Shibli Telhami Discusses Consequences of War on Iraq

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On Aug. 28 Washington, DC's Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine hosted a lecture by Dr. Shibli Telhami, professor of politics and government at the University of Maryland.

Professor Telhami, whose latest, soon-to-be-released book is entitled, Mistakes: America and the Middle East, opened his talk by posing the question: Why are Iraq's neighbors so opposed to any American-led attack, despite the fact that they stand to lose the most if Iraq were to use its alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction? Telhami set out to explain concerns articulated by various of Iraq's neighbors. He was quick to point out, however, that contrary to what is being said in the U.S. media, these concerns are not necessarily rooted in Arab public opinion against the war--rather, they are based on strategic and political calculations.

If an attack is launched against Saddam Hussain, Professor Telhami noted, there is no question that American military might will prevail--but at what cost?

The aftermath of the war is the region's most prevailing concern, with the foremost fear being the emergence of an unstable Iraq as the result. Moreover, given the complex nature of Iraq's ethnic, religious and ideological communities, Telhami explained, that is a very likely consequence. To ensure stability in this scenario, he added, the U.S. would feel committed to impose a military occupation of a sort, coupled with tremendous economic assistance. Such a strong American presence, he continued, would marginalize several regional powers. Countries bordering Iraq would feel equally alarmed by such a U.S. presence. Although the idea of a permanent American outpost in the region may seem appealing to the U.S., Telhami observed, it would prove otherwise to many countries in the region.

Although power politics dictates that countries usually rally behind countries perceived to be the winners of a war, he stated, strong disapproval against this war by Arab regimes disputes such logic. Also, he noted, advocates of a military strike on Iraq argue that the democratization of the region is another worthy cause to be pursued hand-in-hand with the war itself. However, Telhami argued, in order for countries in the region to support the U.S. effort, governments will have to be repress mounting popular opposition to the war. Given the information revolution which has challenged any state's monopoly over information, this is no easy task. The need for increased repression would stretch Arab regimes' resources--and may prove unmanageable, said Telhami.

Furthermore, he added, to bring direly needed stability to a defeated post-war Iraq would necessitate repression and control of Iraq's Shi'i and Kurds--whose hatred for Saddam Hussain doesn't necessarily translate into immediate submission to a future occupying force. …