Bush, Kerry, and the Middle East
Jude Wanniski
April 22, 2004


There is little doubt that the Bob Woodward book, Plan of Attack, has the Bush Administration on the defensive, as it fortifies the earlier revelations about the Presidents obsession with Iraq from the earliest days of his presidency. The unintended consequences of the war he ordered after communing with the Father of us all are now seriously threatening his re-election prospects. Mr. Bush also seems to have only used divine inspiration to deepen the problems of the Middle East by giving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a blank check to deal with the Palestinian issue, a decision that for the time being makes it impossible for Arab moderates in Egypt and Jordan to help him out in Iraq. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Tuesday said the violence in Iraq and the Palestinian territories had generated unprecedented Arab hatred for the United States.

Then there is Senator John Kerry, who, instead of consulting the Almighty, has hired three pollsters to tell him what to think. As The American Spectator noted online Tuesday: “Over the past month, according to a Kerry campaign staffer, the Kerry camp has been polling and focus-grouping the hell out of the country to determine how best to mold their malleable candidate. In fact, both of Kerry`s big policy announcements of the last few weeks: his fiscal plan and what passes for an Iraq policy, were shaped by the focus groups and polling performed by Mark Mellman and Kerry`s longtime personal pollster, Tom Kiley.” The pollster Bill Bradley used in 2000 also has joined the team. This is the same “cardboard candidate” we saw in the early days of the primary season, when Kerry also was colored by the numbers instead of speaking his mind, and barely registered in the match-ups with Vermont’s Howard Dean (who spoke his mind, albeit too loudly).

The President’s problem is far worse that Kerry’s, though. Kerry at least has shown that he can break loose from his political operatives, as he did in the primaries, and even can flip-flop in the right direction now and then. For President Bush, it is most unlikely the situation in Iraq can improve between now and November. By summer, it should be clear that American troops will have to depart Iraq far sooner than anyone is now talking about publicly. While talking about turning over sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 30, the White House still is trying to salvage its plan to control Iraq far into the future as an imperial outpost, via Ahmed Chalabi and his people their agents within the government. You need only read the editorials of The Wall Street Journal , which remains in the firm grip of Richard Perle and the neo-cons, to realize how frantic they are with the prospect that Chalabi & Co. will be cut out of the interim group soon to be named by the UN’s Lakhdar Brahimi. Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last night ridiculed the very idea that Chalabi will play a major role in any political settlement.

What to expect down the road are the January elections to be planned by the interim group. There now is an ever-escalating level of hostility to Americans that has spread throughout Iraq as U.S. forces bomb neighborhoods and mosques in retaliation for insurgent killings and kidnappings of coalition forces and civilian contractors. Given this “population punishment,” as it is being called, it is difficult to imagine anyone being popularly elected to a constituent assembly next January who has not promised to vote to kick the Americans out. If the new government does not have the power to liberate itself from the American occupation, it could not survive. Would this lead to a civil war between Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds? Not at all. Iraq has been far more of a unified nation than we have been led to believe in the last decade. Remember that the uprisings of the Shiites and Kurds after the first Gulf War were CIA-sponsored rebellions. Thousands died as a result, but if anyone cared to look in the years that followed would have found that Saddam, a Sunni, won back the support of most (but not all) Shiite and Kurd tribal leaders.

We should note that Iraq has been secularized for several decades, and has a highly educated intellectual, political and military class. The United Nations would not need to send in blue-helmeted peacekeepers to replace U.S. marines. Nor would the newly elected government need U.S. contractors and tens of billions in U.S. taxpayer funds to rapidly rebuild Iraq. The Iraqi oilfields would soon be producing at high levels, with the funds going to the central government. Reconstruction costs, which now reflect the escalating violence, are now a hundred times higher than they would be if an Iraqi government with full sovereignty were in control, the 24 million Iraqis happy to be liberated and working and living with each other across religious lines, as they were for the most part during the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Yes, this is a pretty picture that I paint, but it already is becoming the most likely outcome. It will most distress the Likud government in Israel, which has been banking on the U.S. military occupation of Iraq to keep the Arab world off its back while it completes its plans for a Greater Israel. I am still listening to arguments from friends in the Bush Administration that Prime Minister Sharon really wants to succeed with his plan to dictate a settlement to the Palestinians that they will learn to live with. I am still suspicious that Sharon is using this period up to Election Day to squeeze as many hard concessions from the Bush Administration. The Jewish vote here will split as it always does come November, but Jewish political leaders of both parties are solidly behind Sharon on practically anything he wishes to do. As fierce as Senator Carl Levin has been in criticizing the Bush war in Iraq, he is quick to support the Likud military tactics of “population punishment” that seem identical to those U.S. troops have now adapted in Iraq. No doubt worried about the Jewish vote in Florida, Senator Kerry has been even more fulsome in his pledges to support Sharon in all particulars. Still, differences probably will emerge as the campaign unfolds and as the Middle East heats up further.

In the end, if the scenario that I suggest for Iraq develops, everything may turn out all right after all. A democratic, secular government in Baghdad with the occupying U.S. gone home would have felicitous effects throughout the Middle East, including the security of Israel. Perhaps then Sharon, by stirring the pot as he has, will be able to find Palestinians with whom he can negotiate a deal similar to the one suggested recently at Geneva by Israeli and Palestinian wise men. In that event, Mr. Bush might be able to celebrate the two-state solution he promised for the year 2005. He might not still be in the White House, but he could still celebrate, and so could we all.

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