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Condoleezza Rice Confused About the Middle East

Writing in Dar Al Hayat at the end of the year, Ms Condoleezza Rice, the newly designated Secretary of State, made the following points:

” when freedom is on the march, America is more secure ­ when freedom is in retreat, America is more vulnerable. That is why the president has broken with more than 60 years of excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East, As long as the Middle East remains a region of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce men and movements that threaten the safety of Americans and our friends.”

“When Iraqis to the polls next year to elect a government and put behind them their brutal history, democracy’s power will be reaffirmed again. That opportunity exists today because America and a Coalition acted to remove one of the most brutal and dangerous regimes in the Middle East.”

Both Ms Rice and Mr Bush like the word, “freedom”. In Bush’s inauguration on January 20, which Ms Rice’s article anticipates, Bush used the word 40 times. On the same day of Mr Bush’s inauguration speech, the Israeli daily ran a story to the effect that Israel would proceed to confiscate Palestinian owned land in East Jerusalem. The Absentee Property Law of 1950, which Israel enacted in order to write into statute its desire to transfer to itself land taken from the Palestinians during the Palestinian extirpation in 1948, now plans to confiscate property owned by thousands of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and worth hundreds of millions of dollars. According to the law, those whose lands are confiscated have neither the right to appeal nor a right to compensation. Freedom?

Over the past year, 869 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military while Israelis, both military and civilian deaths have totaled 118, a better than 7 to 1 ratio. More than 12,000 Palestinian homes have been either demolished or damaged in the West Bank since 2000. Between September 2000 and September 2004, more than 24,000 Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip have been made homeless by Israeli house demolitions. In the first months of 2004, the Israeli Defense Forces demolished on average 120 residential buildings each month ­ or four per day. In Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, home demolition increased from 15 homes per month in 2002, to 77 homes per month in the first nine months of 2004. Some 13,230 dunums (3307 acres) of land have been cleared or damaged due to the barrier construction in the West Bank. Infant mortality, in the Occupied Territories has increased each year since 2000. Is this freedom, Ms Rice?

The Israeli bulldozers building the Apartheid separation wall, and expanding the existing settlements are running seven days a week from dawn to dusk creating facts on the ground, no matter who is in power, whether Arafat or Mahmoud Abbas. Facts on the ground by design become facts removed from the possibility of negotiation. It becomes land and resources irretrievably lost to the indigenous population. Is this freedom, for Palestinians, or just for Israeli settlers?

On the day of Mr Bush’s speech, a man returned to view his home in Falluja only to find it as well as the whole city destroyed. When he appealed to two US soldiers nearby to tell him from where he could receive compensation, they only laughed at him. He grabbed one of their guns and shot both before himself being killed by other US soldiers. The entire city of Falluja, a city of three hundred thousand was completely destroyed by the American aerial and artillery bombardment evidently without significantly suppressing the insurgency. Is this freedom, Ms Rice, and would you be less likely to answer in the affirmative if the city was Palo Alto, or Austin?

The best scientific and statistical analysis of the increased rate of death in Iraq since the American invasion comes from a joint study of Columbia and Johns Hopkins University epidemiologists and was published in the English medical journal, Lancet. 100,000 additional deaths resulted from the war, according to that study, mostly from the American aerial bombardment. There is, in fact reason to believe that this figure is conservative as it did not include samples from Anbar province, which includes Falluja and Ramadi, sites of the most intense resistance. Is freedom on the march, or is it just death on the march.

Dr Rice claims that democracy is the panacea that will transform the Middle East and end the causes of anti-American sentiment and terrorism. Yet Israel is a democracy, albeit, with a privileged and an underclass racial disparity built into law. Yet that did not prevent Israel’s launching an invasion of Lebanon in 1982 which took the lives of 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinians, nor did it prevent the massacre of approximately 2000 Palestinian refugees at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps of southern Beirut orchestrated by Ariel Sharon. Being a democracy did not prevent Israel from acquiring WMDs including nuclear fission devices as well as the thermonuclear bomb as well as the enhanced radiation warhead, which the United States did not even build nor deploy. Their chemical and biotoxin programs are well advanced. This disparity between the tolerance for Israel’s defiance of international law and international treaties and the lack of tolerance of efforts on the part of Arab states to counter the threat posed by Israel has not gone unnoticed by the Arab populations. From the Arab perspective, the US is simply trying to eliminated hegemonic competition to Israel while allowing Israel to continue to confiscate Palestinian land as they intentionally inflict hardship and suffering on the Palestinians with the intention of driving them out of Palestine or alternately driving them into enclaves with most of the West Bank, and most of the West Bank’s resources in the possession of Israel.

The view that Saddam Hussein was the incarnation of evil and thus needed to be eliminated even though he lacked WMDs is an exaggeration. That is Israel’ perspective, which many Americans have internalized. The Saddam Hussein government during the 1980’s had established universal free co-educational education as well as a national health system which provided free health service which reached 93% of the population. This national health service was regionally known as the Jewell of the Middle East. This period of expansion, even during wartime, created a burgeoning middle class and led to the creation of the well educated and highly skilled work force which was in existence on the eve of the American invasion. It was the American led UN sanction regime, conducted mostly under President Clinton, which ultimately destroyed the infrastructure of the society and led to a substantial increase in mortality, particularly childhood mortality which, more than anything Saddam did, contributed to diminished freedom for the Iraqis.

Ms Rice who was in the forefront of those leading the public campaign for military intervention in Iraq states that we all expected to find WMDs and that intelligence agencies around the world expected to find WMDs. Those intelligence agencies around consisted uniquely of the US, the UK, and Israel. And what else would one expect from Israeli intelligence. Yet Ms Rice had ignored the UN Weapons Inspection regime which, under the direction of Hans Blix, and consisting of experts in nuclear engineering, in chemistry , and biotoxins and had surveyed more than 900 sites of suspected weapons facilities or weapons production facilities and had set up remote monitoring devices capable of detection of both radioactivity and toxic chemicals. Nor did Mr Rice consider the testimony of IAEA head Mohammed El Baridai who testified before the UN Security Council that his agency had concluded that the imported aluminum tubes were most probably not intended for Uranium enrichment by gas centrifuge, which was in direct contradiction of Ms Rice’s later statements. Ms Rice’s phrase of a “smoking gun becoming a mushroom cloud over American cities” would seem to come straight form Madison Avenue.

In an interview with journalist Diane Sawyer, when asked “what newspapers do you read?”, President Bush responded that he did not read any newspapers but rather relied on Condoleezza Rice and his aid Andrew Card to brief him on the recent events. Mr Bush added that such briefing had the advantage that they, unlike newspaper accounts, were free of editorializing. Yet, Mr Bush has revealed himself to be surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, uninformed on many occasions. One such occasions occurred on a visit to the Bush ranch, at Crawford, Texas, by Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia just after the Prince had floated the Saudi Initiative for a Middle East Peace in which the Prince had proposed an Israel return to the 1967 borders between Israel and the West Bank in return for peace treaties with the surrounding Arab states and their recognition of Israel’s right to exists. The Prince found that Bush was barely aware of the plan and had not been briefed on it. The Prince, who had invested much of his personal prestige on the plan, said that he was personally insulted.

Another remarkable such incident of either ignorance or dementia occurred when President Bush stated at a press conference in July, 2003, four months after the American invasion, “We gave his a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in”. In fact, the UN weapons inspectors were allowed into Iraq from December 2002 until March of 3003 when they were withdrawn because in the imminent American invasion, and, as mentioned above, they had surveyed more than 900 sites.

Due to the Reagan experience, we became somewhat acclimated to such bazaar utterances, ascribing them to some stage of dementia, however, in this case, ignorance is a more plausible explanation as Bush does not appear to be demented. Because Bush does not independently follow the news, it is mind boggling that the President may have launched an invasion without knowing that UN Weapon inspectors had been in Iraq for four months, had surveyed 900 sites and had never found either the WMDs nor the capacity for producing them, and that Saddam Hussein had complied with UN Resolution 1441 determining that the weapons inspection team be allowed into Iraq and given unfettered access. Did Ms Rice fail to mention that fact in the presidential briefings. For the neo-cons who were determined to go to war, there was little point in telling him.

One searches the record in vain of statements for statements by Ms Rice revealing anything reflecting any significant understanding of either the history or the politics or culture of the Middle East. Ms Rice once stated in an Israeli television interview, “I first visited Israel in 2000. I already then felt that I am returning home despite the fact that this was a place I never visited. I have a deep affinity with Israel. I have always admired the history of the state of Israel.” It is doubtful that anyone with a competent understanding of the recent historical works on the founding of Israel, including those of Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, Ilan Pappe or others and who understands the origin of the Palestinian Diaspora, and the massacres and threats of massacres that drove it, could admire Israel’s history. It is more likely that the history she admires is a mythical history engendered by decades of Israeli propaganda aimed at the purification of Zionism and the demonization of the indigenous Palestinian population who, in fact, were ethnically cleansed.

Ms Rice supported the American decision to sever all ties with Yasser Arafat on the grounds that he constantly supported the suicide bombings and refused to condemn terrorism. It takes an incredible amount of ignorance to sustain that position and to ignore Arafat’s many impassioned condemnations of suicide bombings, some presented on Palestinian national television and one very eloquent Op Ed in the New York Times. Prejudice is not good enough, if Ms Rice has evidence supporting her position, she needs to present it. In fact, Ms Rice would be hard pressed to show that Arafat had ever supported attacks on civilians in his entire career.

George Bush had called Ariel Sharon, “a man of peace”. It is difficult to reconcile this appellation with Sharon’s history which includes orchestrating the massacres at Sabra and Shatila, as well as others. The most likely explanation is ignorance on the part of Bush and his National Security Advisor. To refer to Ariel Sharon as “a man of peace” is a substantial insult to the Arab people implying that Arab blood is cheap and that mass murders of Arabs are quickly forgotten for being inconsequential. The world needs not to forget those massacres and others of Sharon.

Ms Rice has never displayed any sign that she understands the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as being anything other than one of Palestinian terrorism against Israel. That the occupation was 25 years old before the first suicide bombing occurred is elementary knowledge which Ms Rice has never acknowledged. Any competent understanding of Israel, its formation, and the drivers of Zionism — Ben Gurion, Weiss, Jabotinsky, Begin and Shamir, whose ideas now shape the Lukud, along with Sharon’s, should know that expansionism is intrinsic to the state of Israel and that Zionism, and that from the earliest settlements in 1882, the Zionists had exactly two goals ­ the cleansing of the indigenous Arab population and the establishment of a racially, or ethnically, pure Jewish state with as few Arabs as possible. In fact, the War of 1948 and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine never ended, it only slowed and its methods became political/military – open war by other means.

Ms Rice celebrates the healing virtues of democracy, but refused to deal with Yasser Arafat, the democratically elected President of the Palestinian authority. Could Ms Rice be ignorant that Arafat won an election in 1996 carrying 88% of the popular vote in an election monitored by international monitors and by the Carter Center? To answer this question, we may choose between hypocrisy and ignorance.

Despite Dr Rice’s reputation for academic competence, it appears that, as either National Security Advisor or as Secretary of State, we have a case of the blind leading the blind, or more forthrightly, the ignorant leading the ignorant.

WILLIAM JAMES MARTIN teaches in the Mathematics Department at the University of Florida. He can be reached at: wmartin@math.ufl.edu

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