By Franz Schurmann
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
Hardly a day after 9/11, some Internet prankster put up a composite picture of President Bush wearing a big, white turban. At the time it was just a joke in bad taste. But now it seems the Muslim Middle East obsesses Bush and just about all of political Washington, D.C.
Sigmund Freud noted that some of his patients could not stop talking about those who inflicted great pain on them. He called it “identification with the aggressor.” George W. Bush keeps talking a lot about an evil Saddam Hussein and the world’s need to destroy him. On the other hand, he talks much less about Osama bin Laden but much more about his organization “al Qaeda.” Does this mean that Bush suffers from a neurotic fixation on Saddam?
During the entire post-World War II period, never has an American president so vilified an adversary. But during World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom many historians regard as one of the shrewdest of all U.S. presidents, similarly vilified Adolf Hitler.
In World War II Americans routinely called the German enemy both “Hitler” and “Nazis,” but the Japanese were only “Japs.” The difference personalizing the enemy had strategic consequences. The war to defeat Germany took priority over the war to defeat Japan.
FDR’s rhetoric against Hitler increased in intensity after the Casablanca summit meeting with Churchill in late January 1943. There the two leaders decided to demand Hitler’s “unconditional surrender.” What sparked that decision was the upcoming surrender of thousands of German troops to the Soviets in Stalingrad. FDR and Churchill were terrified that Hitler and Stalin might make a bilateral deal to end the war, leaving Britain and America alone facing Hitler’s armies.
Prior to Casablanca, Americans were mostly determined to avenging the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But after Casablanca, the European war became the Anglo-American priority. Stalin accepted the demand for “unconditional surrender,” and Hitler like Saddam became completely isolated.
President Bush has made it clear his priority is to destroy Saddam Hussein. When Bush went to Moscow after the recent NATO meeting, Russian president Vladimir Putin implored him to concentrate on his war on terrorism instead of invading Iraq. But it’s highly likely that Bush will not budge.
His vilification of Saddam began in his State of the Union speech at the beginning of the year. Though he singled out Iran and North Korea as well, his unrelenting vitriol was reserved for Saddam. And as the vilification becomes shriller, news comes that some 250,000 American troops are in the region, ready to invade Iraq when winter comes.
Though the attacks on Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001, launched the war on terrorism, we know that Bush now considers Iraq the first-priority threat to the Western world. Terrorism has been bumped down to second priority.
The reason is that the oil-rich Arab and Muslim worlds are slipping out of Anglo-American control. And the one country whose defection or collapse could become catastrophic is Saudi Arabia, which houses the world’s greatest fossil fuel reserves.
Last August, a former French Middle East expert working at the Rand Corporation, Laurent Murawiec, set off a storm in Washington’s strategic circles by arguing that the United States should pull out of Saudi Arabia because it is so riddled with corruption. Now Congress has joined the anti-Saudi forces, demanding that Bush put pressure on the Saudis to stop supporting terrorism. The Saudis have fiercely refuted these attacks.
But the danger may not be coming from the Saudi royal family. Most Saudi oil comes from its eastern provinces, where the population holds to the Shiite faith of Islam. The great majority of Iraqi Arabs (but not Saddam) are also Shiite. And in Iran’s oil-rich Gulf province Khuzistan, most of the people are Arabs and also Shiite. As instability increases throughout the region, some in high Washington positions are calling for American troops to occupy the Saudi oil fields.
In 1943, when the two Anglo-American leaders returned home from Casablanca, they started planning for three invasions in Europe: into Italy, then southern France and finally Normandy. The goal was gaining control of as much of Europe as possible before the Russians occupied the remainder.
Now Bush is hoping that a short and victorious war in Iraq will keep Iraq intact, beef up the Saudi monarchy, and pressure Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. The optimal outcome would be keeping Iran and Russia out of the Arab world. And it would turn most, if not all, of the Arab world into an American protectorate.
Shakespeare says, “though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” That seems to be the case in Bush’s obsession with Saddam Hussein. If he succeeds, it’s not unthinkable that one day down the road he may put on a turban, as a good-humored diplomatic gesture. But, relevant or not, it’s worth noting that within two decades of the destruction of Baghdad in 1258, the Mongol conquerors embraced Islam.
Schurmann (firstname.lastname@example.org), founder of Pacific News Service, is an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley.