Monday 11 November 2002

Mind Wars and Iraq (UPI)

M.D. Nalapat

MANIPAL, India, Nov. 11 (UPI) -- After World War I, the great powers imposed a peace on Germany that led to a fresh conflagration just two decades later, one far more virulent in its scope and effects. The coming military campaign against Iraq promises to be a duck shoot, given that country's eviscerated war machine. However, unless equal attention is paid to the "chemistry" of the campaign -- its "mind" factor -- as well as its "mechanics" -- the straightforward military aspects -- the very victory over Iraq may create the conditions for an intensification of the terror war against secular democracies.
This would affect the strategic interests of the democracies worldwide. To paraphrase a phrase from the 1992 Clinton campaign," It's the Mind, Stupid!" Defeating the Iraqi armed forces and toppling Saddam Hussein needs to be complemented by the creation of an atmosphere within the Muslim world that accepts such a success to be in their interests as well.
In other words, the strategy against Saddam needs to be a fusion of mechanics and chemistry .While the first deals with field mechanics and hardware, the second concentrates on the atmospherics and the psychological effects of such actions.
Islamic radicals have attempted to overcome their deficiencies in the "mechanical" with emphasis on the "chemical" in their war against modern civilization. This strategy has thus far been neglected by Western military planners.
In Afghanistan, it was not the air-dropping of peanut butter but the entry of fellow-Afghans into the battle against the Taliban that dried up support for that regime. In a similar way, there needs to be very visible -- and voluble -- Iraqi faces in the campaign against Saddam alongside President George W Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
At present, most of the war planning appears to revolve around the machinery of conflict: aircraft, missiles and other weapons. Paradoxically, in many cases "victory" in such combat only creates the mental infrastructure that nourishes the enemy with new recruits and zeal, as the Israel Defense Forces are realizing in their battle against the second Palestinian intifada.
This near-exclusive reliance on "mechanical" means towards a solution of the problem of regime change in Iraq runs the risk of sharply increasing support for Saddam within the billion-strong Muslim world. The man himself has skillfully worn the cloak both of Arab nationalism as well as Islamic piety. His apologists claim the Bush-Blair rhetoric is driven by greed for the tens of billions of dollars that a normalized flow of Iraqi oil will
fetch in the market, and that he is being punished for his "anti-Zionist" stance.
Hence the resonance within the Muslim world of his cry that he is the victim, not the aggressor. Hence the fear that his defeat and overthrow may generate a chain reaction within that world that may pit it against the West in ways not conducive to future stability anywhere.
Just as Mullah Omar, the ousted Taliban ruler of Afghanistan wore a cloak said to have come from the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Saddam is symbolically wrapping his personalized ambitions in the ideology of the 12th century Kurdish Islamic conqueror Saladin. He is claiming to be the modern defender of Islam against an invading and antithetical civilization. Unless this disguise is stripped from him, the danger of a Muslim backlash from a war against Iraq is high.
Afghanistan has shown the need for ideological preparation before launching a military operation, what may be described as attention to the "mind" factor. Thus far, both Bush and Blair have been repeating the threat posed by the regime in Iraq to their own countries and allies in Europe.
It may come as a surprise to them, but the protection of the United States, Britain and other European countries from acts of terror such as even the launch of chemical or biological warheads may not be a great concern within the Muslim world.
Indeed, given the decibel level of anti-Western rhetoric and "analysis" appearing in almost all the local-language media in Muslim-majority countries, many may regard such an assault as justified retribution for presumed crimes against the "Ummah" -- the world brotherhood of Islam.
As the Israeli security services can testify, there are already several thousand youths in the West Bank and Gaza who regard the killing of Jews as a holy duty for the Faithful rather than terrorism. This principle could also win many adherents in a more generalized conflict against the West.
Today, the "face" behind the planned invasion of Iraq is perceived in the Muslim world as being Christian, Jewish and white, in the form of Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Blair. Just as the Northern Alliance was -- after an inexplicable delay of nearly a month -- finally given primacy in the war against the Taliban, a new Iraqi National Government needs to take center stage in any public discussion of future plans for regime change in Baghdad. Muslims -- especially Arabs -- need to feel reassured that their own people, their own faith, will play the keystone role in toppling Saddam.
However, amazingly, as yet the names of the leading opponents of the Iraqi dictatorship are unknown to television audiences anywhere, in an age when television forms mental attitudes towards events.
There definitely exists an alliance of Iraqis against Saddam Hussein, composed of individuals who have been resisting him for years. These genuine nationalists need to be given top billing. Indeed, the effort should be to ensure that the bulk of the Iraqi regime -- including the army -- turns on Saddam in the initial days of a U.S.-British strike. This will occur only if the contours of the post-Saddam Iraq are made clear. The world outside the United States and Britain need to be reassured that the Iraqi people, rather than London and Washington, will control their own destiny.
Just as the Northern Alliance was -- or is -- hardly pro-West, those Iraqis that are moved into the limelight pre-attack need to be those not regarded as "poodles" of the West. Indeed, they need to condemn not just Saddam but the regime of sanctions that has eviscerated the population of that hapless country that Saddam has -- or may soon get - weapons of mass destruction is not a matter for concern in the Muslim world as it is in the Western.
Were he to be regarded as being close to nuclear capability that would be a reason for admiration rather than revulsion. Instead of concentrating on the threat posed by the instruments supposedly available to the man, much more coverage needs to be given to the persona and actions of the man.
The shopping sprees of his family, the importing of bacon-chewing blondes from Europe to satisfy the lusts of Saddam and his sons, Uday and Qusay, the scale of his palaces and the extent of his cruelties, all these "trivia" would provide a much stronger justification for action within the Ummah, were they to be skillfully brought out, than any remuneration of missiles that may have survived the weapons inspectors.
Too little has yet come out on the deeds of the despot. His deeds against fellow-Muslims, against fellow-Arabs, and against fellow-Iraqis need to be brought back into focus rather than just warnings about "weapons of mass destruction" that are in fact a source of pride rather than fear to millions of inhabitants in the Middle East.
It is unfortunate that a Europe-obsessed Secretary of State Colin Powell has given almost all his attention to the "white" countries, with the exception of China, and this only thanks to its Permanent Member status in the U.N. Security Council.
India and Indonesia, the countries with the largest Muslim populations in the world, have been largely ignored in the U.S.-British diplomatic dance over Iraq, while attention has been given to Canada and Australia, two countries whose influence on Muslim opinion is not generally regarded as substantial.
The Iraq conflict is not a European war as Kosovo was, it is a war fought in Asia against Asians who are also Muslims. This dictates a diplomatic strategy very different from that which has thus far been followed by the Bush administration, which has concentrated on changing the mind of Europe.
The chemistry of Asia -- a continent just decades escaped from European colonialism -- is very different from that of the United States or the countries of the European Union.
The war against Iraq should not ignite anti-American and anti-European passions in Asia the way the East Timor operation did in Indonesia. If it does, there will be a serious retardation of the progress in both economics and science that the continent has witnessed from the 1960s onward. And the wider consequences will be very serious for the entire world.
Diplomacy involving those countries with significant Muslim populations, and by associating the Iraqi resistance fighters in the frontline of media attention, is therefore crucial, as is the need to expose the fallacy of Saddam's claims to represent the civilization of the proud people he has dominated for two decades.
Again, it needs to be repeated that the priorities of the Arab "street" are very different from those of the citizens of Munich or Chicago, and the reasons given for launching an attack need to include arguments that carry resonance not only with western but also Arab -- and in general Asian -- populations to prevent a civilizational cleavage post-war could bring to life some of Samuel Huntingdon's worst apprehensions about "The Clash of Civilizations."
After the partial destruction of Saddam's military infrastructure, both the opposition Iraqi National Army as well as Allied forces need to go in to mop up remnants and extricate Saddam for a trial that should be held in Baghdad alone. The man is an enemy mainly to his own people, and it is they who should be given the right both to actively participate in his downfall and to ensure punishment for all that he has done against them.
There should not be a repetition of the folly of The International Court of Justice in The Hague that is making former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic a hero once again among his people. Above all, there must not be any repetition of the catastrophe of the 1919 Versailles Peace Treaty, which created the conditions for Hitler to triumph in Germany 14 years later.
-- M.D. Nalapat is UNESCO Peace Chair and Director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

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