This issue of Middle East Report is about power, intent, imagery and deceit. We begin with a brief consideration of the impact of the first two weeks of the “allied” air war on civilian populations in Iraq. The antiseptic briefings from the Pentagon and from Gen. Schwarzkopf’s headquarters in Riyadh, enthusiastically amplified by the media, neatly dissociate statistics of “sorties” and “ordnance” from their direct consequences for life and limb. The briefers’ penchant for bodily analogies — we hear about the destroyed “nerve system” of Iraq’s air defenses and the strategy of “decapitating” the regime — contrasts with phrases like “collateral damage” to refer to human bodies now smashed and paralyzed in the pursuit of “supremacy.”
A key piece of the Bush administration’s strategy in pursuing war has been the camouflage of United Nations sanction. Erskine Childers concisely reminds us of the extent to which Washington’s abuse of the Security Council needs to be judged as a serious political crime, one which severely compromises the capacity of the UN to deal effectively not only with this war but with any likely configuration of hostilities to come. ‘Abdallah al-Ashtal of Yemen, one of the longest-serving ambassadors in the UN and the only Arab representative currently on the Security Council, makes the necessary distinction between the genuine unanimity of the Council in its first, bedrock resolution condemning Iraq’s invasion and setting economic sanctions in place, and the purchased vote of November 29 that the complying governments understood would authorize US escalation to war.
The major article in this issue, Tim Mitchell’s essay on the discourse of expertise, was in fact composed before Iraq stormed into Kuwait. Yet it addresses precisely, if indirectly, the relations of power which this war is about preserving and extending. More than this, Mitchell’s deconstructive techniques provide timely instruction for decoding the communiques — from crude bulletins and sanitized military videos to elegant essays of “experts” in Foreign Affairs — with which the American state advertises its current Arabian project. Finally, Mitchell’s layered investigation of how the US defines Egypt, and for what purposes, offers a prescient glimpse at the concrete post-war meaning of George Bush’s “new world order.”
The priority of the left in the US and elsewhere, we believe, is clear: to support the anti-war movement and stop the US military offensive. We disagree with those opponents of other US military interventions who regard this war as necessary, now that it has started, to rid Iraq of Saddam’s despicable regime. This is a prescription for wider and deeper US interventions that will only worsen the possibilities for Arab political recovery toward self-determination and a more equitable social order.
We also stand against the false solidarity which insists upon support for the Iraqi regime. In our view, Washington and Baghdad share responsibility for the crime this war represents. Saddam Hussein’s culpability extends beyond the pillage of Kuwait. For a brief time, Iraq had almost maneuvered George Bush to the point of going to war to avoid talking about Palestine! Even in the US, support for Bush’s campaign to deny “linkage” was visibly crumbling. Instead of striving to confine this confrontation to the political field, where Arab assets were formidable, Saddam spurned Arab and European proposals that would link withdrawal from Kuwait to progress on the Palestine issue, facilitating Washington’s determination to shift to the military plane. All of the transcendent issues which Iraq’s aggression and US intervention had inadvertently raised — political legitimacy, social justice, Palestine — could thus be forcibly suppressed. George Bush needed Saddam Hussein, and Saddam Hussein, so far, has not let him down.