The re-release of Lawrence of Arabia on DVD presents the world with a major danger. It threatens to stoke the sandy imperial fantasies of Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. If the avid warhawks choose to review the new version with its enhanced sound (and restored credit for a blacklisted writer), Lawrence’s ecstatic infatuation with violence and Maurice Jarre’s majestic score will certainly intensify their own desire to tear apart the shoddy political fabric of the Middle East and remake it in their own image.
Cheney and Wolfowitz’s chosen path to Middle East immortality is apparently "The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Iraq". It builds on an apparently cynical, short-term initiative to rattle Jordan’s King Abdullah’s cage for his opposition to the Iraq invasion by dangling before his estranged uncle, Prince Hassan, the crown of a new Iraqi kingdom. This improbable offer was behind Prince Hassan’s surprise appearance at the London conference of Iraqi opposition groups midwifed by the United States in July.
It is not surprising that the Prince, alienated from his nephew the King as the result of a power struggle and bored with his empty second-banana role in Jordan, should find the distant promise of a crown and an oil-soaked kingdom sufficient justification for an exploratory trip to London. What is surprising, and somewhat scary, is that this blue-sky scenario has acquired a life of its own and is apparently metastasizing. The current post-invasion buzz involves merging most of Iraq with Jordan and creating a new "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Iraq" with its capital in Amman. One of the stated benefits of this new political amalgamation is to dilute the political influence of Jordan’s Palestinian population, presumably to the benefit of Israel. A juicy political fantasy like a new monarchy carved out of the heart of the Middle East is not paraded in the public eye for critical examination and approval. It is privately cherished, secretly nurtured, and furtively advanced. From here on in, speculation, call it intelligent or paranoid, must take over, with a focus on Jordan’s function in the Israel-Palestine equation.
Arial Sharon’s intensively military approach to Israeli security and the problem of the occupied territories has essentially foreclosed the peace process. If Sharon is successful, by brutalizing the Palestinian population and destroying its infrastructure he will block the path to peaceful coexistence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a pile of shattered buildings, destroyed lives, corpses, and fear and anger so high it cannot be removed for decades, if ever. The only way to create light at the end of the tunnel will be by knocking a hole through the border between Jordan and Palestine and pushing the Palestinians through it.
Voila! The Palestinians are gone and instead of a security problem on the West Bank, Israel has a large expanse of depopulated real estate with defensible borders, ripe for immigration and development. Sharon has unambiguously stated that the Palestinians have a homeland "in Jordan" and his views are undoubtedly shared by those Dick Armey would characterize as the "deep thinking Jews" in Sharon’s cabinet and the Likud. After all, the policy is already going on in slow motion, with incursions and occupations, seizure of lands and water rights, and a basic commitment to making Palestinian life unbearable. Jordan has requested a public commitment from Israel not to exploit the chaos of the Iraq invasion in order to expel Palestinians to Jordan; Israel has declined to do so.
Ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians (either by overt expulsion, or panic-stricken evacuation in the face of a campaign of terror and massacre conducted by paramilitary forces just beyond Israel’s control) is no longer unthinkable. Certainly, the position of the only Israeli ally that matters—the United States—is ambiguous. Bush has already endorsed Sharon’s military solutions to the Palestinian "terror" problem and has promised the United States will not return to the issue of Palestinian statehood until Arafat is gone and his government has improbably remade itself into the image of Switzerland. Rumsfeld calls the West Bank the "so called occupied territories". Dick Armey, always impatient to show the cloven hoof, is on record saying he has no problem with expulsion of the Palestinians. If Sharon does go ahead, the inevitable international carping would be fielded by Colin Powell. No doubt he would express dismay and sincere regret faced with the fait accompli of the expulsion, and criss-cross Europe and the Middle East to for a round of anguished tongue-clucking with the European powers and orchestrate promises of economic aid from our allies to assist Jordan in absorbing the Palestinian refugees. Geopolitically, the outcome would not be pretty. The current Jordanian regime might very well collapse trying to deal with a huge influx of rightfully enraged, impoverished, and militant Palestinians. Israel might be exchanging its Palestinian problem for a hostile, front-line Palestinian state.
Here is where I believe Sharon’s intense enthusiasm for the Iraq invasion comes in. If Israel wishes to execute a massive expulsion of Palestinians and needs to deal with a radicalized, hostile Jordan, he wants that Jordan to be isolated as much as possible, militarily and economically. No Saudi money, no Iranian arms, no Iraqi Scuds. The only way to achieve this is through a massive injection of American power into the region. Starting—but certainly not ending—with Iraq, regimes hostile to Israel will be invaded, contained, or intimidated by its superpower ally.
Israel will be left free to deal with its Palestinian problem/opportunity, and any Syrian and Jordanian issues that might arise, from a position of absolute military superiority, buttressed by the active support and involvement of the United States. But Cheney and Wolfowitz have gone further and added the ultimate feel-good overlay to Sharon’s scheme. In their scenario, the Palestinians roll across the Jordan River and disappear happily in the oil-rich Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Iraq, no doubt leaving milk and cookies on their abandoned West Bank hearths to greet the Israeli occupiers ready to rebuild and beautify their shattered land. If they aren’t really happy, well King Hassan keeps a firm but judicious boot on their necks. After two millenia, peace comes to the Middle East, courtesy of Cheney and Wolfowitz. Finally, Western civilization has dealt firmly and conclusively with the failures and absurdities of the Islamic Middle East. To repeat one of the most delirious fantasies of these would-be Lawrences, "people will be singing songs about us over there for years to come".
Regrettably, there is a more likely outcome. In the course of this bloody, expensive, prolonged, and futile campaign, there will be few victories and no triumphs. The fragile, ethnically diverse Arab states of the Middle East would be effectively Balkanized by U.S. efforts to destabilize them through military action, subversion, and aid to disaffected minorities and irridentist groups. The outcome will be a shattered, politically disunited, and militarily impotent Middle East, not the tidal wave of democracy and freedom blithely promised by our diplomats and paid pundits. It will be very much like the Middle East T.E. Lawrence found, transformed, and abandoned in frustration and disgrace: one in which the European empires picked up where the Ottoman Empire left off and spent decades trampling on the lives and aspirations of millions of subjugated, impoverished, and increasingly embittered people.
Sharon wins, but the Middle East and America lose. The bitter survivors of our oil adventure may still sing songs about Cheney and Wolfowitz, but the lyrics may not be to the liking of our crusading farangs. When they pop Lawrence of Arabia into their DVD players, Dick and Paul better listen to the words and the story—and not just get swept away by the music and intoxicating images of desert glory.
Peter Lee is the creator and publisher of Halcyon Days, an anti-war website using satire and commentary to expose the hypocrisy and brutality of America's imperial adventure. Mr. Lee has 20 years' experience as an observer and analyst of world and Asian affairs.
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