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Taking of Iraq Could Create Wider Woes, Scholar Predicts
Published on Friday, February 28, 2003 by the San Francisco Chronicle
Taking of Iraq Could Create Wider Woes, Scholar Predicts
He says millions of Arabs would be angry, motivated
by Jonathan Curiel
 

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 violence.

"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 Radio.

"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 militarily."

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 East terrorism.

". . . 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 implemented?"

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

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