The Iraq-Iran war and the September 12 military coup in Turkey brought our attention to the October travel itineraries of some high-level US military policy planners. Gen. David Jones, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was conveniently in Saudi Arabia to phone Washington for the dispatch of AWACS radar planes and nearly a thousand US military technicians to that country. From there he went on to Oman, Israel and Egypt, while a separate US military mission was visiting Bahrain. Gen. Jones followed close on the heels of Robert Komer, undersecretary of defense for policy. Komer, affectionately known as “Blowtorch Bob” from his days as head of “pacification” in Vietnam, was on the Middle East leg of a round-the-world jaunt to report first-hand on US basing arrangements in conjunction with the Carter Doctrine. From the other side, the ex-Shah’s martial law commander, Gen. Ali Oveissi, was making an unusual number of trips between Baghdad, Paris and Washington in the months just prior to the latest fighting. One of Turkey’s junta generals was in Washington most of the week prior to the coup there, conferring with his US opposite numbers. The US commander of NATO, Gen. Bernard Rogers, visited Ankara four times in early October.
The prospects for direct US military intervention have increased considerably over these weeks. The airborne command ships to Saudi Arabia enhance US battlefield intelligence from the war and stand ready to direct US carrier-based F-14 fighter-bombers into action. Some 70 US “specialists” went to Saudi Arabia with a ground radar unit that normally has a crew of half a dozen. The Iraqi escalation of hostilities against Iran has provided leverage for those in the White House and the Pentagon determined to insert a more overt US military presence in the Gulf. The view from Washington, as articulated by Defense Secretary Harold Brown, is that events have pushed Saudi Arabia and the smaller Gulf states to be “more willing to accept a US presence.”
The apparent convenience of the war in facilitating this policy calls into question the proclaimed “neutrality” of the US, which had the effect of sanctioning Iraqi aggression. More recent references by the administration to Iraq’s “invasion” and calls for withdrawal suggest that Washington has gotten what it wants out of this conflict and, given the disappointing Iraqi military performance to date, would now like to see the armed phase end before it adds to political and social stresses on the friendly regimes of the peninsula.
In the midst of the carnage, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein preens himself to be cock of the Gulf. But the earlier trumpery of communiques hailing “glorious victories” have been supplanted by apologetic explanations to the citizens of Iraq attributing the continued fighting and killing to the Iranians’ “better arms and training.” The destructive impact of the Iraqi escalation has already been enormous — on the lives of the people caught up in the fighting, on the material resources destroyed and diverted, and on the future, setting back for years, perhaps decades, constructive political struggles that would transcend ethnic and sectarian divisions. The war, in our view, has little to do with the trivial territorial claims put forth by Baghdad, and everything to do with the kind of counter-revolutionary campaign that often develops in reaction to a popular political revolution, such as that in Iran. Attempts to portray the conflict in terms of historic Arab-Persian or Sunni-Shi‘i enmities obscure more than they explain. The power of Khomeini’s Shi‘ism is political. The apparent vulnerability of the Iraqi regime to his propaganda is political. These issues will be explored more fully in an issue of MERIP Reports being prepared for publication later this winter.
Media coverage of the political and economic crisis in Turkey presented the coup there as something of a blessed event for all. In addition to the aforementioned Washington sojourn of one of the generals, the US role in Turkish military communications and the participation of US forces in a NATO exercise in Turkey that very week make US claims of surprise at the coup preposterous. Since the takeover, the generals have negotiated the reentry of Greece into NATO, an item high on the Pentagon’s agenda for some time. In Turkey the generals have given special attention to the left, despite the fact that Turkey’s most serious political violence has been perpetrated by the extreme right. More than 20,000 arrests were made in the first three weeks after the coup. The only national daily paper closed down was Aydınlık, which combined political radicalism with impressive investigative reporting. The leftist trade union federation, DISK, was banned and its leaders apprehended. Turgut Özal, architect of the austerity reforms mandated by international bankers earlier this year, has been kept on and brought into the new regime. Backed now by the guns and troops of the generals, Özal is well placed to carry out the measures demanded by the international financial leaders. Our next issue, in January, will be devoted to Turkey.