Although President Bush believes a war with Iraq will bring democracy
to the country and foster democratic reform throughout the Middle East, a
scholar of the region says the conflict would create more authoritarianism
among Arab regimes desperate to quash dissent, lead to more anti-American
sentiment and foment more "demand" for terrorism.
Speaking to the World Affairs Council in San Francisco, Shibley Telhami, a
University of Maryland professor, said millions of Arabs would be angered by a
post-Hussein Iraq where U.S. troops are keeping order -- and that this
resentment would drive more people to lash out at Washington and support
groups like Hamas that advocate suicide bombings in Israel and other forms of
"There is a supply side and a demand side to terrorism," Telhami said on
Wednesday night, in a talk that was recorded for broadcast on National Public
"On the demand side, you have an environment where people are willing to
participate, to be recruited, to provide funds, to provide the support that
groups (like Hamas) thrive on. If there is this demand, you can destroy a
group (or depose a leader) and the demand will create another group the next
morning. The problems that give rise to this demand side cannot be addressed
The governments of Pakistan, Egypt and other Muslim countries that are
either supporting the U.S. effort in Iraq or abstaining from criticizing it
have cracked down on citizens protesting those policies, which only points up
the absence of real democracy in those countries, says Telhami.
Telhami, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of a
new book, "The Stakes: America and the Middle East," said that resolving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be a much bigger priority of the Bush
administration because so much of the Arab world sees Iraq and other foreign
crises "through the Israeli-Palestinian prism."
"It is their prism -- in the same way that, since 9/11, the issue of
terrorism has become the prism through which Americans are looking at the
Middle East and the Islamic world. I've done surveys in five Arab countries.
The vast majority of people say the Palestinian issue is the single most
important issue to them.
"War with Iraq won't change the reality that the Palestinian-Israeli
(conflict) will be the key to the fundamental relationship between the United
States and the rest of the Middle East."
On the subject of Islamic terrorism, Telhami said that "a war in Iraq will
lead to more instability and more motivated recruits. Al Qaeda proliferates in
areas of instability. States can be deterred and defeated by powerful states,
but you can't deter shadowy nonstate groups.
"The reality is that, after a year-and-a-half of the most powerful country
in the world putting all of its resources on the line . . . most of al Qaeda's
fighters (are) hiding not in the states of the 'axis of evil' but in unstable
regions of friendly countries -- in Pakistan, in Afghanistan."
Telhami, who is the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the
University of Maryland, said "humiliation" is the biggest factor behind Middle
". . . The driving force in the Middle East today that leads to so many
people willing to be recruited into organizations that are willing to use
ruthless means to change the status quo is not so much poverty . . . but
humiliation and hopelessness," he said.
"When I look at what happens in Gaza, I'm less worried about the poor child
who is only getting a piece of bread a day, which is troubling enough. I'm
more worried about the child sitting next to his father the physician, going
through a checkpoint and watching his father getting out and getting
humiliated by an 18-year-old (Israeli) soldier for hours."
Telhami said the outcome of recruiting Muslim governments to join the war
on terror is "the perpetuation of oppression, not a spread of democracy.
"Think about Pakistan. Before 9/11, we were talking about putting more
pressure on Pakistan to have more democracy. Since 9/11, there's been a higher
priority -- fighting al Qaeda. Gen. (Pervez) Musharraf is on board. He's an
ally. The reality is, that has not translated (into) putting pressure on
democracy for the past year-and-a-half. The way we're proceeding isn't likely
to bring about democracy to the Middle East."
Despite Hussein's comments to CBS anchor Dan Rather earlier this week that
Iraq won't destroy its oil fields in the event of a war, Telhami said, "I
can't imagine that he doesn't plan to do it. The real issue is, can it be
If Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and "they are going down (to
defeat) in a war," he said, "I'd be surprised if they don't use them."
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle