As bonnie Prince Charles arrived in Saudi Arabia on an official state visit, US and British warplanes launched their first major attack on the outskirts of Baghdad, signaling a new and more aggressive Anglo-American stance in the Middle East - with the emphasis on the Anglo.
To read the British papers, one gets the definite impression that it was the Brits who really pulled off the raid - "WE BOMB BAGHDAD" exulted the Sun, a British tabloid - and indeed there seem to be grounds for believing that the initiative came from Downing Street rather than Pennsylvania Avenue.
The London Times averred, in a headline, that "Britain urged Bush to launch raids on Iraq," and from the somewhat bewildered look on George Dubya's face as he answered reporters' questions about the raid, it seems the White House was largely out of the loop on this one. As the Times tells it, "bitter" complaints from Royal Air Force commanders were communicated to the Americans during a 20-minute meeting between foreign secretary Robin Cook and Colin Powell.
The RAF was "demanding" - as the Times phrased it - that the choice of targets be widened to include targets outside the "no fly zone." The Iraqis had been taking numerous potshots at British warplanes, of late - even going so far as offering a large bounty for the downing of one - and their misses were getting closer. The Brits evidently felt that they were bearing too much of the burden, and taking too many risks without garnering enough of the glory.
DO YOU HAVE A RESERVATION?
Being in charge of an empire is a lot like being a waiter - we rush about the world fulfilling the demands of our client states. Do the Germans want a slice of the former Yugoslavia? Then bomb Belgrade. Are the Israelis having trouble with their Palestinian helots? Then broker a "peace" agreement that gives them cover once it fails. Will petrol prices bring down Britain's socialist government and lead to a European-wide petro-tax revolt? Then, by all means, let's drop more bombs on Iraq. That will drive petroleum prices much higher, of course - but then they can always blame it on the satanic Saddam Hussein, a villain for all seasons and all reasons.
TONY THE TIGER
When the Motherland called, it took less than two weeks for Washington to answer, a rapid reaction that is a testament to Blair's political skills. For the British Labor Party rank-and-file is appalled by the Republican victory, and US secdef Donald Rumsfeld had already signaled his stance when he met with the Tory "shadow" defense secretary. But Blair turned that around. The Clinton-Blair dog-and-pony show on the international stage clearly had the latter in the role of the militant, egging Clinton on in Kosovo and openly calling for the introduction of ground troops. Now, in Iraq, Blair is doing an encore: while the Bushies are tight-lipped about their future plans, British officials are openly saying hat the Iraqis can expect more - and soon. And so Blair is allowed to take the lead once again: but there is, of course, a price to pay.
A PRICE TO PAY
Waiters don't really have it so bad: they don't get much of a salary, if any, but where they really make their money is in tips. If Blair wants to continue to dine at the Cafe USA - which has just hired a new head waiter - then this time he must be sure to leave an especially generous gratuity. This comes in the form of Blairite support for "Star Wars," the "missile defense" panacea championed by the Rumsfeld faction of the administration: In the interests of advancing the project, Blair has reportedly even agreed to a US military base on British soil, a proposal that is bound to provoke rumblings on the British right as well as opposition from the far left.
MOONIES AT WAR
On the other side of the Atlantic, expressions of dissent on either the left or the right were few and far between. The New York Times endorsed the bombing raid, echoing the puerile argument that we attacked in "self-defense" - as if any action taken by the US and Britain in Iraqi airspace could possibly be described as even remotely "defensive." On the other side of the political spectrum, the Washington Times - flagship newspaper of Beltway conservatives in full cold war mode - - celebrated "Bombs Over Baghdad." They drag out, first of all, the old "weapons of mass destruction" argument, but this is just a ritual incantation, as far as Iraq is concerned, as everyone knows that the Iraqis have long since lost the ability to produce any such thing.
Scott Ritter, a former UNSCOM inspector who dealt with the Iraqis many times, recently told CNN: "In terms of large-scale weapons of mass destruction programs, these had been fundamentally destroyed or dismantled by the weapons inspectors as early as 1996, so by 1998 we had under control the situation on the ground." Saddam, says Ritter, poses no immediate threat.
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
But, of course, that begs the question: a threat to whom? The Washington Times doesn't even bother asking the question, because to their editorial writers the answer is obvious: Israel. In their own words: "Saddam's aggression against Israel must be checked. He has made his support for the Palestinians clear over the past weeks, calling on his 6.5 million to prepare for a jihad on Israel, and preparing what he calls a "Jerusalem army" from an Iraqi military brigade and other volunteers. By doing this, Saddam tested his limits, and British and American forces did not look the other direction."
THAT SON OF A BUSH
Nowhere in their litany of reasons for supporting what they grotesquely call "the 'thank you' bombings on Iraq" does the phrase "American interests" come into their argument: it's all about Israel. "Saddam's attempt to make his attack an Arab-Israeli issue cannot continue," they natter, when the obvious question is: and why the h*ll not? After all, this escalation in the bombing takes place against the backdrop of not one but two major new leaders strutting onto the world stage. The Arab world - perhaps naively - expected better from that son of a Bush, but the really big change is the ascension of Ariel Sharon. If America's protectorate in the region is embarked on an expansionist course of building "settlements" and expelling Arabs from their bulldozed homes, on the one hand, and this is accompanied by the escalation of the Anglo-American air war on Iraq, then blaming Saddam for making this "an Arab-Israeli issue" seems disingenuous and self-serving at best. It is US policymakers in both parties who have framed the issues in these terms, in word and deed, and it seems more than a little whiny to complain about the leverage gained by the Iraqi leader on the Arab "street - since we are giving it to him.
FIFTH COLUMNS, YESTERDAY AND TODAY
This kind of America-last sentiment dominates the politics of the Middle East. If it isn't the Brits bossing us around - it's no fun being "the indispensable nation" - then the Israelis are calling in all their chips, and plenty more. They want Marc Rich and Jonathan Pollard, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, and they won't take no for an answer. It used to be that all the agents of a foreign power were on the Left, with American supporters of the Soviet Union wielding tremendous influence not only in the media, and among intellectuals, but also in government, as Harry Hopkins, Alger Hiss, and their comrades in the Roosevelt administration - literally thousands of them - penetrated the federal government and even the small circle of FDR"s closest advisors. Today, with the Soviet Union gone, the only kind of old-time fellow-traveling that we see is something like Ted Turner's otherwise inexplicable affection for Fidel Castro's Cuba. Aside from the dwindling sandalista brigade, the only fifth columnists in America today are all on the right side of the spectrum. In the fast-developing religious war that seems about to break out in the Middle East, the Washington Times, the New York Post, the Weekly Standard crowd, and the plethora of foreign policy-oriented thinktanks sponsored by defense contractors and Republican fat-cats are already lined up behind Israel. That's why it was so great to hear Bob Novak on Meet the Press this [Sunday] morning, giving poor little Bill Kristol the willies by asking the unaskable: why not make a deal with Saddam? After all, it's been 10 years, he said, and what're we getting out of it?
ALL HAIL BOB NOVAK!
God preserve Novak, who is getting on in years, his graying mane marking him as the old lion of the Right: not a neoconservative, but a man of the Old Right who always put America first and was always wise to the propaganda of fifth-columnists, left and right. On Crossfire the other day, he was magnificent, shocking his guest, Richard Perle, a leading interventionist who is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, with this blunt question: "Why don't we take up the Iraqis on the willingness to negotiate, and perhaps get out of this constant state of war that we have been with them for all these years, these last 10 years?" Novak cited the Iraqi foreign minister, Nizar Hamdoon, as saying that "Iraq welcomes any diplomatic approach, any meaningful approach that goes beyond the bombing and use of force." Somewhat taken aback by this peremptory challenge to the conventional wisdom, which posits that the Iraqis are international untouchables, and certainly unapproachable, Perle could only answer that Hamdoon should be "ashamed of himself," because "He works for one of the great thugs of 20th century, for a man who has used poison gas against innocent civilians. He is part of a Mafia- style administration." One of the "great thugs" of the century? Really? Up there with Stalin, Hitler, Mao, the Khmer Rouge, who, together, killed multi-millions? Novak gave him a skeptical look, all the while smiling sweetly. It was a defining moment, with the whole program - Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute sitting across from Mr. Perle - that dramatized the stark contrast between the Old Right and the neo-conservative Right on the question of the Middle East, and foreign policy in general.
A REVOLUTIONARY EMBEZZLER
When Richard Perle segued into a whole riff about the glories of the Iraqi National Congress, and how we should overthrow Saddam by creating Iraqi "contras," so to speak, I kept waiting for Carpenter to let him have it with the lowdown on INC leader Ahmed Chalabi - an ex-banker who is wanted in Jordan for embezzling tens of millions of dollars from his Petra Bank. A Jordanian court sentenced Chalabi to 22 years in prison, and he has been on the lam ever since. His latest victim is the US government, which is giving a convicted embezzler - and a fanatical pro-Iranian Shi'ite Muslim, to boot - $90 million-plus to play around with. But it was Novak who really cut to the crux of the matter, citing the Israeli-Saddam dichotomy noted above and asking Perle: "Isn't this disconcerting from the standpoint of American foreign policy that we are losing support in Islam, that the Muslim countries are turning against us, that the recent murder of Palestinian demonstrators by armed Israeli troops, again, has increased an anti- American sentiment? Isn't that something for an American foreign policy to worry about?"
How does alienating not only the entire Arab world, but also most of Europe, serve America's national self-interest? This is a question that no one in the present administration - or the previous one - can answer, nor have they ever felt a need to address it. Since they are not answerable to Congress, or to the people, when it comes to the conduct of US foreign policy, they can afford to be as tightlipped as they like. This is the one question that right-wing fifth columnists of the Israel-first persuasion could never even acknowledge, let alone answer. Perle's smooth evasion was pure neocon-talk: the Arabs, he said, respect only power, and they will "follow a winner." We have only to increase the sadistic brutality of our relentless assault on the Iraqis, and the rest of those spineless Arab butt-boys will wallow in their own self-abnegation. Whatever the merits of this repulsive view of life as one big S-&-M orgy, if I were Perle, I wouldn't count on it. For someday - perhaps as a result of pure demographics, or due to the power of accumulated resentment - the two sides may switch polarities, with M's turning into S's and Arabs persecuting Israelis - at which point we'll have to ask Mr. Perle if the same principle of pure power applies.