7th December 1997

The defiant ones: for how long?

by Mervyn de Silva

The Cold War is over. The United States won a decisive victory. And yet the US finds itself confronted by new challenges and unexpected threats, some quite serious protentially perhaps dangerous. The situation in the Middle-east strikes me as the most obvious example.

Any reference to the Middle East, however casual, raises the problem of Israel and its powerful patron, the United States, and of course the plight of the Palestinians.... a people without a homeland, despite UN resolutions. Israel relying on the automatic support of the US has denied the Palestinians their fundamental rights. For all their supposed power, the Arabs seems helpless. And yet a new 'power' has emerged in this same region, the region that produced Prophet Mohammed… ISLAM.

This new force, the Islamic revival, is by no means confined to the Arab world; not at all, it casts its shadow from Bosnia to Indonesia.

But for the western world, certainly for its agit-prop experts, Saddam Hussein is an answer to a prayer, the perfect "screen villain". And how eagerly he accepts and revels in his role. Here's how a press statement issued by the Revolution Command Council, Baghdad, begins:

In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful

Great people, sons of our glorious Arab nation

Friends in the world....

Islam plus Arab. This is not the Saddam Hussein who fought a long, meaningless war against revolutionary Iran in the last decade. This is a man who has dared the western alliance, the US and NATO, come and get me!!

Iraqi propaganda damonises the United States, and challenges an unjust, hostile world which has held the United Nations hostage.

"Every time and in every crisis, we face phenomena which we could not previously imagine and we see very strange behaviour of the people of evil. We see and face various instances in which officials who falsely claim that they are credible on the international arena, turned to be liars. These bad characteristics often apply to the American environment, and to those misled or deceived by America to fill the means of propaganda with lies and fabrications".

The allegation may be well-founded, the Iraqi complaint fair and the whole argument convincing but could not the Revolution Command Council command the services of an experienced translator?

Unjust embargo

On the question of the embargo imposed on Iraq, the Iraqi government not only makes a fairly well argued case but has many supporters and sympathisers, including a permanent member of the Security Council, Russia. Thus the visit to the region of the Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a veteran Middle-east expert from his journalistic days.

The so-called "oil-for-food" formula, publicised by the US-led group as a humanitarian gesture, Iraq could sell two billion dollars worth of oil every six months. The money so earned would be "controlled by United Nations which will release the money needed for food and medicine. The United Nation's chief Kofi Annan however was far from satisfied. The proceeds from these supervised sales "fell far short of basic needs", reported British correspondent Michael Littlejohns, a veteran UN correspondent.

Nothing makes President Saddam Hussein more comfortable than a "crisis" in which Iraq seems to be under seige by "its enemies". He revels in situations which allow him to play the leader of a nation threatened by those foes he has always branded as enemies of the heroic Iraqi people. And now, he sees the curtain rise to allow him to play his favourite role, and speak the same lines:

"You remember the slogans they raised against Iraq and the resolutions they adopted under cover of the Security Council in 1991, and during the fighting which lasted for one and a half months until the ceasefire which was unilaterally and inconditionally declared by American President Bush, without any agreement with Iraq?"


President Saddam Hussein does not recall his war with neighbouring Iran, which was costly for both, but a disaster for Saddam Hussein. But today, Iran is also a target of the US, recently crowned the sole superpower. Iran is identified as the 'evil" source of inspiration for the new enemy, the Islamic revival or a "fundamentalism" which has replaced "communism" as the new global menace and ideology which could replace the "ism" that helped the US-led western alliance not only to mobilise its own "domestic" constituency but the westernised elites of the Third World.

The weapon however is economic, a weapon that hurts most. The Iran-Libya sanctions Act signed by President Clinton in August last year permits the US to impose sanctions against energy firms investing in Libya and Iran, observes Martin Khor, a specialist on Third World economic issues. This law, he adds, widened the scope for the US to impose unilateral trade action on other countries that it feels have acted against US interests. They complement the infamous Super 301 clauses of the US domestic trade law that are used to threaten trade sanctions against countries that the US believes have not given enough business opportunities for its companies. The Super 301 runs counter to the spirit and some say against also the letter of multilateral trade principles.

The business of America, said President Calvin Coolidge. What happens then to "free trade"?

A neutral observer may regard such laws "fair" if the target was a resourceful rival like Japan but Cuba? It is the victim of a special law, named after its author the Helms-Burton Law, the most recent extension of the Super 301 principle. Is the lone superpower misusing its authority just lite a huge corporation misusing its market monopoly? This, says the author.

Politicians, academics and the media keep discussing "the new World Order", meaning a world that is free of the in-built conflicts of the bipolar world which collapsed after the Soviet implosion. But what shape would this "new order" assume? "In the sphere of international relations the present lack of other powers that can be a credible counter-weight has given the US such a high measure of confidence and arrogance that it feels it can call the shots, and others have to bow and follow...." concludes the writer. Libya, Cuba, Iran, Iraq may remain the 'defiant ones' but for how long?

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