Iraq, Palestine, and U.S. Imperialism

by Toufic Haddad

International Socialist Review, July/August 2004


The U.S. antiwar movement recently adopted the issue of Palestine as a point of unity; prominently declaring that on March 20, 2004, protesters across America would march beneath the banner, "End colonial occupations from Iraq to Palestine to everywhere." This came in large part as a result of a letter addressed to the broader antiwar community on behalf of Arab and Muslim organizations announcing that these groups would no longer accept the de-linking of Palestine and the occupation of Iraq in the U.S. antiwar movement. The statement declared that the struggle in Palestine must be "central to any peace and justice mobilization."

However, the letter is notably vague about the relationship between the struggles in Palestine and Iraq beyond proclamations that "both peoples have paid dearly in confronting war and occupation." This article seeks to clarify what indeed are the connections between the Palestinian and Iraqi struggles, situating both within the framework of current U.S. imperial objectives. This is necessary because both occupations are key components of the U.S. Middle East strategy. The American ruling establishment has already invested billions of dollars in both, and has shown a willingness to sacrifice the lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The U.S.-funded Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been underway for almost thirty-seven years, and has cost U.S. taxpayers around $5 billion a year. As for Iraq, top U.S. officials have no qualms about declaring the occupation-the cost of which is already running into the hundreds of billions-a long-term endeavor. As former occupation chief in Iraq General Jay Garner [Ret.] recently put it, "One of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights .... Look back on the Philippines around the turn of the 20th century. They were a coaling station for the Navy .... That's what Iraq is for the next few decades: our coaling station that gives us great presence in the Middle East.

Understanding how Iraq and Palestine fit together is made all the more important by the fact that after September 11, and the more recent U.S. occupation of Iraq, the architecture of U.S. imperial policies has entered a significant new era that Bush administration officials are heralding as the advent of "a new Middle East." Though the classic U.S. imperial objectives in the region remain unchanged, new methods and tactics are being devised to consolidate these objectives, which in part are aimed at addressing both old and new structural weaknesses and threats to U.S. hegemony. Clarification of these issues is thus of utmost necessity so activists know best how to strategize and focus their energies for the task at hand.

From Iraq to Palestine: Similarities

On one level, the comparison between the occupations is straightforward. Indeed, all occupying armies, if their occupations are to last, must inevitably develop certain techniques of "counterinsurgency." But there is more than coincidence in the techniques both the Israeli and U.S. occupying armies are using to suppress popular resistance. U.S. techniques in Iraq are unmistakably similar to Israeli techniques in the 1967 Occupied Territories because of the active cooperation between Israeli military advisers and the Americans on the ground. It is worth mentioning some of these common techniques while not forgetting the terribly destructive effect they have on the daily lives of Iraqis and Palestinians. They include: the use of aggressive techniques of urban warfare with an emphasis on special units, house-to-house searches, wide-scale arrest campaigns (almost 14,000 Iraqis are now in prison), and torture; the erecting of an elaborate system of watchtowers, military bases, checkpoints, barbed wire, and trenches to monitor, control, and restrict transportation and movement; the clearing of wide swaths of land next to roads; the use of armored bulldozers to destroy the houses of suspected militants; the razing of entire fields from which militants might seek refuge; the heightened relevance of snipers and unmanned drones; and the attempted erection of collaborator networks to extract information from the local population about resistance activities-both military and political.

Indeed, the techniques Israel has developed over the years in suppressing Palestinian resistance, and most recently in urban warfare throughout the course of the Al Aqsa Intifada, have proven invaluable for many states attempting to crush insurrections-Colombia (leftist guerrillas), Turkey (Kurds), India (Kashmir), Sri Lanka (Tamil liberation movements), and Indonesia (East Timor), to name just a few. The U.S., anxious to rid itself of the hangover of the "Vietnam syndrome," and more recently the "Somalia syndrome," value this expertise just as highly. Cooperation in urban warfare techniques with Israeli military generals both on the logistic level and on the ground in Israeli training camps pre-dates the most recent Iraq campaign. For example, a detailed lecture on urban warfare is featured by Brigadier General Gideon Avidor in a Rand Corporation publication entitled "Ready for Armageddon" in which other top military brass (both U.S. and international) seek to learn from the Israeli experiences of urban warfare. As the Iraqi occupation cooperation is surfacing. Pulitzer prize continues, increasing evidence of this winning author Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker magazine writes, "According to American and Israeli military and intelligence officials, Israeli commandos and intelligence units have been working closely with their American counterparts at the Special Forces training base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and in Israel to help them prepare for operations in Iraq." One of the operations formulated with the "ad hoc Israeli commandos advisers" is "called 'pre-emptive manhunting' by one Pentagon adviser" and has "the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program"-a reference to the counterinsurgency program the U.S. adopted during the Vietnam War, in which Special Forces were sent out to capture or assassinate Vietnamese believed to be working with or sympathetic to the Vietcong. Operation Phoenix resulted in the killing of at least 60,000 victims between 1968 and 1972.

The similarity between the two occupations isn't limited to one of mere technique, but also includes the way in which U.S. actions are framed and justified. As Palestinian thinker (and Israeli member of Parliament) Azmi Bishara has noted, the "war against terror" and particularly the recent invasion of Iraq was waged using the logic of "globalized Israeli security doctrines. For example, 'the pre-emptive strike' or the 'preventative war.' These conceptions are actually Israeli conceptions, including understanding 'terrorism' as the 'main enemy." Bishara explains, "Israel's central doctrine was to divide the world into 'terrorists' and 'anti-terrorists'.. .so that it could be on the side of Russia, India and the United States together. Everybody is fighting terrorism.' This enables Israel to break its isolation. Israel is on one side, the entire Arab world is on the other."'

Important differences: Palestine and the inadequacy of terminology

Despite all these similarities, it is important to understand that differences exist. The U.S. occupation of Iraq is by no means a carbon copy of Israeli practices against the Palestinians. Each occupation plays a different role in U.S. imperial objectives. Moreover, limiting the discussion to occupation does a disservice to what is actually taking place in both cases, and obfuscates the clarity needed for real action.

To start with, the word "occupation" is commonly used to refer to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza that began in 1967. Though Palestinians actively resist this occupation (and have since it started), they also actively reject the limiting of their cause to the question of this occupation alone. In fact, the Palestinian national liberation movement began in the Ottoman era (pre-First World War) and crystallized in the years of the British mandate (1920-1948). The modern national movement (embodied in the Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO) was established in 1964-three years before the 1967 occupation, and began as a movement of refugees, expelled by Zionist armies from Palestine in 1948, who sought to lead the return of the Palestinian people back to their lands and homes. The word "occupation," in this instance, bears no reference to the Nakba (Arabic for catastrophe), the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 in which 530 Palestinian cities, towns, and villages were depopulated. Nor does it shed any light on the nature of the Zionist movement or the exclusive Jewish state it established, which is discriminatory and racist by its very nature against non-Jews. Furthermore, occupation bears no reference to the struggle of the more than one million Palestinians inside Israel who are citizens of the state, and who today are at the very heart of the anti-Zionist struggle, as the non-Jews in the Jewish state struggling for equality and their national collective rights as the indigenous people of Palestine.

In fact, occupation has become a very slippery word used for disingenuous political purposes. Israeli Prime Minister Arid Sharon told the Likud Central Committee on May 27, 2003, "I also believe that the thought and idea that we can continue keeping under occupation-we might not like the word, but it is occupation-3.5 million Palestinians, is very bad for Israel, the Palestinians and Israel's economy."' Likewise, Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu both proclaimed during the Oslo years that Israel no longer occupied the Palestinians. Their claim was that the direct occupation of Palestinians by the Israeli army was over (because of Palestinian Authority, or PA, autonomy in "Area A" during Oslo) or needed to end, but without mentioning the occupation of Palestinian land.

Thus it is evident that the term "anti-occupation" is a political catechism that cannot be allowed to go unqualified if it is to be used in defense of Palestinian rights. This is the precise mistake large parts of the European Left have made vis-à-vis the Palestinian struggle, and the American Left must be careful not to fall into this same trap. This has come about largely as a result of them taking the lead from the Zionist Left which forms the Israeli "peace camp" (and includes groups from the more "establishment" Meretz Party and Peace Now movement, to the more "radical" Gush Shalom and Women in Black).

The Zionist Left's critique of Israel and the occupation is limited to Israeli practices only after 1967. It categorically rejects the Palestinian refugees' right of return (which has been passed by the UN General Assembly more than 110 times since 1948). Furthermore, the Zionist Left has no intention of raising the question of the racist and discriminatory nature of Zionism, the formation of the Israeli state, or for that matter, even the recognition of the rights and struggles ( of the Palestinian citizens of Israel. This misleading line taken by the Zionist Left, or rather its intentional gerrymandering of the "problem," is made worse by the negotiating tactics of the 7 Palestinian Authority, which has promoted an approach that only focuses on the 1967 occupation. This ambiguity surrounding the term "occupation," and its use to obscure what is at the heart of the Palestinian struggle, has been terribly destructive to the Palestinian cause. In fact, it was precisely the illusion that the problem was the occupation and that the "occupation was ending" during the Oslo "peace process" between 1993 and 2000 that allowed much of the international community to absolve itself of responsibility to the Palestinian cause, at a time when in fact the Israeli occupation was deepening. The present Intifada arose as a rejection of both the occupation and the falsity that a peace process was taking place.

Limiting criticism of Israel to the occupation continues to be a disservice to describing what is happening to Palestinians both in the West Bank and inside Israel. Since the Al Aqsa Intifada began at least 3,000 Palestinians have been killed (as of the writing of this article), of whom more than 550 are children and 200 are women, while 310 have been killed in political assassinations. Almost 39,000 Palestinians have been wounded, and more than 6,000 are in prison (437 of whom are children). More than 5,100 homes have been completely destroyed and an additional 55,119 have been damaged. Forty-three schools alone have been transformed into military bases. More than 15,000 acres of land have been leveled, 982,000 trees uprooted, 12,848 sheep and goats killed or poisoned, and 257 water wells destroyed completely. If we compare in scale the American population of 280 million to the Palestinian population of three million-a ratio of about 93:l-you begin to get a sense of the enormity of devastation taking place. As a proportion of their total population, four times the number of Palestinians have died than Americans were killed in Vietnam.

This is to say nothing of the 370 kilometers of wall that Israel is erecting around the West Bank. In fact, the wall is a series of 8-meter-high concrete slabs, electric fences, trenches, barbed-wire, patrol roads, and tracking paths. Its ultimate purpose is to enforce what Israel terms "demographic separation," while unilaterally annexing large swaths of Palestinian land and water to Israel. Architects of the wall seek to consolidate the long-held Zionist plan of establishing separate islands of Palestinian autonomy similar to the South African Bantustans on no more than 40 percent of the West Bank-a plan both Labor and Likud governments have been united in implementing since the 1967 occupation began.

The 1948 Palestinians (who are citizens of Israel) have also witnessed a sustained assault against their livelihood. They too were brutally repressed at the outbreak of the Intifada, with the Israeli police killing thirteen of them before demonstrations in solidarity with their brethren in 1967 Palestine were quelled. Their second-class status also means that they are subject to having their land confiscated, and their houses demolished without recourse for the purpose of erecting Jewish-only settlements. They have already had 97 percent of their land confiscated from them, and they are unable to purchase land that is now owned by Jewish Israelis due to sophisticated state laws that discriminate against Arab ownership of land. Furthermore, not a day goes by in Israel when Israeli politicians don't refer to them-not the 1967 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza-as the existential threat Israel faces, the so-called "demographic time bomb." During the course of the Intifada, Israel has accelerated its attempts to ghettoize them, too. It is presently engaged in trying to force 70,000 Palestinians who live in unrecognized villages in the south of the country by spraying their crops with defoliants. Israel has also issued demolition orders against more than 6,000 homes of Palestinian citizens of Israel, claiming the homes were built "illegally."

'What the limited framework of occupation fails to capture is that Israel is presently engaged in an all-out war against the entire Palestinian people, located across historical Palestine. At minimum, this plan aims to erect an overt form of apartheid, and in the worst-case scenario, could result in "transfer" (the Israeli expression used for ethnic cleansing)-be it by force (i.e., physical expulsion at gunpoint), or "willful" (by preventing access by Palestinians to the necessities of life-health care, education, work, water, food, family, etc.), forcing people to leave.

Israel in the service of U.S. imperialism

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the inadequacy of the term "occupation" is made clear not only vis-à-vis what is taking place on the ground in Palestine (the micro level), but also vis-à-vis what Israel's historic and present day role has been in relation to 'Western imperialism (the macro level).

Israel's role, in the words of founding Zionist thinker Theodore Hertzl in 1896, is to be "a bulwark against Asia... an advance post of civilization against barbarism. 116 All Zionist leaders from the pre-state days to the present have understood that loyalty to the objectives of Western imperialism would guarantee support to the state, and domination over the Arab world. Co-founder of the World Zionist Organization Max Nordau explicitly declared this in a July 12, 1920 speech delivered at Albert Hall in London. Describing the event, Nordau writes:

On stage were Mr. Balfour, Marquise Carew, Lord Robert Cecil, members of the British Cabinet, MPs, and Politicians .... I turned to the Ministers and said: During a dangerous moment in the World War you thought that we, the Jews, could render you a useful service. You turned to us, making promises that were rather general but could be considered satisfactory. [This is a reference to Lord Balfour's declaration promising the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine in 191 7-TH.] We considered your views and were loyal towards your proposals. We only want to continue. We made a pact with you. We consider carefully the dangers and commitments of this pact. We know what you hope to receive from us. We must protect the Suez Canal for you. We shall be the guards of your road to India as it passes through the Middle East. We are ready to fulfill this difficult military role but this requires that you permit us to become powerful so as to be able to fulfill our role. Loyalty for loyalty, faithfulness in return for faithfulness.

After the 1967 war, U.S. imperialism replaced Britain and France as Israel's backer. But the nature of this relationship and of Israel's role has never changed, but rather has expanded to include not only the protection of the Suez Canal, but most importantly, the protection of Western access to Middle East oil. As the establishment Israeli daily paper Haaretz wrote,

Israel is to become the watchdog. There is no fear that Israel will undertake any aggressive policy towards the Arab states when this would explicitly contradict the wishes of the U.S. and Britain. But, if for any reasons the western powers should sometimes prefer to close their eyes, Israel could be relied upon to punish one or several neighboring states whose discourtesy to the west went beyond the bounds of the permissible.'

Israel's principle purpose-indeed its specialization-has been to subvert, suppress, uproot, and destroy the forces of Arab nationalism to secure Western access to Arab oil, once described by Washington as "the greatest prize in human history." Arab nationalism was and continues to be such a threat to the interests of Western imperialism, because it is the sole force that calls for the self-determination of the Arab peoples and their natural resources, thus threatening to call into question the false divisions created by Western imperialism which divided the Arab peoples into twenty-two states at the beginning of the twentieth century.

In this endeavor Israel has worked tirelessly. Though its most striking and best known accomplishment was its surprise attack and defeat of the Pan-Arab movement of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1967-a demoralizing defeat that the Arab world has yet to recover from-this is only the tip of the iceberg of what Israel has undertaken to do away with any and all traces of the Arab national movement. It is worth here briefly mentioning some of this expansive and elaborate policy, as it is rarely given due exposure.

Since its creation, Israel has engaged and defeated different Arab regimes in major wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982. In all cases, with the exception of 1973, Israel initiated the attacks. Israel has consistently supported non-Arab states on the periphery of the Arab world in Turkey, Iran, Kenya, and Ethiopia as a way to make sure that Arab states engage in resource expenditure and defense against their neighbors. This is known in Israeli "defense" lexicon as "Encirclement Theory."

Israel has consistently supported both ethnic and religious minorities within the Arab world, as a way to break down Arab nationalism from within (known in Israeli lexicon as the "Theory of Allying the Periphery"). It first targeted Arab Jews (particularly in Iraq, Egypt, and Morocco), even going so far as to plant bombs in synagogues and on Jewish-owned property to provoke a wave of Arab Jewish immigration to Israel in the early 1950s.9 Israel has also attempted to foment the rebellions of other minority groups in Egypt (the Copts), Lebanon (the Maronites), Iraq (the Kurds), and Sudan (Christians in the south) as a way of weakening Arab nationalism. Israel even refuses to recognize the Arab nationality of the more than one million Arab citizens of Israel, instead officially registering them as Muslims, Christians, and Druze.

Israel has come to the aid of pro-Western Arab regimes, helping them defend themselves from internal Arab nationalist movements. The most well-known example of this is that of Jordan in 1970, when Israel threatened to intervene to shore up the Jordanian monarchy in its attempts to suppress the PLO. The Syrian army thought to put a stop to the massacre of Palestinians by the Jordanian regime, but opted not to because of Israel's threat that it would bomb Damascus. But this is not the only case of Israel supporting a reactionary Arab regime to put down the forces of Arab nationalism. Former head of the Israeli Mossad, Shabtai Shavit explicitly confirmed that Israel supported royalist forces in Yemen in their war against republican forces throughout the 1960s. The Israeli aid consisted of parachuting weapons to royalist forces and sending instructors to train them. The Israeli motivation was the desire to weaken Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser who supported the republican forces. As Haaretz noted: "The Pan-Arab project of Nasser threatened the rule of Imperialism in the region and, as Shavit explains: 'We did it in order to be able to struggle against the worst of our enemies.' Moreover, the interference in the civil war [in Yemen] was part of a comprehensive strategic perception of the Mossad which endeavored to divide the Arab world and find allies in the region."

Israel has directly and indirectly been involved in the assassination of prominent and progressive Arab nationalists for years, including senior Moroccan revolutionary Mehdi Ben Barakeh in 1967, leaders and members of the National Liberation Front in Algeria, as well as dozens of prominent revolutionaries in the Lebanese and Palestinian national movements.

Israel has worked closely to prevent any Arab regime from challenging its military advantage and hegemony in the Middle East, particularly seeking to prevent the Arabs from developing nuclear capabilities. Israel destroyed the Iraqi reactor during its assembly in France in 1977, and assassinated an assortment of scientists who worked in the Iraqi nuclear program-most notably the Egyptian scientist Yahya El Mashd, in Paris. Israel also assassinated the brainchild of the Iraqi Super Cannon project in Brussels, and bombed the Osiraq Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981.

Israel has repeatedly attempted to weaken or destroy the Palestinian national movement-particularly in 1970 in Gaza, 1982 in Lebanon, 1987 in the first Intifada, and most recently in the current Al Aqsa Intifada, which began in September 2000. More than any other movement, the Palestinian national movement has collectively symbolized and united Arab nationalist aspirations, and has acted until recently as the main front of Western imperialism's attacks and control of Arab nationalism.

Israel's relentless war against Arab nationalism has made it an indispensable ally of the U.S., far and above the value of any pro-Western Arab proxy regime, regimes whose instability derives from their illegitimacy in the eyes of their own people. For these reasons, American military expert-Major General George Keegan and former air force intelligence officer-has been quoted as saying that it would cost U.S. taxpayers $125 billion to maintain an armed force equal to Israel's in the Middle East, and that the U.S.-Israel military relationship was worth "five CIAs."

Current Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalon recently confirmed the strategic significance of Israel for U.S. objectives in the Middle East, in an interview he gave to Charlie Rose on PBS.

"I think the friendship with Israel is helping the United States, not less that it's helping us, because we are sharing so many things in common. We are not sharing only information and intelligence .... We have been working together for so many years, and I believe that we are protecting the interests of the United States in our region. Just try to imagine if Israel did not exist. If Israel was not there, what would happen in this region with this hostility towards the United States and towards the values that it represents? When we are there, we are not letting those extremists, those fanatics to focus only on the Americans: they [the fanatics] have to do it with us. I believe that while we are there we are helping very much the Americans not less than they are helping us. It is mutual interest of both our countries and our peoples."

Iraq, oil, empire

Having established Israel's role as the protector of Western, primarily U.S., imperial objectives, it is easier to determine how and where the recent invasion and occupation of Iraq fits into place. Deputy Defense Minister Paul Wolfowitz himself acknowledged to delegates at an Asian security summit in Singapore in June 2003 that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction. When asked why the nuclear power of North Korea was being treated differently from Iraq, Wolfowitz commented: "Let's look at it simply. The most important difference between North Korea and Iraq is that economically, we just had no choice in Iraq. The country swims on a sea of oil."

Of course it is no secret that oil is at the heart of the occupation's objectives. American and world dependence on Gulf oil will increase precipitously over the next twenty years. Veteran Middle East analyst Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)-well connected to the U.S. intelligence community-describes this dependency in a document written before the occupation of Iraq:

"We need to remember what our key strategic priorities are. The U.S. is steadily more dependent on a global economy and the global economy is steadily more dependent on Middle Eastern energy exports, particularly from the Gulf. We tend to take this so much for granted that we sometimes fail to consider just how serious this dependence is and how much it is estimated to grow in the future. There also is still a tendency to view the issue in terms of American import dependence, our normal peacetime dependence on given countries for imports, and dependence on direct imports. These are all false approaches to the problem. We are steadily more dependent on global imports; what affects the global economy affects us and our direct level of oil imports is no measure of strategic dependence.

Similarly, we compete for oil on a world market. Any shortage or price rise in a crisis forces us to compete for imports on the same basis as every other nation. Finally, focusing on direct imports of oil ignores the fact that the U.S. has steadily shifted the pattern of its manufactured imports to include energy dependent goods, particularly from Asia. These, in turn, are produced by economies that are critically dependent on oil imported from the Middle East. Estimates of import dependence that only include direct imports of crude understate our true net dependence on oil imports to the point where they are analytically absurd."

In this regard, Iraq's possession of the second largest oil serves in the world (with prospects for more), its weakened position after twelve years of sanctions, and the openings for the U.S. created after the September 11 attacks and subsequent "war on terror," all made the invasion of Iraq a strategic necessity. As the Gulf's share of worldwide petroleum exports increases to almost 60 percent by 2020, the U.S. has perceived the need to keep these strategic reserves in a strong U.S. grip to ensure not only American access to oil, but also U.S. domination and leverage over potential European and Chinese competitors, and over world oil markets as a whole. Securing Iraq's oil thus represents a lynchpin of U.S. imperial objectives. These objectives were summed up well by Paul Wolfowitz as early as 1992: The U.S. "must now refocus on precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor .... [We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors even aspiring to a larger regional or global role."

From Iraq to remolding the entire Middle East

The fact that the U.S. now occupies one of the Arab world's largest and most historically influential countries positions it well to not only control Iraq's oil resources but also to remold the entire region as it sees fit. Bush recently declared in his weekly radio address, "The establishment of a free Iraq will be a watershed event in the history of the Middle East, helping to advance the spread of liberty throughout that vital region.. . as freedom takes hold in the greater Middle East, the people of the region will find new hope, and America will be more secure.""

Details of what precisely the Bush administration has meant by its version of a new Middle East have been noticeably vague beyond the predictable rehashed "white man's burden" rhetoric about bringing freedom and democracy to the people of the region. But based on what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, together with other ongoing trends and phenomena in the region, it is now becoming clearer as to what precisely the U.S. has in mind. These plans are aimed at addressing both old and new structural weaknesses and threats to this hegemony, which are increasingly likely to reveal themselves in the post-invasion of Iraq Middle East.

The Middle East: Legacy of imperialism and of democracy denied

For some time, the Middle East has been a veritable cauldron of economic, social, and political discontent for the Arab working classes, particularly within the U.S.-backed Arab regimes (Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, and the entire Gulf region which includes Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman, in addition to Yemen). Many of these problems were more publicly exposed after the publication of the 2002 and 2003 UN Human Development Reports on the Arab world. These reports, written by prominent Arab scholars and academics, reveal how far down the corrupt regimes of the Middle East have driven their peoples.

Of nine world regions surveyed, the Arab world topped the list of those populations who most supported the statement that "democracy is better than any other form of government," and expressed the highest level of rejection of authoritarian rule. The UN report is rife with shocking examples of where the negligence, corruption, and despotism of the Arab regimes has led: The combined gross domestic product of the twenty-two Arab League countries is less than that of Spain. Approximately 40 percent of adult Arabs-sixty-five million people are illiterate (two-thirds of whom are women). If current unemployment rates persist, regional unemployment will reach twenty-five million by 2010, representing at least 15 percent in most Arab countries. Investment in research and development is less than one-seventh of the world average. Fifty-one percent of older Arab youths expressed a desire to emigrate to other countries. The Arab world already suffers from a "hemorrhaging" of large numbers of qualified Arab professionals who emigrate to the West in search of job opportunities. Roughly 25 percent of the 300,000 graduates from Arab universities in 1995-1996 emigrated, and more than 15,000 Arab doctors emigrated between 1998 and 2000 alone.

U.S. think tanks for years have been warning of increasing "troubling trends" throughout the Middle East, which if allowed to fester for too long could be potentially explosive. But their concern is not with what has been done to the peoples of the Middle East, but rather the impact of these trends on U.S. hegemony in the region and on global markets as a whole. In a remarkable series of documents published by CSIS entitled "Peace is Not Enough,"" Anthony Cordesman outlines how these issues simply cannot be ignored. These issues include "massive economic and demographic problems" whereby "no Arab country has economic growth that solidly outpaces its rise in population"; "Population momentum rates" that "represent a major threat" requiring "massive birth control programs" (referred to as the "Population Momentum Bomb"); "Gross overpopulation and over-urbanization" which may become "critical threats by 2010-2030"; "Extremely high under and un-employment" which create "a generation with nowhere to go"; and a "Youth Explosion Problem" whereby over 40 percent of the population is 14 years or younger." In the era of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, Cordesman raises these issues because they will increasingly threaten the stability of U.S.-backed regimes across an Arab world which is incensed about U.S. imperial policies in the region-particularly its backing of Arab dictatorships, its support for Israel, and the brutal Iraq occupation.

The economic fist behind the military glove

The U.S. also has other incentives behind rearranging the economic, political, and social landscape of the Arab world: neoliberalism. As one analyst from the Cato Institute Daniel T Griswold bemoans, "The Arab world is a land that globalization has largely passed by," suffering from an isolation that "is largely self-imposed. Average tariff barriers in the Arab Middle East are among the highest in the world, and as a consequence the region suffers from chronically declining shares of global trade and investment."

Over the past two decades, the Middle East's share of world trade has fallen from 13.5 percent in 1980, to less than 3.4 percent in 2000. Similarly, foreign direct investment in the Arab world has also steadily declined during this period, going from 2.6 percent of the world total in 1975-1980, to only 0.7 percent during 1990-1998.' Average tariffs in Algeria are 24 percent, 30 percent in Tunisia, and more than 20 percent in Egypt-much higher than the average tariffs in the United States, which hover around 4 percent. Griswold's solution is predictably clear: "Free trade is not a panacea, but it is a necessary building block for a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East. Free trade has helped to reduce poverty in those countries and regions of the world that have progressively opened themselves to the global economy. Free trade can till the soil for democracy and respect for human rights by creating an economically independent and growing middle class."

It is with this underlying framework that U.S. policy wonks are approaching the post-invasion of Iraq Middle East, with the expressed intention of "draining the swamp" according to one analyst." The U.S. is looking at ways to push through its "vision" of how the Middle East is to be remolded economically, politically, and socially-with Iraq proving to be an important testing ground for these policies.

Details of the U.S. administration's designs first emerged in May 2003 when Bush outlined a plan to create a U.S.-Middle East free trade area within ten years "to bring the Middle East into an expanding circle of opportunity, to provide hope for the people who live in that region."" When a reporter from the Economist asked U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick where Iraq stood in the U.S. vision of the Middle East Free Trade Agreement (MEFTA), Zoellick was amazingly forthcoming as to exactly how the U.S. will proceed on this front." After making the necessary disclaimer,

"The decisions for Iraq ultimately have to be made by the Iraqi people and a new sovereign government of Iraq," Zoellick continued by outlining exactly what the sovereign government is likely to do:

It would certainly be our hope that Iraq could be one of the engines of a new openness and economic growth and vitality in the region. My own assessment is you have to walk before you can run, and at this point, the first step is making sure one establishes security; it's hard to have a climate for economic growth without security. Simultaneously the second aspect has been to work on humanitarian aid as necessary .... Third, get the oil sanctions lifted and start to get their oil flowing so as to provide a revenue source. Fourth, we're going to have to deal with the debt problem whether through forgiveness or rescheduling because that's a big overhang. Fifth, there clearly needs to be a reconstruction effort in the traditional term of reconstruction, building things .... Now, going beyond that, there will also be the need to develop commercial codes and legal regimes. We and other countries will be supportive of that. I believe the World Bank is trying to help with its programs. And that I hope will create the foundation for the steps on the trade side .... What would be the next steps on the trade side?... We would like to qualify Iraq for that Generalized System of Preferences .... And then I think the next step will be to get Iraq into the WTO. But those steps obviously have to wait the decisions of the sovereign Iraq Government!

The erecting of a Middle East Free Trade Area takes its inspiration directly from the experience of the past ten years on the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian front, where a NAFTA-style maquiladora system was established by creating tax-free industrial trade zones for local and international capital. The Palestinian component, though once off to a "healthy start," was largely scuttled due to outbreak of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. Yet the "Jordanian experience" continues to this day, building on the peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1994, the Qualified Industrial Zones Jordan erected in 1997, and the free trade agreement it signed with the U.S. in 2000.

By law, only 15 percent of the industries and companies located in the Jordanian industrial zones are required to have Jordanian partnership. A full 85 percent of the industry and its profits therefore go directly to international capital. Furthermore, investors have the freedom to exploit local cheap labor and utilize Jordan's land and infrastructure without paying any taxes or tariffs, thereby destroying local industries that do not share these perks. The Jordanian industrial zones are also used as means by which pressure can be applied to other regional Arab industries to get them to follow a similar neoliberal agenda. For example, the opening of the Jordanian free trade zone and the signing of the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement forced the Egyptian textile industry to engage in a competitive race to the bottom.

Not surprisingly, the free trade zones are also ways through which Israeli investors can move their industries in search of cheaper labor costs and weaker labor regulation, while simultaneously enforcing economic normalization. This has already begun to take place. A main investor in the Prince Hassan City

Industrial Complex ($15 million) is the Israeli textile giant Delta Gall Industries, best known for its underwear business." Delta Galil's CEO Dov Lautman explains frankly, "There's no way you can sew in any western country, not even in Israel where labor costs are too high." The average monthly salary of $1,000 in Israel is incomparable to the $100-$150 that capitalists like Lautman can pay Jordanian women in the industrial zones. Lautman explains the convenience of the trade zones for Israeli capitalists like himself, who can leave Tel Aviv by car at six in the morning, arrive at Irbid in northern Jordan by nine, and be back in Haifa on the Mediterranean coast by three in the afternoon. The trade zones are also thought to alleviate the "population momentum bomb," owing to the fact that the Arab women who work in the zones for slave wages will be less likely to have large families if they are employed.

Jordan is the model for the Bush administration's vision of MEFTA. U.S. trade representative Zoellick has been spearheading these neoliberal agendas, initially unveiling plans at the World Economic Forum meeting held in Jordan in June 2003. Zoellick missed no opportunity at orientalism by declaring, "The United States aims to brighten the Middle East with as many success stories as stars in the desert sky. To do so, we are charting a new constellation: shining lights of trade and investment that offer a clear course for countries in the region wishing to embark on a journey of economic openness and reform. He even went so far as to use the verse from the Koran, "Let there be trading by mutual consent," in an op-ed for the Washington Post to shamelessly justify U.S. neoliberalism across the region.

At the same time, Zoellick did not hold back from what it was going to take" to get those "stars in the desert sky" to start shining: "Capital is a coward. I wish it weren't so, but it is. Frankly, investors have opportunities all over the world. What does that mean? It means that people in this region have to make it a hospitable environment, they have to show people that they can get good returns on the investment, is this possible? You bet."

Zoellick continued:

How do you improve your environment for private capital? For one, we can do it by opening our markets so that people have the opportunity to sell their goods to the United States, Europe, or other areas of the world. But, the people in this region have to make the right climate in terms of property rights, laws, judicial systems. They have to learn the risk premium. How can you lower the risk and how can we increase the potential return? The question is really not what favors people can do but what favors people can do for themselves by creating the environment. And what we're here to do is to help."

The U.S. free trade zone model is thus likely to extend from Israel through Jordan, and into Iraq-representing an uninterrupted chain of U.S. neoliberal regimes from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Gulf. Free trade agreements similar to the one signed between Jordan and the U.S. are in the process of being worked out in Bahrain (to be used as the agent of change in the Gulf region) and in Morocco (for North Africa).

More pre-packaged "reforms"

In November 2003, the Bush administration unveiled a plan entitled the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), "founded to support economic, political, and educational reform efforts in the Middle East and champion opportunity for

all people of the region, especially women and youth ."27 These ideas were elaborated on in a draft of a leaked U.S. working paper due to be submitted to the Group of Eight (G8, composed of the U.S., France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Britain, Japan, and representatives from the European Union) for its upcoming summit on Sea Island, Georgia in June 2004, and published in the London-based Al Hayat newspaper on February 13. The document calls upon the G8 (and not just the U.S.) to "forge a long-term partnership with the Greater Middle East's reform leaders and launch a coordinated response to promote political, economic, and social reform in the region." It does so based upon the claim that "So long as the region's pool of politically and economically disenfranchised individuals grows, we will witness an increase in extremism, terrorism, international crime, and illegal migration"-a situation which threatens "the national interests of all G-8 members."

Predictably, the thrust of the draft document deals with more "economic reforms" aimed at "unleashing the region's private sector potential," the "primary engines of economic growth and job creation." The U.S., through the G8, is attempting to push for "the growth of an entrepreneurial class in the Greater Middle East [GME] " which "would also be an important element in helping democracy and freedom flourish."

The economic initiative calls for the G8 to "commit to an integrated finance initiative" consisting of sponsoring microfinance projects (primarily designed to engage women in the workforce); establish a Greater Middle East Finance Corporation modeled on the International Finance Corporation (to "help incubate medium and larger-sized businesses, with an aim toward regional business integration"); establish a Greater Middle East Development Bank (GMEDBank) which would act as a "regional development institution modeled on the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)," a kind of regional World Bank; create a "Partnership for Financial Excellence" designed to "advance reform of financial services" to "better integrate the GME into the global financial system"; promote accession into the World Trade Organization (WO); create trade hubs "focused on improving intra-regional trade and customs practices" and "Business Incubator Zones (BIZ)."

Complementary to the economic and financial aspects of these initiatives (which essentially amount to variations of structural adjustment policies), the U.S. also plans to draw up a new architecture for political and social infrastructure as well. Of course, neither the U.S. nor the G8 is serious about implementing any genuine democratic elections to remove from power its most trusted allies like King Abdullah of Jordan, King Hassan of Morocco, or Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Rather, the plans are designed to implement some form of nominal democratic reforms (like the present Jordanian or Moroccan parliaments, which are totally powerless) that can serve to better buffer genuine democratic sentiment and popular opposition to governmental policies, while true power remains with the same kings, princes, emirs, and presidents. At the same time, social and economic programs are put in place to foster and promote local "organic" adherents to U.S. neoliberal political and economic ambitions. Thus, U.S. proposals include focusing on "promoting democracy and good governance"; encouraging "parliamentary exchange and training programs"; establishing "women's leadership academies"; encouraging the growth of "civil society," "educational reform," "literacy," and textbook translation.

Here too, Iraq and Palestine are proving to be the training grounds for implementing similar plans across the entire region. The political and social reforms proposed to the G8 are similar to the policies implemented in the West Bank and Gaza during the peace process. During that time (1993-2000) millions of dollars of international aid poured in from a host of Western governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), on projects that ranged from "promoting democracy and good governance," to "civil society and women's empowerment," "media independence," and "grassroots youth programs."

Though there is not enough space to go into the many levels of what they entailed, an important net effect of many of these projects was to alienate the grassroots movements from some of their most capable activists, who were drawn to high paying jobs (based on the euro or dollar currencies) in various NGOs and PA ministries, and civil society bodies. The drift of free-floating organic intellectuals away from grassroots movements and the political parties they were involved in played a significant part in destroying much of the Palestinian Left. The absence of these activists from the Palestinian parties and grassroots organizations had a damaging effect on the intellectual and organizational infrastructure of the Palestinian national movement as a whole. Clearly, similar plans are to be implemented across the Middle East-the U.S. draft to the G8 calls for an increase in "direct funding to democracy; human rights, media, women's, and other NGOs in the region" through bodies like the CIA-created National Endowment for Democracy and the British Westminster Foundation.

We already have an indication of how these plans are being implemented within Iraq. Though much attention has correctly been focused on the "corporate invasion of Iraq" by large U.S. corporations like Halliburton and Bechtel, scarcely enough attention has been given to how the U.S. intends to privatize Iraqi political structures. This is primarily taking place via a North Carolina-based NGO known as the Research Triangle Institute (RTI), which was asked by the U.S. Agency for International Development to bid on a contract to play a formative role in the creation of Iraq's future local governance, two weeks before the invasion began. Upon winning the contract, RTI was charged with setting up 180 local and provincial town councils, a $466 million contract worth $167.9 million in the first year alone.

As Naomi Klein recently pointed out:

It now turns out that the town councils RTI has been quietly setting up are the centerpiece of Washington's plan to hand over power to appointed regional caucuses .... Washington wants a transitional body in Iraq with the full powers of sovereign government, able to lock in decisions that an elected government will inherit. To that end, Paul Bremer's Coalition Provisional Authority is pushing ahead with its illegal freemarket reforms, counting on these changes being ratified by an Iraqi government it can control. For instance, on January 31 Bremer announced the awarding of the first three licenses for foreign banks in Iraq. A week earlier, he sent members of the Iraqi Governing Council to the World Trade Organization to request observer status, the first step to becoming a member. And Iraq's occupiers just negotiated an $850 million loan from the International Monetary Fund, giving the lender its usual leverage to extract future economic "adjustments." Again and again, newly liberated people arrive at the ?oils only to discover that there is precious little left to vote for. 8

The U.S. seeks to raise these concerns at the G8 because it wants to ensure that the major capitalist countries of the world are united in understanding that their collective interests lie in subverting any revolutionary tendencies that could emerge in the Middle East. In this regard, the U.S. is actively soliciting the enlistment of NATO sponsorship for its plans. "NATO is going to be part of this conversation about change in the Middle East and NATO has something very important to offer," U.S. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman told reporters in Brussels after a tour to Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and Bahrain. "We want to go forward in supporting ideas for reform, economic reform, political reform, educational reform... [and] all of those things would be so much more successful if there's also security and I think NATO has some role to play in that." Grossman however was quick to allay any fear of neo-imperialism. "The best ideas will come from the region," he said. "This is not about the United States or Europe or anyone else imposing reform on people.""


It is no mistake that the unveiling of U.S. economic, political, and social objectives in the Middle East comes on the heels of the display of enormous U.S. military strength witnessed in the invasion of Iraq, and which was designed to deter any and all who might think of resisting. Nor is it coincidental that it comes at a time when the Arab Left is in shambles, and where one of the only organized centers of social, political, and military resistance to American ambitions throughout the Middle East exists largely in the form of various Islamic movements. These appear to be easily disqualified and-due to racism-are categorically unacceptable to any U.S. neoliberal capitalist order by large parts of the U.S. establishment, but also by large sections of the antiwar movement, too. But this reticence must be quickly overcome. The Islamic movements-which arose out of the great defeats of Arab nationalism and the secular Arab Left, by Israel, the U.S., and U.S.-backed dictators over the last thirty years-are becoming umbrellas of resistance of all types-nationalist, Islamic, and even remnants of the Arab Left. They have correctly placed resisting U.S. imperialism in Palestine and Iraq as their first priority, and fighting for the self-determination of their peoples.

In this respect, these Islamic movements need the unconditional support of the U.S. antiwar movement, which must reject any hair-splitting regarding the nature or character of this resistance.

Despite the sobering enormity of the challenges at hand, U.S. activists must not be deterred from taking up the struggle of resisting U.S. imperialism in Iraq, Palestine, and throughout the entire Middle East. Before it proceeds however, it is imperative that the movement engages in this battle with a clear vision of the issues at hand, and where its responsibilities lie.

There is no connection between Iraq and Palestine and their respective occupations unless one can see them within the framework of U.S. imperialism, and as the product of U.S. capitalism and its policies around the world. If the U.S. antiwar movement is to make any gains in resisting the U.S. war machinery in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is necessary that the Left of this movement-its anti-imperialist and anticapitalist backbone-harden itself and set the agenda for change and for resistance.

In this struggle, we must draw inspiration from the heroic struggles of the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples who are actively engaged in resisting this war machinery on a daily basis. At the same time, it is our responsibility to wage a similar daily battle against this behemoth that creates victims not only outside the U.S., but also includes the U.S. working class. Indeed, it is an illusion to think that the American people do not pay a price for this war as well.

Take for example, the well-publicized case of Halliburton, the company that has been awarded some of the most profitable contracts in Iraq to develop its oil infrastructure and build U.S. military bases there. Halliburton is the same company that aggressively pushed its tort reform plan designed to cap asbestos lawsuits in the U.S. by victims of the cancer-causing asbestos it used in its buildings." Its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR), which is in the process of building the U.S. bases and forward military posts in Iraq, developed its "skills" during the prison construction boom of the 1990s, becoming the second-largest player in prison design and construction in the United States. Caterpillar, the same company which produces contracting equipment used today in the demolition of Palestinian and Iraqi homes (and which killed U.S. citizen Rachel Corrie in Rafah) also attacks its own U.S. union workers. Likewise, the same skills used to smash popular large-scale demonstrations developed by the Israeli military are being utilized by police chiefs of major U.S. cities, through exchange programs organized by the influential JINSA think tank, of which Vice President Dick Cheney is a board member.

It is not enough to calculate the price paid in lives lost and the amount of tax money spent on the military industrial complex that could be used for education and health care in the United States. Nor is it enough to single-out a handful of corporations that are profiteering off the death, destruction, and rapacious exploitation of the world's working classes and the earth's resources. Rather, our resistance must go deeper to the very fabric of the capitalist system that alienates and exploits, imprisons, and excludes, bombs, kills, and lies. We must accept nothing less than the categorical rejection of this system, supporting the full self-determination of the people in Iraq, Palestine, and around the world. We must work to build

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