|Bush said in a speech on Thursday that he hopes Iraq will be like Israel, a democracy that faces terrorist violence but manages to retain its democratic character:|
These words may be the stupidest ones ever uttered by a US president. Given their likely impact on the US war effort in the Middle East, they are downright criminal.
The US political elite just doesn't get it. Israel is not popular in the Middle East, and it isn't because Middle Easterners are bigots. It is because Israel is coded as the last European colonial presence in the region, an heir to French Algeria, British Egypt, and Dutch Indonesia-- and because the Israelis pugnaciously continue to try to colonize neighboring bits of territory. (This enmity is not inevitable or eternal; in 2002 the Arab League offered full recognition of Israel in return for its going back to 1967 borders, but the Israeli government turned down the offer.) But for the purposes of this analysis it does not really matter why Israel is unpopular. Let us just stipulate that it is. Why would you associate American Iraq with such an unpopular project, if you were trying to do public diplomacy in the region? Bush had just announced a new push to get the American message out to the Muslim world, the day before.
Let's just take the analogy seriously for a moment. Israel proper is a democracy of sorts, though its 1 million Arab citizens are in a second class position. But it rules over several million stateless Palestinians who lack even the pretence of self-rule. It is hard to characterize a country as a democracy when it has millions of disenfranchised subjects. Bush manages to only think about Jewish Israelis in the above analogy, wiping out millions of other residents of geographical Palestine who don't get to participate in 'democracy' or exercise popular sovereignty.
It is true that the Israelis managed to blunt the terror attacks of Islamic Jihad, the Qassam Brigades, and the al-Aqsa Martyrs brigades over the years after the eruption of the 2nd Intifada. But there are still attacks, including by rocket. The reason for those attacks is that the Palestinians had mostly been driven from their homes and off their land, and were militarily, politically and economically subjected to the Israelis. The Israelis reduced the terror attacks by essentially imprisoning millions of stateless Palestinians in the territories, further restricting their movements, destroying their trade and livelihoods. The Israeli government continues to grab Palestinian land and put more colonists on it, even as we speak.
Israel-Palestine is among the world's hottest trouble spots, and the conflict has poisoned politics throughout the Middle East. It was among the motives for Bin Laden's attack on the US on September 11, so it has spilled over on America, too. A second one of those would be a good thing?
So who would play the Palestinians in Bush's analogy? Obviously, it would be the Sunni Arabs, who apparently are meant to be cordoned off from the rest of Iraqis and put behind massive walls and barbed wire, and deprived of political power. That is not a desirable outcome and is not politically or militarily tenable in the long run.
And, let's just stop and think. Even if it were true that an Israel-Palestine sort of denouement were in Bush's mind for Iraq, was it wise for him to make it public?
That sort of scenario is precisely the propaganda message broadcast by the Jihadi websites in Iraq and the Arab world! They say that the US military occupation of Iraq, in alliance with Shiites, has turned the Sunni Arabs into Palestinians! Bush could not have handed the guerrillas a better rhetorical gift. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that DVD's of Bush's comments will be spread around as a recruiting tool for jihadis, and that US troops will certainly be killed as a result of this speech. You could say that the US military presence is already pretty unpopular in the Sunni Arab areas. But what of the progress in al-Anbar Province? Will Bush's speech help or hurt Sunni Arabs who want to ally with the US against the foreign Salafi Jihadis? Hurt, obviously.
If Bush had said something like that in 2002, you could have written it off as inexperience and lack of knowledge of the Middle East. But he has been the sitting president for so many years, and has had so much to do with the Middle East that this faux pas is just inexcusable. I don't know the man and can't judge if he is just not very bright. I can confirm that he says things that are not very bright. And, worse, he says things that are guaranteed to put more US troops into the grave in Diyala, Baghdad, Salahuddin and al-Anbar Provinces.
I don't know whether to sob in grief or tear my hair out in frustration. How much longer do we have to suffer? - Juan Cole