greeted with skepticism by not a few. I hope to have established
that Israel possess in abundance both the motive and capability for such
a war. There is some evidence that it has demonstrated this capability
in the past also. In the words of Lloyd George, then Prime Minister of
Britain, the Zionist leaders promised that if the Allies supported the
creation of "a national home for the Jews in Palestine, they would
do their best to rally Jewish sentiment and support throughout the world
to the Allied Cause. They kept their word." It is doubtful if Zionist
influence now is weaker than it was in 1917.
- This is not to argue that the pro-Israeli lobby is the
only reason for the projected US war against Iraq. At present, there are
several forces in United States that are pushing for this war. Prominent
among these indigenous forces are the oil corporations, the arms manufacturers,
the aerospace industry, and the right-wing Christian evangelists. However,
it is doubtful if these indigenous groups, on their own, could have pushed
United States so decisively towards the present catastrophic confrontation
with the Islamic world. Certainly, the intellectual justifications for
this hazardous confrontation have come almost entirely from the pro-Israeli
lobby. And their intellectual input may have been vital.
-  http://www.sierratimes.com/03/02/07/arpubwc020703.htm
 http://www.wrmea.com/html/aipac.htm.  http://www.counterpunch.org/rooij1116.html
 http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1209/p16s01-wmgn.html  http://middleeastinfo.org/print.php?sid=63
 Lilienthal, Alfred M., What price Israel(Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1953):
- M. Shahid Alam is Professor of Economics at Northeastern
University. His last book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations, was published
by Palgrave in 2000. He may be reached at email@example.com