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Several weeks on from the loya jirga national council, the
streets of Kabul have an extra bustle. Whereas in January the place was
deserted by 6 pm, now the curfew has been extended to midnight, and it
costs only $5 to buy the password that can allow your taxi to careen
through checkpoints into the early hours. The chaotic rhythms of Indian
music waft over jingling bicycles and tooting cars, while chai
khanas
, ubiquitous teahouses, are full--as are the growing number of
restaurants, frequented by the thousands of foreign aid workers and
other internationals. Increasing numbers of women cross through the
center of town, adorned with a light head scarf rather than the stifling
blue nylon burqa. Fresh life is palpable.

But not far below the surface, the loya jirga has changed little
in the country. The suave President Hamid Karzai ostensibly presides
with new legitimacy over a more representative administration. But
except for juggling one of the ethnic Tajik-run power ministers, the
so-called Panjshiri mafia of the old Northern Alliance mujahedeen
fighters remains firmly in control, not only at the top but among the
practical levers of control such as police chiefs, secret service heads
and army commanders.

Without his own power base, Karzai is seen by some as less a real chief
executive than a liberal opposition figure against his own
Cabinet--offering no apparent strategy for securing and unifying the
fractious country. "The only question," according to Paul Bergne, a
former British special envoy to Afghanistan, "is whether this is because
he has no interest, or simply a reasonable interest, in staying alive."
Especially with the exclusion from power of former King Zahir Shah, the
majority Pashtuns, concentrated in the south, where the Taliban emerged,
feel disfranchised and demoralized. Rubbing salt in the wound, pictures
of the martyred Ahmed Shah Massoud, the rebel leader killed by the
Taliban on September 9, adorn every checkpoint, office and street
corner, and even prayer mats on sale in the city markets.

Soon after the loya jirga, Vice President Haji Qadeer, an ethnic
Pashtun, was gunned down in front of his office by two assailants, who
escaped easily. The United States quickly agreed to provide American
soldiers to serve as bodyguards for a somewhat panicked
Karzai--doubtless a prudent security measure, but one viewed as shameful
by Afghans worried that their leader is Washington's puppet. Meanwhile,
public anger over continuing deaths of Afghan civilians at the hands of
US rocket fire--such as the 175 casualties at a wedding in the tense
southern province of Oruzgan--compelled even Karzai himself to complain.
Separate UN and US investigations into the incident have been launched,
amid speculation that the reports will never be released or that the
most damaging conclusions--including alleged American removal of
evidence--will be redacted. International troops are seen as essential
for keeping the local fighting at bay, but Pashtuns bitterly question
why the bulk of civilian casualties appear to be among Pashtun-majority
areas in the south.

The overwhelming majority of the country's 20 million-odd people are
still poor, ill and unemployed. Basic statistics confirm that the
country remains at the bottom ranking of many development indexes,
whether infant mortality, girls' enrollment in primary education (under
10 percent), annual deaths from diarrhea (85,000) or chronic
unemployment, which cannot even begin to be measured.

Afghan officials--facing growing pressure from their own
constituents--have been raising ever sharper alarms about the pace of
aid payments. According to the US special envoy, only around one-third
of the $1.8 billion in aid pledged for the year at an international
donors' conference in Tokyo has been released. Kabul earns tax revenues
of less than 15 percent of its $600 million annual budget. As a result,
most aid has been spent either on humanitarian needs or simply on the
daily costs of government. There have essentially been no major
reconstruction works that would pump funds into the economy and rebuild
the country's devastated infrastructure.

The first postwar administration in any society is inevitably
problematic. Without any conditions for democracy--too many guns and
recalcitrant warlords, no free press or civic institutions for
independent organizing, no functioning economy--establishing a
legitimate and representative administration is not easy. As the Bush
Administration insists, enormous changes have indeed taken place.
Whatever the problems, conditions are vastly improved from the
circumstances of only a few months ago--when the country was plagued by
severe persecution and increasing food shortages with seemingly no hope.
Indeed, some Afghans respond sharply to any probing questions about the
costs and benefits of the US intervention. "Those are questions for a
Western perspective," remarked a senior local editor. "For us, we are
glad the Taliban are gone."

Yet the risks of an unattended Afghanistan remain high. The transitional
administration faces an enormous challenge, aiming to pave the way for
truly democratic elections in 2004 while striving to balance conflicting
and often violent local interests, and struggling to sustain
international support. The core conflict, however, may be between
America's pursuit of Al Qaeda and Afghan democracy itself: The US
military directly supports many Afghan warlords as allies in its effort
to stamp out Al Qaeda and Taliban holdouts. Continuing that policy will
have a devastating effect on efforts to establish democratic central
government and a meaningful civil society. This is especially true
considering that, despite US training efforts, the establishment of an
effective Afghan national army is years away, and Washington and other
Western governments repeatedly reject Afghan calls--recently joined by
Senators Joseph Biden, Richard Lugar and Barbara Boxer--to extend the
international security assistance force to major cities other than
Kabul.

As a result, the government's authority effectively ends at the
capital's edge. As a result, too, peace could be short-lived. As BBC
regional specialist Behrouz Afagh-Tebrizi notes, "There is a consensus
to avoid a return to war, but there has not been any change in political
culture. Unless the unresolved conflict between the warlords of the
1990s is transformed into a purely political struggle, it is not hard to
see Afghanistan descending back into violence."

This past week confirmed that the American political establishment is
not united in support of the Bush Administration's policy of forcible
"regime change" in Iraq. Odd as it may seem, the strongest expression of
doubt came from a key member of the GOP's right wing, House majority
leader Dick Armey. Expressing concern that an unprovoked attack on Iraq
would violate international law, Armey was quoted as saying that such an
attack "would not be consistent with what we have been as a nation or
what we should be as a nation." Meanwhile, Armey's colleague across the
aisle, Carl Levin, voiced the thinking of many of his fellow Democrats
when he argued that "containment of Saddam is so far working."

Armey and Levin are just two of a number of important political
actors--including several prominent senators, forces within the military
and worried figures on Wall Street--who have recently expressed qualms
about the proposed military invasion. These voices need to be amplified
and reinforced by others if the United States is to avoid a potentially
disastrous intervention in the Middle East.

Arguably the most important doubters, because only Congress is
empowered by the Constitution to declare war, are the members of the
Senate Foreign Relations Committee. At their July 31-August 1 hearings on Iraq, chairman Joseph Biden Jr. and other committee
members--while taking pains to make clear that they, too, think Saddam
Hussein must go--emphasized that the aim of the hearings was not to
rally support for or against an invasion but rather to raise questions
and concerns. "Here we have a situation [about] which, clearly, we need
to know much more," Republican Senator Richard Lugar explained in his
opening remarks. Intense questioning of possible US moves is essential,
he added, because "the life of the country is at stake."

Another significant indication of elite concern was articles in the
New York Times and the Washington Post reporting serious
divisions within the US military and business class over the merits of
the proposed invasion. If these articles are accurate--and there is no
reason to assume otherwise--many senior military officers fear that US
intervention will produce chaos in the Middle East and lead to a costly,
dangerous and long-term American occupation of Iraq. Likewise, senior
corporate officials are said to fear a drop in consumer spending
resulting from rising oil prices, as well as a heightened risk of
terrorism.

None of these groups can be described as flat-out opponents of an
American invasion. Most would probably support the President--even cheer
him wildly--if US intervention was thought certain to result in a
speedy, casualty-free occupation of Baghdad and the replacement of
Saddam with a democratic, pro-Western, peace-seeking regime. The
problem, in their eyes, is that Bush can guarantee none of this. And
while readers of The Nation might wish to raise more fundamental
issues--such as whether the United States has a legal or moral right to
initiate a unilateral assault--the concerns among the country's elite
deserve widespread public attention. They can be compressed into nine
critical questions:

1. Why engage in a risky and potentially calamitous invasion of Iraq
when the existing strategy of "containment"--entailing no-fly zones,
sanctions, technology restraints and the deployment of US forces in
surrounding areas--not only has clearly succeeded in deterring Iraqi
adventurism for the past ten years but also in weakening Iraq's military
capabilities?

2. Why has the Administration found so little international support for
its proposed policy, even among our closest friends and allies (with the
possible exception of Britain's Tony Blair), and what would be the
consequences if Washington tried to act without their support and
without any international legal authority? Isn't it dangerous and unwise
for the United States to engage in an essentially unilateral attack on
Iraq?

3. Is the United States prepared to accept significant losses of
American lives--a strong possibility in the projected intense ground
fighting around Baghdad and other urban areas?

4. Is the United States prepared to inflict heavy losses on Iraq's
civilian population if, as expected, Saddam concentrates his military
assets in urban areas? Would this not make the United States a moral
pariah in the eyes of much of the world?

5. Wouldn't an invasion of Iraq aimed at the removal of Saddam Hussein
remove any inhibitions he might have regarding the use of chemical and
biological (and possibly nuclear) weapons, making their use more rather
than less likely?

6. Are we prepared to cope with the outbreaks of anti-American protest
and violence that, in the event of a US attack on Iraq, are sure to
erupt throughout the Muslim world, jeopardizing the survival of pro-US
governments in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and further inflaming the
Israeli-Palestinian crisis?

7. Can the fragile American economy withstand a sharp rise in oil
prices, another decline in air travel, a bulging federal deficit, a drop
in consumer confidence and other negative economic effects that can be
expected from a major war in the Middle East? And what would an invasion
mean for an even more fragile world economy and for those emerging
markets that depend on selling their exports to the United States and
that are vulnerable to rising oil prices?

8. Even if we are successful in toppling Saddam, who will govern Iraq
afterward? Will we leave the country in chaos (as we have done in
Afghanistan)? Or will we try to impose a government in the face of the
inevitable Iraqi hostility if US forces destroy what remains of Iraq's
infrastructure and kill many of its civilians?

9. Are we willing to deploy 100,000 or more American soldiers in Iraq
for ten or twenty years (at a cost of tens of billions of dollars a
year) to defend a US-imposed government and prevent the breakup of the
country into unstable Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite mini-states?

So far, the Bush Administration has not provided honest or convincing
answers to any of these questions. It is essential, then, that
concerned Americans ask their Congressional representatives to demand
answers to these (and related) questions from the White House and hold
further hearings to weigh the credibility of the Administration's
answers. It is vital that our representatives play their rightful
constitutional role in this fateful decision. The American public
clearly would welcome such moves: A recent Washington Post-ABC
News poll found that while a majority support the President at this
point, they want him to seek authorization from Congress and approval of
America's allies before going ahead. And when asked whether they would
favor a ground war if it were to produce "significant" US casualties,
support plummeted to 40 percent and opposition rose to 51 percent. If
you worry about the future of America, clip or copy these nine questions
and include them in letters to your senators and representative. In
addition, get involved locally: Help organize a teach-in, write a letter
to your newspaper, raise the subject at civic meetings.

They want not just a US invasion of Iraq but "total war" against Arab
regimes.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim prepared a statement to close his trial in front of the Egyptian Supreme State Security Court, but the judge sentenced him before he had a chance to read it.

In a column from 2002, Robert Scheer takes a look back at the Bush Administrations's real motivation to go to war.

The American Constitution at the very beginning of the Republic sought
above all to guard the country against reckless, ill-considered recourse
to war. It required a declaration of war by the legislative branch, and
gave Congress the power over appropriations even during wartime. Such
caution existed before the great effort of the twentieth century to
erect stronger barriers to war by way of international law and public
morality, and to make this resistance to war the central feature of the
United Nations charter. Consistent with this undertaking, German and
Japanese leaders who engaged in aggressive war were punished after World
War II as war criminals. The most prominent Americans at the time
declared their support for such a framework of restraint as applicable
in the future to all states, not just to the losers in a war. We all
realize that the effort to avoid war has been far from successful, but
it remains a goal widely shared by the peoples of the world and still
endorsed by every government on the planet.

And yet, here we are, poised on the slippery precipice of a pre-emptive
war, without even the benefit of meaningful public debate. The
constitutional crisis is so deep that it is not even noticed. The
unilateralism of the Bush White House is an affront to the rest of the
world, which is unanimously opposed to such an action. The Democratic
Party, even in its role as loyal opposition, should be doing its utmost
to raise the difficult questions. Instead, the Senate Foreign Relations
Committee, under the chairmanship of Democratic Senator Biden, organized
two days of hearings, notable for the absence of critical voices. Such
hearings are worse than nothing, creating a forum for advocates of war,
fostering the illusion that no sensible dissent exists and thus serving
mainly to raise the war fever a degree or two. How different might the
impact of such hearings be if respected and informed critics of a
pre-emptive war, such as Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday, both
former UN coordinators of humanitarian assistance to Iraq who resigned
in protest a few years back, were given the opportunity to appear before
the senators. The media, too, have failed miserably in presenting to the
American people the downside of war with Iraq. And the citizenry has
been content to follow the White House on the warpath without demanding
to know why the lives of young Americans should be put at risk, much
less why the United States should go to war against a distant foreign
country that has never attacked us and whose people have endured the
most punishing sanctions in all of history for more than a decade.

This is not just a procedural demand that we respect the Constitution as
we decide upon recourse to war--the most serious decision any society
can make, not only for itself but for its adversary. It is also, in this
instance, a substantive matter of the greatest weight. The United States
is without doubt the world leader at this point, and its behavior with
respect to war and law is likely to cast a long shadow across the
future. To go legitimately to war in the world that currently exists can
be based on three types of considerations: international law
(self-defense as set forth in Article 51 backed by a UN mandate, as in
the Gulf War), international morality (humanitarian intervention to
prevent genocide or ethnic cleansing) and necessity (the survival and
fundamental interests of a state are genuinely threatened and not really
covered by international law, as arguably was the case in the war in
Afghanistan).

With respect to Iraq, there is no pretense that international law
supports such a war and little claim that the brutality of the Iraqi
regime creates a foundation for humanitarian intervention. The
Administration's argument for war rests on the necessity argument, the
alleged risk posed by Iraqi acquisition of weapons of mass destruction,
and the prospect that such weapons would be made available to Al Qaeda
for future use against the United States. Such a risk, to the scant
extent that it exists, can be addressed much more successfully by
relying on deterrence and containment (which worked against the far more
menacing Soviet Union for decades) than by aggressive warmaking. All the
evidence going back to the Iran/Iraq War and the Gulf War shows that
Saddam Hussein responds to pressure and threat and is not inclined to
risk self-destruction. Indeed, if America attacks and if Iraq truly
possesses weapons of mass destruction, the feared risks are likely to
materialize as Iraq and Saddam confront defeat and humiliation, and have
little left to lose.

A real public debate is needed not only to revitalize representative
democracy but to head off an unnecessary war likely to bring widespread
death and destruction as well as heighten regional dangers of economic
and political instability, encourage future anti-American terrorism and
give rise to a US isolationism that this time is not of its own
choosing!

We must ask why the open American system is so closed in this instance.
How can we explain this unsavory rush to judgment, when so many lives
are at stake? What is now wrong with our system, with the vigilance of
our citizenry, that such a course of action can be embarked upon without
even evoking criticism in high places, much less mass opposition in the
streets?

I don't know if it's some childhood image left over from Victory at
Sea
or from a book of pictures my uncle brought back from the
service, but when I think about the war in the Pacific, I see pink
cumulus clouds piled high, one upon another, on the decks of aircraft
carriers. It's not the iconic image of violent battle that usually represents the war, but my imagination seems to be
telling me that the iconic images aren't the whole story, that serenity
and beauty coexisted alongside the bloodshed and were a large part of
the day-to-day reality of the war.

It's for similar reasons that I think the nitty-gritty details of life
near Ground Zero as presented in one of the first theatrical responses
to 9/11, comic monologist Reno's Rebel Without a Pause, appeal to
me so. They provide relief from the media's iconic packaging, which has
been beamed at us ever since the attack on the Trade Towers and the
(rarely mentioned) Pentagon attack.

With a deluge of energy, Reno, who lived near the towers from 1981,
relates what it was like in lower Manhattan "that gorgeous day." She
recreates the clicking sound, like the noise an old machine gun would
make, that was the sound of the floors collapsing into one another. She
exhibits dismay at the total absence of Conelrad and the Emergency
Defense System. ("Maybe this wasn't enough of an emergency.") She
tells a story about finding her ATM emptied out at 9 am and the bank
refusing to open its doors so customers could get their money.

But mostly it's the human reactions to catastrophe that are so
wonderful, so wildly hilarious. The rumors that the terrorists are holed
up with machetes in a macrobiotic restaurant on Prince Street; people
rushing home to have their televisions validate what they'd just seen
with their own eyes; and what Reno calls the "hierarchical bragging
rights of pain and knowledge"--New Yorkers one-upping each other over
what they knew and what they'd suffered.

Reno's warnings about changes in constitutional protections make for a
very disturbing second half of her monologue, though she herself doesn't
seem to fear the new spy agency powers: She gives voice to her every
political thought, no matter how out there it is. She points out how
cheaply reporters have been won over by chummy Don Rumsfeld, and she
contemplates Henry Kissinger being arrested for war crimes. Reno even
suggests that Florida be allowed to float down to Uruguay, "where all
the other fascists are."

She also reveals some interesting facts, like ones you find in this
magazine but not in the major media. For instance, Hamid Karzai, the new
president of Afghanistan, used to work for Unocal. And this from Frank
Lindh, who saw the show the night before I did: FBI agents treated his
son kindly because even they knew "he was a hapless kid."

After a while, I began feeling the tingle of what I hope was just my own
paranoia (although as I learned the last time--when Watergate lanced the
Nixonian pustule--paranoia can be a very accurate predictor of reality).
Reno talks about what is being done to our civil liberties in the
context of Christian fundamentalist influence on this Administration. At
342 pages, the USA Patriot Act, she suggests, wasn't written in the days
after 9/11, and the Padilla case has clearly crossed the line of
innocent until proven guilty. She builds a picture of how really
extremist the Bush people are and how far to the right the President has
taken the country. So far, in fact, that Colin Powell is the "Communist
of this Administration."

Such points may be made with laughter, but Reno brings a fierceness to
her criticisms and an urgency to her concerns about the current
Administration that we are only beginning to see in the big world, and
then over financial wheeler-dealering and privilege, not civil liberties
and constitutional guarantees.

You will walk away from Reno with a clear sense that the changes aren't
minor, and they won't fall only on bad guys and enemies. It's a real
turning point: Democracy is up for grabs.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe's free summer show, Mr. Smith Goes to
Obscuristan
, likewise treats the aftermath of 9/11. In it,
Condoleezza Rice (Velina Brown) and Dick Cheney (Cheney lookalike Ed
Holmes) seek to sell the Bush presidency as an Administration that cares
about democracy, not profits, and so devise a plan to send 9/11
firefighter Jeff Smith (the always wonderful Michael Gene Sullivan) to
oversee the first free election in the Central Asian, formerly Soviet,
republic of Obscuristan. The winner of this contest is certain to be
warlord and privatizer Automaht Regurgitov (Victor Toman), since he is
the only candidate. That is, until the oppositionist Ralif Nadir (Amos
Glick) throws his hat into the ring, arguing that "people should vote
their hearts, not their fears." (Of course, had one or two percent of
Florida's Nader voters forsworn that advice, the Mime Troupe wouldn't
have a Bush Administration to satirize.)

(Or would they?)

Smith, who has been kept ignorant by outfits like SNN, the Selective
News Network, believes America wants freedom for everyone. He is,
however, disillusioned when it becomes clear that there is oil in
Obscuristan and that the Administration's real interest is that
Regurgitov win, since he will insure the atmosphere necessary for US
investment. Smith then sets out to prove that the ordinary American
doesn't want to screw Obscuristan over, and by the end of the day
rescues Nadir, who was kidnapped and branded a terrorist. He also helps
bring an SNN reporter and the US ambassador over to the side of a fair
shake for Obscuristan.

The Mime Troupe hits many of the right points: that energy sources are a
major factor in our involvement in Central Asia, for instance, and that
much of the weaponry in the area was originally supplied by the CIA. And
they raise questions about just how free our own elections are. Given
that, I was left pondering why Mr. Smith seemed so tepid and not
particularly funny compared with Rebel Without a Pause. It's
doubly strange given that the Mime Troupe brought in the usually very
funny monologist, independent filmmaker and former Nation intern
Josh Kornbluth (Red Diaper Baby and Haiku Tunnel) to help
write the script.

The difference is, I think, that Reno articulates things you hadn't
thought about, or says things you may have thought a lot about, but in
ways that create the old shock of recognition. As when she says, "The
people of Missouri were so worried about Ashcroft making decisions, they
voted for the dead guy."

There are moments like that in Mr. Smith. Barbara Bush (Ed Holmes
again, this time in a gray wig and pearls) explains the rules of the oil
game to George W., and the whole facade of her Betty Crockerdom smacks
right up against her tough capitalist intelligence. This is a Barbara
Bush who says, "Never send a member of the working class to do an
aristocrat's job." But such moments are rare. For the most part, the
Mime Troupe's most incisive statements, such as "Only an American would
confuse a fixed election with a real one" or "Welcome to democratic
nations like Saudi Arabia who protect human rights," simply restate our
perceptions or are so bitterly ironic that a lot of the laughter I heard
was sniggering.

Given that the source of the satire is Capra's populist classic, Mr.
Smith Goes to Washington
, I think the Mime Troupe missed a real
opportunity to have us question ourselves by asking, Who is Mr. Smith
and what is he about? In the mythos of Mime Troupe plays, the ordinary
American is decent and fair, and in every respect there's a lot of
daylight between him and the ruling class, and therefore between us and
what our government does in our name. The Mime Troupe believes that like
Jeff Smith, the ordinary American has been kept in ignorance by the
media, and that if he only knew what was really going on, he would rise
up and change things.

That conveniently ignores the fact that ordinary Americans are of many
minds, and that many of us do understand that our comfort is based on
the deprivation (and worse) of people in other parts of the world. So
then, you have to ask whether we feel we can't do anything about it or
whether we don't want to. How much is the ordinary American willing to
give up to see people elsewhere get a larger slice of the pie?

And what is the usefulness of a mythos of unquestioned fairness and
decency, and in this play, as in other Mime Troupe efforts, of a sellout
who regains her soul and of a decisive victory over the people's
enemies? It's positive, but does it send us out of the park feeling
hopeful and intent on action? Or do we feel that a lot of what we
witnessed was too simple and fantastic?

The appeal in Mr. Smith is ultimately to idealism, to looking out
for the other guy and doing the right thing. Reno, on the other hand,
talks about self-interest: that we are losing our rights and that some
of us were slaughtered. "The [US] government," she says, "created the
mujahedeen that came to my town and killed us." That seems a much
stronger motive for action.

Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan will be performed through Labor Day
in various Northern California locales (415-285-1717 or www.sfmt.org).
Rebel Without a Pause played a week at the Brava Theater Center
in San Francisco in June and went on to an extended run at the Lion
Theater on 42nd Street in New York City.

With the drumbeat for war on Iraq growing louder in Washington by the
day, the latest United States-backed Iraqi opposition group--the Iraqi
Military Alliance--was established with great fanfare in London in
mid-July by some eighty former Iraqi officers. If this was an attempt at
priming the Iraqi opposition pump as a prelude to overthrowing the
regime of Saddam Hussein, holding a much-hyped press conference seemed
an odd way to proceed.

An incisive comment came from an independent-minded Iraqi lawyer. "The
American policy-makers believe that if you scare Saddam and threaten
him, he will yield," he said. "They think this high profile meeting in
London will ruffle his feathers. Also, it gives a military dimension to
the predominantly civilian Iraqi National Congress." But Saddam does not
scare so easily. In his televised address to the nation on July 17, he
asserted that "evil tyrants and oppressors" would not be able to
overthrow him and his regime. "You will never defeat me this time," he
declared.

Behind this bravado lies Iraq's well-tailored policy of reconciliation
with its neighbors, which its foreign minister, Naji Sabri, has been
following doggedly for the past several months. A Christian and former
professor of English literature at Baghdad University, the smooth and
sophisticated Sabri started the year with a groundbreaking trip to
Teheran to resolve the prisoners-of-war exchange issue with Iran. The
following month he flew to Ankara, where he expressed flexibility on
renewed UN inspections. At the Arab summit in Beirut in March, Iraq
recognized Kuwait's border and promised to discuss the issue of Kuwaiti
POWs. "We have instructed our media to avoid any references which may
annoy the State of Kuwait," said Sabri after the summit. Since then he
has sought the assistance of his Qatari and Omani counterparts to
improve Baghdad's relations with Kuwait.

The strategy seems to be paying off. Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al Sabah, the
Kuwaiti defense minister, said in late July that his country would
approve a US attack on Iraq only if it is done under the auspices of the
United Nations. "Kuwait does not support threats to strike or launch an
attack against Iraq." Baghdad's relations with Saudi Arabia have
improved, too. Riyadh has reopened its border with Iraq at Arar, and
Saudi companies are doing business in Iraq within the framework of the
UN oil-for-food scheme. The desert kingdom has refused to allow the
Pentagon use of the Prince Sultan air base at Al Kharj in case of war
against Iraq.

Hence the US pressure on Jordan to allow its air bases to be used
instead--a prospect that sent a tearful King Abdullah rushing to a
European leader to complain about the US plan to attack Iraq from his
kingdom at a time when Arab frustration with the stalemate on the
Israeli-Palestinian front is rising by the day. (That was before
Israel's widely condemned dropping of a one-ton bomb in Gaza, killing
fifteen and injuring 160.)

King Abdullah's European interlocutor was certainly sympathetic to the
monarch's plight. All the European countries except Britain are urging
Washington to construct a coalition for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking,
not for warmaking in Iraq. In this effort they have the backing of
Turkey, a neighbor of Iraq and a NATO member that allows the use of its
Incirlik air base by US and British warplanes monitoring the northern
Iraqi no-fly zone.

In his July 21 interview on state television, Turkish Prime Minister
Bulent Ecevit said the United States should consider alternatives to
military action against Baghdad. "There are other measures to deter the
Iraqi regime from being a threat to the region," he said. "Iraq is...so
developed technologically and economically despite the embargo that it
cannot be compared to Afghanistan or Vietnam." What is more, Ecevit
warned that it would not be possible for America to "get out easily"
from Iraq. Such a prospect was outlined by Sir Peter de la Billiere, who
commanded the British troops in the 1991 Gulf War. Discussing the
prospect of US, British and French troops capturing Baghdad, he wrote in
his Storm Command: A Personal Account of the Gulf War, "Saddam
Hussein...would have slipped away into the desert and organized a
guerrilla movement.... We would then have found ourselves with the task
of trying to run a country shattered by war, which at the best of times
is deeply split into factions.... Either we would have to set up a
puppet government or withdraw ignominiously without a proper regime in
power."

Little wonder that among the questions European and Turkish leaders are
asking the Bush Administration now is: Is America willing to stay in
Iraq for ten years to safeguard the post-Saddam regime from
subversion--and possibly an attack--by an alliance of Iran and Syria,
which have been strategic allies since 1980?

On July 23 Iran's President, Muhammad Khatami, declared that Washington
did not have the right to choose the leadership for the Iraqi people.
Noting that war against Iraq was being promoted in Washington on an
unprecedented scale, he warned that military action against Iraq by the
Pentagon could seriously threaten regional stability. Iranian leaders
reckon that once the Bush Administration has overthrown Saddam, it will
target Iran for regime change--fears fueled by its late-July
announcement that it is officially ending its policy of "playing
factions" in Iran in favor of direct appeals to the Iranian people.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress called for a
resolution in favor of regime change in Iran. Mainstream Iranian
politicians would rather forge an alliance with Baghdad now than wait
for the ax to fall on them in the post-Saddam period.

US war plans clearly pose numerous dangers to the region. But whether
that will deter the hawks in Washington from pressing home their
strategy of ousting Saddam by force remains to be seen.

Concerning the impending or perhaps imminent intervention in Iraq, we now inhabit a peculiar limbo, where the military options are known while the political and moral options are not.

Refugee camp invasions. Suicide bombers. House demolitions. Suicide
bombers. Arrests of children, curfews, roadblocks, collective
punishments, dropping one-ton bombs on densely populated streets.
Suicide bombers.

Only two years ago, a Syrian-American friend laid out for me a vision
for the Middle East. Both Israelis and Palestinians, she said, were
modern, entrepreneurial people who valued education and technology. She
foresaw a kind of Middle Eastern co-prosperity sphere that would
gradually draw the two closer as their economies meshed and bygones
became bygones. That would have been a happy ending, but what are its
chances now?

The Sharon government seems bent on beating, bombing, demolishing,
humiliating and starving the West Bank and Gaza into submission, while
appropriating more and more land for settlers (forty-five new
settlements have gone up in the year and a half since Sharon's
election). Unemployment in the occupied territories stands at 75
percent. According to a report about to be released by USAID,
malnutrition among Palestinian children under 6 has risen from 7 percent
to 30 percent over the past two years. In the current issue of
Tikkun, Jessica Montell, executive director of B'Tselem, the
Israeli human rights organization, details the damage wrought by the
Israel Defense Forces in their siege of Jenin and other West Bank areas
this past spring: the flattening of whole streets and the trashing and
looting of homes, civic centers, Palestinian Authority offices and those
of numerous human rights organizations; gross violations of human
rights, including the use of civilians as human shields; and denial of
access to food, water and medical care, resulting in the deaths of three
children and an elderly woman.

Is this what "defending Israel" necessarily involves? So you might think
from the hefty numbers who turn out for pro-Sharon rallies in this
country, like the 100,000 who gathered on the Washington Mall in April.
Not everyone agrees: Opposition to Sharon's policies was a major theme
of the 75,000-strong antiwar demonstration on April 20; petitions and
open letters opposing Sharon are flying around the Internet, and new
groups are forming by the minute--Not in My Name, Jewish Voices Against
the Occupation, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. But the big,
well-organized and well-connected Jewish American numbers are still on
the side of using military force to crush the Palestinians. I signed the
open letter organized by Alan Sokal and Bruce Robbins calling for the
evacuation of settlements and Palestinian self-determination and felt I
knew half the people on it. Nonetheless, there is enough criticism, from
enough quarters, to puncture the old accusations (in which there was
sometimes a grain of truth) that US critics of Israeli policies are
anti-Semites, "self-hating Jews" or Third World-infatuated
America-hating leftists. None of those terms could conceivably describe
the neoliberal (and Jewish) historian Tony Judt, whose trenchant and
bitter critique of recent developments in The New York Review of
Books
("The Road to Nowhere," April 11) did not stop short of
describing Israel as a thoroughly militarized colonial power. Nor is it
easy to see recent New York Times coverage in this
light--although the paper is currently being bombarded with mail and
protests for its imaginary pro-Palestinian tilt, and the Zionist women's
group Hadassah has even called for a boycott of the paper (just for
three months, though, because you can't ask too much of people).

What we need in the United States is the broadest, most open discussion
of what's going on, in search of some kind of realistic solution to a
crisis that's becoming less soluble by the day. Every American is
implicated in Israeli politics, because without the $3 billion in aid we
send each year, Israel could not exist in anything like its present
form. Perhaps Americans really do want to subsidize Caterpillar
bulldozers, Apache attack helicopters, F-16 jets--but perhaps they would
prefer that some of that money go to relocate Jewish settlers, to
integrate Israeli social institutions, to rebuild the infrastructure of
Palestinian civil society and government, to strengthen the groups on
both sides who are most interested in bringing about the happy end my
friend saw just around the corner.

Unfortunately, people will have to do this work themselves. Politicians
are too frightened, and no wonder: In June, five-term Democratic
Congressman Earl Hilliard of Alabama lost his primary race at least in
part because the fiercely pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) supported his opponent. On August 20 five-term Georgia
Democratic Representative Cynthia McKinney faces a tough primary, mostly
due to organized opposition to her criticism of Israel (she also
suggested that George W. Bush knew in advance about September 11, and
after Mayor Giuliani rejected a $10 million gift for New York City from
Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal because he called for a re-examination
of US Middle East policy, she tactlessly suggested that he give the
money to black charities instead).

The problem is not so much that American Jews exercise the proverbial
"too much influence"; every ethnic group in America organizes to affect
US policy in the old country (think of Cuban-, Irish- or, for that
matter, African-Americans). Nor is it wrong to inject national issues
into a contest that locals would prefer to be about other things. The
problem is that the other side--anti-Sharon, pro-peace, call it what you
will--is weak and unorganized. It doesn't have to be that way. One can
be overwhelmed with horror at suicide bombers, think Arafat is a corrupt
and preening tinpot dictator, believe that the real agenda of the
Islamists is to be the Taliban of the Middle East--all just and
appropriate sentiments--and still realize that the current path of the
Israeli government is a disaster in the making, if not already made.

* * *

McKinney may have foot-in-mouth disease, but she has the support of NOW,
NARAL and her state AFL-CIO. She deserves yours too. Cynthia McKinney
for Congress, Box 371125, Decatur, GA 30037; (404) 243-5574;
www.cynthia2002.com.

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