Q&A: ‘U.S. Politics Turning Communities Against Each Other’
Interview with Gilbert Achcar
ATHENS, Nov 23 (IPS) - "As long as the U.S. troops stay in Iraq there will be violence," warns Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
Achcar -- a vehement critic of U.S. policy in the Middle East since Sep. 11, 2001 -- was born in Senegal and lived in Lebanon until moving to France in 1983.
He has served as professor of politics and international relations at the University of Paris VIII, and has written many books about the impact of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East during the post Sep. 11 era.
Achcar spoke with IPS correspondent Apostolis Fotiadis about the current state of the war and what the future might hold.
IPS: Would the absence of U.S. forces in Iraq result in an interethnic conflict of total annihilation?
GA: There are many signs to the contrary. Civil conflict has been going on anyway. It peaked some months ago and has subsided recently, but still the U.S. politics of turning the communities against each other has sharpened tensions between ethnic and sectarian groups. The only undisputable fact is the correlation between the occupation and the level of violence.
As long as the U.S. troops stay in Iraq there will be violence in this country. The announcement of a date of departure would exert pressure on the various factions in Iraq to reach a consensus. In that case people will know they are facing a deadline for finding a way to co-exist or lose control.
IPS: What would a withdrawal without first establishing effective control in the country mean for the U.S.?
GA: To withdraw from Iraq without securing control over the country and the area would result in a loss of credibility. The credibility of U.S. deterrence and power has already suffered a lot. Look at Iran now -- it is clear that they are not intimidated by the U.S. threats. Iraq has paralysed them to such an extent that they are unable to turn against other threats. It has also exposed the Achilles heel of the U.S. -- which is the Vietnam syndrome. The population does not want the country to be involved in dirty wars and this creates a serious human resource shortage for the military.
IPS: Could the increasing scale of militarisation and violence in the region be connected with the declining hegemony of the U.S.?
GA: We do not deal here with some kind of a beast that instinctively produces aggression. The war drive that has been going on since 9/11 is obviously motivated by U.S. strategic interests and it is designed according to two main concerns. One is to control the major world oil reserves. We have entered into the last few decades of cheap oil . . . the strategic importance of oil is increasing. The second is that the U.S. military presence in the heart of Eurasia -- especially in areas of interest for Russia and China -- is important because they fear an alliance of both at the expense of U.S. hegemony in the region.
IPS: What is the extent of the failure of the George W. Bush administration’s foreign policy?
GA: It is a disaster. It is a total mess for U.S. foreign policy. Apart from Iraq - - where they also face a contradiction between their Turkish and Kurdish partners, which could cost them a lot politically -- it is becoming clear that the operation in Afghanistan is a total disaster and the Taliban are back and are quite strong. You take Pakistan, the situation is destabilising. Washington fears [President Pervez] Musharraf and their fears are compounded by the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear power. I hope for some compromise in Lebanon but that might turn very serious there as well. And there are efforts of the Bush administration to do something about the Israel-Palestinian conflict in order to say they are achieving something. But there are no real conditions for a compromise or any concessions made by the Israelis.
When this administration leaves the scene the political and strategic capital acquired from the U.S. after the collapse of the Soviet Union will have been completely wasted and it will only be left with a very bad imperial reputation.
IPS: Is there a downplayed aspect of the U.S. foreign policy relationship with Islamic Fundamentalism throughout the last 20 years that this administration has made use of as well?
GA: People see all the time that Iran is some kind of ‘Evil’ to put in Bush’s terms . . . However, the fact is that the most fundamentalist state in the world, the Saudi kingdom, is the closest ally of the U.S. This state is much more reactionary in terms of religion, women rights, and politics. This is pure hypocrisy. One should not forget that from the 1950s the U.S. has nurtured and used Islamic fundamentalism against the Soviet Union. After the defeat of nationalism and the collapse of the Soviet Union the popular protest against corrupted despotic regimes backed by the U.S. shifted to Islamic fundamentalism.
This is like a Frankenstein tale -- they produced a monster, used it for a while, and now it has turned against them. But, not all of it -- they still have a lot of fundamentalism on their side. Even inside the same factions. Take the Islamic Brotherhood -- Hamas is a wing of it against the U.S., but its Jordanian wing backs the U.S. supported monarchy, and the Syrian wing is part of an opposition coalition backed by the U.S.
Reality is much more complicated than it is reflected in any of the media.
IPS: What do you think the future will be like?
GA: To be frank I have been pessimistic about this area for over a quarter of the century. Unfortunately reality has always been worse than my pessimism. In my heart I will try to remain optimistic and hopeful because the suffering of the populations concerned is absolutely terrible. We talk about the part of the world with the highest unemployment, disastrous economic conditions, and huge inequalities, facing a prospect of explosion. Still, there is potential for positive social movement, the question is if a political force able to build upon this potential will appear.