With every passing day, the expected/potential/planned war on Iraq becomes more of an exercise in political thinking. Not a single bullet has been fired in this theoretical war, but the scenarios of the day after could already fill a thick book. Who will run Iraq? Will it become the first real democracy in the Arab Middle East? Will the Middle East break up and then perhaps reunite? And what about the Islamic fundamentalists? A whole series of mega-questions exists, which, on second thought, should have been presented before declaring war or even the intention of war.
In this intellectual exercise, some are running around with their shears already harvesting the fruits of victory - not America, which is still in the midst of analyzing all sorts of scenarios, but rather Israel, which posits a linear approach that goes approximately like this: "America will topple Saddam's regime, and the next regime, even if it's not the most democratic in the world, will at least owe its rule to the Americans. In other words, it will be what's known as `a pro-Western regime' - like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Afghanistan. But that result is less interesting. What's really important is that the Americans will show the Arab world that recalcitrant Arab regimes that threaten America can be replaced - and that's the lesson the Palestinians will learn, so they'll immediately sign a surrender to Israel."
This is not a mocking depiction of Israel's war scenario, but rather a description of what officials in the various research and intelligence departments of the government are saying. "Getting rid of Saddam through a Western power is the only chance to reach a breakthrough in the peace process," said one. "A war on Iraq will make the new world order tangible to the Arab world, which will have to choose between supporting terror and joining the family of Western nations, and that includes making peace with Israel," says another.
This expectation stands on very shaky legs. The underlying assumption is that a war with global reasons - "eradication of the evil regime" of Saddam Hussein or eliminating his threat to the U.S. and the free world - also eliminates local reasons for national conflicts. Just as the birth of democratic Russia did not end the conflict between it and Chechnya, and the establishment of a relative democracy in Afghanistan did not end the domestic strife there, nor deter India and Pakistan from nuclear brinkmanship, there also should not be any expectation that a war against Iraq will relieve the conflicts between Egypt and Sudan, Jordan and Qatar, Morocco and Algeria, and of course, Israel and Palestine.
Even the proponents of democracy can calm down. It's doubtful that we'll see Hosni Mubarak, King Fahd or Bashar Assad among the pilgrims to Baghdad after the war to get a firsthand look at the amazing new democracy in Iraq. And those expecting that after the war the U.S. will immediately turn to Israel demanding that it pull out of the territories will also be disappointed. Does anyone really believe that an Israeli government, especially if it is a right-wing government, as expected, will tell its loyalists in the territories that as a result of America's victory over Saddam, the settlers immediately must come home?
Israel's problem in the world has never been the number of democracies in the Middle East but rather the danger that while chasing Saddam, America will lose its influence in the Arab countries. American prestige has been what has defined the U.S. administration as an Israeli strategic asset. It is still what gives America the ability to mediate, to pressure, and particularly, to deter. A popular anti-American Arab movement that could drag Arab governments along, could erase American influence in the region. And the other possibility, that the U.S. will want to present a friendly face to Arab countries after it conquered one of their sister regimes, could yet result in a lot of shrapnel flying into Israel's face. The anticipation of America finally dropping the other shoe could end up with a painful step on Israel's foot.
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