29 June 2004

Into the Abyss

Around Iraq, the States that have most to fear from an American collapse are Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Each in its own way, all three depend on American support. All suffer under severe social strain, whether against an ethnic background%u2014as in Jordan where Bedouin and Palestinians clash%u2014or a religious one as is mainly the case in the other two. As unrest spreads from Iraq probably not all three will see their regimes overthrown, but one or two might well undergo this fate. Jordan being a small and weak country, its fate will be of concern mainly to its immediate neighbors such as Syria%u2014which, if it tries to intervene, will have Israel to reckon with%u2014Israel, and Saudi Arabia. By contrast, the collapse of Saudi Arabia, or a situation whereby Egypt turns into an Islamic republic and abrogates its peace treaty with Israel, would have world-wide economic and strategic implications that are hard to foresee.

In the short run, the greatest beneficiary of the war is Israel. The destruction of Iraq has created a situation where, for the first time since the State was founded in 1948, it has no real conventional enemy left within about 600 miles of its borders. If Sharon had any sense he would use this window of opportunity to come to some kind of arrangement with the Palestinians. Whether he will do so, though, remains to be seen.

In the longer run, the greatest beneficiary is likely to be Iran which, without having to lift a finger, has seen its most dangerous enemy ground into the dust. Even before President Bush launched his war against Iraq, the Iranians, feeling surrounded by nuclear-capable American forces on three sides (Afghanistan, the Central Asian Republics, the Persian Gulf), were working as hard as they could to acquire nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles to match. Now that the U.S. has proved it is prepared to fight anybody for no reason at all, they should be forgiven if they redouble their efforts.

Even if the Islamic Republic is overthrown, as some hope, the new government in Tehran will surely follow the same nationalist line as its predecessor did. A nuclear Iran is likely to be followed by a nuclear Turkey. Next will come a nuclear Greece, a nuclear Saudi Arabia (assuming the country can survive as a single political unit), and a nuclear Egypt. Welcome to the Brave New World, Mr. Bush.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you confuse a throwaway line in a speech to Congress with the grounds for making war and peace.