Ochenski 

Are we nuts?: Weapons won’t bring peace to the Middle East

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If so, America—or at least the Middle East policies of President George W. Bush—are fully in the realm of outright insanity. The latest? Dump $20 billion in high-tech arms to Saudi Arabia and counter-balance that with more than $30 billion ($3 billion annually) to Israel over the next decade for more weapons. And what is the goal of pumping all this new weaponry into this highly unstable, conflict-torn region? If you believe Bush, which is almost impossible to do these days, it’s peace.

Perhaps, given the unrelenting propaganda that issues from the White House, most Americans think the attacks of 9/11 were carried out by the late Saddam Hussein. Certainly that massive lie—most often repeated straight from the lips of Vice President Dick Cheney—was once believed by tens of millions of Americans. Nonetheless, it was a lie then and remains a lie now.

In fact, the guys who flew the planes into the World Trade towers weren’t even Iraqis, they were Saudis. Their home nation, the one Bush now proposes to arm with $20 billion in new, state-of-the-art weaponry, is Saudi Arabia—the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to be more exact.

Other than sitting on what has been described as a “sea of oil,” there is very little to recommend any ties between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. For one thing, it’s a dynastic monarchy in which power descends from one member of the royal Saud family to the next…whether the populace likes it or not. There are no recognized political parties and no national elections. There is no constitution. Shari’a—or Holy Law based on the Quran—is the law of the land.

Astute readers will recognize Shari’a as the form of “government” favored by the Taliban in Afghanistan, whom we have been fighting for more than four years. Shari’a is also the preferred method of governance among what Bush and his cronies regularly call “Islamic extremists” throughout the Muslim world, including our old nemesis, Osama bin Laden.

The country has been ranked as the eighth-most authoritarian nation in the world, which makes sense when you consider that amputation of the right hand is the penalty for theft, 80 lashes is the penalty for alcohol use, and fornication brings you 40 lashes—unless you’re a married adulterer—then the punishment is death by stoning for both men and women.

The Saudi human rights record is dismal and has for years been a topic of concern among international groups including the United Nations. Women, for instance, aren’t allowed to vote, or drive, or even ride bicycles on public roads. They are, however, expected to have lots of babies. Unlike most “modern” nations that have birthrates of 1-2 per woman (Canada’s is 1.4; the U.S. is 2.1) Saudi Arabia’s is 5.7—higher than Iraq’s and about the same as Pakistan, Nigeria, and Afghanistan.

Despite billions in oil revenues, Saudi Arabia’s per capita income fell from $25,000 in 1980 to $8,000 in 2003…to date the most significant reverse in the well being of a general populace in the world. Yet while the common people suffer, those well connected to the royal family roll in unbelievable riches.

On the political front, not only is it not a democracy, the House of Saud is far from stable. Armed insurrection isn’t just a threat, it’s a pressing reality motivated by the royal family’s economic ties to foreign companies such as Halliburton, which are seen as funneling off the nation’s wealth. Attacks against foreigners are routine, and virtually all Western governments have warned their citizens against travel in Saudi Arabia. Some day in the not-too-distant future, the insurrection may succeed, and then our high-tech weapons can be used against us.

It is against this backdrop that Congress will be asked to approve the Saudi arms package—and the concurrent Israeli arms giveaway—this fall. The lunatic logic of George Bush contends that these radical measures are necessary to let the nations of the Middle East know that the United States is serious about achieving peace and stability in the region. Now maybe there are those who think throwing gas on a fire is a good way to put it out, but I’d hope anyone who believes such nonsense is receiving treatment somewhere. The truth, unfortunately, is that there is probably a sufficient number of desperate politicians in Congress to pass such a crazy idea.

As for Iraq, this week the Iraqi parliament decided it was time to adjourn for all of August. While the U.S. launched a full-court press for passage of what are called “benchmarks” for Iraqi progress, the Iraqis themselves decide to take the month off. That those benchmarks just happen to include opening their oil reserves to privatization by foreign firms might be one big reason the Iraq parliament decided to take a hike.

Although faced with an increasingly isolated and bizarre president and a hostile populace of their own (and the low approval ratings to prove it), the U.S. Congress decided to take all of August off, too. Moreover, they’re leaving just as news breaks that the Iraqis are refusing to take over reconstruction projects from the Americans. We’re paying billions for them and our troops are dying every day to protect them—but the Iraqis won’t even take them over.

When you stack it all up, the Bush plan to further militarize the region in the pursuit of peace can only be seen as insanity. But take heart. If the Iraqis can just walk away from it all, and Congress can just walk away from it all, perhaps that’s the final solution to this hopeless war in Iraq—just walk away from it all.

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.
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