October 26, 1999
COHEN IN MIDEAST: U.S. FOR 'PEACE AND SECURITY' OR ' IMPERIALISM'?
Defense Secretary Cohen's Middle East tour to promote regional stability and security, which ends today, drew the attention--and ire--of several Arab observers who judged that the U.S. is finding itself opposed by the Arab world on a range of key issues: U.S. troop presence in the region, U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran, and the U.S. approach to resolving Israeli-Palestinian differences. The U.S., many Arab writers contended, is practicing "a new imperialism" in the region by maintaining a troop presence in the Persian Gulf, viewing the region's issues through the perspective of "an Israeli filter" and promoting U.S. weapons sales that drain new oil revenues and keep Arab economies "dormant." "Hatred for America's policies in the Gulf is increasing," Manama's semi-independent, Arabic-language Akhbar al-Khalij intoned. Several Arab pundits concluded that the U.S. is facing chillier times in the Arab world because many of these countries, "once aligned closely with the U.S.," are, in the aftermath of the Gulf War, "starting to distance themselves to project an image of being in control of their own future." "We don't want the U.S secretary of defense to come to the region and present himself as our safeguard from Iraq and Iran, at a time when the region is witnessing unprecedented closeness," Doha's semi-independent As-Sharq declared. Many judged that the key to the region's future alliances rests not so much with Washington as with Baghdad and Tehran. Iraq and Iran were urged to "take the initiative" to further their "rapprochement" with the Arab world. In Israel, the independent Jerusalem Post worried about the "impotence" of "the most powerful military apparatus known to man" in addressing the "proliferation challenges posed by Iraq, Iran, and North Korea." These were other salient points:
IRAQ: In some of the strongest objections to U.S. policy voiced since the dissolution of the Gulf War alliance, the Arab press called for an end to the U.S.-British patrol of the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. "Just as we condemned the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, we also condemn using that invasion as a pretext for punishing Iraq," Manama's semi-independent Akhbar Al-Khalij declared. The paper also advised the U.S. to listen "to the pulse of the public in the Gulf in order to know how the Gulf really feels about America's wrongdoings" with respect to Iraq. Saudi Arabia's London-based, pan-Arab Al-Hayat criticized the "hasty agreement" with Kuwait to expand U.S. army bases there. "It certainly suggests [the bases'] necessity for years to come and therefore, that Saddam will remain," the paper said, adding: "It (the expansion) suggests the beginning of a new phase of the containment policy."
IRAN: Stating that the dispute between Iran and the UAE over Abu Musa island is one of "the core issues" that hinder Gulf cooperation, Doha's semi-independent As-Sharq, called on the Iranian leadership to "foil the U.S. plan towards the region" and "to begin a serious dialogue to resolve all the bones of contention" between it and the Arab world.
U.S. IN THE GULF: Pundits also strongly objected to "offensive" statements made by Secretary Cohen that Washington intends to keep its forces in the Middle East for an unlimited period. Doha's semi-independent As-Sharq declared, "The decision to keep forces in the region is not first and foremost a U.S. one and the decision to extend the presence of these forces cannot be taken unilaterally by an American official in a press conference."
EDITOR: Gail Hamer Burke
EDITORS' NOTE: This survey is based on 18 reports from 6 countries, October 19 - 26. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.
ISRAEL: "U.S. Vs. The Rogues"
The independent Jerusalem Post editorialized (10/25): "Secretary Cohen oversees the most powerful military apparatus known to man, yet it is hard to escape that structure's impotence with respect to proliferation challenges posed by Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. When one or more of these states confronts the West with some form of nuclear blackmail, no amount of military might will make up for the unpalatable nature of the choices facing the United States and its allies. Dangerous deals in North Korea, a refusal to use sufficient economic sanctions to staunch the technology flow to Iran, and resistance to congressional calls to aid the Iraqi opposition, could well overcome the positive legacy."
BAHRAIN: "Hatred For America's Policies In The Gulf Is Increasing"
Semi-independent Arabic daily Akhbar al-Khalij published this view (10/25) by Adnan Bumtaia: "The hatred for America's policies in the Gulf is increasing. The American military presence in the gulf appears to be permanent, so the United States seeks to make it seem natural and acceptable. In the meantime, the United States does not hesitate to take measures that harm the Arab and Muslim interests and feelings. The tour of U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen in the Middle East coincided with a tour by his colleague, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in Africa. The purpose of Cohen's tour was to secure Arab countries' commitment to the American policy toward Iraq and to market the peace process with Israel. The purpose of Albright's tour was to support the new democracies in Africa. So, what have the two achieved? Cohen secured huge arms deals which he forced the Gulf countries to buy, harming the Gulf economy which has only lately recovered from the Gulf War, after the recent increase in oil prices. Cohen came to milk Gulf pockets and returned with deals that help only the American factories while harming the socio-economic development and stability in the region.... All these tours by American officials leave behind time bombs and increased hatred of America and everything American."
"New Form Of Imperialism"
Semi-independent Arabic daily Akhbar al-Khali ran this comment (10/25) by Hafedh al-Shaikh: "Developments in the Arab world show that, over the last nine years, a new type of imperialism has been born. It comes with its artillery and weapons to hold what are called 'exercises' on the shores of the largest Arab country. Its spokespersons promise the Arabs to make it an annual event for a long time to come. They use several pretexts for this: the threat of the Iraqi regime, the Iranian regime, protecting the navigation lines and flow of oil, fighting Islamic radical movements and defending America's allies and friends. Different excuses, but the picture is of a 'new form of imperialism.' Right now there are two clear American goals: creating two types of regimes--of course according to American specifications--in Iraq and Sudan."
"Cohen's Welcome Should Not Be Taken As Acceptance Of U.S. Policy"
Semi-independent Akhbar Al-Khalij said in a two-part commentary (10/23) and (10/24) by Ali Sayyar: "We know that U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen received a warm welcome during his visit to the Gulf countries. We also know that when he returns to his country, he will interpret such a warm welcome as an indication that the Gulf countries completely accept U.S. policies--including the policy of daily air bombardment of Iraq which is being carried out by American and British fighters, and which the American administration says will continue until Saddam Hussein is overthrown. Of course, we are happy with the frequent visits of the
American secretary. We are also happy about our purchases of American weapons and military equipment, although we know that we do not have the money to pay their costs, nor do we know how to use them. But we would be even more happy if Mr. Cohen listened, just a little bit, to the pulse of the public in the Gulf in order to know how the Gulf really feels about America's wrongdoings in Iraq.
"As real friends of the United States, we tell our dear guest: Just as we condemned the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, we also condemn using that invasion as a pretext for punishing Iraq. We know that the American administration does not like to upset Israel and that all its decisions must go through the Israeli filter, but we would like to see our American friends treat us the same way they treat the Israelis."
"A Visit That Coincides With Gulf Countries' Defense Budget Allocations"
Semi-independent Al-Ayam published this commentary by Zakaria Neil (10/23): "It is no secret that the U.S. secretary of defense makes two trips to the region every year--one in summer and one in winter. The winter trip is the most important one because it takes place while the countries are busy putting the numbers in the columns of their new state budgets. Therefore, the real reason behind the tour of William Cohen is to know the amount allocated in the budgets for the purchase of weapons from the United States."
QATAR: "Offensive Statements"
Semi-independent As-Sharq opined (10/19), "Statements made by the U.S secretary of defense in Manama that Washington intends to keep its forces in the region indefinitely, lacks diplomatic tactfulness. The decision to keep forces in the region is not first and foremost a U.S. one and the decision to extend the presence of these forces cannot be taken unilaterally by an American official in a press conference.... The U.S. forces came to the region due to specific circumstances which have now either passed, or almost passed, and keeping these forces in place can today be called into question. The U.S. administration should cooperate more with the Gulf countries on this sensitive and very costly question, which has turned into a burden whereas it was a necessity."
"Let's Get Over With The Islands Issue"
Semi-independent As-Sharq's editorial said (10/20), "The core issues that hinder Gulf cooperation are the dispute between Iran and the UAE over the islands, and Kuwaiti POWs. The Iranian leadership should foil the U.S. plan towards the region and take the opportunity of its rapprochement with the Arab states to begin a serious dialogue to resolve all the bones of contention in the region. We don't want the U.S secretary of defense to come to the region and present himself as our safeguard from Iraq and Iran, at a time when the region is witnessing unprecedented closeness. For instance, the overwhelming, popular and official, sentiment towards the Iraqi people should be used by Baghdad to achieve a major breakthrough and deals, in a transparent fashion, with the Kuwaiti POWs. Furthermore, Iran received an invitation to participate in the Baghdad international exhibition and the Iranian speaker of parliament lauded the outcomes of his visit to Saudi Arabia. The Gulf countries are convinced that Iraq's military threat is over in the aftermath of its disarmament. The burning question is what does Cohen aim to do by saying that the U.S forces will remain to protect the region from Iraq and Iran? The answer is the United States wants the tension pores to remain. The final question is when will Iraq and Iran take the initiative of resolution?"
SAUDI ARABIA: "New Phase Of 'Containment Policy?'"
London-based, pan-Arab Al-Hayat opined (10/25), "Whatever the desires of the U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, it is certain that he accomplished some of them during his (recent)
Gulf and Middle East tour.... Following the demands of unofficial Gulf (voices)--though at least some of these voices also reflect official views--to reduce American troops, the Secretary has concluded a hasty agreement with Kuwait to expand his (country's) army bases in that country.... In the Gulf, Cohen exerted efforts to deny any disagreement over the expenses of deployed American troops. Though it seems the people of the region, collectively, do not agree there is a need to keep them all for deterrence of Saddam Hussein.... He (Cohen) will not spell out any (financial) burden Kuwait will undertake for the expenses of expanding these military bases, but it (the expansion of military bases) certainly suggests their necessity for years to come and therefore, that Saddam will remain. It (the expansion) suggests the beginning of a new phase of the containment policy."
London-based, pan-Arab Al-Hayat ran this editorial (10/20): "Americans are the masters of public relations and its arts; in fact, they are the inventors of this art.... Taking this point into consideration, Americans should at least understand that the repeated visits of Secretary of Defense William Cohen to the Arab region are not useful to U.S. policy. This man is similar to others--like Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, and now U.S. Secretary of Commerce William Daley--who are the '90s portrayal of the 'Ugly American.'... The U.S. administration finds it necessary to send its rabbis once, twice or three times a year to preach its well-known policies...to the extent that officials in the Gulf region and in Arab capitals generally are fed up with listening to the same thing year after year.... Americans have an exaggerated impression that the governments of the region and their people do not understand their own best interests."
SYRIA: "U.S.-Israeli Strategic Alliance"
Fouad Mardoud commented in the government-owned Syria Times (10/26): "The new U.S.-Israeli strategic pact that will be signed is a fruit...of U.S. Secretary Cohen's visit to Israel.... Such a pact will automatically be against the Arabs, because it will provide Israel with more weapons, intelligence data and support while Israel is still occupying Arab territories and defying U.S. and international mediating efforts.... Such a pact will give Israel more means to defy peace.... At the same time it will tie U.S. hands more and decrease Washington's ability to play the role of the honest and fair peace broker."
"A Miserable Ending"
Bassam Hashem opined in government-owned Al-Ba'th (10/25): "Albright in her African tour and Cohen in his Middle East tour were able to upstage the unique and exceptional tour of a leader from one of the major powers in the world, China.... It seems that Washington has won the battle of influence over the black continent and launched a project to restructure security and military arrangements in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Arab Gulf... 'Balance of power' and domination by a single superpower are absent in Blair and Chirac's talks (with the Chinese leader)."
"Cohen's Middle East Trip"
Fouad Mardoud, chief editor of the government-owned Syria Times, commented (10/24): "Secretary Cohen received a much quieter reception than the one he received last year on his visit to the Middle East; he realizes that U.S. security arrangements in the region may require more months of tedious efforts. Cohen is also finding that the U.S. faces strong competition from other arms manufacturers from France and the U.K.
"The U.S. quest to remain the greatest regional force and largest supplier of weapons cannot be achieved without tradeoffs and a dramatic change in the U.S. approach to regional issues. Old disputes are starting to resurface. The image of the United States is being distorted by its
biases towards Israel and its hesitation to press harder for a quick resumption of the Middle East peace talks.... Those Arab countries once aligned closely with the United States, in the aftermath of the Gulf war, are starting to distance themselves to project an image of being in control of their own future.... The most reasonable course to pursue is to build Arab-American relations based on strong mutual interest.... The United States should stop viewing Israel as its only strategic partner in the region."
Saleh Saleh commented in government-owned Al-Ba'th (10/20): "The tours of the U.S. secretaries of defense and commerce in the region seem to draw the basic guidelines for the U.S. policy in the next coming period. William Daley urged Arabs to proceed with commercial exchange with Israel. This is out of Daley's capacity. He should have restricted his efforts to fulfilling his country's interests. It seems that he has got confused and thought himself a minister in Barak's government! This made him raise the issue of normalization with Israel, and talk about economic reforms in some Arab countries. This is not only an intervention in Arab affairs, it is also meant as a warning to the Arabs if they persist in their stand that refuses any rapprochement with Israel before fulfilling a just and comprehensive peace in the region.
"On the other hand Secretary Cohen made it clear that the U.S. forces will remain in the Gulf for unlimited period of time. To cover up the real goals of Cohen's visit, U.S. officials stated that he will discuss the peace process and the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons in the region. They know that the ownership of weapons of mass destruction is limited to Israel; therefore, this issue should have been raised with the Barak government."
JORDAN: "Cohen's Campaigns"
Daily columnist Jihad Momani commented in center-left, influential Al Dustur (10/26), "For the first time since Desert Storm, a U.S. official announces the fact that Americn forces in the Gulf are to stay for good and campaigns could be launched. But against who and when? By talking about [military] campaigns, Cohen is referring to the area of the Caspian Sea and the inflamed region of the Caucusus mountains as well as to attempts at strangling Russia now and maybe China later. While the ghost of communism had been a reason for the U.S. presence in the Gulf region throughout the years of the Cold War, the instability that prevailed since the Balkan war, in addition to Iraq before that and Pakistan, as well as the weakness of Russia itself, all constitute strong reasons to convince old allies that the United States must have the upper hand and that military bases in the Gulf region must be capable of providing the necessary deterence for all Asia."
"Cohen And Daley Wreak Havoc"
Daily columnist Jawad Bashiti penned this on the op-ed page of independent, mass-appeal Al-Arab Al-Yawm (10/21): "U.S. Secretary of Defense Cohen came to the Gulf region this time with a plan to develop a regional mechanism to deter the possible threats from Iraq and Iran on the basis that these two countries are still trying to produce and develop mass destruction weapons. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Daley visited the Gulf region to encourage it to undertake economic reforms that would enable the private sector to perform its lead role of normalizing economic relations with Israel." The columnist sarcastically continued, "During one of Cohen's visit, the GCC countries did not know about the new Iranian missile (Shahab-3) and the threat it entails. They did not know what must be done to confront and overcome this threat. Such knowledge must be the privilege of the United States alone. The world's only superpower, the guardian of security in this region that is filled with vital American interests, will not allow anyone to know what it knows. The one that prescribes the medicine and collects the fee can also diagnose the case."
"American Israeli Tours"
Daily columnist Yasser Za'atreh commented in center-left, influential Al-Dustour (10/20): "What do the rabbis of American foreign policy do, except arrange things for the Israeli master? They have devoted themselves to this historic task, rather than serve American interests. If this were not the case, why does American Secretary of Defense Cohen spend more time in the Middle East than in any other region of the world? His tour comes immediately after that of Commerce Secretary Daley, who had the advocacy for normalization with Israel as the top item on his agenda. In one week, there will be a tour of Africa by the Secretary of State, who will meet the leader of the rebels in southern Sudan John Garang. Is this part of the quest for peace and security, as some Arab advocates of Realism see it, or is it a quest to organize the region to suit the interests of its future master, Israel?"
Columnist Jaber Tell commented on the op-ed page of independent, mass-appeal Al-Arab Al-Yawm (10/19): "The current prices of oil have been good, which means that the income of the oil countries is improving. This of course is not to the liking of the United States and others because they want this region and its economy to remain dormant. The United States wants to cash the price of oil itself and does not want the oil country, particularly the Arab countries, to enjoy the benefits that is why Mr. Cohen is coming to the region. He is going to present a list of the junk weapons that the United States wants to sell to the Arabs whether they need it or not, and there is always the Iraqi and Iranian monsters, as they are portrayed by the United States, to frighten the Arabs! Cohen is coming for that reason and not for establishing alliances as one journalist had said. I believe that that the United States is not interested in establishing any alliance with any Arab country. Militarily the United States does not need any of the Arab countries. Therefore, the reason for Cohen's visit is purely economic, to sell weapons. Thank God that we in Jordan have nothing that the United States wants."
For more information, please contact:
U.S. Department of State
Office of Research
Telephone: (202) 619-6511
# # #