Report from the "Arab Street"
Jude Wanniski
April 1, 2003

 

Memo: To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: What Went Wrong?

I count John F. Burns of The New York Times the best foreign correspondent in the national press corps, but Johnís reports on the mood in Baghdad these past several weeks easily contributed to the mood of optimism in Washington. Like so many others, he believed ordinary Iraqis would secretly relish Uncle Sam coming to their rescue. To his credit, on Face the Nation Sunday John apologized for being so wrong. Arnaud de Borchgrave of The Washington Times, one of the top five foreign correspondents in my opinion, did not have that problem, probably because he knows the Middle East and the Arab world better than most journalists. He has warned of the consequences of the US invasion and now does not have to apologize. His Sunday report from Jordan is even more troubling than I had expected, but he is correct in his analysis that President Bush has to make something happen in Palestine asap to cut against the hatreds of American boiling throughout the Arab/Muslim world.


Arnaud de Borchgrave
Published March 30, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan -- Some cakewalk. By now Washington's armchair commanders of the "cakewalk" brigade hopefully are digesting humble pie as they reassess where they went wrong.

For almost a year, the relentless rosy forecasts on the nightly television gabfests -- Chris Matthews' "Hardball" was a notable exception -- failed to prepare public opinion for stiff Iraqi resistance.

Saddam is such a despicable, bloodthirsty tyrant that, talking heads argued in 9-second soundbites, few Iraqis will fight. In fact, we were told entire Iraqi divisions would not only defect to the Americans but would actually lead the way for U.S. troops into Baghdad.

There was no penalty for absurdity as they confidently predicted the cakewalkers would be greeted by dancing and clapping in the streets to the beat of tambourines and the aroma of sweet herbs.

Ask any U.S. or British troopers as they fought their way north or stayed behind to clean up Umm Qasr or Basra how was their cakewalk, and they would probably deck you. The first week of the war was like a trick birthday cake whose candles are no sooner blown out than they light up again.

Veteran Mideast observers cannot remember such unanimity among Arab public opinions against their do-nothing, pro-Western governments. No one sees the U.S. as a liberating force. America is already being equated with Israel as the colonial occupier. In Britain's case, it is the "re-occupier."

Gulf TV stations -- Abu Dhabi and Dubai -- have already organized on-air fund-raising campaigns for their Iraqi "brother heroes." And throughout the Arab world, from Rabat to Riyadh, radio and TV commentators are condemning the U.S.-British invasion of Iraq with varying degrees of vituperation. Abu Dhabi TV, outperforming Al-Jazeera, the Arab world's most popular, praises Iraqi "resistance fighters" while shelving its prior contempt for Saddam.

Some 1,500 Iraqis living in Jordan volunteered to fight for the defense of Baghdad while the Saddam regime blasted the Jordanian government for its covert assistance to U.S. Special Forces that seized two airstrips in western Iraq. Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt either opened their air space and/or their deserts for shortcuts to coalition objectives. But their governments went on denying they were doing what their populations knew to be the case. "They are ashamed to admit they secretly sided with the coalition," said one Egyptian journalist.

Shock-and-awe is a double-edged sword. Real-time media coverage of the war shows coalition losses in personnel and sophisticated equipment, and this, in turn, galvanizes Arab media and the streets against the Americans and their Iraqi "pawns." Iraq, so far, is winning the propaganda war. Early backing and filling by coalition military spokesmen about Umm Qasr and Basra, as Iraqi resistance momentarily held up British Royal Marines, was "proof" for Arab and European journalists that the U.S. was lying.

A Harvard- and Cambridge University-educated Jordanian said, not for attribution, that opinion has coalesced almost overnight against the United States. The general view of ranking Arab officials reached by telephone is that Iraqi resistance is not fighting for Saddam, but "for a concept precious to all nations C defense of the homeland against a foreign aggression."

Senior Fellows at Strategic Institutes in Cairo and Amman agree it won't take long for the "liberated" in Iraq to turn on their "liberators." Some compare the switch to what happened in 1982 when the Israelis kicked the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon. At first, the Lebanese were thrilled to see the Palestinians off their backs and welcomed the Israelis as liberators. It didn't take long for Hezbollah to convince public opinion they were rooting for the wrong side. The Sabra and Shatilla massacres of Palestinian refugees by right-wing militia under Israeli control put an abrupt end to Israel's momentary popularity.

Paradoxically, war on Iraq will strengthen radical and fundamental anti-U.S. forces. Resentment and hostility toward President Bush (mercilessly ridiculed in media cartoons) and U.S. policies in the Middle East is so pervasive, wrote the Jordan Times' Hassan Barari, that people are "fed up with everything American, including democracy... the only thing the Americans can do to reduce the Arabs' bitterness is to show a firm stand toward Israel over the roadmap.... A strong U.S. intervention is a prerequisite not only for putting an end to the plight of the Palestinians, but also for rehabilitating the disastrous American image in our region. Failing to do so means only that worst is yet to come."

There is a total disconnect between the Arab world and Washington. There is a unanimous rejection of the U.S. military as an instrument for changing Arab regimes or reshaping the Middle Eastern political landscape. Said the Beirut Daily Star's chief editor Rami G. Khouri: "Most Arabs see the attack against Iraq as sinister in its intent, illegitimate, unprovoked, unnecessary, counterproductive for the U.S. and destructive for the region."

Students interviewed at the University of Jordan, their professors and ordinary shopkeepers, without exception, all said the U.S. just wants to control Iraq's oil. At a faculty meeting, academics said the U.S. wants to secure a permanent Mideast foothold from which to dominate and pacify the region, and redraw the region's political map in favor of America and Israel.

Washington is seen as exacting the biggest of double standards by mustering, for the second time, an Anglo-American armada to enforce U.N. resolutions in Iraq, while applying no comparable political, economic or military clout to implement 50-year-old U.N. resolutions on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large of The Washington Times and of United Press International.

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