Let’s hear it for Saddam Hussein’s most important comrade–the man who has done more than anyone else to frustrate George Bush’s big push on Baghdad. Take a bow, Ariel Sharon.
Prime Minister Sharon has achieved in a few short weeks what the United Nations has failed to do for twelve years. At the Arab summit in Beirut, Kuwait and Iraq have all but kissed and made up: Iraq agrees that Kuwait exists and recognizes its borders and Kuwait spoke against a U.S. invasion of Iraq. And Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia literally kissed the Iraqi representative.
Not only has Sharon’s war on Arafat unified the Arab world in ways not seen in decades, it has also had the effect of undermining the legal basis for the continuing sanctions and U.S. bombing of Iraqi targets. The UN resolutions that authorized Desert Storm and the continuing sanctions against Iraq did not arise because of international concern about Iraq’s nonconventional weapons program. Rather, they were the products of what the UN blandly categorized as “the situation between Iraq and Kuwait.” But it appears that this “situation” has now changed as Kuwait and Iraq start to reconcile. If Kuwait says let bygones be bygones, then the legal basis for any further action against Iraq slips into the sands of time. And Kuwait and Saudi Arabia–two of the biggest oil states in the world, close American allies, and bankrollers of Desert Storm–are now telling George Bush Jr. that his continuing support for Sharon has overdrawn whatever account of gratitude they owed for his father’s support.
Sharon refused to let Yasser Arafat out of Ramallah to attend the Arab Summit, or at least would not promise that he could return if there were any terrorist acts in the meantime. It may seem logical to Sharon and Bush, but to the rest of the world, locking up Arafat at cannon point in two small rooms until he stops terrorist activities is as logical as he British bombing Dublin until the Irish government arrests Sinn Fein leaders and stops all IRA attacks.
Putting Arafat’s fate in the hands of his declared enemies in Hamas may have seemed like a neat idea to Sharon. To Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the author of what by Arab standards is a courageous peace plan with significant concessions, it may have looked like more of a slap in the face than Osama bin Laden’s alleged email calling the crown prince a Zionist.
It was not as if the administration weren’t given notice. When Vice President Dick Cheney went on his tour to rally the Arab allies for the ouster of Saddam Hussein, he seemed surprised when they basically told him to put a muzzle on Sharon first. The really surprising thing was that he was surprised. It makes you wonder where the White House gets its information and who is briefing the White House. No one else in the world was in any doubt that there would be no support for war on Iraq while Sharon was creating bloody havoc in Palestinian towns with U.S.-made tanks and planes.
We can be sure that in the White House, where as the cynic said, “war is God’s way of teaching the administration geography and international politics,” the idea of any parallel between Saddam and Sharon is shocking. Of course there are differences. Saddam Hussein was never elected and an Iraqi commission of inquiry is unlikely to find him unfit for public office–as Israel’s Kahane commission did Sharon after the invasion of Lebanon he engineered ended up in the massacre of thousands of civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.
But from the point of view of the rest of the world, both have tended to be culpably associated with lots of civilians getting killed, both have a cavalier attitude to other people’s borders, and both believe that tanks and weaponry are the way to settle disputes. And neither tends to listen to rational advice. “If in doubt, invade,” is emblazoned on both their escutcheons.
Uncannily enough, the refusal to listen to allies’ advice and a tendency to drop bombs first also seems to be endemic in this administration. Did Cheney not hear, or didn’t President Bush listen when the vice president returned from his trip?
Is it too late? In reality, the proposed attack on Baghdad is ten years too late. There isn’t a shred of evidence that the Hussein regime, let alone its archenemies in Teheran, colluded or cooperated in September 11.
We can almost hope for the sake of the Palestinians that the White House treasures the illusion enough for Bush to make the phone call to Sharon saying “get out, or you lose our veto on your behalf at the UN, the billions of dollars in aid, and the weapons you have been relying on.” However, in one sense, the administration has already blown it. Helping a bloodthirsty war criminal repeat his Sabra and Shatila exploits now in the West Bank has already blown all the diplomatic capital offered worldwide after September 11. It has become highly unlikely that the Arabs, the Europeans, or anyone else can or will help against Baghdad. But it would still be nice to think that Bush would call a halt to Sharon’s rampage because it is the right thing to do–and all his allies are telling him so.
In any case, if the White House doesn’t make the call, then it’s time to fill your gas tanks, and keep and anxious eye on the skies over Manhattan.