The following is an edited transcript of the twenty-first in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held on May 4, 2000, in the Dirksen Senate Office Building with Chas. W. Freeman, Jr., moderating.
CHAS W. FREEMAN, JR., president, Middle East Policy Council
The topic today is very timely. There may be differences of opinion about when peace will occur between Syria and Israel, and later between Israel and Lebanon, or when the Palestinians and Israelis will actually reach their understanding on the Palestinian state that is emerging and its borders, but there is very little reason to doubt that these things are on the horizon. Syria is clearly ready for peace. Israel's leader Ehud Barak is clearly ready for peace, although some of his countrymen may not be. And it is, I think, a reasonable assumption, especially given the announced Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, that some sort of arrangement for Lebanon will follow the peace between Israel and Syria. Similarly, Palestinians and Israelis, although they continue to be beset by difficulties, are in their own estimation somewhere in the final stretch.
This raises a very interesting and difficult question, which has not been discussed: How can you have a peace in the Middle East and how can you integrate Israel into that region if Iran and Iraq, the two most powerful countries in the region other than Egypt, are excluded from these arrangements? The United States has been attempting to isolate both Iraq and Iran through the policy of dual containment. We have been increasingly alone in this policy. All Arab Gulf countries have long since reached an accommodation with Iran, as have our NATO allies. Now it appears that more and more of our Gulf partners are reestablishing relations with Iraq. Embassies from our NATO allies are also reappearing in Baghdad. So there is a question about the sustainability of U.S. policy, but nothing, in Iraq at least, has changed. Saddam Hussein remains in power; his a brutal dictatorship that has the capacity, through its Baath connections with Syria, to undermine a Syrian deal with Israel. Iran, through its connections in Lebanon, has the capacity to cause serious trouble for an arrangement there. And both regimes, but especially Iraq, as demonstrated by Palestinian attitudes during the Gulf War, have ties to Palestinian groups that are opposed to peace with Israel. So it seems timely to ask what we should do about Iran and Iraq in the context of an emerging peace between Arabs and Israelis.
DAVID WURMSER, director of Middle East Studies, American Enterprise Institute
A number of questions have been posed to us, all revolving around how we see the future of Iran and Iraq after there is peace. By this, I understood really two questions: How would the resolution of the region's other conflicts, specifically the Arab-Israeli conflict, affect Iran and Iraq respectively? Conversely, how would the resolution, or lack thereof, of the unusual condition in which Iraq and Iran are found, affect chances for reaching and solidifying peace in other regional conflicts? In short, we have been asked to address a number of issues which even in isolation try our skills, and then see how they interact.
Let us start with the received wisdom on this from the administration. The failure to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict creates a regional climate of instability which both emboldens the region's rogue regimes, such as Iran and Iraq, and- through political dissatisfaction and impoverishment- tempts the inhabitants of the region to seek radical, if not violent, ways of expressing frustration as well. Specifically, it drives them into the hands of the rogue regimes. As a result, the region's "moderates" feel beleaguered and are forced to run for cover.
Conversely, resolving the Arab-Israeli dispute opens the region to economic development by reducing the need for wasteful military spending and releases public money for exploitation, alleviates the climate of frustration and isolates rogue regimes, making them dinosaurs awaiting extinction. If only the Israelis were more open-minded and understood this, they would view their concessions not as weakening acts that leave them more vulnerable, but rather as securing the region and thus their ultimate security. An elegant policy, but wrong, both in terms of theory and historical experience.
First of all, militaries in some Middle East countries exist more to achieve internal social and political objectives crafted around the regime's quest for legitimacy and survival than to meet an external challenge. This is especially true of countries led by regimes like Syria's and Iraq's. Peace for some of these nations has, in fact, been the only way they could hope to maintain or even increase their military spending as oil revenues dwindled and the Soviet Union withered.
Historically, we have also seen that the eager quest for Arab-Israeli peace has led to its opposite. As the British government walked away from legal obligations of the Mandate - which remains the legal foundation of all matters Palestinian, whether Arab or Israeli - in the 1920s and 1930s, they argued to the Jews that they were in fact helping them by incrementally abandoning them. The more currency the British colonial authority had, in Arab eyes, the more effectively they could protect the Jewish community.
Of course, the British were correct that the Arabs judged them through their treatment of the Jewish community, but the British got it backwards. True, the Jewish community was seen by the Arab world as no more than a British colonial implant. Indeed, the Hashemite leadership during the Great Arab Revolt in World War I met and supported the Jewish national movement, as was seen in the Faisal-Weizman meetings, precisely because they thought it would help ingratiate them with the British. The more the British were seen to abandon what Arabs saw as Britain's own ilk - the Zionists - and seen to appease the severest critics of Britain's presence - such as Haj Amin al-Husseini – the more Arabs began to view Britain's presence as temporary and dismiss possible alliances with Britain as edifices built on a shifting dune. Britain's attempt to dissociate itself from a group of people shaped in their image, the Zionist movement, was futile. It only expedited Britain's regional ouster.
In contrast, in 1990, at a time when there was no peace process, after a decade in which the United States was unapologetically pro-Israeli, when Washington had just cut off all dialogue with the PLO and Israel was ruled by the hardest-line government it ever had, the Arab world unified behind the United States to fight a war against another Arab country. The self-interest of the nations involved dictated their policy. And the smart money, banking on the self-interest of nations, sided with the United States.
All those experts who before the war had sworn there would be an Arab backlash from the street - the same experts who assured us in the decades before that our support for Israel obstructed any coherent regional cooperation around American leadership - are those who now argue that we cannot secure a more stable region unless we distance ourselves from Israel and force it to concede more seriously. Let us not repeat the mistakes of Britain in the 1920s. The "peace process" is neither bringing peace nor helping win favor for the United States in the region. In 1991, nobody dared mention the threat of war. Terror in Israel was negligible, and the border with Lebanon was much more quiet than it is today. The PLO itself admits that the intifada ended more than two years before the Oslo process began, in 1991. And the Palestinian GNP was higher than it is today, despite the influx of international aid, (largely secured for the Palestinians, ironically, as a result of the lobbying efforts of AI PAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]). And anti-Americanism is as healthy and rampant at this moment as any time in at least a decade.
Indeed, even when we try very hard to demonstrate our concern for the fate of Muslims, even against Christian Europeans, such as was the case in Kosovo against Serbia, we were met in the Arab world by some of our supposed peace partners - such as Syria- with the harshest criticism. Syria, Iraq and Libya all supported the Serbs against the United States, by the way. So too with the Iranian government, which also did not support our war to save the Kosovars and even lambasted us over it. Even the PLO failed to support the United States, and many of its official publications contained contorted arguments on why we were really trying to destroy the Kosovars by going to war on their behalf. Yet some Arabs and Muslims, like the Saudis, Kuwaitis, Jordanians and Turks, stood by us.
Now why is that? Why is it that these self-anointed defenders of Arabdom and Islam and strugglers against colonialism, who so often question the Arab or Muslim credentials and legitimacy of governments like Kuwait's, Jordan's or Turkey's, sided with the Serbs against the United States and Muslim Kosovars? It is because they are led by regimes that are first and foremost defined around a radical revolutionary sort of “Third World" argument. This includes the Iranian regime. There is simply nothing we can do to ingratiate ourselves with regimes informed by such ideas. And if the peace process reduces to an attempt to appease the most radical voices among the Arabs, then it will not only fail to secure acceptance for us in the region - just as Britain's attempts failed- it will actually encourage those radical voices while cowing the more moderate ones into a faint echo. All will be lost. lf we let the most radical voices of the Arab and Muslim world define the agenda, then no amount of power we bring to bear will save us from being ejected ignobly from the region.
I am not arguing that we should not try to help bring peace between Arabs and Israelis. What I am saying is that those who believe that the region's problems are caused and prolonged primarily by that conflict, and as a result believe that those problems can only be solved by resolving that conflict, are wrong and that, if in their diligence they try too hard to appease regimes such as Syria's, then they actually contribute to the region's instability.
Unfortunately, this tells us only why the attempt to secure our regional position and bring regional stability through resolving the Arab-Israeli problem will not work. What will work? Let us be honest with ourselves and ask a few hard questions about this region, questions that will lead us to some answers. Why is it that this region is still wracked by war? Why is it that it is the only region in the world experiencing real economic decline in the 1990s? Why is it that this region, if one subtracts the oil wealth, has a combined GNP less than Finland's? Why is it that this region has more nations at the bottom of the Freedom House "scale of freedom" than any other?
The answers to these questions will bring little comfort to either the inhabitants of the region or to those in the West who have dealt with the region. These are the questions raised a hundred or more years ago by Arab thinkers and by Turks even a hundred years before that. There was an honesty back then among some Arab and Muslim intellectuals who looked at Europe and asked a simple question: How could we, who had once been the scientific, cultural and intellectual envy of the world, the people who defined refinement and cultivated civilization, how could we have dropped to such levels of stagnation and decline at the same time that Europe, before our very eyes, flourished and surpassed us?
Unfortunately, as the Arabs began to pay close attention to Europe, as the Egyptian thinker Abdullah Nadim did when he noticed how literate Europe was and how illiterate many Arabs were, they listened to "educated" continental European intellectuals. This posed two problems. First, these intellectuals were rebelling against Europe's aristocracy. Those aristocrats were the same group of people who were setting up, through their rampant cynicism dressed in self-righteousness, a disastrous colonial policy toward not only the Arab world, but Asia and Africa as well. Young Arabs who took the call to become educated saw an affinity of interests between their quest for independence and the apparently "educated" European intellectuals' quest to overthrow the aristocracy.
They both hated pompous European aristocrats, a worthy sentiment. But the second problem is the killer: What ideas did these "educated" European intellectuals offer, and young Arabs embrace, as the preferred way to destroy the aristocracy? The answer will guide you to why the politics of both the Arab world and Europe until 1991 was so destructive and violent.
The answer is in the French Revolution, which became the seminal event in shaping the minds of continental European and, perhaps unwittingly, of Arab intellectuals ever since. The French monarchy was becoming-increasingly absolute, if not totalitarian in its final days. The forces that gathered to destroy it rejected the French monarchy and killed the monarch and a large number of other people. But they did not reject the absolutism; it was all they knew. Nor did they reject the pompousness and haughtiness of the aristocracy. They arrogated it to themselves, self-anointed as the new aristocracy, the brotherhood of intellectuals. Indeed, these intellectual revolutionaries embraced this haughtiness and expanded absolutism into a more horrific form in order to pursue their own ideological agenda.
The absolutism of continental European monarchs, especially Spain and France, had ensured that Europe was already in decline at this time, especially compared to the more mildly governed Anglo-Saxon nations. It became an even faster decline after the French Revolution and the rise of this new class of pseudo-intellectuals. France, which comprised half the population and economy of Europe in 1789, was virtually a second-rate power by 1900. And we see the shambles such revolutionary ideology has produced in Russia - which had the fastest-growing GNP of Europe in 1914 - Eastern Europe, North Korea and other places.
Sadly, Arab intellectuals saw only the eighteenth century's intoxicating revolutionary fervor opposing a stagnant, cynical aristocracy as the font of Europe's scientific and even cultural superiority. They sought to emulate these ideas rather than the slow evolution of religious, enlightened thought that built Europe into greatness from about 1300 until 1800. Simply put, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Europe exported some insane ideas about politics to eager and hungry Middle Eastern intellectuals, who then applied them to equally disastrous and violent effect in their world. The traditional restrained periodic outbursts of tribal, sectarian and ethnic conflict were jettisoned for the uncharacteristically violent and absolute politics of mass murder that also marked Europe in this century. Listen to the words used by these Arab revolutionary leaders: revolution, struggle, vanguard, "people's will," "popular front," etc. These are European words from a sick European era. Some of them required Arabic words to be invented to give them expression.
Britain and now the United States, instead of seeing their own political ideas as the antidote to this disastrous continental European export, have tolerated these bad ideas among Arabs as somehow "genuine" or "indigenous" or "natural" and, thus, unchangeable - so unchangeable that if we want to have a role in the region, we must come to terms with these ideas. In doing so, we have relegated the region to the sway of these ideas. We, of course, cannot come to terms with these ideas, any more than we could come to terms with their European variants. We fought and were forced to win a world war and a cold war to defeat those ideas in Europe, despite our periodic efforts to appease them.
There will be no peace in the region, neither Arab-Arab, Arab-Persian nor Arab Israeli, until these ideas are challenged, in both their secular and religious forms, until there is more freedom in the region, and until we work to make the stagnant aristocracies of some of the non-revolutionary governments the champions of their own humility and limited power. Where is the beginning of real peace? Look to Kuwait at some of the intellectuals talking about reform. Look to the Palestinians who refuse to accept that their independence is a license for rampant PLO corruption. Look to the fine tradition of Egyptian intellectuals like Taha Hussein and Naguib Mahfouz. In fact, look back to the Arab renaissance in the glorious medieval period, to thinkers like Hasan al-Basri, lbn Rushd and Ibn Sinna. These thinkers understood that the Arab world could enrich itself by studying and even embracing, rather than annihilating, some ideas from Christians and Jews. They could even learn and integrate ideas from the pagan Greeks of classical times. They understood that by doing so they could transcend any culture in the world. They learned and they became great. They mastered, rather than rejected, what could be called the "West," which is not a geographic concept but really a body of ideas, ideas that begin with a simple question: Do people have the right to judge the virtue and competence of those who rule over them? Before its renaissance, Europe looked up to the Arabs and got their ideas from them, the ideas that we would easily identify as the "West" and that led to Europe's renaissance and eventual greatness, until it began its decline in the French Revolution.
In short, the Arab- indeed Muslim - world needs to ask itself why it changed, why it surrounded itself with a wall of ignorance and entered a period of irreversible decline after about the late eleventh century rather than achieving the renaissance to which it gave birth and to which it could have laid proprietary claim. Until the Arab world asks itself these questions, there will be no real Arab "awakening" and there will be no real peace. We in the West, instead of offering a constant stream of destructive "ideas du jour" to the Arabs, should ask what ideas really made Europe so great. And, after shoring ourselves up at home by applying the answers, we should offer the answers to those in the Arab world who would listen.
AMB. FREEMAN: That is indeed a different viewpoint. It doesn't get to the question at hand because it rejects the notion that there can be peace. The thesis is, as I understand it, that Arab nationalism is profoundly misguided. Therefore, Israel should not be concerned to integrate itself into the region until the Arab world re-achieves enlightenment. This is a bleak prospect. It asks a great deal of the United States in terms of maintaining relationships in the region that focus on Israel, while relegating all other relationships to a secondary status. If you are wrong, and if the leaders of Israel choose to integrate themselves into the region and to make peace with the Syrians, Lebanese and Palestinians, there remains the question of how they should relate to Iran and Iraq.
TED GALEN CARPENTER, vice president for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute
I would argue that the Arab-Israeli peace process receives far more attention in the United States than it deserves; that the Arab-Israeli quarrel, particularly in the context of a post-Cold War international environment, should not and certainly need not be a high priority for the United States. It is just one of many, many parochial quarrels around the world. There is nothing special about it.
When one looks at America's Middle East-Persian Gulf policy, though, I think there is cause for considerable concern. The essence of America's policy in the Gulf has been, as mentioned by Mr. Wurmser, dual containment, in my view one of the most impractical, illogical policies ever adopted by a great power. To try to marginalize not just one but two major powers in a region is an act of folly. Predictably, this policy has not worked; it is not working; it will not work.
In a few months we're going to mark the tenth anniversary of the Persian Gulf War. In my view, any policy that has the United States still battling the same regime, the same adversary, using many of the same tactics, 10 years after an armed conflict is, by definition, a failure. We have become, reluctantly but inexorably, Saddam Hussein's jailer. U.S. policy is on autopilot. We maintain the embargo, we periodically bomb air-defense sites and other targets, largely because we can't seem to think of anything else to do, not because we have any expectation that this policy is going to achieve meaningful, lasting, beneficial results.
The policy has done enormous damage to the Iraqi people. I don't want to get caught in a narrow debate about whether it's the international, U.S.-led embargo that's responsible for the suffering of Iraqi children or whether it's Saddam Hussein. The reality is that the U.S.-led policy is primarily responsible, and not just in the narrow sense of restricting the delivery of medical supplies. That, to me, is a bogus issue. The more important point is that the war and the policy we have pursued in the decade after the war have destroyed Iraq's economic infrastructure.
Mr. Wurmser's colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, Nicholas Eberstadt, made an absolutely crucial observation more than a decade ago: "wealthier is healthier." It is absolutely correct. As societies get wealthier, the condition of the people improves, life expectancies increase, infant-mortality rates plunge and so on. If that is true, the reverse is also true: Poor is decidedly unhealthy. This explains the catastrophe that we have seen in infant-mortality rates and other measures of the standard of living in Iraq in the past decade.
I think we also ought to look at the structure of our policy. One phenomenon that stands out is the incredible shrinking Gulf War coalition, now down to the United States and Great Britain and occasionally, depending on the issue, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. I know that American policy makers and probably a majority of the American people believe that our policy is correct, but it is often worthwhile to try to see ourselves and our policy as other people see us. I'm not talking about the tiny band of radical left-wing fanatics around the world who hate everything American. To a growing number of far more reasonable people, the United States is seen as a bully beating up on a small, defenseless country - and in particular on the people of that country, not even on the regime. The regime is barely inconvenienced.
It pains me to say that this perception is essentially correct. When we look at the original reasons for the war, many were given, but three stand out. The first was to repel a case of cross-border aggression, to uphold the principles of national sovereignty and the sanctity of borders. This was, of course, long before the Kosovo intervention, when the United States and its NATO allies proceeded to ignore those principles and indeed trample on them, but in 1990-91 that was considered a very important principle. We didn't want the post-Cold War world in its initial year to allow a cross-border aggression to succeed.
The second justification was to protect the oil supply. American policy makers often gave a particular spin to this: It wasn't really our oil supply that was at risk so much as it was the oil supply of our key allies and economic partners in Western Europe and East Asia. This was always a silly reason from an economic standpoint. Economists as ideologically diverse as Milton Friedman and James Tobin pointed out that the oil supply is one big world supply. What you 're really trying to prevent here, to the extent you're doing anything, is a price spike. So you look at a cost-benefit analysis. If the oil justification was questionable in 1990-91, it's even less germane today, with a greater diversity of supplies, greater energy efficiency and so on. It is really not a meaningful issue.
The third primary reason, which was largely an after-the-fact justification, was to keep Saddam Hussein from developing weapons of mass destruction. While the oil supply argument was that Saddam would perhaps choke off the supply of oil at a key moment, this argument was that he would in fact continue to supply oil quite generously but use the revenues to develop weapons of mass destruction. This is not a trivial concern, but we have to realize that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is an international reality. The problem is not just confined to the Persian Gulf, much less to Iraq. Although it's a messy situation, we have to rely largely on deterrence by regional powers as the first line of defense.
In the abstract, all three of the motives for the original intervention were reasonable and in some cases even powerful, but they ignore the costs and risks of having the United States be the babysitter of the Persian Gulf, which is what we are today. The cost of maintaining military forces for our various missions around the world, primarily Europe, East Asia and at the top of the list these days the Persian Gulf, is enormous. It is the primary reason the United States today spends $280 billion a year on the military while countries like Japan and Germany spend $30-40 billion a year. They don't undertake regional commitments of this nature.
The United States is also in the position of being the palace guard for an assortment of corrupt and authoritarian regimes in the region. We have to ask ourselves what would happen if there was a domestic revolt, let's say, against the Saudi royal family. Would we regard this as a domestic issue, even if there was no evidence of outside agitation? Or would we simply assume that either Iraq or Iran was involved and use that as a pretext for intervention? I think we all know the more likely answer to that.
Finally, a very real cost of playing the role of policeman in the Gulf is the increased danger of terrorist retaliation against the American homeland. This is a danger that is going to grow overtime, with the availability of small weapons of mass destruction, particularly chemical and biological weapons. The U.S. policy toward Iraq simply is not going to succeed, and I think we have to face that and move on from it toward a different policy. Unfortunately, I don't see signs of change in U.S. policy toward Iraq.
With regard to Iran, things are a little better. We do see some signs that the United States is now moving away from dual containment. We also see on Iran's side some encouraging signs of liberalization, although obviously a major domestic struggle is underway in that country. Secretary Albright's willingness to admit that U.S. policy in Iran from 1953 to 1979 may have been something less than brilliant is a good first step. I am weary of people who seem to assume that the U.S. Iranian relationship began in 1979. It had a history before that, a rather ugly history in which the United States supported one of the most odious tyrants in the region, to the destruction of the liberty of the Iranian people.
We ought to take steps toward normalization of relations with Iran. If the United States can contemplate normalizing relations with Stalinist North Korea, we certainly ought to be able to take a similar step with regard to quasi-democratic Iran. This should be the first step toward an alternative Persian Gulf policy.
I tend to be a bit of a cynic. l would adopt the policy that the late Senator George Aiken recommended with regard to Vietnam in 1965: declare victory and go home. I think we ought to do so by a date certain, within the next one to two years. We need to indicate that we are no longer going to be a babysitter in the Gulf and announce it to all parties concerned. We also need to end the policy rationale that started with Woodrow Wilson that we have to approve of regimes before we can have normal relations with them. Before Wilson, the United States recognized virtually any regime that controlled an identifiable territory. We did not pass judgment on it. The establishment and maintenance of relations did not imply in any way a moral sanction.
We ought to have cool but correct relations with all countries in the region, regarding none of them as reliable friends or inherent enemies, judging on a case-by-case, action-by-action basis. In all likelihood we would see the emergence of a rough balance of power in the region, with Iran and Iraq playing key roles and largely balancing each other. That's the key point. If powers outside the region conclude that the quarantine against Iraq must continue - very unlikely if the United States withdraws its insistence on the embargo, but let's say they do- and they assume a more general policy of policing the Gulf to maintain stability, fine. Let them undertake the responsibility. It would be a pleasant change to see naval vessels from Japan, India and the major powers of the European Union patrolling those waters instead of the United States' ships.
Right now we are shouldering this mission largely alone, except for our British lapdog, and with no end in sight. The United States does have some interests in the Gulf region. I would concede that. But other powers have greater interests, and U.S. interests certainly do not justify Washington's being the babysitter of the Gulf forever.
EDWARD PECK, former chief of mission in Iraq
There are several serious questions that need to be asked about our Iraq-Iran policy. One may wonder, for example, how the concept of dual containment will advance our interests in an area we consider to be strategically significant if we have absolutely nothing whatever to do with two of the most important countries there.
You may also wonder why we aren't talking to Iraq. Have we never talked to a nasty regime before? After the invasion of Kuwait, President Bush made his famous "this-will-not-stand" speech. He said, "The people and the government of the United States oppose Saddam Hussein because he is a dictator, and we have always opposed dictators." Perhaps there have been dictators we opposed, but have we always opposed dictators? Absolutely not. A statement like that may actually be accepted by many Americans, but it is considered by everyone else as absolute and dangerous nonsense.
Here is America, proud of the successful role it has had in getting the Catholics and the Protestants talking in Northern Ireland and the Israelis and the Palestinians talking in the occupied territories. But we don't talk to Iraq on any level, on any subject, anywhere. Those two groups, in Northern Ireland and the Occupied Territories, don't even have borders to fight over. They spill each other's blood on the very ground they mutually contest, but we encourage them to talk because, if you talk, there may be a chance to find your way out of the box. But we don't talk to Iraq.
Some of you may recall the Cold War and the "Evil Empire." When the United States and the Soviet Union were a button-push away from mutually assured destruction, and there wasn't a single thing on which we agreed, they had an embassy here, we had an embassy there, and we had missions and exchanges and delegations. Not because we loved and trusted them, but because that's the way you deal with problems.
How can we possibly get anywhere by not talking to Iraq? You don't have to like Saddam, but if Netanyahu and Arafat can talk, why can't we talk to Saddam? What problems does the United States have with Iraq, a country 9,000 miles away? Other countries have problems with Iraq, but we don't. To the rest of the world this policy appears stupid and worse. I've been in the army twice; I've been out on the front lines as a diplomat through wars and riots and attacks on the building and life-threatening diseases. I don't take a back seat to anybody in terms of patriotism. This is the greatest nation that ever was; it may be the greatest nation that ever will be. That's my perception, but it is not universally shared, certainly not in the Middle East.
To the people there, and they're right, we are responsible for the humanitarian disaster in Iraq. On the CBS program 60 Minutes, May 12, 1996, they showed a 10-minute segment that Leslie Stahl had filmed in Iraq: the dying, fly-covered children, the raw sewage, the ambulance graveyard and all the rest. Back in the studio, she says to Madeleine Albright, at the time the ambassador to the United Nations, "We have heard that over 500,000 Iraqi children are dead as a result of the embargo. That's more than died in Hiroshima (actually, about seven times more). Is this worth it?" Albright looks her right in the eye, does not blink and says, "Well, it's a very difficult decision, but we think it's worth it, yes."
Ladies and gentlemen, the United States just took responsibility for the death of 500,000 Iraqi children. To make sure you didn't miss the point, 20 seconds later Albright says, 'Tm a very humanitarian person, but this has to be done." That clip is shown all over the world, all the time, but not here. Some people say the numbers are exaggerated. They may be, but are you more comfortable thinking it's perhaps only 320,000 Iraqi children? 287,000? If the United States can put out a reward for the capture of Slobodan Milosevic, who may be responsible for the deaths of28,000 people, who steps up to take credit for what the United Nations says is now close to a million dead Iraqi children?
The embargo is total: eyeglass frames, medicine, books. We won't let them import pencils because the graphite might be used for weapons of mass destruction. Madeleine Albright says we can't let them import spark plugs (to keep the ambulances running) because those spark plugs could be used in military trucks. And no agricultural pumps can be bought because Saddam Hussein could use those for fountains in his palaces. The economic embargo, which has savaged the population, is both unjustified and ineffective.
We want to keep Saddam from redeveloping weapons of mass destruction. Everybody will back a weapons related embargo. But what's the purely economic embargo for? President Bush announced the purpose in November 1990, when it went into effect. He said, "The embargo will stay in place until the people of Iraq get rid of Saddam Hussein." That's what it's for, to make life so intolerable for the people that they will rise up against Saddam. This, as you may know, they cannot do. Marches on the palace in Baghdad are extraordinarily short, and you're only around for one.
But ask yourself a far more basic question: Who gave us the right to decide who rules Iraq? That is not part of America's mandate, but nobody can stop us, so we appear as the international bully, as Mr. Carpenter said.
Again, ask yourself: What happens when Saddam does go? Most probably, the country will implode. There is no mechanism for his replacement, no hierarchy, no number two, no opposition. Who benefits from such a disaster? There are the Shiia and the Sunni, and the Yazidis, and the Sabeans, the Talibani Kurds and the Barzani Kurds, the Turkmen, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and more. They are going to rush out into the streets to settle their bitterly divisive, savagely contested differences using ballots that they have been saving for this purpose, right? Have you ever heard of Bosnia or Kosovo? And look where this would transpire: the Middle East. The one thing there must be in order to have peace, freedom, secure borders and human rights anywhere is stability. Without stability, nothing good can happen. This is why we have backed dictators in various parts of the world from time to time - they gave us stability, the sine qua non basis for all the things we know are good.
After Saddam there is likely to be a deluge. The Kurdish question spills over into other countries, along with the Shiia-Sunni dispute. And the Iranian threat is there. We would not be doing anything good for the United States, or for the Saudis, the Jordanians or the Israelis, by pursuing the current policy. We are called inhuman and racist because of what we are doing to Iraq. So Iraqis die in the thousands and the American public does not know we are to blame. The media won't touch it. The people who occupy leadership positions won't talk about it. Sixty-two congressmen signed a letter to the president a month ago requesting the lifting of the economic aspects of the embargo. The Washington Post never mentioned it. It therefore may as well never have happened.
What we are trying to achieve in the Middle East is reduced tension in order to be able to move forward to solve major problems. To do this, you work out an agreement - an arrangement in which one side gets something in exchange for what the other side gets. Each side then has a reason to keep it. But if you're not talking, you aren't going to get anywhere - or anything.
The outlook now is that, if peace ever comes to the Middle East, we have savagely diminished our chances to play any positive role whatsoever by the policies we're now following.
AMB. FREEMAN: There are rumors in the region that Israel, which is well known to have enjoyed very intimate relations with Iran in the past and to have continued a dialogue with Tehran in recent years, is also carrying on its own dialogue with Iraq, precisely because it is thinking ahead about what will happen after the peace its government seeks is concluded.
GRAHAM FULLER, resident consultant, RAND Corporation
I find myself in agreement with many of the previous speakers, but in disagreement on some key issues. Ted Carpenter has saved me some time in representing many views with which I agree, even if I don't necessarily identify myself with much of what the Cato Institute talks about. I agree fully that lumping Iran and Iraq together under dual containment has indeed been an act of folly.
Let me push this one notch further. The only thing these two states really have in common is that we have identified them as rogue states. I find this arrogant term "rogue state" very difficult to live with. The key meaning of the adjective is that there are some states hostile to U.S. policy and interests in one way or another. But this is not a global concept. It is unique to American foreign policy to identify regimes as "rogues."
This is not to say that there are not very bad regimes out there, which perhaps even deserve censure, but the United States applies the term highly selectively. We have very little support from any allies for these definitions. Rogue state is an emotional term; it arbitrarily puts countries into a box, which means that we can treat them a certain way. I would argue this is analytically and functionally ineffective.
There are clear differences between Iran and Iraq in both the nature of the problem and in the nature of the solution. This has been evident for a very long period. Iraq under Saddam Hussein is perhaps the worst regime in the history of the entire modern Middle East, in terms of the appalling violence carried out against not only its own people but against its Muslim neighbors. This is really the last gasp of Jurassic Park Arab nationalism in the region. I look forward to the day when Arab nationalism and cultural unity can be expressed in enlightened terms, but, unfortunately, we have seen a very ugly side of Arab nationalism in Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
But we have had our shot at Saddam. It was right to turn him back, as we did, in Kuwait. I hoped that terrible defeat in Kuwait would bring him down within six months to a year. But, let's face it: the policy has now failed. It is not going to happen. Should Saddam be removed? Absolutely. But it's not going to happen through any U.S. policy moves.
The sad fact is that, when you travel around the Muslim world- and I'm not talking about Syria, Egypt or places close to Iraq but in Muslim Xinjiang in China, Indonesia or Pakistan - you hear support for Saddam Hussein. This is an emotional support; these people don't know much about him and probably wouldn't really like his domestic policies. But doesn't this tell us something- that he enjoys such emotional support? Is this their problem in the Muslim world and parts of the Third World, as well, or is it our problem that people are sympathetic to Saddam Hussein and hostile to American opposition to him?
Such a situation suggests a broader failure of American policy lines overall in this region. We have failed to create any regional consensus which might have helped deal with the problem. Many states that dislike and fear Saddam have found it difficult to come together and do the things that are really necessary to remove him. One of the reasons that many states in the region don't want to move against Saddam Hussein is that they are disturbed by the idea of using force to remove authoritarian regimes in general. Frankly, most states in the region do not want to see a democratic future in Iraq. Therefore, how can our policies of change in the region possibly work if we cannot even get some basic agreements on these things?
Furthermore, as Ed Peck and Ted Carpenter have pointed out, the suffering of the Iraqi people is now overwhelming. It cannot simply be ignored as the price that we pay to try to remove the regime. If we could remove Saddam Hussein for that price, you might at least have a debate, but clearly we are not capable in the least of removing Saddam Hussein and are still paying an incredibly high price for trying. Therefore, we should simply strive to keep Saddam Hussein in the box as long as we can and wait for him to die or be shot by his own people, because it is not going to come by a U.S. instrumentality. In the future, the United States must consult widely with the region on the kind of future Iraq should have. This is the region's problem much more than it is ours. Why should we be so much more concerned about every twitch of Saddam's eyebrow than the people who live in the region and are most likely to suffer from him? If we can't get the region to agree on the nature of the threat, then I would suggest we need to pull back.
Yes, we have to be ready for some other intervention. If Saddam should attempt another invasion, I strongly support using force to stop him, and perhaps going all the way into Baghdad. Short of that we're going to have to pull way back and face the logistical and military difficulties that ensue if we are to intervene again.
I foresee a very turbulent future for Iraq. Ed Peck has referred to many of these problems. We are probably going to have a military successor to Saddam, since we are not able to get a broad consensus in the region that there should be a referendum and some kind of U.N.-supervised selection. That's not going to happen because the region doesn't want it and doesn't support it. Furthermore, Shiites make up the majority in Iraq, whether we like it or not, and they are going to be the coming power in Iraq in the future. Despite Western fears, they are not monolithic. There are many divisions among Shiites - conservatives, liberals, democrats, violent types, terrorists, generous people - as in any other society. Nor are they inherently anti-Western.
Iraq's neighbors fear that Iran is going to walk in and take over Iraq under those circumstances. I think this is nonsense. The Shia of Iraq are very Arab and not at all Persian. It's only out of the most extreme desperation under Saddam's savagely vicious policies that Iraqi Shia even look to Iran at all as a benefactor. And the Kurds are going to have to be given satisfaction within Iraq, or there is no future, either. In short, there will have to be a federal and democratic Iraq in the future if the country is to prosper and be a responsible member of the region.
Turning quickly to Iran, reconciliation with that country by now is geopolitically essential. I doubt that "talking to Saddam Hussein" is going to change his character so that he will miraculously reform, but Iran is in a very different category. If we can talk to China and North Korea, why not Iran?
Our sanctions on Iran have served to suspend the geopolitics of the Persian Gulf, a fact that makes strategic planning complicated for us and for everyone else. Our particular boycott, our ignoring of Iran, affects major issues of long-term importance. Pipelines, which are not here for five or ten years but for 40 or 50 years, affect the region. Iran could assist in overthrowing Saddam Hussein if we worked together in this area, but for a long time the United States represented a much greater threat to Iran than Saddam Hussein did. By pushing Iran into a box, the role of Russia and China in the region is being advanced. I think that is very undesirable. I'd like to see Iran cast a cooler eye towards both China and Russia in the region. At the same time, Afghanistan is a mess, and there are problems of terrorism, so we share mutual concerns with Iran there. The Caucasus is very critical: Iran is involved with Armenia-Azerbaijan problems. They could play a more vital role, but we will not agree to that. And Iran must be part of long-range Gulf-security planning.
Above all, Iranian experience with clerical rule and an Islamic republic has great importance for the future of political Islam itself in the region. Iran has suffered some major failures in trying to make a clerical regime work. That's one message for other Islamists in the region. The other message is that they have been groping through the Islamic vocabulary toward creating some kind of reconciliation of democracy and Islam in an Islamic context. These developments are potentially of great importance for Islamists in the region in promoting links between democracy and Islam. Some very interesting ideas are coming out of Iran today.
But the Iran of the future, even a democratic Iran, is going to be very prickly. Iran has never loved the United States, particularly because we've been involved there in very unsavory ways, including destroying their one serious democratic experiment through the CIA-backed coup against Mossadeq in 1953. But political Islam is growing across the whole Muslim world. It is critical that we find states and movements that can help bring an enlightened political Islam into the game rather than simply casting political Islam as the enemy du jour, or the enemy of the century, as some such claim.
Iran is going to insist on some degree of its own natural leadership of the region. If you look at the map, this is fairly clear. Regional power will be shared with Iraq and Saudi Arabia. There will be resentments by major powers in the region of deep U.S. involvement, and this is something we're going to have to think about. In the future, if there is going to be stability in the Gulf, we cannot be its babysitter. The United States must be the force of absolute last resort. We need to bring countries in the region to think about and to talk to each other about what kind of security instruments they can achieve.
"Protecting the free flow of oil" is the ultimate justification for the U.S. military presence in the Gulf. Let me be frank: The free flow of oil through the Persian Gulf has never been threatened seriously. Not one dictator who loathes the United States - Qadhafi, Khomeini, Saddam Hussein - has ever attempted to stem it. Nor should oil security be solely up to the United States in any case. Let those who are the primary consumers of the product work on the problem - Europe and Japan -who don't really believe there is a threat to the oil company anyway.
In conclusion, the U.S. presence is viewed with great ambivalence by most players in the region. Our presence erodes their legitimacy over the long run and helps create the rationale for leaders like Saddam Hussein. The absence of democracy is the single biggest problem in the Middle East. David Wurmser said that the Arabs have been listening to the wrong European voices, but when has the United States ever spoken out in favor of democracy in the Arab world? Vice President Gore spoke out in Malaysia, Madeleine Albright the other day spoke out in Uzbekistan briefly, but in the Arab world, have we ever heard a suggestion that strong backing for democracy is an essential to the future of this region? We need a declaratory policy on democratic change that everyone in the region knows we're serious about.
Our policy speaks about terrorism and "drying up the swamp that nurtures terrorist actions" in states like Afghanistan. What about the swamp of the Middle East that has been nurturing dictatorship, hopelessness and political cynicism through the inability of any citizens in the region to have a voice in their own future? Is it any surprise, then, that there is bitter hostility and anger toward the United States as a result of these policies? It is clear that we must overcome our own fear of democracy in this region and our quest for so-called "stability" and move ahead with the one really serious long-term agenda in the region - democratic reform and change - if we are to have real stability in the area, and not false stability imposed by dictators.
Q: Mr. Fuller said something at the very beginning that in this place and in this forum needs to be clarified: that Iraq is the worst regime in the history of the modern Middle East. I have no quarrel with the notion that Saddam Hussein has the worst possible personality. But the one country that is more like the United States than any other in the region, though we hate to admit it, is Iraq. They really believe in separation of church and state.
MR. FULLER: I would insist that the Saddam Hussein regime is the worst that we've seen in the Middle East. No thanks to Saddam, but thanks to oil and a bounteous supply of water and agricultural land and a gifted population, Iraq has made great progress towards advancement over past decades. But the forced march towards modernization under Saddam has not been the way to do it. The price has been staggeringly high in terms of people brutalized and killed. There are kinder and gentler ways of bringing about modernization in Iraq.
DR. CARPENTER: There is a great deal of hypocrisy in the U.S. attitude toward democracy in the Arab world. This is certainly seen by the people in the region as well as by other people around the world. The United States supports democracy when it suits our foreign-policy objectives, and we are perfectly willing to crawl into bed with some of the worst tyrants in the world when that suits our foreign policy.
AMB. PECK: It fascinates me the extent to which Saddam Hussein has been promoted into the most vile creature that ever oozed over the surface of the planet. He is not a wonderful guy, but I lived in Baghdad for two and a half years, and I never saw an armed soldier in the city. Policemen, yes, with a pistol and a whistle, but no soldiers, no sandbags, no tanks, no APCs. The people knew the rules: As long as you didn't mess with the government, the government didn't mess with you. Political freedom was quite limited, but the schools, the hospitals, the churches, the water, the educational programs, the post-doctoral research were all there for the people. But, when one of the administration's speakers in the Dayton Town Hall meeting said, "Let me make you a bet. We care more for the people of Iraq than Saddam Hussein does," a cheer went up. Then she could have added, "That's why we're going to bomb them tomorrow." There are very few things that Saddam Hussein has done that haven't been done by a great many people, some of them right there in the region and strongly supported by us while doing it.
Q: I agree that democracy is needed in the Middle East, but who is stopping democracy in the Middle East? We are. We are supporting regimes that are non-democratic because it is in our interest. We supported Saddam Hussein for five years against Iran because it was in our interest. Fundamentalism has become very, very strong in the Middle East. All those who were against fundamentalism are with the fundamentalists now, for example, with Hezbollah in South Lebanon. The Christians of Lebanon who are against fundamentalism or against Islam we support 100 percent. Our policy is in support of the feudal lords of the Middle East. That's what's keeping democracy away.
DR. WURMSER: The United States has not done much to support democracy in the region. It has continued Britain's policy, which was cynical all along. However, at some point the Arab world has to stop looking at us as the only reason their politics are so abysmal. I gave a defense of the pernicious influence of European intellectuals on the Middle East, but that still doesn't address the question as to why the Middle East was once so great and by 1900 it was so far down. This is something inside the Arab world that only Arabs can address. It will have to be addressed for them to move on and to begin to acquire the sort of development and progress. that they once had. The United States can do better, but Arab intellectuals themselves have to take responsibility for their own politics at some point.
Q: Mr. Fuller said oil has never been stopped. It was stopped in 1973.
MR. FULLER: I suggested that all the classic anti-American dictators in the region - Qadhafi, Saddam and Khomeini- all very willingly sold oil, and there was never any idea that they would not. That's true to this day. It was, ironically, our friends the Saudis who imposed a one-time embargo, strictly against the United States and nobody else. Oil is a fungible substance. In theory, if oil companies had managed stocks properly, there should have been very little if any reaction. It has since been recognized that in 1973 oil was mismanaged. I don't see this as having been a threat to the developed world's source of energy, but it produced a significant spike at that time, particularly for Americans, who had to line up at gas pumps. This was the first time reality in the Middle East had ever visited us directly in this country.
I think it has been a red herring to say we're there to support the free flow of oil. We are there to do other things - much of it questionable, such as support authoritarian regimes. Also, I challenge the validity of trying to achieve stability by protecting regimes, especially against internal enemies. We need to examine closely this question of what are we really doing in the Persian Gulf and what is the real agenda, as opposed to the declared agenda. I wrote an article a couple of years ago in Foreign Affairs on this called "Persian Gulf Myths."
Q: In view of globalization and the changing demographics in the Arab world and Turkey and Iran, with or without U.S. assistance, how do you see the democratization process in the Middle East proceeding on its own?
AMB. PECK: There seems to be a fixation in the room that the only way for anybody to run their business is our way. We call it democratization. Here in Congress they passed the $94-million Iraq liberation act, which, in the words of one of its promoters, was going to enable us to go over - I paraphrase - and stuff democracy down their resistant throats. By definition, you don't impose democracy. It comes up from the bottom. The rest of the world is not necessarily convinced that our way is the best way, let alone the only way. There are lots of governments out there that we deal with on a regular and productive basis who are not particularly democratic. The presence or absence of democracy should not be the sole determinant of whether or not we're involved.
DR. WURMSER: I don't think freedom is a relative concept. I think it is a universal aspiration. People generally want to be left alone to manage their own personal affairs. That's as true in China as it is in Peoria. That having been said, where would the Arab world begin? I think the place it needs to begin is in understanding that the influence of people like Edward Said was really horrible. The Arab or Muslim political dialogue has never been severed from what we call the West. In fact, there's a good argument to be made that what we call the West, which began in the Renaissance, derived many of its ideas from the Arab renaissance that preceded it by 300 or 400 years. Why the Arab world aborted that Renaissance and the European world picked it up is a different discussion. But there is a lot in Arab political thought to which Arabs can turn without having it seem to be a colonial imposition. There were bad ideas that also came out in the Arab world back in 1200, 1300, and there were good ideas. That's where the debate is really going to have to return.
Unfortunately, it's cast right now in a very narrow debate between stability and tyranny. Stability has never been a democratic virtue. It's never been sought by democratic powers, certainly not by our forefathers when they created the United States. It was the concept that free nations ultimately mind their own business. That's where I would start if I were the Arab world, in its own thought, from which we in some ways were derived.
MR. FULLER: I really have to take serious issue with Ed Peck on this problem. I agree fully with David that the ability of people to have some say over their future and the kind of government they have and what is done to them is something that all people want. There are thousands of ways you can get at allowing people to have a voice and to be able to dump lousy rulers. It doesn't have to be the American model. No, we shouldn't tell the world how to live, but I think most of the world would like to live that way.
Furthermore, there are real forces in the Middle East seeking democratization. They are small and beleaguered. Unfortunately for the United States, a lot of them are linked with movements of political Islam, which increasingly associate themselves with a greater degree of democracy, partly because they think they can get elected. In the process, they are learning something about democratic process and human rights, especially because they are the chief victims today of the absence of democracy and human rights. I don't want to paint a rosy scenario about all Islamists in the future, but they are learning from experience with more representative government. Iran is setting some very interesting precedents here.
Finally, I agree with David absolutely that stability is a greatly exaggerated virtue. If it is real stability based on functioning and healthy societies, then that is true stability. But stability at the point of a gun is not. Today, with the problem of terrorism, we have an even greater problem. I don't think there's a regime in the region that doesn't love terrorism. Terrorism enables every regime to dispense with democratic process and brand almost anybody as a terrorist who attempts to oppose the regime. Some regimes even provoke terrorist acts. Is there terrorism? Yes. Is it a threat? Yes. But it doesn't help when one of the major agendas that the United States pursues in the region is counterterrorism. Every single leader of every country will come rushing up to shake our hands because it justifies their suppression of democratic rights and processes.
DR. CARPENTER: I would agree with most of what Graham has said. We may see the passing of a fairly pervasive myth: that the values of Islam and democracy are antithetical. We heard for a long time that East Asian values were incompatible. But with democratic regimes in places like Taiwan and South Korea, that argument is becoming less and less common. What is going on in Iran today, and at the other end of the Islamic world in Indonesia, thus becomes very interesting. Are we going to see the emergence of home-grown versions of democracy compatible with the basic principles of Islam? At least we ought not to interfere with that process. With luck it will be nurtured and grow. But democracy is not an export product. We can't impose it on anyone.
Q: Had Saddam been allowed to get away with his seizure of Kuwait, he would have directly controlled a fourth of the world's oil reserves. Assuming an arrangement between Saudi Arabia and this Iraqi regime, he would have been in control of half of the world's oil reserves. Would this have had any effect on the Arab-Israeli conflict?
MR. FULLER: I absolutely agree that Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait was an intolerable act. I supported the U.S. military response. If we couldn't have come up with some regional state process of rollback, and we might not have been able to, then U.S. military action was essential. But we're up against the problem of who owns the oil. The Saudis have even more oil than Saddam and Kuwait together. What are we going to do when some anti-Western figure comes along, maybe in some violent paroxysm in Saudi Arabia, who then controls an even greater share of the oil? This is a potential problem down the road. But I assume any regime will sell.
There is no doubt that the Arab-Israeli problem, and our treatment of it in years past, has contributed to anti-American sentiment in the region because of the belief that we are less than even-handed. I think that we are less than even-handed. But that has been changing somewhat. Binyamin Netanyahu did wonders for the balance of American policy between Palestinians and Israel, and by now I think we've almost stumbled into something roughly approximating a degree of even-handedness. The solution of that dispute will remove one of the greatest grievances, but it would be a mistake to think that everything else in the Middle East is simply hostage to that problem and that there will be peace and friendship when it goes away. The problems are extremely severe - social problems, problems of democratization. Let's face it, instability wi11 come from the process of democratization. Transitions are messy. How are we going to handle that problem, even with beautiful relations between Israel and most of its neighbors? There is going to be a lot of turmoil out there in the future. We must solve the Arab-Israeli problem, the biggest bleeding wound, but that's just going to open the way for us to deal - hopefully more objectively-with lots of other problems.
AMB. PECK: In the real world, it does not matter one whit what the United States says it is doing or thinks it's doing or is actually doing. The only thing that counts is how the other side perceives what you're doing, because that is what determines their reaction. Perception is everything in your personal life, as well as in the field of international relations. For us to play the kind of role that two other panelists have referred to would require a dramatic change in the perception of most of the people in the Middle East as to what we're up to.
What they see is not at all what we think we are projecting. Unless and until some reasonable solution is found for the Palestinian issue, we will not be able to play a positive role of the kind we're talking about because they see us as the unstinting, unwavering backers of Israel, the ones who make it possible for Israel to deny the Palestinians the very rights we insist everyone deserves. It doesn't mean that their perception is accurate; it doesn't make us wrong. You don't need to change a policy or apologize for it, but you certainly ought to spend a great deal of time trying to recognize how other people see it. That's the big determinant out there. They do not see us as the bringers of peace, justice, human rights and self-determination that we proudly consider ourselves to be.
DR. CARPENTER: The main concern obviously is that Iraq and Iran might have an incentive to try to disrupt the ongoing Arab-Israeli peace process. I don't think Iran has much of an incentive to do so. This has changed significantly over the past several years. Iraq might, but if the United States wants to maximize the likelihood that neither country would try to interfere with this process, then it's imperative that we change our policy and try to achieve normal relations with both Baghdad and Tehran. Beyond that, whether the Arab Israeli peace process succeeds is ultimately going to be determined by the parties directly involved: Syria, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government. I'm cautiously optimistic for somewhat cynical reasons, because I think all three parties have concluded that they can get the United States to generously fund a settlement. The PA has become one of the most avid lobbyists for the continuation of U.S. foreign aid to Israel because it now knows it's going to get a cut of the total aid package. If the aid to Israel shrinks, the prospect of the PA getting much aid diminishes dramatically. So the whole political dynamic has changed. It amounts to the second stage of what we saw with Camp David, where Israel and Egypt both lobbied for U.S. assistance to the two governments. They had a vested interest in maintaining that flow.
AMB. FREEMAN: I wonder whether the other panelists agree that Iran, unlike Iraq, has few if any incentives to attempt to disrupt an Arab-Israeli peace and should not be regarded as a major problem, and that, if we wish to ensure that such a peace is not disrupted, a dialogue with both regimes should begin.
MR. FULLER: I agree absolutely that Iran has no reason to want to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians. The main reason has been the implacable hostility between the United States and Iran, which compels Iran to make its primary agenda anything that will upset American policies. Because the peace process is the crown jewel of our Middle East policy, that's where Iran chooses to focus. If this were not the case, they would have very little reason to do this and would say that, if the settlement is good enough for Arafat, it's good enough for us.
Saddam Hussein has obviously exploited this situation, as anybody does in the region that has an agenda. That doesn't mean Saddam is wrong to oppose the process, but his agenda is essentially anti-American more than pro-Palestinian. I would guess a successor regime in Iraq would not pursue this as vigorously unless the problem is not resolved. If it turns into another bleeding wound, then it's open for everybody to manipulate.
AMB. PECK: The trouble with the scholarly approach is that it does not allow for people to do stupid things. When I was leaving Baghdad in 1980, my end-of-tour report was a thoughtful discussion of the future of Iraq's relations with Iran. I said there was probably only one point on which every knowledgeable observer in Baghdad would agree: "There is no logical reason whatsoever for Iraq to go to war with Iran." When the war broke out, people pointed out my failed prediction, and I said, yes, but look what I said: There's no logical reason. Iraqis and Iranians, whether democratic or not, are driven by all kinds of pressures and perceptions and guesses. They can do just as many stupid things to mess up the peace process as we have done over the years to try to speed it along. There are those who would suggest that some of the things that we are doing are not helping the peace process at al I because of the perception that we strongly favor one side.
DR. WURMSER: I said that the peace process wasn't that relevant to dealing with other issues. It is, but in an exactly opposite way. A lot of Arab regimes have come to believe that they can't beat Israel on the battlefield. The struggle with Israel was very important from an internal point of view-having an enemy to justify the suspension of democracy and freedom. It was an excuse for impoverishment to say, we're on the front line, we're fighting the Israelis, we're paying the price. It's bad, but this is what we have to do. They were masking the fact, for example, that Syrian President Hafiz Asad has pretty much failed as an Arab leader by any objective standard. His country is really pretty backward and for no reason, even in a state of war. That probably explains why, despite Israel's offer on the Golan, he didn't take it. His regime depends more on the continuation of the struggle than on getting back the Golan Heights.
The problem with American policy is that the peace process has to some extent become a replacement for the struggle, an excuse to suspend civil liberties in many of these Arab countries. In the long term that's going to haunt us. I remember some Egyptian writers saying, for years we said that because we were at war with Israel we couldn't have liberty. Now because we're at peace with Israel, we have to suspend our liberty. You hear the same thing from Palestinians. We're putting it upside down. The first thing that has to come is freedom. Then you can start dealing with the other issues.
Q: Going back briefly to the golden age in the eighteenth century before the intellectuals messed everything up that Dr. Wurmser talks about, there was the period of wars in which Frederick the Great would beat up on the Austrians one day and the next day make peace with Maria Theresa or beat up on the French and make peace with Louis XV. In the twentieth century, we can't do that anymore because we have to mobilize mass public support for our military activities. To do this, we have to demonize our enemies: the Germans in World War I, the Germans and the Japanese in World War II and so on.
George Bush had to demonize Saddam Hussein in order to get the support he needed in this country for Desert Storm. We've also been looking at Vietnam lately and at our relations with Iran. It takes us about 20 years to think about moving beyond that demonization. It's only been 10 years since the Gulf War. How do we propose to even talk to Saddam Hussein about improving things without changing the whole process that we have used to demonize him in this country in the first place? How are you going to get people here on Capitol Hill, in the press and in the public generally to begin to think about how to carry on some sort of bilateral discussion or negotiation with Saddam and his clique?
AMB. PECK: The problem that we face is one that Mr. Wurmser mentioned. It is ironic that he suggested Arabs demonize an enemy in order to suppress the truth and justify what would otherwise be considered unacceptable behavior. This is exactly what we've done with Saddam Hussein. George Bush said Saddam Hussein is worse than Hitler. Those are magic words. If he's worse than Hitler, he's somebody you've got to get rid of because you can't possibly deal with him.
We have painted ourselves into a corner: We can't possibly talk to someone that vile. You certainly can't do it now, when there's an election coming up. The Democrats aren't going to permit a change in the policy because the Republicans would accuse them of being soft - and vice versa. My suggestion is to send Colin Powell, Jimmy Carter and George Mitchell over and get the economic embargo lifted. The world would back such an agreement. In exchange, we keep the embargo on weapons of mass destruction, but let the rest of it go; doing this will have done more to advance peace, security, democracy and American interests than anything else you could do. Do I think it's likely? No. The American people don't know what's happening and most don't care.
Q (Jerome Segal, University of Maryland and the Jewish Peace Lobby): Whether from a moral point of view Saddam is absolutely the worst fellow ever to appear on the planet seems to be the wrong question. He's at the far end of the spectrum, but what makes Saddam relatively unique is that he has a will to power that is irrepressible. He's a risk taker, someone who views voluntary war as an interesting policy instrument. And he's in an area in which, were he successful, he could aggregate power. The honest thing for the world to have said would have been that we must go to war to remove him. But we weren't prepared to pay the price. Essentially he's got the Iraqi population in a hostage situation and he's killing off the people one by one. It's an intolerable situation morally for the people on the outside, and it raises big questions. But the question about the embargo is whether or not it's possible to make the kind of deal that Ed Peck suggested. If we lift the economic embargo, we know that Saddam is not going to abandon the objective of nuclear weapons and delivery systems and so on. What happens to the effectiveness of then keeping him in the box?
My question really has to do with Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran. In the long run there's no way, without settling the issue of Jerusalem, to end the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflict. And settling the question of Jerusalem requires sharing Jerusalem, including the Old City. Even for the prospect of long-term peace with the Palestinians, there's no Israeli leader- including Barak-who is prepared to take his country through what they'd have to go through to make that compromise. There isn't enough on the table to take the Israeli population through what it would cost them to do that in terms of the internal struggle. So the question is whether there's a possibility of putting something more on the table that would provide that motivation. To me this means some kind of reconciliation between Judaism and Islam with respect to Jerusalem. The question is whether there's any scenario in which Iran, the uniquely positioned country, could constructively be brought into play to put some kind of long-term Islamic-Jewish reconciliation on the table as motivation for a true deal on Jerusalem.
AMB. FREEMAN: Since several of the panelists were earlier extolling the virtues of democracy in the Arab world, let me ask them whether they consider that the existence of a sort of democracy in Iran could make it more or less difficult to achieve the sort of reconciliation with regard to the issue of Jerusalem that is posed. Are democracy and political compromise at odds with each other?
MR. FULLER: Jerry Segal has been one of the most outstanding people in trying to bring about reconciliation between Arab and Jewish communities, and he's got something to show for it. He was one of the key people in achieving the statement by leading rabbis in this country suggesting that Jerusalem could be shared and that this was not incompatible with Jewish religious interests [see Middle East Policy, Vol. Vil, No. 2, for text]. I think you put your finger on exactly the right question on Jerusalem. It is the key. Certainly most Muslims and I'm afraid many Arabs in particular are sick to death of Palestinians and the presence of Palestinians in their society as a disruptive element. But the Palestinians are, first, a symbol of oppression, in their view, of Muslims by non-Muslims. And second there is the issue of Jerusalem, which is extremely meaningful to any Muslim (Daniel Pipes notwithstanding, who claims they don't really care about it, that it's all a propaganda ploy). I think this issue is going to prove very difficult, particularly from the Israeli side. But I'm optimistic about this; the logic that the great religions have to share the city is powerful. I'm intrigued by your suggestion that Iran could play a contributing role in reconciliation. Perhaps it could. But if Iran perceives its biggest problem to be the United States, then anything that we like, they're going to militantly oppose. That's why they've been so outspoken so far. I don't think that has to last very long. It's intriguing to think that they could weigh in on this with their cachet as an Islamic society. I fear this is a couple of years down the road at the very least, though. As Chas. suggests, even in a quasi-democratic game, the hard-line clergy will not want to cede that point to others.
DR. CARPENTER: There's no question that Saddam Hussein would be among the most aggressive revisionist rulers of modern time. But there are others. I don't think we should demonize him by saying this man is unique. We have certainly seen aggressive revisionist behavior in the Balkans and on the part of the Pakistani government. We have seen it in sub-Saharan Africa on several occasions and in east Africa. Furthermore, the Iraqi claims to Kuwait did not begin with Saddam Hussein. This has been a longstanding Iraqi grievance and he chose to act on it because he saw an opportunity. But can we assume necessarily that a different ruler in Baghdad would abandon that goal? Had there been a different ruler in 1990, would he not have pursued that goal? Saddam is bad, but I get nervous when someone equates him to the likes of Adolf Hitler. If Saddam really is, as President Bush said, worse than Hitler, I would love to ask the Reagan-Bush conservatives how we were able to have a de facto strategic partnership with him throughout the 1980s? Was he a good guy in the 1980s and then had a horrible conversion in August of 1990? That seems rather improbable.
DR. WURMSER: It is not what Saddam did to Kuwait that makes him bad per se. This is a man who has waged war on his own people and used gas to do so. That distinguishes him from any other Arab leader save perhaps, if some rumors prove true, Hafiz Asad at Hama. But even that was not on the same scale. And that's only what Saddam did to the Kurds; we're not even talking here about what he's done to the Shiites.
On Jerusalem, the city is not as important to Shiites as it is to Sunnis. There aren't that many Shiites other than those in Lebanon who are close to Israel, so Iran may not be very relevant to helping solve the problem. The issue of Jerusalem is unresolvable without a total victory by one side or the other because I think for the Jewish people Jerusalem isn't primarily a city or even the most holy city. It is the manifestation of Jewish sovereignty. Without it, there is no concept of Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish mind. For the Palestinians, the development of Palestinian nationalism really does reduce to the symbol of the control of Jerusalem. Without it, it seems to be basically just a show.
This doesn't mean that factual or operational control of everything has to be by the political sovereign. If you look at Jerusalem today, if you go to the Temple Mount or the Al Aqsa mosque, you will run into Palestinian guards paid for by Jordan. In fact, there is a fight between Jordan and the Palestinians over who pays them. That's probably a better way to solve it than dealing with the issue of political sovereignty.
AMB. PECK: On the business of using gas, let's remember which nation was the first to give weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein: the United States of America. What did we give him? Poison gas, when he was a good guy during the eighties. The attack against the Kurds took place in 1988. The American government position at the time was silence. The Department of Defense said, "We are not certain it was the Iraqis who did that because that isn't the stuff we gave him." It's a terrible thing to use gas. But if you 're going to talk about suppression of people and oppression of classes, Iraq is not the only nation in the Middle East that is doing it. We don't have to support one side and attack the other, but the perception of many Arabs is that Saddam is not necessarily the worst leader in the region. The United States has succeeded in making him, even as far away as China, a hero because he's standing up to the sole remaining superpower.
Q: What are we trying to give these people as a form of democracy? A culturally sensitive version that's adaptable to their culture? Or are we trying to impose our own definition on them?
MR. FULLER: If we go on a crusade and try to make people sign on to the American Constitution and Jeffersonian principles, that would be cultural imposition. But a lot of us on the panel did agree on a rough definition of democracy or participatory government: You should have some voice over who is ruling you, and you should be able to get rid of him when things are not working right. Issues of feminism are extremely important, but this country didn't even give women the vote until I 920 or so and only discovered feminism more seriously in 1970-80. The problem is, do we believe that what the Arab Muslim world needs and wants is a regime that has gassed its own people, that routinely kills thousands of people in summary executions in jai I at the least whiff of opposition, and that has marched its people into two disastrous wars in a decade? If you're an Iraqi, you could have lost one son sent to die in Iran and a second to die in Kuwait, and then the Americans come in and bomb you from B-52s on top of that. This gives you a sense of the rage, frustration and psychic disturbance that could even cause you to go out into the street to cheer for Saddam Hussein. We may have our own agenda, but I don't think democracy is either an American agenda or even a Western one per se.
DR. WURMSER: I'd stay away from the word democracy because that is really the end result of a whole series of questions. Question number one, is a leader accountable; can he be judged? Or is he there by virtue of divine inspiration? Once you go down that road, a whole series of questions begin to follow that eventually lead to democracy. In most of the Arab world today, though not all of it, criticism of the government is tantamount to treason. That pretty much stops debate. I'd look at what's going on among some Palestinians and at Kuwait for positive developments. These people are saying to themselves, forget the Israelis, forget everything; why can't we have a constitution now? Why is it we can't begin to talk about our own lives? That's the beginning of democracy.
DR. CARPENTER: The issue of freedom is a very complex concept. There is no political freedom now or previously in Iraq. But prior to the war, if you were careful to keep your nose out of politics, you could make the argument that you had more latitude in terms of how you lived your life than you did in some of the more traditional Arab states. The same point can be made with regard to China. You have a great deal of latitude about how you want to live, as long as you don't challenge the political power or legitimacy of the insecure old men in Beijing. But as long as you don't do that, China is not a bad place to live.
AMB. PECK: There is an incredible level of arrogance in this room. One of the panelists just talked about Iraqis marching off to senseless wars, and we just had the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. We tend not to look at ourselves objectively. If democracy is so critical, why didn't the Branch Davidians have a chance to look at the evidence or cross-examine the people who were accusing them? We killed seventy-three men, women and children. But we say that's different than what happened in Tiananmen Square, because the Chinese did that. Unless and until we have solved all our problems here, we don't have a chance of getting the rest of the world, especially the Middle East, to understand that our way is the best way.
Q: What are your views on the likely prospects in the coming year or two for U.S. policy?
DR. WURMSER: I think this administration is desperate to try to keep this issue off the front burner and to do nothing overly provocative to Iraq. But they cannot afford to completely let go either. So nothing will really happen. That still leaves a lot in Saddam's hands. I've been very good at predicting Saddam in retrospect, but never before the fact. One thing we ought to be worried about is that Saddam is working hard on his weapons of mass destruction. Given his track record, he will use them when he gets them. The question is, on whom?
MR. FULLER: I would guess we're not going to do anything on Iraq. If the Democrats win in November, I doubt there will be any major change in Iraq policy because we've been there and done that and the only way to go, in my view, is simply to give up on most of the embargo except for the military things and try to get some regional agreement on what constitutes a genuine danger. Those who live there and are likely to get gassed or nuked are the people who should have the greatest interest in this problem. It's up to us to help coordinate that. The major changes are going to have to take place in Iran now. We have recently said a lot in this country that is positive; maybe not enough, but a lot. I think now the Iranians are going to have to decide where they want to go with the United States. It's not the number one item on their agenda, either. There are many more important issues for Khatami to think about- the degree of transparency of the government and the continuation of the reforms. Relations with the United States will come later. I'm optimistic, but I doubt there will be anything dramatic in the next year.
AMB, PECK: Our policy won't change probably for a year. We are dedicated, but much more quietly now, to getting rid of Saddam Hussein. But if Saddam falls down the stairs tomorrow and dies, it's going to be our fault. And anything that happens afterward is unlikely to be good. It's probably going to be bad and pervasive and extensive. It's going to savage our interests much more than we already have, and I think it's going to take us a long time to get back to a position where we can play a positive role.
DR. CARPENTER: I'm cautiously optimistic about the change in U.S. policy toward Iran no matter which candidate wins in November, precisely because the United States is increasingly concerned and frustrated about what to do with Iraq. I think even the slow learners on the Albright foreign-pol icy team have finally concluded that dual containment is not a workable doctrine. So as long as we don't get serious political regression in Iran, I think the ingredients are in place for a change in that relationship. The United States is also becoming a little more concerned about the Russian-Chinese-Iranian strategic entente. It has finally also registered over at Foggy Bottom that this might prove to be a problem for U.S. policy.
With regard to U.S. policy toward Iraq, given the fact that both parties are effectively brain dead on this issue, I don't think it matters who wins in November. If there is going to be a change in policy, it's going to be forced from the outside. I think the key factor will be the position of Saudi Arabia and the various Gulf states. It's going to be very difficult for the United States to continue to be more anti-Iraq than the Saudis are. Eventually that's not going to be a viable policy. Given the fact we don't have support from anybody else, I think our isolation will be complete and we will then reluctantly change the policy.
AMB. FREEMAN: I'm going to exercise the chair's prerogative to provide my own answer to that very interesting question. I believe that over the corning year there will be some sort of Arab-Israeli peace. Israel will then reach out first to Iran and then to Iraq, in its own interest. If Israel does that, it will partially cure the frontal lobotomy that we are about to inflict on ourselves with this election. Then possibilities for movement in American relations with first Iran and then Iraq may well emerge.