|After Saddam: Fledgling states, oceans of
By Francesco Sisci
BEIJING - The ongoing controversy between the
United States and its allies over whether to make war on
Iraq is in many respects out of date. The war is already
on, and the real issue is not whether to wage it but how
to win it.
The war began the moment the United
States declared that it was going to overthrow Saddam
Hussein. It was already bombing Iraq's two no-fly zones
but, most important, it was cordoning off Saddam
politically and preparing for his demise.
stop the war after months of relentless propaganda
against Saddam's government would be to lose the war. In
fact, Saddam would be emboldened to step up his
rearmament campaign. More important, backing off now
would give greater sway to the anti-US hardliners in
Saudi Arabia and Iran. And in fact the real target of
the war on Iraq is not Iraq itself but Saudi Arabia.
By toppling Saddam, the United States will gain
control of the Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil reserves, shielding
itself from the Saudi threat of raising oil prices and
thus choking the already shaky Western economies. As
well, with its hands on Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil,
Washington will be in a better position to influence the
power struggle in Saudi Arabia over the succession, and
to make sure the anti-US elements there who armed and
supported al-Qaeda's terrorists are eliminated.
Iran would also feel the pinch of the US
presence in Iraq, though here it is more difficult to
assess whether the moderates would be able to use this
new US presence to increase the pace of reforms, or
whether the radicals would successfully wave the flag of
a US threat.
The unanswered question is:
Couldn't Saudi Arabia be pressured into toeing the US
line without waging a risky war on Iraq? The United
States in effect controls Saudi security; it should have
been easier to use existing US clout to force the
Saudis' hand than to start a war with Iraq.
latter course holds a huge number of risks, including
the fate of the Kurds in northern Iraq, the Shi'ites in
the south and the tribes loyal to Saddam in the center.
Even with Saddam gone that picture will remain the same
and it is not clear how it will be solved (see War on Iraq: Costs and consequences,
It is not very clear why the US
chose what appears to be the most difficult track of
doing in Saddam and thus putting indirect pressure on
the Saudis, rather than pressuring the Saudis directly.
The US choice appears to be similar to that made
in Afghanistan. The invasion there put pressure on
Pakistan, which was, with Saudi Arabia, the greatest
supporter of the Taliban regime. Pakistan understood the
new tune and, thanks partly to various and diverse
demands from China and India, decided to sing along,
cutting off its aid to the al-Qaeda fighters. The US
strategy on Iraq appears the same: topple Saddam,
install a new leader, and force Saudis to follow along.
If it is going to win the ongoing war, the
United States must understand that Iraq could be more
complicated than Afghanistan, for several reasons. War
on Iraq could irk Muslim sensibilities by bringing
infidels arguably too close to the holy ground of Mecca.
Furthermore, this could give Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon the opportunity to reoccupy the Palestinian
territories and prevent the establishment of a
Palestinian state. This would further inflame Arab and
Muslim sentiments, which have been the hotbed and the
fuel of the anti-US terrorist actions.
well be that in the short term after the war nothing
will happen, because the Arab states will feel subdued.
But it is hard to believe that those inflamed sentiments
would not burst forth some time in the future with a new
wave of terrorism. To prevent this, a Palestinian state
must be established.
The Afghans, after the
US-led war in their country, have been provided aid and
greater hope for peace and development; in other words
they now have something to lose, new pressure points the
US can use to manage them. The Palestinians must be
given something to lose as well, ie, a state and hope
for development. If they have nothing they simply can't
be managed, other than by eliminating the problem by
wiping them out. But this is not possible because of the
ethical values shared by the US and the Israelis. Not
only that, but while it might be possible to conceive of
erasing the Chechens as they have few brethren outside
Chechnya, the Palestinians have Arab brethren all over
the Middle East and Africa who are already simmering
over the plight of the Palestinians.
creation of a Palestinian state should thus be the
cornerstone of the peace settlement after the war on
Iraq. This more than anything else would give clout to
the new US presence in the Persian Gulf region and could
help win over the Saudis and Iranians.
achieve this end, as many US analysts have already
pointed out, the United States must be prepared for a
long-term involvement in the region. States are not born
out of thin air, and here we are thinking of a whole new
geography for the Middle East and Central Asia. This
means that the US could be there for decades to bolster
the existence of the fledgling states born of the war.
But this US presence in the area won't be
without rewards - there is the oil issue. After the war
the US can think of controlling directly or indirectly
most of the Gulf's oil. Moreover, with its foothold in
Central Asia, which is not limited to Afghanistan but
also includes a few ex-Soviet republics in Central Asia
and the Caucasus, the US will have a big say on oil
Some 30 years after the oil shock
that brought the West to its knees, the power of Western
oil companies will be vindicated. It could well be the
resurrection of the Seven Sisters - the seven
mega-corporations that dominate the global oil industry
(Exxon, Gulf, Texaco, Mobil, Socal, BP and Shell) -
although some of their names and profiles have changed.
The Western hold on oil will be the last straw
for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries,
which is already weakened by years of division. The West
will be able to maintain the price of oil at the level
fit for the varying economic needs of development.
This hold can't last forever and the lessons of
the past should not be ignored. The lesson of the 1970s
was that the best way to control oil prices to decrease
dependence on it. The West has to develop different
sources of energy that are not dependent on oil, and
possibly in the future not even dependent on natural
gas. Fuel cells could greatly help, and this technology
could be marketable in 20 years, the time frame in which
the US could hold full control of the Middle East and
Central Asia. The 20-year horizon for control of oil and
development of new energy technologies could also
provide a long-term safety grid for economic
development, now deprived of the bubble dream of the
In the short term the toppling of
Saddam, the creation of a Palestinian state, the
emergence of a new, moderate Iran, a decrease in oil
prices, new military spending and a new feeling of
safety in the West could help trigger an economic
recovery some time in 2004.
Still remaining to
be tackled would be the possible widespread resentment
among the Arabs, who will have to tolerate a greater US
presence in the region, and discontent among the
Europeans, who will feel they were forced into joining
the United States in another ill-conceived war. These
two problems loom very large in the second half of 2003
and early 2004 even if the war itself goes perfectly
Moreover, if the US is bogged down for
decades in the region, its control of the region's oil
will be good for China, but not as good for Russia.
It will be good for China because while the US
is preoccupied with the Middle East it will have no
desire to get involved in the even messier picture of
China, which will carry on with its economic development
and reforms without fear of the United States. The US
control of oil and parallel development of alternative
fuels is fully consistent with the interests of the
Chinese, who are net oil importers and therefore keen on
a low oil price.
It's a different story for
Russia, which is a net oil exporter. Its oil policies
will have to be in tune with US decisions, as Washington
can always play its Middle East oil card against Russia.
The practical choice for Russia, then, will be to toe
the US economic line even more closely. The payoff for
Moscow for swallowing its pride would be to have its oil
companies among the new Seven Sisters, which in a few
years could bring about a new isolation of China.
In this scenario, China could find itself out of
the energy loop and dependent for oil and technology on
the goodwill of the United States and its partners.
China has perhaps a couple of years to forestall such a
predicament by proving that it does not want to be
America's enemy or even its adversary, but a partner.
The alternative, counting on some of America's plans to
go awry, could lead China down a long and lonely road.
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