Following upon the devastation of Iraq, the Gulf warmongers have attempted to articulate their vision of a Middle East dominated by Washington and its allies. In an effort to forestall the growing criticism of the “special relationship” between Israel and the US in policymaking circles, After the Storm: Challenges for America’s Middle East Policy, a report by the Washington Institute for Near Policy (1991), argues shamelessly that the regional agendas of the US and Israel should remain congruent. Its recommendations are as wicked as they are predictable: enhanced US military presence in the Gulf; expanded strategic cooperation with Egypt, Israel and Turkey; rejection of the Syrian bid to join the US camp; platitudes about regional arms control while maintaining Israel’s military superiority; and a pro forma endorsement of democracy — half-hearted because of the disagreeable tendency for relatively more democratic regimes to permit wider criticism of Washington and the possibility that democracy might be antithetical to stability in Iraq. Not surprisingly, the topic of Israeli-Palestinian peace does not appear in WINEP’s strategic plan.

The hasty efforts of WINEP and others to establish the terms of post-war public debate are at least in part due to an impressive domestic challenge to imposing a Pax Americana on the Middle East. Despite the massive infection of the American body politic and corporate mass media by the degenerative (but hopefully not terminal) Reagan-Bush syndrome during the 1980s, the anti-militarist left remained vigorous enough to mount a large-scale movement opposed to war in the Gulf, and to assemble an articulate explanation of its stand even before the US began shooting. The books demonizing Saddam Hussein and justifying the destruction of Iraq appeared first, but the anti-war movement soon generated several critical books and videos (and hundreds of articles). By contrast, the US-Indonesia war was underway for several years before the peace movement’s activist intellectuals could find a sympathetic publishing house and amass sufficient resources to publish a book opposing the war.

The Gulf War Reader: History, Documents, Opinions, edited by Micah Sifry and Christopher Cerf (Random House, 1991) — the first critical collection of essays and documents on the war — encompasses a broad range of opinions. The views of the anti-imperialist left (Joe Stork and Martha Wenger’s “From Rapid Deployment to Massive Deployment” — first published in these pages — and contributions by Noam Chomsky, Rashid Khalidi, Michael Klare and Edward Said) are valorized by placing them cheek by jowl with the arguments of the Gulf warriors — George Bush, Henry Kissinger, Charles Krauthammer and A. M. Rosenthal. This “balanced” approach remains within the limits of consistent liberalism, but as liberalism has become a rare phenomenon in American politics its value should not be dismissed. A casualty of this rhetorical strategy, however, is that mention of the mass movement against the war is not permitted to disturb the serenity of the polite exchange of views.

The March to War, edited and introduced by James Ridgeway (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1991) stands forthrightly against the war. The core of the book is an expansion of the excellent work of the Village Voice’s Washington correspondent during the crisis. The chapters consist of articles, interviews and documents prefaced by Ridgeway’s analytical chronologies; the volume is bracketed by his essays on “Why Did We Go to War with Iraq?” and “The Unquiet Peace.”

Beyond the Storm: A Gulf Crisis Reader, edited Phyllis Bennis and Michel Moushabeck (Olive Branch, 1991) addresses a broad range of war-related issues. Several chapters have lasting value, notably Eqbal Ahmad’s critical appraisal of the “American Century,” the capsule surveys of modern Iraqi and Kuwaiti history by Michel Moushabeck and Hala Fattah, and the chronological survey of the crisis by Steve Niva. Sheila Ryan’s exposure of the Pentagon’s decade-long preparation for a war in the Gulf, Jeanne Butterfield’s discussion of US aid to Israel, Noam Chomsky’s assessment of post-Cold War US Middle East policy, Naseer Aruri’s examination of Bush administration rhetoric on human rights and Penny Kemp’s survey of war-related environmental damage raise issues central to the political agenda of the left. Max Elbaum’s essay on the strengths and weaknesses of the anti-war forces provocatively notes that despite the rapid mobilization of the progressive movement, Jesse Jackson failed to provide leadership in the early stages of the military buildup — a lapse which should have implications for his political future.

The Gulf Between Us: The Gulf War and Beyond, edited by Victoria Brittain (Virago, 1991), surveys the war from the perspective of the British peace movement. The essay by Alexander Cockburn and Andrew Cohen presents the most extensive case for the argument that Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was a consequence of its alliance with the US that I have seen. The epilogue by Roger Owen, “Making Sense of an Earthquake,” offers a well-informed and sober overview of the possible effects of the war on the future of the Middle East. It also places at the top of the agenda a matter insufficiently addressed in all the books mentioned here: the urgent necessity for those who opposed the war to forge a new understanding of the social and political forces in the Middle East, US policy in the region, and strategies to transform the stultifying status quo.

Nurturing the collective memory of a strong social movement against the war should be the starting point for thinking about what lies ahead. The forces that opposed the war must continue to struggle to place a just Palestinian-Israeli peace based on mutual recognition and the right of both peoples to self-determination at the top of the agenda in the Middle East. The most important task is for the left to rethink and radically reconfigure the categories of national liberation and anti-imperialism that have constituted the framework for progressive analysis and political action in the colonial and post-colonial world since World War II.

Two new periodical projects invite post-war discussion of these matters on widely divergent discursive fronts. The first volume of Jadal (Debate), a biannual social science book series edited by Isam al-Khafaji, appeared in August 1991. Al-Burjwaziyya al-‘arabiyya al-mu‘asira (The Contemporary Arab Bourgeoisie) contains essays by both Arabs and foreigners employing open-minded and undogmatic approaches to political economy manifesting the editorial commitment of the series to “secularism, contemporaneity and democracy.” Mediterraneans is a quarterly review of literature and culture edited by Kenneth Brown and Robert Waterhouse. Last summer’s inaugural issue features an unconventional blend of essays, fiction and interviews in English and French; poetry in English, French, Maltese, Catalan, Croatian, Arabic and Hebrew; photographs and cooking recipes from a perspective affirming the common cultural features of the Mediterranean basin, and a “sympathy for the unheralded, the unknown or little known, and the unexpected.” Neither Jadal nor Mediterraneans claims to offer a holistic view of the world or a comprehensive political or cultural program; but their appearance attests to the vitality of the drive to understand and transform society and culture despite the efforts of Bush and Co. to impose a repressive and profitable stability.

How to cite this article:

Joel Beinin "Assessing Storm Damage," Middle East Report 175 (March/April 1992).
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