FT editorial: They're M-m-m-mad

Michael Pollak mpollak at panix.com
Tue Aug 13 06:08:34 PDT 2002

[Stated in an understated way, of course. In the last week and a half, Rumsfeld has been shedding the garments of rationality at a frightening rate. Even establishment figures are beginning to show alarm.]

Financial Times; Aug 08, 2002

EDITORIAL: Hawkish signals on Middle East

The signals from Washington about its intentions towards Iraq and the Middle East have been getting steadily more confusing. Now they are beginning to get alarming - arguably more so for America's friends than its foes.

Bad enough were the revelations this week that Pentagon advisers have tossed around the idea that Saudi Arabia - Washington's long-standing ally in the Gulf - may in fact be "the kernel of evil" in the region and the US's "most dangerous opponent".

Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defence, distanced himself from this thesis, presented last month by the Rand Corporation to the Defense Policy Board, which advises him. But not only did his public reassurances to Riyadh sound half-hearted, he went on to tell Pentagon staff that focusing on Jewish settlements in "so-called occupied territory" in the Israel-Palestine conflict "misses the point", which is to get a new Palestinian leadership for Israel to negotiate with.

If we are to take Mr Rumsfeld at his word, he is overturning decades of international law, under which all the land captured by Israel in the 1967 six-day war, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as all of east Jerusalem, is occupied territory.

The political reality, moreover, is that there is no peace settlement conceivable without a negotiated end to that occupation - which it is part of Washington's responsibility to sponsor.

These two incidents will add to the worries of Washington's European and Arab friends about US Mideast policy. They are dismayed by the Bush administration's almost unconditional backing for the government of Ariel Sharon. They are unconvinced by its insistence that Iraq can only be dealt with militarily.

Now, however, they may feel, especially in the Arab world, that the campaign to bring down Saddam Hussein is in reality part of a strategy to reorder the Middle East in America's interest and for Israel's benefit, using control of Baghdad as the lever.

Administration hawks have long argued that this should be the strategy. Achieving it, after all, would not only deal with the potential threat of Mr Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Control of Iraq would lessen US dependence on Saudi oil, continue the encirclement of Iran, put enormous pressure on Syria, and even marginalise Egypt, another US ally. To say that it relies on wishful thinking is to understate the breathtaking audacity of this speculation. Sober strategy it is not.

There may be a case to be made, detailing why an assault on Mr Hussein's Iraq is the least bad option, despite the enormous risks of regional destabilisation. Washington has not yet made it. Signalling, in effect, the desirability of destabilising one's Arab allies is unlikely to win over too many doubters.

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