Toward a New Imperium?

Against the Current, No. 31, March/April 1991

interview with Janice Terry

Janice Terry, a professor at Eastern Michigan University specializing in Middle Eastern history and politics, spoke with David Finkel of the ATC editorial board during the first week of the war.

Against the Current: Based on the assumption of a United Stales victory in this roar, but not knowing yet how long or costly the roar might be. I’d like to know your thoughts on the future of the region as the U.S. policy planners might envisage it. Can we start with the prospects for Iraq in particular?

Janice Terry: I think the United States has been determined from the beginning that this was to be a war against Iraq—over the issue of Saddam Hussein, perhaps but in essence against Iraq. The first aim then has been to destroy the infrastructure, to prevent Iraq from being a major industrial power in the region.

They play up the role of Saddam, personally, as a dictator, and of course they want him removed from power—this, however, has proven more complicated than many U.S. planners anticipated.

Someone from Iraq might get rid of him, but given the lack of organized political opposition in the country and the structure of the military, that seems unlikely. From the U.S. perspective, can you kill him in the course of the war? Well, maybe or maybe not, but you can’t count on it.

What do you do if he’s still alive at the end of the military confrontation? U.S. officials are anticipating this problem with their talk of war crimes tribunals and a show trial. But I think they’ll reconsider that, because it gets into very muddied water and exposes plenty of dirty laundry, some edit our own, as the Noriega case.

This would also be perceived as the victor portraying the loser as the war criminal and in the Arab world would enhance rather than lower Saddam’s image. So Washington might decide on some covert method of getting rid of him, and the most likely candidate for this kind of operation would be the Israelis who have proven to be very good at it.

Then, what kind of government would they want to put in? Some would like to see Iraq dismembered altogether into mini-states, but the counter-argument is that this would leave Iran as the main regional power. They might look around instead for some cilent to work with, something with which the United States has had some success, but as we know clients have a way of trying to become independent, and then we’re back where we started.

For example, the United States was primarily responsible for bringing the military to power in Syria during the 1940s and ‘50s, when they brought an officer named al-Zaim in because it looked like leftist forces would emerge as a power, but within six months he was already making trouble for them, and that set off years of coup and counter-coup (from 1949 to ’54—ed.).

I do think that the client to rule Iraq is more likely to come from the military than from the Ba’th party or the opposition. The party has been pretty well purged under Saddam, and the U.S. preference is to work with military technocrats rather than with those who adhere, at least publically, to any kind of ideological line. They like to work with people like (Egyptian president) Mubarak, for example.

ATC: In any case, however, won’t Iraq’s economy be ruined by war damage, debts and reparations?

J.T.: Absolutely, all this has already been destructive beyond belief. But it’s very hard for me to believe the United States would actually implement war reparations, even though you have people like Jeane Kirkpatrick making a big deal of it.

As the case of Germany after World War I shows, imposing reparations is the fastest way to alienate the population and inflame nationalism. In fact, what I’ve been saying to people about this war is that it is more analogous to World War I than anything else.

ATC: What about the broader regional perspective?

J.T.: It’s certainly clear that to couple this coalition together, and to get the kind of support required during the military confrontation, the United States is making considerable promises.

In terms of Turkey, for example, they’ve had to give considerable support to the Ozal regime not just military and financial support, but probably consideration for Turkish designs elsewhere, especially on Cyprus and possibly changes in Turkey’s southern border with Iraq.

Likewise with Syria, the Asad regime has already gotten favor with Washington, and the United States has essentially said Syria could retain its sphere of influence in the Beka’a Valley and install a pro-Syrian government in what remains of Lebanon.

From the Egyptian perspective, it’s really a matter of propping up a regime in terrible financial and internal difficulties—continuing the support Egypt has been getting since Camp David.

And for Israel, particularly in the last few days [this interview was conducted the day after the January22 SCUD attack on Tel Aviv–ed.], to get the Israelis not to respond the Bush administration has to make some very considerable concessions. This will not only mean expanded economic support but more important, in the long term, a promise to support Israel’s policy of refusing to deal with the Palestinians or accept any kind of peace conference.

The Occupied Territories will be incorporated whether through annexation or the Bantustan model. The Palestinian people, obviously, are the biggest losers.

ATC: In this kind of scenario, what would be the next likely phase of conflicts? And where would a peace and solidarity movement in the United States become relevant?

J.T.: Once the immediate conflict is over, these arrangements would have to be put in place. At that point there would be at least a small opportunity to introduce a debate on these issues to the American public.

A kit can be done in organizing and demanding open discussion of the interlocking conflicts in the Middle East. Rather than have a few decision makers in Washington D.C. get a rubber stamp from Congress, the public should demand discussion on the issues of Palestine, Lebanon, Cyprus, Iraq and Kuwait.

At least, the administration in Washington must see the public for once demanding some debate. If there were at least a murmur of that in the United States, given the enormous sentimental-ready existing in Europe for dealing with these issues as a totality, there might at least be some pressure on the U.S. government not to implement unilaterally whatever it wants.

Along with these demands for international resolution of these issues as a package, there should be a discussion about the issue of petroleum. The crisis has obscured the obscene profligacy of the United States’ use of oil and the absence of development of alternative energy sources. Among people who don’t understand the deeper imperial realities of the U.S. policy, this debate would undercut some of the support that exists for going to war to protect “our” oil supplies.

March-April 1991, ATC 31