Creating people's geographies
Informed Comment | Wed 6 Sept 2006
The Bush administration obviously wishes it were waging war on Nazi Germany. Even the old Soviet Union would be fine, these nostalgic Cold Warriors seem to think. Something big and menacing that would scare the blue-haired grannies in Peoria into voting Republican because, everyone knows, in addition to being good for business (except for that Depression unpleasantness), Republicans are mean s.o.b.’s and would as soon shoot a potential menace to the US as glare at him.
The Bush administration has the misfortune to have no powerful enemies it is brave enough actually to take on. China and Russia are not exactly enemies any more, and are the only potential state challengers to United States freedom of action as the sole superpower. And they don’t go beyond potential. Too busy making money while Washington bleeds itself dry with military adventures. Waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces.
So what enemies does Bush see that he really will confront? Here they are:
1. North Korea.
2. Syria, population 19 million. Poor, militarily weak. Gross Domestic Product of $26 bn. [I.e. nothing.] Minority ruling clique of Alawi Shiites (think New Age California Shiism). State ideology, secular Baath Socialist Arab Nationalism, an ideology founded by Arab Christians and which has nothing much to do with Islam. Would make peace with Israel and the US in exchange for the return of the Golan Heights and an equitable resolution of the plight of the Palestinians.
2. The 1.3 million Shiites of southern Lebanon and the slums of south Beirut (or what used to be the slums of south Beirut), who largely support the Hizbullah Party-Militia. No one had ever heard of them as a threat back in Eisenhower’s era. That is because they only organized a militia after the Israelis kept invading and brutally occupying them.
3. The 6 million Sunni Arabs of north, central and western Iraq. Many are secular Iraqi nationalists. A handful are radical Sunni fundamentalists. They had all been encompassed by the secular Iraqi Baath Party before Bush destroyed it.
4. Iran. Population 69 million. GDP per capital $2,825 (exchange rate method). Only some 15-20 percent support their religious, populist government. Weak air force and navy. Iran has not launched a war on a neighbor since the late 1700s.
5. Pushtun guerrillas in southern Afghanistan who don’t like foreign troops in their country
6. Al-Qaeda and similar tiny terrorist organizations around the world, in Saudi Arabia, the UK, France, Algeria, Pakistan, India, etc. Often consist of cells of 4-8 persons not in direct contact with traditional al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is proven dangerous, and should be combatted by good police and counter-terrorism work. But it is small and mostly disrupted or under surveillance. If its ideology were so challenging to Bush, then he should shut up those videotapes by capturing Bin Laden and Zawahiri. He has not done it.
This isn’t a coherent enemy, it is a laundry list of places Bush would like to control because they have oil or gas, or are key to its development, or have other strategic benefits for the US and/or its regional allies, especially Israel.
So Bush tried to unify the Bogeyman by condemning radical Sunni Islam and then equally condemning radical Shiite Islam.
It doesn’t help with North Korea, and signally does not work for Syria or most Iraqi Sunnis.
Of course, it also raises questions as to why Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, the ideology of which is not traditionally so very different from that of the radical Sunni fundamentalists, is in with the good guys. (I’m not saying Wahhabis are dangerous, I’m saying most Salafis are not.) So too is the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which was formed by Ayatollah Khomeini, and the Iraqi Da’wa Party, which conducted terrorist attacks on US facilities and personnel in the 1980s. Shiite Islamism in Iraq is good, the same thing in southern Lebanon is bad.
And then of course the United States has more friends among regimes ruling Muslim-majority populations than virtually any other set of governments in the world. Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain are all non-NATO allies. Turkey is a full NATO ally. Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, etc– all dear friends.
So Bush is basically saying that the US is threatened by a congeries of Middle Eastern movements and governments that have nothing to do with one another, and only one of which has struck directly at the US since Bush came to office. Plus North Korea.
And this is the reason for which he needs to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq, to stop the Muslim fundamentalists from taking it over. But of course, the Da’wa Party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and the Sadr movement have *already* taken it over.
Nor is it plausible that “al-Qaeda” could take over Iraq! The United States couldn’t take over Iraq. The Shiites and Kurds would never put up with it. Bush doesn’t need to stay in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda there. If Bush weren’t in Iraq, neither would al-Qaeda be. There less than 1,000 such foreign fighters, anyway.
So there are good Muslim fundamentalist movements and bad ones. What seems to distinguish them is whether they are eager to do business with Houston or whether they badmouth Bush.
5,000 al-Qaeda members, probably no more than a few hundred of them actually dangerous to the United States, just cannot justify all Bush’s aggressive policies.
So now, even while denying he has anything against Muslims, Bush is creating this “Islamic Fascist” bogeyman, which mostly is a figment of his fevered imagination, or is woefully imprecise as a way of describing the phenomenon, or lacks any real political power, or could be dealt with by containment and decisiveness (remember the Soviet Union), or turns out to be some goatherds on the side of a hill in southern Lebanon.
If you want to know what is really going on, it is a struggle for control of the Strategic Ellipse, which just happens demographically to be mostly Muslim. Bush has to demonize the Muslim world in order to justify his swooping down on the Strategic Ellipse. If demons occupy it, obviously they have to be cleared out in favor of Christian fundamentalists or at least Texas oilmen. And what is the Strategic Ellipse?
Bush didn’t do anything about al-Qaeda his first 8 months in office. He left the job half done in Afghanistan and ran off to Iraq, which was always irrelevant to al-Qaeda. There were no good targets in Afghanistan, just Bin Laden and Zawahiri. Iraq, now that is prime Ellipse territory.
Bush is undermining our Republic, gutting our rights, spending us into penury, and smearing a great civilization, in order to get his grubby fingers on the Ellipse. You get to pay for it twice, once at the pump and once on your annual tax return.