Peace in the Middle East
(Presented at the First Annual
Maryse Mikhail Lecture "No peace without justice; no justice without
truth" The University of Toledo, March 4, 2001)
Thank you all. I'm really
delighted to be able to have the privilege of opening the Maryse Mikhail
lecture series. I wish I could open it on a celebratory note, but that
wouldn't be realistic. Perhaps more realistic is to adhere to the famous
dictum that we should strive for pessimism of the intellect but optimism
of the will.
With regard to the topic,
before getting into it, let me just make a few preliminary comments.
The first is just to plagiarize the cover of the announcement. Peace
is preferable to war. But it's not an absolute value. And so we always
ask, "what kind of peace?" If Hitler had conquered the world
there would be peace but not the kind we would like to see.
Second comment is that there
are many dimensions to this particular topic: Prospects for Peace in
the Middle East. There are several areas of ongoing serious violence
- three in particular, which I'll say something about. One is Israel
and Palestine. Second is Iraq - there, it's both sanctions and bombing.
Third is Turkey and the Kurds. That's one of the most severe human rights
atrocities of the 1990s, continuing in fact. And there are plenty of
other issues. There is the question of the place of Iran within the
region. And everywhere you look, virtually without exception, there
is severe repression, human rights abuses, torture, and other horrors.
So the question of peace in the Middle East has many dimensions.
Third and last comment is
that the US role is significant throughout these cases and very often
decisive-and in fact decisive in the four specific cases that I mentioned.
Furthermore, however important a factor it might be, it should be central
to our own concerns for perfectly obvious reasons-it's the one factor
that we can directly influence. The others we may deplore, but we can't
do much about them. That's a truism, or ought to be a truism. But it's
important to emphasize it, because it is almost universally rejected.
The prevailing doctrine is that we should focus laser-like on the crimes
of others and lament them, and we should ignore or deny our own. Or
more accurately, we should structure the way we view things so as to
dismiss the possibility of looking into the mirror-shape discourse so
the question of our own responsibilities can't even arise, or more accurately,
can arise only in one connection-namely the connection of how we should
react to the crimes of others. So for example by now there's a huge
literature-in the last couple of years it's been a torrent-both popular
and scholarly about what are called the "dilemmas of humanitarian
intervention" when others are guilty of crimes, as they often are.
But you'll find scarcely a word on another question, a much more important
topic-the dilemmas of withdrawal of participation in major atrocities.
In fact, there are no dilemmas, but that's the window that has to be
kept tightly shuttered or else some rather unpleasant visions will appear
before us that we're not supposed to look at.
Exactly how the evasion of
the central themes is accomplished is an interesting and important topic
about which there's a lot to say, but reluctantly I'm going to put it
aside and keep to the special cases that concern us here, merely leaving
it a sort of background warning. I should add that this shameful stance
is by no means a novelty - in fact it's kind of a cultural universal.
I think you'd have to search very hard for a case in history, or elsewhere
in the present, where the same theme is not dominant. It's not an attractive
feature of Homo sapiens, but a very real one.
Let's take the cases at hand. Let's begin with Iraq. The only serious
question about the sanctions is whether they're simply terrible crimes
or whether they are literally genocidal, as charged by those who have
the most intimate acquaintance with the situation, in particular the
coordinator of the United Nations programs, Denis Halliday, a highly
respected UN official who resigned under protest because he was being
compelled to carry out what he called "genocidal acts," as
did his successor Hans von Sponeck. It's agreed on all sides that the
effect of the sanctions has been to strengthen Saddam Hussein and to
devastate the population-and yet we must continue-with that recognition.
There is no serious disagreement that these are the consequences.
There are justifications offered, and they merit careful attention -
they tell us a good deal about ourselves, I think. The simplest line
of argument to justify the sanctions was presented by the Secretary
of State, Madeleine Albright. You'll recall, I'm sure, that she was
asked on national television a couple years ago about how she felt about
the fact that she had killed half a million Iraqi children. She didn't
deny the factual allegation. She agreed that it was, as she put it,
"a high price," but said, "we think it's worth it".
That was the end of the discussion. That's the important fact, and it's
very enlightening to see the reaction. The comment is hers; the reaction
is ours. Looking at the reaction we learn about ourselves.
A second justification that is given commonly is that it's really Saddam
Hussein's fault. The logic is intriguing. So, let's suppose the claim
is true: it's Saddam Hussein's fault. The conclusion that's drawn is
that therefore we have to assist him in devastating the civilian population
and strengthening his own rule. Notice that follows logically if you
say it's his fault but that we have to go on helping.
The third argument that's given, which at least has the merit of truth,
is that Saddam Hussein is a monster. In fact if you listen to Tony Blair,
Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, or almost anyone who comments on this,
they justify the sanctions repeatedly by saying that this man is such
a monster that we just can't let him survive. He's even committed the
ultimate atrocity-namely, using weapons of mass destruction against
his own people in his horrendous gassing of the Kurds. All of which
is true, but there are three missing words. True, he committed the ultimate
atrocity-using poison gas and chemical warfare against his own population-
WITH OUR SUPPORT. Our support in fact continued, as he remained a favored
friend and trading partner and ally- quite independently of these atrocities
which evidently didn't matter to us, as evidenced by our reaction; continued
and in fact increased. An interesting experiment which you might try
is to see if you can find a place anywhere within mainstream discussion
where the three missing words are added. I'll leave it as an experiment
for the reader. And it's an illuminating one. I can tell you the answer
right away - you're not going to find it. And that tells us something
about ourselves too, and also about the argument.
The same incidentally is true of his weapons of mass destruction. It's
commonly claimed that we can't allow him to survive because of the danger
of the weapons of mass destruction that he's probably creating - which
is all correct except it was also correct during the time when we were
providing him consciously with the means to develop those weapons of
mass destruction at a time when he was a far greater threat than he
is today. So that raises some questions about that argument.
The fourth argument is that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the countries
of the region. And there is no doubt that he is a serious threat to
anyone within his reach, exactly as he was when he was committing his
worst crimes with US support and participation. But the fact is that
his reach now is far less than it was before, and the attitude of the
countries in the region towards, for example, the US bombing the other
day - that reveals rather clearly what they think of this argument.
Well that as far as I know exhausts the arguments we've been given.
But those arguments entail that we must continue to torture the population
and strengthen Saddam Hussein by imposing very harsh sanctions. All
of that as far as I can see leaves an honest citizen with two tasks-one
is to do something about it-remember that it is us, so we can. The second
is intellectual-try to understand what the actual motives are, since
they can't possibly be the ones that are put forth. Makes no sense.
On the side, I don't want to downplay the threat. There are very serious
reasons to be concerned about the threat of Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
There were even greater reasons during the period when we were helping
build up the threat-but that doesn't change the fact that there are
reasons today. And more generally, there are reasons to be concerned
about the threat of extreme violence and devastation in the region.
And that's not just my opinion; it's underscored for example by General
Lee Butler, who was the head of the Strategic Command under Clinton.
That's the highest military agency that's concerned with nuclear strategy
and use of nuclear weapons.
General Butler said that:
"It is dangerous in the extreme that in the cauldron of animosities
that we call the Middle East, one nation has armed itself, ostensibly,
with stockpiles of nuclear weapons, perhaps numbering in the hundreds,"
and that inspires other nations to do so."
Or to develop other weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent-which
has an obvious threat of a very ominous outcome. And there's little
doubt that General Butler is correct in that. Actually the threat becomes
even more ominous when we add something else - that the superpower patron
of that nation demands that it itself be regarded as "irrational
and vindictive" and ready to resort to extreme violence if provoked-including
the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. I'm citing
high level planning documents of the Clinton administration, plans that
were then implemented by presidential directives. All this is on the
public record if anybody wants to learn something about ourselves and
why much of the world is terrified of us.
In fact it is understood in the world-and strategic analysts here understand
it too, and write about it- that others are naturally impelled to respond
with weapons of mass destruction of their own as a deterrent. These
are prospects that are recognized by US intelligence and by US strategic
analysts-and are pretty obvious. And they also recognize pretty clearly,
it's not hidden, that the threat to human survival is enhanced by programs
that are now underway. For example, the development of the National
Missile Defense which almost every country in the world regards as a
First Strike weapon. Quite realistically so. Therefore potential adversariees
will presumably respond by developing a deterrent to it of one sort
or another. That's taken for granted pretty much by US intelligence
and strategic analysts and raises questions about why we insist on pursuing
a policy which raises the threat of destroying ourselves as well as
others. Another question one might ask.
Going back to the Middle East, it poses perhaps the primary danger in
this regard-not the only one, but it certainly ranks high at least.
It is worth mentioning that in 1990 and 91, on the eve of the Gulf War,
these questions arose. They were raised by Iraq. Several days before
the Gulf War began, Iraq offered - once again; they'd apparently made
several such offers- offered to withdraw from Kuwait but in the context
of a settlement of regional strategic issues, including the banning
of weapons of mass destruction. That position was recognized as "serious"
and "negotiable" by State Department Middle East experts.
Independently of this, that happened to be the position of about two-thirds
of the American public according to the final polls that were taken
before the war-a couple of days before.
We do not know whether these Iraqi proposals were indeed serious and
negotiable as State Department officials concluded. The reason we don't
know is that they were rejected out of hand by the United States. They
were suppressed to nearly a hundred percent efficiency by the media.
There were a few leaks here and there. And they've been effectively
removed from history. So therefore we don't know. However, the issues
remain very much alive-very much as General Butler said-and they remain
alive even though they had been removed from the agenda of policy, and
from public discussion. Again that is a choice that we can make. We're
not forced to agree to have them removed.
Well, let me turn to the second issue-Turkey and the Kurds. The Kurds
have been miserably oppressed throughout the whole history of the modern
Turkish state but things changed in 1984. In 1984, the Turkish government
launched a major war in the Southeast against the Kurdish population.
And that continued. In fact it's still continuing.
If we look at US military aid to Turkey-which is usually a pretty good
index of policy-Turkey was of course a strategic ally so it always had
a fairly high level of military aid. But the aid shot up in 1984, at
the time that the counterinsurgency war began. This had nothing to do
with Cold War, transparently. It was because of the counterinsurgency
war. The aid remain high, peaking through the 1990s as the atrocities
increased. The peak year was 1997. In fact in the single year 1997,
US military aid to Turkey was greater than in the entire period of 1950
to 1983 when there were allegedly Cold War issues. The end result was
pretty awesome: tens of thousands of people killed, two to three million
refugees, massive ethnic cleansing with some 3500 villages destroyed-about
seven times Kosovo under NATO bombing, and there's nobody bombing in
this case, except for the Turkish air forces using planes that Clinton
sent to them with the certain knowledge that that's how they would be
The United States was providing about 80 percent of Turkey's arms-and
that means heavy arms. Since you and I are not stopping it-and we're
the only ones who can-the Clinton administration was free to send jet
planes, tanks, napalm, and so on, which were used to carry out some
the worst atrocities of the 1990s. And they continue. Regularly there
are further operations carried out both in southeastern Turkey and also
across the border in Northern Iraq, attacking Kurds there. There the
attacks, with plenty of atrocities, are taking place in what are called
"no-fly zones" in which the Kurds are protected by the United
States from the temporarily wrong oppressor. The operations in northeast
Iraq are similar in character to Israel's operations in Lebanon over
the 22 years when it was occupying Southern Lebanon in violation of
Security Council resolution but with the authorization of the United
States, so therefore it was okay. During that period they killed-nobody
really knows because nobody counts victims of the United States and
its friends-but it's roughly on the order of 45,000 it would seem over
those years judging by Lebanese sources. In any event, non-trivial.
And the operations in northern Iraq are kind of similar. That's the
Without going into further details-how is all this dealt with in the
United States? Very simple. Silence. You can check and see-I urge you
to do so. Occasionally, it's brought up by disagreeable people. And
when it is brought up and can't be ignored, there is a consistent reaction:
self-declared advocates of human rights deplore what they call "our
failure to protect the Kurds," and so on. Actually we are "failing
to protect the Kurds" roughly in the way that the Russians are
"failing to protect the people of Chechnya."
Or it's claimed that the US government was unaware of what was happening.
So when Clinton was sending a huge flow of arms to Turkey-in fact Turkey
became the leading recipient of US military aid in the world (I'll qualify
that in a minute) during this period -and his advisers didn't realize
that the arms were going to be used. When they were supplying 80 percent
of the arms to Turkey-increasing as the war increased-it just never
occurred to them that these were really going to be used for the war
that was then going on and that coincided very closely with the arms
flow. The disagreeable folk who bring the matter up and suggested otherwise
are lacking in "nuance," sophisticated commentators observe.
Or sometimes it's argued that the US was unable to find out what was
going on-actually, it's kind of a remote area-who knows what's happening
in southeastern Turkey? An area that happens to be littered with US
air bases, where the US has nuclear-armed planes and that is under extremely
tight surveillance. But how could we know what's going on there? And
of course nobody can read the human rights reports, which are constantly
describing in detail what is going on. Or many other studies. But that's
I mentioned that during this period, Turkey became the leading US arms
recipient in the world. That's not quite accurate-the leading recipients
are in a separate category. They are Israel and Egypt. They are always
the leading recipients. But aside from them, Turkey reached first place
during the period of the counterinsurgency war. For a while it was displaced
by El Salvador, which was then in the process of slaughtering its own
population and moved into the first place. But as they succeeded in
that, Turkey took over and became first.
That continued until 1999. In 1999, Turkey was replaced by Colombia.
Colombia has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere, and for
the last ten years, when it's had the worst human rights record, it
received the bulk of the US military aid and training - about half.
That's a correlation the works pretty closely incidentally. Why did
Colombia replace Turkey in 1999? Well, we're not supposed to notice
that by 1999 Turkey had succeeded in repressing internal resistance
and Colombia hadn't yet succeeded-and just by accident that happened
to be the year in which the huge flow of arms to Colombia increased
and displaced Turkey in first place, aside from the two perennials.
All of this is particularly remarkable because of something that you
all know: we been inundated in the last two or three years by a flood
of self adulation-unprecedented in history to my knowledge-about how
we are so magnificent that for the first time in history we are willing
to pursue "principles and values" in defense of human rights
and especially in crucial cases, to borrow President Clinton's words,
we cannot tolerate violations of human rights so near the borders of
NATO, and therefore we have to rise to new heights of magnificence to
combat them. Again there are a couple of missing words. Apparently we
can't tolerate human rights violations near the borders of NATO, but
we can not only tolerate them but in fact encourage and participate
in them WITHIN NATO's borders. Try to find those missing words-you won't
and it will tell you something again. Well, that's the second case.