Edward Said, an American and an Arab, writes on the eve of the Iraqi-Soviet peace talks
The United States is at an extraordinarily bloody moment in its history as the last superpower. Perhaps because I come from the Arab world, I have often thought during the past few months, and more anxiously during the past few days, that such a war as we Americans are now engaged in, with such aims, rhetoric, and all-encompassing violence and destruction, could now have been waged only against an Arab-Islamic-Third World country. It does no one in it any credit, and it will not produce any of the great results which have been predicted, however ostensibly victorious either side may prove to be, and whatever the results may prove to be for the other. It will not solve the problems of the Middle East, or those of America, now in a deep recession, plagued by poverty, joblessness, and an urban, education and health crisis of gigantic proportions.
A war like this could only have occurred in a part of the world beset with huge inequities of endowment and rule, bearing within itself a history of promises postponed and endlessly betrayed for justice and fairness at the hands of the West, and now exploding in an agony of hatred, anti-Americanism and tremendous, largely unforeseen upheaval. I do not excuse and have not excused the aggression of Iraq against Kuwait. I have condemned it from the beginning, just as I have long condemned the abuses of Saddam Hussein’s government, and those of the other governments of the region, whether Arab or Israeli. Democracy in any real sense of the word is nowhere to be found in the Middle East: there are either privileged oligarchies or privileged ethnic groups. The large mass of the people is crushed beneath dictatorship or unyielding, unresponsive, unpopular government. But I dispute the notion that the US is a virtuous innocent in this awful conflict, just as I dispute the notion that this is not a war between George Bush and Saddam Hussein – it most certainly is – and that the US is acting solely or principally in the interests of the United Nations. The United Nations resolutions have already been exceeded, and the bombing campaign against Iraq’s population is now murderous. Yet at bottom this is a personalised struggle between, on the one hand, a Third World dictator of a kind the US has long dealt with, whose rule it has encouraged, whose favours it has long enjoyed, and, on the other, the president of a country which has taken on the mantle of empire inherited from Britain and France and is determined to remain in the Middle East for reasons of oil and of geo-strategic and political advantage.
There has been a great deal of talk about linkage, a word I find ugly and a concept I find slippery. ‘Analogy’, ‘relationship’, ‘association’ are three possible alternatives, which suggest to me that the US has no record of consistent opposition to aggression – the instances of Namibia, South Africa, Cyprus, Panama, Nicaragua and the Israeli-occupied territories come quickly to mind – and that Iraq and Kuwait do not exist only in some unhistorical region of the mind or on a map in Dick Cheney’s office. For two generations the US has sided in the Middle East mostly with tyranny and injustice. I defy anyone to tell me of a single struggle for democracy, or women’s rights, or secularism, or the rights of minorities, that the US has supported. Instead we have propped up compliant and unpopular clients, and turned our backs on the efforts of small peoples to liberate themselves from military occupation, while subsidising their enemies. We have prompted unlimited militarism and engaged in vast arms sales everywhere in the region, mostly to governments which have now been driven to ever more desperate actions as a result of the US’s obsession with, and exaggeration of, the power of Saddam Hussein. To conceive of a post-war Arab world dominated by the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria, all of them working in a new Pax Americana, is neither intellectually nor morally credible.