A superpower like the United States does not invade a pipsqueak power like Iraq — outside the framework of international law and against worldwide opposition — only for its publicly stated reasons, in this case, fighting terrorism, liberating Iraq and triggering a domino effect for the democratization of the Middle East.
The real American agenda is only now becoming clearer.
The conquest of Iraq is enabling a new Pax Americana that goes well beyond the much-discussed control of oil, as central as that is to the enterprise.
America is redrawing the military map of the region with amazing alacrity. It has pulled its bases out of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in favor of less-demanding hosts.
Its relations with Egypt have been placed on the back burner.
It is no accident that those three nations are the region's more populous. And that America's newest partners — Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates — are thinly populated and tightly controlled monarchies.
People are a problem for America in the Arab and Muslim world. They are bristling with anti-Americanism, principally over the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
The pullout of 10,000 U.S. troops from a Saudi air base was long overdue, not just because it was a favorite target of Osama bin Laden. It so embarrassed the ruling House of Saud that the Americans had to be kept in purdah, away from the public at a remote base in the desert.
The base is obviously no longer needed since Saddam Hussein is gone. But its closure, in fact, is America's answer to Saudi resistance to the war and the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were bin Laden Saudis.
As the two nations begin a new chapter in their 50-year relationship, America will be less dependant on, though not free of the need for, Saudi oil.
The kingdom with the world's largest oil reserves and the highest output will lose clout as America controls the second-largest reserves in Iraq.
Turkey, too, has to renegotiate its relations with Washington.
America now has a vise grip on the region, with 14 new post-9/11 bases, from eastern Europe through Iraq, the Persian Gulf, Pakistan and Afghanistan to the two Central Asian republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The singular feature of all those new allies is that they are weak states. Most are undemocratic, if not repressive.
So, America is replicating its failed model of using unrepresentative regimes to suppress the people, but doing it on new turf.
This short-term gain, therefore, may come at the expense of long-term pain. And even that will depend on how well America does with its "road map" for peace in the Middle East, so inextricably linked are Muslims to the plight of Palestinians.
Within Iraq itself, the dawn of a democratic era is not unfolding as advertised.
In the name of stopping the emergence of an Iranian-style theocracy in favor of what the White House has called an "Islamic democracy" (whatever that means), America seems determined to install its own puppet regime in Baghdad.
The majority Shiites are being shunted aside.
Those protesting the American presence, including the minority Sunnis in the cities of Falluja and Mosul, are being shot and killed by American troops.
The distance between American words and deeds is nowhere more evident than in George W. Bush's triumphalist declaration that he has licked terrorism in Iraq.
It turns out that he has a very selective dislike for terrorism.
Appallingly, he has quietly cozied up to a most notorious terrorist group, the leftist Mujahideen-e-Khalq in Iraq.
Prior to the 1979 revolution in Iran, the Khalq was accused of killing Americans there. Post-revolution, it reportedly supported the student takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. But frozen out of the spoils of power, the group turned against the Islamic regime, killing scores of civilians.
Routed out of Iran, it set up guerrilla bases in Iraq from where to harass and attack Iran.
On the diplomatic front, the Khalq took full advantage of America's antipathy to Iran and convinced 150 members of Congress to blindly sign petitions in its favor But the U.S. and the European Union eventually caught up and branded it the terrorist organization that it has long been.
In the early days of the war on Iraq, American planes started bombing its bases. But the Khalq PR machines swung into action in Washington to get the guerrillas spared.
In a secret ceasefire deal, signed April 15 but not released until Wednesday, the Bush boys agreed to let the Khalq be. The group even gets to keep all its weapons.
So the Khalq moves from Saddam's patronage to Bush's.
So much for wiping out terrorism and terrorists.
Taken together, these American moves do not reflect the high principles of Bush's rhetoric. Rather, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the British colonial enterprise of nearly a century ago, the price of which is still being paid by the people there.
Haroon Siddiqui is the Star's editorial page editor emeritus.
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