Two Arabic Language Newspapers Print Views of Prof. Ralph Raymond

Two Arabic Language Newspapers Print Views of Prof. Ralph Raymond

April 28, 2004

April 28, 2004, Greencastle, Ind. - A lengthy interview with O. Ralph Raymond, professor of political science at DePauw University, was published in yesterday's edition of the London-based Arabic language newspaper, Al-Sharq al Awsat. An article summarizing Dr. Raymond's answers appears in today's Al-Zaman, a newspaper published in Baghdad. You can access Al-Sharq al Awsat by clicking here, and you'll find Al-Zaman here. The complete interview follows.

Q: John Kerry has said that the war against Iraq is a big mistake. Do you agree with this statement?

O. Ralph Raymond: John Kerry's position on the war is nuanced, and has not always been entirely clear. He did vote to enable President Bush to move militarily against Saddam Hussein's regime, but later he voted against an $87 billion budget supplement to support occupation expenses out of disagreement with what he believes to be the Administration's failure to "plan for the peace." Kerry has also been very critical of the fact that the war resolution was premised on the Administration's assurance that the Hussein regime was in possession of weapons of mass destruction. That seems to have been based upon faulty intelligence or, still worse, deliberate manipulation of the truth. Finally, with the advantage of hindsight, Kerry has faulted the Bush Administration for not making a full-faith effort to enlist UN Security Council and allied support. Therefore, he charges, Bush did not go to war "as a last resort," as he had promised Congress and the American people, but as the preferred policy all along.

I agree with Kerry that the war was based upon faulty and incompetent intelligence, as well as a failure -- both in the United States and among UN arms inspectors -- to understand that Hussein had to a significant degree complied with UN resolutions against possessing and manufacturing WMD. But, it would appear, that for reasons of public image Saddam chose to conceal the degree of compliance had taken place. That is no excuse, however, for the failure of U.S. intelligence, though it does put it in context. Given the misinformation about what Iraq actually possessed, yes, the war was based on mistaken premises. The fact that an evil leader, who preyed on his own people, was removed from power does not alter that fact.

Q: Do you think that the violence in Iraq against the coalition forces will affect Bush's chances of winning the next election?

ORR: It is, of course, too early to tell. This is an unusually prolonged presidential campaign, due to the early Democratic Party primaries and the early emergence of the Democratic candidate. Much can change between now and the November elections. Certainly the current Islamic insurgencies, both among Sunnis in the so-called "Triangle" and now among the al-Sadr element among Shiites, has shaken Administration confidence. All indications are that the Bush campaign is increasingly nervous about negative war fall-out on President Bush's reelection hopes. I think that nervousness is well placed.

Q:Do you think that the USA began the war without any real plans to help stabilize Iraq once the fighting was over?

ORR: Administration policy was grossly over-optimistic, less about fighting the war and more about winning the peace. Whatever plans the Bush Administration had for post-war stabilization depended too heavily upon Iraqi exiles, some of rather questionable reputation and most lacking support within Iraq. Bush post-war planning, such as it was, also assumed that the toppling of Saddam Hussein would precipitate sufficient gratitude to override an understandable dislike any people would have towards a foreign presence and a military occupation, especially one that could be depicted as anti-Islamic.

Q: What actions do you think that the USA should take to stop Iraq descending into chaos?

ORR: The United States and Britain must return to the UN and hand over primary political responsibility to the UN for the stabilization and the political renewal of Iraq. Legitimization of any post-Hussein regime depends upon that. A coalition military presence must remain, however, but as a part of a broader UN-sanctioned security effort.

Q: Do you think that the USA should try to get the United Nations more involved in the stabilising of the situation in Iraq?

ORR: As just stated, that is essential. Now even the Bush people seem to recognize that, and Tony Blair seems to be bolstering that position as well.

Q: Do you think that the USA should stop planning to withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of June 2004 and make it clear that they will remain there until law and order have been established?

ORR: The United States must not withdraw its troops as scheduled. Iraq would descend into at best a triangular civil war among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds; at worst, complete anarchy and chaos. The June withdrawal date was clearly dictated by the presidential election schedule in the United States, and not by anything that was happening on the ground in Iraq. But while U.S. military muscle must remain in Iraq well beyond the end of June, that military presence must be placed under some kind of UN umbrella, or a NATO presence with some kind of imprimatur of the UN Security Council .

Q: USA believes that Syria and Iran are behind the present violence in Iraq. Do you think that USA is therefore planning to attack those countries?

ORR: No, I do not think that either Syria or Iran are in danger of any kind of American attack, nor do I think that anyone currently believes that the present violence in Iraq is instigated by Syria or Iran. President Bush's rhetoric earlier may explain the kind of concern expressed here, but that rhetoric occurred during the actual military conflict when Syria was providing refuge to pro-Saddam elements. Iran, most recently, seems to be seeking to cooperate by offering its good offices to mediate the conflict between coalition forces and Sadr's "army" around the holy city of Najaf

Q: The very strong hatred of America that is found in the populations of Arab countries is largely the result of Israel's constant aggression towards the Palestinians about which the USA does nothing, not even condemning Israel's actions. In fact, The USA continues to pour billions of dollars into Israel without which Israel could not survive. What are you thoughts about this?

ORR: It is true that the likelihood of Middle Eastern stability and a long-term improvement in relations between the Islamic world and the West is held hostage by the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This is nothing short of a tragedy. It is true, too, that the United States has not always provided the kind of mediation which could appear to both sides to be even-handed and balanced. But it is also true that various Arab regimes have used the festering conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to deflect internal pressures for reform, modernization, and democratization. If that conflict did not exist, as tragically it does, some Arab regimes would have to invent something like it.

Most recently, i.e., during Sharon's visit this week to Washington, Bush's embrace of the Sharon "disengagement plan," is shockingly unhelpful to the "roadmap" for peace between the PLO and Israel and the goal of establishing two states. Bush's capitulation to Sharon's desire to maintain at least some of the Jewish settlements on the West Bank while withdrawing them from Gaza reverses long-standing American policy. It also prejudices any further negotiations between the PLO and Israel for a final boundary settlement, and it further undermines the image of the United States as an "honest broker." This decision cannot but further inflame hostility in the Middle East against the United States. It is also a decision which will not be well received among America's associates in Europe.

Q: Do you think that the 30 million Christian fundamentalists of the southern states who believe that God gave the land of Palestine/Israel to the Jews for all time have an effect on the USA government's policies towards Israel?

ORR: Yes, indeed. Very much so. Some have argued, for example, that President Bush's capitulation this week to Sharon's "disengagement plan" was dictated by his calculation on expanding his share of the Jewish vote in the presidential elections. More accurately, Bush, and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, are banking on further cementing the Republican-orientation of Christian evangelicals who believe theologically that the second coming of Christ and the Apocalypse are both at hand and depend upon Jewish congregation in the Holy Land. The impact of this apocalyptic theology upon the pattern of fundamentalist Christian voting is an important consideration in Bush electoral strategy.

Q: What are your views on how best the USA could help resolve the Palestinian crisis?

ORR: The United States must do everything possible to return to the role of "honest broker" and secure the image in the Arab mind that that is the role it wishes to play. This will take determination on the part of an American government to keep the Israeli-Palestinian problem out of internal American electoral politics. And it will take persistence*no more "benign neglect." It will require, as well, a more critical eye towards Israeli policy, while not retreating from more than a half-century commitment to Israel's right to exist as a secure and Jewish state. That commitment must be simultaneously connected with support for the legitimate claims of Palestinians to statehood as well. If the United States could win back for itself the role of "honest broker" in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians and if it could draw other interested powers -- the European Union and Russia, for example -- into this process, it could at the same time direct pressure against those Arab governments which prefer for their own reasons to maintain and inflame the current conflict.

Q: Do you think that after the collapse of communism in Russia and the attacks of September 11 that the big enemy of America is the Islamic World?

ORR: No. President Bush himself has repeatedly emphasized his great respect for Islam as a brother faith in the Abrahamic tradition. I think that view resonates through most of American opinion.

Q: Do you think that America's aim to democratise the Arab countries will ever be acceptable to the Arab people bearing in mind that some Arab leaders believe that democracy must develop from within and not be imposed by a foreign power?

ORR: Democratization must come from within, of course But good will and support from outside for democratizing efforts can be helpful as well. Certainly it would be a betrayal of the American experience for the United States to deny its interest in and support for open, pluralistic, and democratic societies.

Q: What are your views on how the USA can establish good relations with Arab countries after Iraq?

ORR: Much distrust has to be swept away. And Iraq is not, nor has it ever been, the key to what needs to be done. Indeed, without a lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the effort at stabilizing and democratizing Iraq is not likely to bear great fruit. President Bush likes to envisage a newly democratized Iraq as some kind of Wilsonian beacon offering itself as a model to the rest of the Middle East, leading to some kind of automatic transformation of all Middle Eastern societies into a version of Jeffersonian democracy. For some one who fought the last presidential campaign largely as an isolationist with "humility" and a Fortress America mentality, this is an amazing transformation!

But all this is unrealistic. The future of the Middle East and its modernization depends upon resolution of the Palestinian problem. Without that, democratization in Iraq will never be achieved, and the continuing spiral of hatred and bitterness coming out of a land holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike will continue both to poison the atmosphere and to deflect political, social, and economic reform and progress throughout the Middle East.