has been apparent to all but the purblind - a defect
in understanding assiduously cultivated by Americas
mass media - that the war United States is ready to
wage against Iraq has almost nothing to do with its
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.
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 Americas loathing.
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 hadnt
he done this already?) For many Americans, it was
an open and shut case. Saddam had to be removed.
flaws in this argument did not matter. If Saddam hadnt
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.
then is United States straining to go to war against
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 Iraqs 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.
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
Iraqs 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 Iraqs 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
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
Iraqs dollar reserves to Euro. If OPEC follows
Iraqs lead it could spell trouble for the dollar.
This can only be stopped by dismantling the OPEC,
and this demands war against Iraq.
OPEC challenge to the dollar seems naïve 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.
it isnt 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 Americas 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.
it then Americas 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.
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.
anomalies quickly melt away if we are willing to entertain
a seldom-aired hypothesis. This may not be Americas
war at all, much less a war of the West against Islam
or Islamists. Instead, could this be Israels
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 worlds
only superpower be persuaded to fight Israels
war? Is it even possible? Could the tail wag this
first Israels motives. Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia,
Egypt, Syria and Pakistan do not threaten the United
States; but they are a threat to Israels 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.
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. Sharons
brutal war was not working, and Israels 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.
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
wont live under an Israeli aparthied, the Likud,
with growing popular support, is turning to Israels
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.
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.
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 get inverted.
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.
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.
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 Israels
military R&D, boost in oil prices (attributed
to US support for Israel in the 1967 war), losses
due to trade sanctions imposed on Israels 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.
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.
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.
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.
 Lilienthal, Alfred M., What price Israel
(Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1953): 20-21.
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.
M. Shahid Alam
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