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Global Thoughts 14 April 2003 Assessing the State of Affairs at the End of the Iraq War: Lessons Learned & Future Prospects

Been a bit busy these past 2 weeks, getting engaged, ready for the holiday vacation, and all that. But never too busy for you and getting out a current edition of Global Thoughts.

I didn’t see any sense in providing a running commentary to the war. The war itself will be forgotten in a month and it will not be America’s intentions or words or even actions that will be judged, but rather it will be the results that will be judged. It will take a good year to know how this turns out. So far, things have gone pretty much the way I said they would and there was no reason to keep repeating what I last wrote a few months ago. Hopefully, the future will continue along the track that I have put forth in earlier editions. Do read to the end; there is buried intelligence treasure lurking at the end of this text.

Assessing the War

When I was in the region last fall, people told me of all the nightmare scenarios, asked why Bush wanted to make war, and whether or not he was serious about executing his plans. I said the nightmares wouldn’t come true, and that Bush was serious about executing the war and, on Rumsfeld’s advice over Powell’s “overwhelming force” doctrine, would run a lean and mean war that would move quickly on offense with almost immediate use of ground troops, try to stay away from pounding infrastructure and use no more assets than necessary to get the job done. So far according to plan. I do not know if the Americans will be as reliable in the peace-building phase which is the harder part, but I do believe that Afghanistan is not Iraq and that the Americans and Brits will do what is necessary and act smartly with an eye toward past mistakes to make things work. They certainly have learned from past mistakes in the way the war was run and that is a good sign.

It can now be said that the timing of the war had nothing to do with diplomacy and everything to do with the state of military readiness. I said at the close of 2002 that the war would take place when the generals said they were ready. They were not ready until mid-March and that’s why the war started at that point. Even had diplomacy run out in January or February, the Americans would have had to create some reason for delay. In early March I reviewed a list of deployments of personnel and equipment and the various delays that occurred and there is no question that it was the only thing one needed to know in terms of understanding the war’s timing. The proof of the pudding will be in the purges of Army officers after the war because Rumsfeld feels that heads should roll for those delays.

Iraq put up resistance but the American and British force was overpowering, surprised Iraqis with the speed of their offense and determination to maintain momentum (footage of palace guards in Baghdad fleeing from American forces along the riverbank in their underwear gives you an idea), and the quality of the resistance was fair to poor and few military units fought with any sense of coordination; too many Iraqi soldiers died in a fight they couldn’t win. Many deserted their posts and kept their lives. Many fought because they had guns pointed at them from the rear. Some fought for honor. Others were straight-out mercenaries or foreign fanatics fighting America. There is no honor lost in defending one’s homeland against a foreign invader; years of Iraqi propaganda and Arab culture convinced many Iraqis that America was a hostile foreign invader that had to be resisted. Even Arabs friendly to America told me during the war that they wanted somehow for America to get its nose bloodied in a war they ultimately wanted them to win as soon as possible. It was clear to me that because the Americans let people down a decade ago, there would not be rice in the street scenes until people became convinced that Saddam was gone and not coming back. I expected Basra to fall faster but then, in this light, one couldn’t expect Basra to fall until Baghdad fell. As long as Iraqi TV continued to show Saddam in charge every day and the Americans didn’t take down their TV (because they wanted to keep the TV system intact for after the war), this was the inevitable price to be paid. I had expected the TV to go off sooner and Americans now admit this was a mistake. A week ago in Basra a lady welcomed British troops; a day later her head was cut off by the fedayeen. This past week, the British finally won control over the city and crowds came out in joy. In Basra, it will take some time before people think about being happy; right now, they are just exhausted and they are too busy meeting basic needs. They have also been indoctrinated with Saddam – they are more scared of life without him than filled with hope as to future possibilities.

People in the region believed what they saw on Al-Jazeerah and wanted to believe what the Iraqis said. They did not believe the American networks, especially after early reports of victories were premature, and gave the benefit of the doubt somewhat to the BBC. I tried not to pay too much attention during the fog of war; it didn’t make sense that for over a week the TV kept saying that we were bombing their information ministry buildings with B-1’s, B-2’s and B-52’s. I mean how many times can you bomb the same buildings? Clearly there was misinformation being put out for tactical purposes, and that is normal in war. But it was obvious that America was going to win, sooner or later and, at the time of this writing, it only remains for the Americans to decide how and when to declare victory. As of 7 April, I understood that infantry troops were being told not to destroy Iraqi tanks any more than is necessary because it is now more important that Iraq be left with tanks for its future army.  I don’t know what Arabs believed when they saw the Iraqis denying that the Americans were in control of Baghdad’s airport and were claiming to have instead been routing the Americans. What will become of the country’s Information Minister (he disappeared the day after I wrote this)? Some Arabs told me that he is a comedy to them, and that when he gives news conferences in Arabic (which the rest of us don’t hear about), his swear-words out of the classical Arabic of yesteryear drive them to their dictionaries.  The Economist’s English translations made me head to the dictionary too! There was a sense here that Arab spokesmen and media would continue to proclaim victory until an American private walked into an Iraqi press conference and took over the microphone. I think that the Arab media once again created false expectations among its people and demonized the Americans to an extent that it will be self-destructive to the regimes that permitted the media to as usual do such things in the hopes of “letting off steam” within their borders and deflect responsibility from their own governments to the Zionists and Americans. The Americans are neither angels nor monsters and Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are neither saints nor fascists. Part of what’s wrong in the region is that the media over there twist everything involving America to make America look evil and things are not so simple and America is not so evil. We know in the past that Saddam paid and threatened media in the region to get favorable news coverage.  Today Rumsfeld hinted on CBS that Al-Jazeerah may also have corruption issues. If this is ever proved, it will be devastating because Rumsfeld is not stupid enough to go around saying this without any reason at all.

The embedding of journalists with troops was effective for the military. The 24-hour news-cycle media glutted its viewers with panum (bread) & circus with whatever their eyes could see, even if it was only that which their eyes could see. The military finally figured out that what the camera sees is minimal but that the absence of cameras creates rumors of images that become reality in people’s minds as occurred in Jenin, for instance. As it was, the Arab world was being led to believe that the war was a killing field filled with blood-thirsty Americans and the feeling in America became such that it was almost as if would have been worthwhile to kill an extra 10,000 civilians to get the war over with a week faster because no one in the region appeared to be any more or less supportive of the American war effort despite the fact that they were going out of their way not to do such things. If you don’t believe this, just think what would have happened if the war had gone on an extra 2 weeks, a few suicide bombers succeeded big-time and the Americans weren’t winning. However, remember that generally, it appears that the Americans are losing the war until you wake up one day and find out they won. Such was also the case in World War II. So I was expecting the same thing here.

Certain things were accomplished during this exercise. Al-Jazeerah offended Western sensitivities in this global village when it ran pictures of POW’s and executed soldiers and people of the West let them know that a line had been crossed. It was a seminal event because usually the Arab media speaks only to the Arabs and everyone else ignores it. Here, the message was that Al-Jazeera now demanded attention and respect, but with it comes give and take. It was as if the West was saying: “OK, We’re all in this Global Village together, and if we are going to take each seriously on an equal basis, then we have to have certain standards across the board.” Al-Jazeera also had a point: “We show blood. You don’t. How can you show war without blood? You Americans are not being real and are not focusing on the fact that war not only kills soldiers, but also non-combatants.” So it was a real exchange of ideas and feelings and a certain coming of age.

Overall, the nightmare scenarios did not occur. Big point to Global Thoughts which told its readers to ignore the frantic man behind the curtain. Burning oil wells, rows of suicide bombers, waves of refugees, POW’s and displaced persons, terror attacks across the world, missile attacks against Israel and neighboring Arab countries, thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq, massive destruction of civilian infrastructure, spiking oil prices (instead it went down 30% in the past month) , huge drops in the stock market – none of these things happened. The SARS virus in Asia seems to have had more of an effect on travel and business. After 3 weeks of real war, the casualty count is lower than anything that precedes it in history. At the end of it all, more Israelis died in 9/11 (133) than Americans did in Iraq, and a good number of Americans died in friendly fire incidents. For context, more Palestinians have died in the last 2½ years of Intifadah than Iraqi civilians during a war in a country the size of California with a quarter of a million foreign troops in a full military campaign. (In World War II, tens of thousands of Germans were killed by the Russian army advancing the last miles toward Hitler’s bunker. We all know about Hiroshima and Nagasaki too.) A week ago Thursday night nearly 1,000 people died in a massacre in Congo. Does anyone know or care? We don’t yet know of the number of Iraqi casualties but there is no doubt that there are much fewer than anyone anticipated and because a good number of the casualties involved soldiers fighting in civilian dress despite the fact that the Iraqis claimed everyone who got hurt was a civilian, we will never know for sure. The Americans did learn from mistakes in the previous campaigns in Iraq, Serbia and Afghanistan, and tactics and weapons have markedly improved. Correspondents in Baghdad reported during the 2 weeks of air strikes in Baghdad that civilians stood outside watching missiles land half a  mile away without fear they were going to be hit. It is obvious that the Americans and British took care in selecting targets and avoiding urban areas for as long as possible. Of course, there was real war taking place. Americans were under fire, mistakes were made, and there were unintentional casualties including friendly fire, journalists and civilians. Soldiers mixed with civilians and broke the “rules” of war; much like in previous wars of this century, by the way. Prices were paid on both sides – a pregnant woman was used as a suicide bomber and she took Americans down with her. Then a day later a taxi with real civilians was shot up after it wouldn’t stop at a roadblock because the Americans were not about to be taken for fools twice. This was not a Swiss tournament, but all in all, it was a war that both Americans and Iraqis could and will look upon with pride in the way it was fought. The only people I see looting Iraq so far are Iraqis and I believe that the Americans will set up a system regarding Iraqi oil that does not result in the replacement with Saddam’s franchise with an American one. The Iraqi oil potential is overrated; the American benefit is to be the overall stability that allows the world economy to regain momentum.

I heard Al Gore was heading to the region, but then decided not to go after he heard how they treat statues.

So the American soldiers put a flag over the statue for a minute; I thought it was a funny spontaneous prank of soldiers and I was happy for a good laugh after all this. Maybe a Groucho Marx nose and glasses? I stayed home this morning to watch the scene unfold; it was a moment I knew would come and I expected it to come without more than an hour’s warning. Al-Jazeera and cafes from Amman to Cairo are too busy pouting over what they are calling the Defeat of Baghdad and the Arab World and the humiliation caused by the fall of Saddam. Do the Iraqis look humiliated to you ? I think this is ridiculous and this attitude in the region is like a person who walks around feeling sorry for himself. It doesn’t do him any good and his friends are likely to tell him to chipper up and get a life. This is not a humiliation; it is an opportunity in a region that can’t go anywhere but up. Today people who never knew anything but Fear now know Hope. Would anyone prefer that some Arab army would have liberated Iraq? Could you imagine what that would look like? Would such an army, probably staffed mainly by Beduins, have spared civilians, holy places and infrastructure and not have defacated, raped and looted everything in its path? Maybe it sounds racist if I say it, but I’ll bet Arab friends say this among themselves and the operative question is which army would they rather surrender to if they had to choose, Syrian/Egyptian or American/British. In the history of warfare you never had people the likes of the Americans and Brits that serve in today’s armed forces (meaning they are educated, well-trained and fight with PC’s and their heads). If you believe in the Messiah but don’t expect Mohammed to come back from the dead to deliver it, then today’s events are a happy sign that the world is moving in the right direction. It was fitting that the Iraqis tried to take down the statue, then called for the American tank to help, then the Americans put on the American flag, took it off, then put on the Iraqi flag, took it off, then let the statue fall without any flags. And then after it fell the crowd went delirious and you saw 25 years of pent-up emotion unleashed in a split second by whomever happened to be there. Yeah right, this guy got 100% of the vote in the last election. The deck of cards in the Middle East is indeed being reshuffled and today was the Big Bang.

Turkish Factor

A word about Turkey – I have been warning for several years that Turkey is a deck of cards that should not be counted upon. It is almost 5 yeas ago that a person from the State department negotiating team told me that within 2 weeks a deal would be signed for the Turkish pipeline that still hasn’t been built (I told him then that he was nuts). The Americans learned this to their detriment and were genuinely surprised. I received several reports from military analysts in December/January that deals with the Turks were all lined up to guarantee base access for the war, and I was very suspicious even then and never posted those reports to this site. The Israelis still think they can rely on the Turks and I continue to believe it is a false messiah. The war would have been shorter had Turkey cooperated with the northern front from the get-go. But it is ultimately better that the two countries stayed at arm’s length in this campaign because the Americans would have had to make a deal with the Turkish devil at the expense of the Kurds which would have contaminated the future prospects of Iraq. Both sides will lick their wounds and work out their differences later. Turkey will pay a high price; it will go bankrupt during the summer and the Americans will not let them off easy. The Turkish generals did not oppose the country’s elected government for their own reasons, and the Americans could not push the Turks around and continue to impress the region with their intentions to promote democracy when it was clear that the Turkish parliament reflected the will of over 90% of the country’s anti-war  population. Jordan, on the other hand, came through for the Americans and the King held his place. The country will be blessed with a more prosperous future for taking the almost unheard-of Arab position of siding with the victorious party.

New York, New York…It is the first Sunday night of the war and I am at a restaurant in midtown Manhattan. Two TV’s are over the bar, one showing the Academy Awards and the other March Madness (college basketball tournament). Neither were showing the war and the restaurant was full.

Looking Forward

Saddam Hussein is the force most responsible for killing Arab unity in this region by virtue of having invaded Iran and Kuwait and scaring his neighbors into realizing that he was a threat to them. This man also killed more Moslems during the past century than anyone else on the planet. The world is better off without him even if he was a romantic hero to the underdog for resisting Israel and America. It was as if he was raping the girls, the girls were afraid to cry for help and the Arabs said as long as it’s an Arab doing the raping, we only want Arabs to stop him (but none would or were able to, in part because those who would do so were busy raping their own girls). Standing by and saying that all violence is bad and that declaring war against rapists must be avoided at any cost or that the problem of Arab rape demands an Arab solution doesn’t do anything to help the girls. What the region needs is not romantic failures but progress and achievement. It has had 50 years of the former and it now faces an opportunity it hasn’t had in centuries – to cooperate with a benevolent superpower that holds the monopoly on military power to put into place an indigenous leadership to create a prosperous and free country that will spur the development of the region. Iraq and Egypt are the best situated countries to lead the Arab world into the future. Egypt has been an overall disappointment, but positive change in Iraq could spur Egyptians into demanding more of their leadership. A new Iraq will lead to changes in Syria, Lebanon and Iran. Syria is on notice – either get with the program or be squeezed out (meaning closed borders and no business). Bashar Assad is not cunning like his father and has so far come off as a rather ignorant and reckless simpleton captive to old-fashioned corrupt powerbrokers picking up cheap points in the Arab World by positioning himself as the biggest anti-Semite on the block. Perhaps there will be changes in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, but these will not occur in the short-term. Syria is a deck of cards and it wouldn’t take much to make a left turn and get rid of Assad and his dictatorship; it would be good for the region if the Americans would do this, even though people over there fear such a result. I’ve been in Syria; it is a country that deserves better than what it has. If anyone needs reminding, it is a wealthy country with very poor people who have to work so hard to make a basic living, they don’t even think about politics.

This war exposed a truth to anyone not paying attention or who insists on living in fantasy-land: These regimes are not popular, their leaders are cowards who defend their money and not their people, and very few people will put their lives on the line to defend them, even against a foreign invader/liberator. The other Arab countries insist that these regimes have support and equate the regimes with the honor of the countries themselves because they are all part of a big boys’ club – if Iraq can fall, so can Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Consider that few of the tough fighters in this war were Iraqis – most were foreign mercenaries who came in search of bounties for killing Americans or who were members of international terrorist organizations that wanted to join a jihad in Iraq. The same thing happened in Afghanistan, is true right now in Lebanon, and also represents a good portion of the extremist settler movement in Israel (American expatriates living out their ideological fantasies). This is why I say that Iraq’s future must be for native Iraqis, not the Chalabis and Tunis-type mafias. It is important to note this phenomenon of the foreign mercenary and volunteer and not to underestimate its significance.

Maybe I am a bit idealistic, but few would call me a bleeding heart liberal. I personally felt very emotional when I saw Colin Powell address the UN on 5 February and when Bush gave his ultimatum speech just before the war. Thank God for America, I felt, because if America will not take care of these problems, who else will? Unless we believe that God will eradicate all evil by himself (and history shows a pattern of noninterference, at least based on what is obvious to the naked eye), Man must act in order to help bring about change in the world as well as provide for a living. I believe that the people around Bush are primarily motivated by a desire to bring more freedom into that region for the benefit of the people of the region, and to provide greater security and stability in the world, and to deter troublemakers such as North Korea, which is a real threat that must be dealt with. I think that Iraq’s oil is part of the equation (so that Iraq can become a viable country), and that the fact that a stabilized Iraq can help lead to solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue (which the world cares about) is also part of the equation. But it is overall a complicated mix and, as I said in the beginning, it will not be the acts, words or intentions that will be judged, but the results. So we will have to see. Early acts, such as whether a Tunis-type government will be installed, thus repeating the mistake of the 90’s, will indicate whether or not lessons have been learned. I don’t think Chalabi should be important and I believe he will be kept at bay.

A friend of mine who demonstrated against the war said, after finding out that one of the executed POW’s was the son of his client, “Bomb them with 1,000 pound bombs or whatever…Just get it over with.” He also said that he did not believe the Iraqi people either wanted or were capable of democracy (and that therefore we should just stay away). I disagree with both points – I wasn’t swayed about the war based on what happened or which of my friends came upon the scene. I also believe that Iraqis want democracy and are capable of creating it. To not believe so is to buy into the patronizing attitude held for decades that the people of the region do not know what is good for them and that they don’t want what other people want. It’s no different than watching all these Arab commentators right now insisting that the Iraqis are not happy and that even if they are, they don’t know what they want and that the only thing they could possibly be is against America which is sure to be an evil occupying power and couldn’t possibly be a liberator as long as it involves an Arab. It is this stubbornness in the face of powerful evidence to the contrary that is the greatest threat to progress in the region. What more did they want – 5,000 ICBM’s by Saddam pointed at their throats? Soon enough, we will find the weapons of mass destruction but it won’t matter to them anyway. They will say that we imported them.

It is not a matter of winning over public opinion in the window of opportunity that exists before America’s image abroad is shaped for it. It is a matter of getting people to change the way they think. Do not underestimate what this means. Remember that after World War II, Japanese and Germans felt that they had been conquered by the Allied Forces. They were not particularly grateful at the time and did not feel liberated. Certain things happening now happened then too. The French went around shooting each other in revenge killings right in front of American troops. Russia and the East Bloc, after the fall of communism, did not rush to embrace capitalism; it is taking a generation for people to come to grips with the challenge of making their own decisions (and living with the consequences) instead of having everything decided for them in the Worker’s Paradise of communism. Germany, after considering the consequences of reunification, is still not in the happy camper category. The South Koreans, viewing the German experience, talk the talk about Korean reunification, but really don’t want it to happen. It took years for Germans and Japanese to view the Americans in a friendly light, and it was only because of the tremendous rebuilding efforts in those countries that attitudes changed. And so it will be in Iraq and the rest of the region if the Americans employ the proper mix of involvement and hands-off treatment that is necessary to support development but to have it come from the grass roots. It will also be a challenge to Arabs to reassess old idols and dogmas and to choose the pursuit of pragmatic solutions and compromises over scapegoats, slogans and pipe dreams based on nostalgia for a time that maybe never was or that can’t be without turning back the clock. 

There will be attempts to discredit any Iraqi government that comes into existence as being the product of American domination and occupation. People will be inclined to think the worst of anything because they have always been inclined to think the worst. The motives of many will be clear – these critics may represent people who are fighting for influence and see any change in Iraq that doesn’t involve them as negatively affecting their interests. Iraq’s neighbors do not want Iraq to be for Iraqis; they want spheres of influence in that country. If the Iraqis are smart, they will figure out that they must cooperate with each other to build a federal republic and keep the outsiders out. The Americans will, I believe, try to help this type of effort succeed even though everyone thinks otherwise. The French were so irritatingly cynical because they couldn’t care less about Iraqis; they only cared about their influence in the country with Saddam and I am looking forward to the evidence that will come out after the war is over that will show what the French (and Germans) were up to these last few years.  The French, Germans and Russians were not smart to abdicate when the chips were down; they lost all but token influence in the future of Iraq. The French policy was just plain stupid – they said they were against any resolution, even before the Iraqis reacted. They weren’t against Iraq; they saw themselves as being against America. Being Against Something is not a policy if you don’t stand For anything; it is simply avoiding responsibility and taking yourself out of the ballpark. If the Iraqis are not smart, they will try to carve out fiefdoms for  themselves and will rely on outsiders such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia to prop them up, because each of them are too weak to stand by themselves. Right now the Shiites inside Iraq are doing a good job of knocking each other off without any assistance from the Sunnis, and it is obvious that Iran is quite interested in the outcome of this power struggle. So we should watch this all very carefully and see what we will see, but the best use of effort for those of good faith will be to try and help Iraqis make Iraq work instead of fiddling in judgment while the place is left to burn. 

My expectation is that an American military governor will run the place for the first 6 months, an interim authority will be set up to write a constitution and hold elections and then the Americans will begin to pull out after a few years. Haste makes waste; the Americans ultimately have to leave (it is in their interest to do so) but should be prepared to be of assistance for 5-7 years. This estimate is based on assessing prior rebuilding efforts that have worked and those that have not.

Rules of War: There is a distressing idea becoming popular, especially among Leftists and Arab elites. This is that when one side in a war is much more powerful than the other, the underdog can break all the rules and do whatever is necessary to survive. The rules of war were designed to protect noncombatants. If it becomes legitimate to fake surrender and put on civilian clothes, then you make it impossible for noncombatants to stay out of the line of fire. You create an unrealistic burden on the powerful army to draw restrictions that are too wide in order to avoid noncombatants. You wouldn’t want your kid brother to be shot because he came out of his house with a white flag and soldiers shot him because somebody did the same thing yesterday and everyone said it was OK. A consequence of this war is going to be that when Westerners fight Arabs they will assume they don’t agree to the conventions of war and the rules of engagement will be widened. Israelis will be given more credence when they complain about Palestinian urban warfare. It is a sword that cuts both ways and the path of convenience that was argued during this war will carry a price in the next war. Already, people are doubtful about civilian casualty claims because just who is a civilian is no longer a clear issue. The point will not be the numbers – the point will be that the Americans tried to avoid civilian casualties and this they can claim honestly. The main Iraqi benefit is that the war ended quickly enough that the rules of engagement never widened before Americans were tested to choose between their own morality and the reality on the ground.

Good News and Bad News for the Saddam Look-A-Likes: The good news is that he is still alive; the bad news is that he is a quadriplegic (meaning he lost his arms and legs).

On the Economic Front: Oil will stabilize at $25 a barrel through the end of the year. The Saudis, Russians and Kuwaitis made good money pre-war with the pre-war price spikes (the Saudis made more than enough to offset their entire year’s budget deficit). Nobody is looking for a glut, but the SARS virus in Asia will help to reduce demand even though summer is usually a peak demand time. By the way, China has probably learned from SARS that it can’t hide this type of info no more unless it wants to the leper of the world’s economy. US Economy and stock market will not improve overnight because demand is not pent-up on the corporate or personal levels, and people don’t feel like spending money; Dollar will probably go down a bit and the big unknown is if there is a Real Estate Bubble. The biggest aid to the economy is the fact that oil did not spike for long and that the price should be stable at a reasonable level.

Terrorism Alert: The other reason the markets must be wary is that if Osama is out there, this is when he is most needed to reinvigorate the Arab world with some kind of success against the American Machine. His targets are primarily economic and, if he can, he is likely to strike within 60 days, on American soil if possible.

A Religious Dimension

A final religious thought. If you are not an Orthodox Jew (and even if you are), the odds are 99% that this wouldn’t occur to you. But one cannot understand this war without being aware of this fact: The last Gulf War ended on the night of Purim. Purim is the most joyous occasion on the Jewish calendar. Its story is contained in the Book of Esther, which is one of the books of the scripture in the Old Testament. The story is of the wicked Haman who wants to destroy the Jews in a Kingdom of 127 provinces that extended from India to Ethiopia (including Mesopotamia) and the court Jew Mordechai, who learns of his evil plot, works with Queen Esther to bring it to King Ahashveros’s attention and ultimately Haman and his ten sons and 75,000 others get killed on Purim and Mordechai becomes second to the King. The people of Shushan are so shocked and awed they start converting to Judaism en masse. And then, in case you were convinced of a Republican connection, Mordechai and the King raise taxes in the Kingdom. Haman comes from the Amelek tribe in Mesopotamia which is the ancient term for Iraq. As I said, Gulf War I ended on the night of Purim 12 years ago. The story of Purim spans 12 years. Bush’s ultimatum speech was on the night of Purim 12 years later exactly on the Jewish lunar calendar, which for all intents and purposes is where the previous war left off, and the attack came just at the end of the Purim 48-hour holiday. The only reading in the Bible every year that is mandatory for women to attend is a 3 sentence command in the book of Deuteronomy that says it is an obligation to destroy Haman-like evildoers from Amalek, even in modern times. So there you have it; either a total amazing coincidence or another proof that there is a God with a Master Plan and that Jews have a role to play in the world. And that Bush and his advisors (let’s face it, many of the policy wonks who advocated this war and got the ear of this Administration were Jewish) are not so much Grand Designers but pawns in the Grand Scheme. Think about it. No Arab conspiracy theorist could come up with this because the truth may be stranger than fiction. 

Before leaving the subject of Jewish influence, I should quantify it a bit: Jews in America buy 20% of all books sold in the US and give 22% of all nonpolitical charitable donations in excess of $10 million in America (known as mega-gifts) which over the period 1995-2000 equaled $5.3 billion (the Jewish portion). By the way, only 6% of those gifts went to Jewish institutions and instead go to such places as hospitals, philharmonics and universities. Jews represent about 2.5% of America’s population. The above doesn’t mean that Jews have most of the money in America but rather that they are literate and philanthropic way beyond their proportionate number, and there is no question that literacy and philanthropy affects influence within a society. (The study I cited did not look at political contributions and I do not have figures on this.)

The Bible indirectly speaks of 4 sons: The Wise, Evil, Simple and the one who doesn’t know enough to ask a question. According to commentaries, what distinguishes the Wise one is an ability to see beyond the near future and to hold fast to his vision and not to demand instant gratification. We live in an age of 24 hour news cycles and it is a challenge to rise above the daily emotional roller coaster and maintain a vision for the future. Everyone wants everything NOW. Every hour the war was going well or not well based on the latest report from someone in the field and people wanted to know after a week why it wasn’t over. The Bush Administration held out with its vision against an almost unanimous world that opposed it. It seemed a great conspiracy that defies common sense – the Zionists and the Evangelical Bushies against the world. This is an unusual moment in history – the Americans went to war to change the status quo instead of simply restoring the status quo. You can view it as an attempt at world domination; I view it as a master stroke toward creating a better world that might provide more opportunities for people in the Middle East to control their destinies and to finally end the effects of a century of colonial domination and several centuries of stunted development. Even the Islamic fundamentalists understand that the present state of regimes in the region is not what the people want and they want to see changes too. Bin Laden probably hoped that 9/11 would bring about such changes and it is not necessarily bad to play along with parts of his scenario. Bin Laden himself may be a tool in a divine design. We have to be prepared to suspend judgment on the day to day happenings and keep a certain amount of faith and vision toward the long term future and let the results speak for themselves.  I pray that in a few years the better nature of this vision will have been realized and that when that tomorrow becomes today, we will all be better off for it. Those that know me over the long haul know very well that I am a long-term player with much patience and an optimistic faith and trust in people that has been honored in the main. My hope is that the world will regain a balance it lost and that the next time this becomes necessary, it will not be viewed as the Americans and Zionists against the World but instead it will be the Moderates of All Types Without Mixed Emotions and Fear vs. the Evil Fundamentalists.

As thoughts turn to Passover this year, think of the religious dimension as  Jews, Israel and America are purporting to back the cause of freedom in the world and it is an inspirational moment when one considers the Exodus from Egypt, a matter which began with Abraham’s stand against the world, which he began in Iraqis towns whose ancient names still appear on maps on the back page of the NY Times each day this past month as for some strange reason the world’s superpower is fated to send 18 year old kids with the ultimate in military technology to towns with biblical names because the stability of the free world and indeed our home towns half a world away are said to depend on overthrowing a modern-day Pharaoh who casts people into the rivers and made them disappear, enslaved his people, built palaces and amazing structures meant to last for a thousand years, and refused all attempts to reason with him and confounded history with the hardness of his heart until he was shocked and awed into submission with Plagues and Power, the likes of which had not been seen before. Indeed, the whole region is confounded that it cannot win against this triage that should by all accounts be an accident of history, even though it claims to have the majority of world civilization on its side, and yet that majority proves to be hollow and irrelevant. History insists on repeating itself, thus making this annual ritual ever-so-relevant.

On a personal level, being single these past fifteen years since leaving college has been a challenge to not succumb to the demands of the Here and Now. You have parents and their friends and relatives driving you crazy every day wanting to see something happen. You are tired of going home for the holidays sitting by yourself at the table looking across at your younger brothers with their wives and kids and houses, and you are sitting there by yourself. You think you ought to settle for what is in front of you, even if you are not in love. You are mindful of biological clocks, aging parents and relatives and the sense that you are letting your future slip away. But a bit of vision and steadfastness is necessary to hold out, not necessarily for the perfect person, but for the one you feel is right and true for you. Karen and I both believe that we properly held out for the right match and feel that it was worth the wait, even though it was painful along the way.

Future Prospects in the Israel/PA Arena

Now that Labor is not in the Israeli government, Sharon has a free hand to do what he likes. Bush is not likely to get on his case, considering that he has a re-election campaign on his hands and that he does not fundamentally see the world differently than Sharon does. Sharon realizes that the most important thing he has to do is to stay on Bush’s good side and therefore understands how far he can and cannot push the envelope. Sharon defied expectations and long-time allies and formed a government without any ultra-religious parties that is so popular among the country’s secular majority, that it will withstand almost anything except for too many concessions to the Arabs. There is nobody in Labor that has any standing inside the party or to challenge Sharon. Right now, anyone who wants to deal with Israel must deal with Sharon.

Arafat is best advised to stay on his best behavior because there is nothing to stop Sharon from getting rid of him now except that Arafat is a convenient foil for Sharon to have around so as not to have to agree to anything and to be able to blame him for everything. If Arafat is killed by the Israelis, then I will know that Sharon is actually serious about peace. Sharon is succeeding on the ground and nobody inside Israel is willing to argue with his tactics because they work – until the last 4 months in which there were only 3 terrorist attacks inside Israel, there had been 90 attacks in the previous 30 months. Abu Mazen is not liked by the Palestinians; he is viewed as corrupt with all the other “Abu”s. I predict that Sharon will work with Abu Mazen to keep him weak, dependent but in place as Arafat’s deputy so that he can continue to blame Arafat for everything and so that neither Sharon nor Arafat ever have to make any real decisions because Arafat will still ultimately be the kingpin on the Palestinian side. I also predict that some Arab will knock off Abu Mazen within the next year or two and that’s when the “fun” will begin and Dahlan is my personal choice for being a guy who can deliver the goods and get along around the table. As long as Sharon and Arafat remain at the top, I expect only white noise of motion because neither is interested in true change. Over the next 6 months, the world will demand the appearance of action and they will deliver this, but in a year or two, if there is change in the region, the momentum of forces will demand true change and at that point we will know if there is a new order in the region or if the Americans were the imperial colonialists everyone feared they would be valuing stability and oil supply over the values they espoused. I am cautious about predictions regarding Abu Mazen; reports indicate that Arafat is keeping him on a very short leash and that Mr. Mazen is not looking forward to being his puppet and may even resign before he puts together a government. If Abu Mazen takes the job, he will want to do a good job. I grant him that much.

I am aware of the Roadmap and don’t think much of it. This problem requires leadership to announce to their people what the end-game will be and to get there sooner than later. It doesn’t need agreements to agree and incremental trust-building steps. There is a window of opportunity for everybody to get “real”, agree to what we all know is supposed to be the solution, and implement it over the next 6-12 months.

The Vatican Dimension

Now, that you reached the end, here in reward is the buried lead. An important note from the Vatican which may be the most important future-interest item in this article. A colleague of mine recently met with a leading cardinal in the Vatican. This cardinal is the one who is responsible for the election of the current pope and who is generally recognized as the genius in the group. He said that the Vatican looks upon recent developments in the Moslem world with concern because of the turn toward fundamentalism and vitriolic rhetoric against the West. As far as the church is concerned, the diatribes against the Jews are taken by the church as also being directed against Christians. The attention given to the Saudi system drove home the point that the Saudis are being told that both religions are equally reprehensible. This is causing a reevaluation of the church’s position on Middle East issues in the sense that it is giving greater credence to Israel’s point of view and a sense that the Church and Jews share a common religious and political interest against fundamentalist Islam. For instance, it was discussed that even though Israelis occupy Bethlehem, the Vatican is realizing that the city is becoming dominated by Islamic mafias who did not hesitate to put church assets at risk in their political war against the Jews in the city last year. This is likely to result in greater cooperation between the Vatican and the Jewish state instead of greater intimidation upon the church, which is the result the PA and various Arab regimes have been counting upon. These political trends are accompanied the past year by an amazing level of disclosure and possible turnover by the Vatican to Israel regarding Jewish manuscripts and artefacts that have been secretly stashed by the Vatican for centuries and which resolve very old open questions of Jewish law. Because the Vatican thinks in terms of centuries and is not known for being faddish, anyone studying the trends of the state of the world must take this factor into account.

Ivan’s Travel Plans Remainder 2003

I will be traveling several times this year; heading to London, Singapore & Sydney, Australia next month to meet Karen’s family. Moscow, St. Pete, Stockholm, Budapest and Munich are on tap in July; Hong Kong, Rome, Zurich and Malta are scheduled for September. The wedding is slated for November. The Limmud Conference in Manchester, England is probable for end of December. Next Middle East tour is First Quarter 2004 or later due to the fact that a wedding is being scheduled.

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