Presence of U.S. Forces Vital for Mideast Peace

June 15th, 2003

The outline of U.S. grand strategy toward the Middle East is getting clear. It was obvious in a speech given by U.S. President George W. Bush in South Carolina on May 9.

“The bitterness of that region (the Middle East) can bring violence and suffering to our own cities. The advance of freedom and peace in the Middle East would drain this bitterness and increase our own security,” Bush said in the speech.

“We support the advance of freedom in the Middle East, because it is our founding principle, and because it is in our national interest,” he said.

Later, he added, “In Germany, in Japan, in Eastern Europe and in Russia, the skeptics doubted, then history replied. Every milestone of liberty over the past 60 years was declared impossible until the very moment it happened,” Bush said, adding, “Freedom has advanced because the desire for liberty and justice is found in every human heart.”

Certainly U.S. actions have been motivated by antiterrorism, which was triggered by the Sept. 11, 2001, incident. Now, the realization of freedom in the Middle East, however, is the main focus of U.S. policy vis-a-vis the region.

This stance had already jelled by the time of Bush’s speech in Washington on Feb. 26, about 20 days before the Iraq war was launched.

In the speech, in which he laid down what may be called the New Bush Doctrine, he said, “We meet here during a crucial period in the history of our nation, and of the civilized world. Part of that history was written by others. The rest will be written by us.”

Later, in the same speech, he said, “America’s interests in security, and America’s belief in liberty, both lead in the same direction, to a free and peaceful Iraq.”

“From Morocco to Bahrain and beyond,” Bush said, “nations are taking genuine steps toward political reform. A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of freedom for other nations in the region.”

In referring to countries “beyond,” Bush must have had Iran in mind.

The U.S. policies on the Middle East were clearly reaffirmed in his ultimatum against Iraq on March 17. Bush gave former Iraqi President Saddam Husein a 48-hour deadline, not to rid itself of weapons of mass destruction or halt the sponsorship of terrorists, but for him and his sons to leave the country.

What is remarkable in the two speeches is that Bush noted the settlement of the Palestinian conflict as a top priority along with the liberation of Iraq. Bush also expressed the goal of democratizing the entire Middle East region.

The remarks demonstrated that the strategic vision of U.S. conservatives, who believed the road to Middle East peace went through Baghdad, had been placed at the core of U.S. policies.

While the United States was winning in the Iraq war, the moderate Mahmoud Abbas was appointed Palestinian prime minister with the overwhelming approval of the Palestinian legislature, despite initial opposition from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The influence of the United States was obviously behind the appointment.

Abbas unconditionally accepted the “road map” to peace formulated under the initiative of the United States. Then, Israel’s hawkish government made the agonizing decision to accept the road map.

Although it will still takes two years of negotiations to determine details, including national borders, this means the Israel-Palestine issue, which has remained unsolved for more than half a century, may make historical progress.

This will, in turn, affect the success or failure of U.S. policies toward Iraq.

It has not been determined whether the United States’ war against Iraq has been successful.

The war will be regarded as a total success if a pro-Washington regime with principles of freedom and democracy is established in Iraq. On the other hand, the war will be regarded as a failure if anti-U.S. forces with anti-Israel and pan-Arab beliefs take control of the new government.

The root of the anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab world is the Palestine issue. In the minds of Arab people, Jewish people drove Arabs from the land they had lived on for a thousand years and established a state backed by the strength of the United States and Britain.

If the Israel-Palestine issue is solved, Arab extremists will lose reasons to deny Israel’s right to exist and justify terrorist attacks against U.S. and British targets.

In such a case, the Arab world can no longer challenge basic U.S. principles of freedom and democracy.

Now, the settlement of the Palestine issue, occupational policies in Iraq and success on Middle East polices of the United States have blended together.

To achieve this goal, U.S. forces may have to remain in Iraq for a considerable length of time.

The whereabouts of Saddam and hiding places of possible weapons of mass destruction are not yet known. If their locations are somewhere underground in Iraq, which is a little larger than Japan, it will be difficult to find them without the help of informants.

If their hiding places exist, hundreds of Iraqis must know where they are. But no informants have yet come forward.

This means there may still be people who remain under the influence or intimidation of Saddam and the Baath Party.

If they believe the U.S. forces will leave the country soon, they will continue to answer to Saddam and the Baath Party, putting immediate security and peace as well as the future democratization of a new government at risk.

This uncertainty also will affect Palestinians. So far, strong U.S. backing has enabled the Abbas administration to contain anti-Abbas extremists.

The presence of U.S. forces in Iraq will be effective in forcing Syria to recognize Israel’s right to exist and stop its sponsoring of terrorists. The U.S. presence also is useful in stopping Iran from manipulating Iraqi Shiites.

The United States has no choice but to stay in order to maintain its current course of Iraqi policies. If it were to withdraw from Iraq in disgrace, it likely would take 20 years for it to recover global confidence. This is what happened after the Vietnam War. During this period, the world would be thrust into confusion.

Japan should understand that our ally is at the point of no return. Japan should support, without reservation, the U.S. goal of seeking the peaceful coexistence between Palestinians and Israelis. And Japan should stand firm in supporting the necessary sustained U.S. presence in Iraq.

A prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq certainly would draw international criticism.

The United States can easily ignore abstract criticism such as opposition to unilateralism. However, it is anticipated that some within the Arab world will reject this idea.

The Arab world’s anti-U.S. and Pan-Arab nationalists and leftists, which have half a century of history, will resist one last time and will be joined by remnants of Al-Qaida and the Baath Party.

Existing regimes in the Middle East also may resist, fearing that changes in Palestine and Iraq may trigger drastic changes in the entire Middle East region.

Japan should not cater to shallow arguments of these forces, who would say, “Know the hearts of Arabs,” or “The U.S. presence will destabilize whole Middle East region.”

To conclude, let me present some observations that Prof. Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins University made in the January-February issue of Foreign Affairs, a U.S. magazine on international relations.

— “There should be no illusions about the sort of Arab landscape that the United States is destined to find if, or when, it embarks on a war against the Iraqi regime. There would be no ‘hearts and minds’ to be won in the Arab world, no public diplomacy that would convince the overwhelming majority of Arabs that this war would be a just war.”

— “America ought to be able to live with this distrust and discount a good deal of this anti-Americanism as the ‘road rage’ of a thwarted Arab world–the congenital condition of a culture yet to take full responsibility for its self-inflicted wounds.”

— “Given the belligerence and self-pity in Arab life, its retreat from modernist culture, and its embrace of conspiracy theories, there are justifiable grounds for believing there are no native liberal or secular traditions to embrace the United States and use its victory to build an alternative to despotic rule.”

— “Power matters, and a great power’s will and prestige can help tip the scales in favor of modernity and change.”

— “It is the fate of great powers that provide order to do so against the background of a world that takes the protection while it bemoans the heavy hand of the protector.”