The Link Between American Mideast Policy and the U.S. Economy

Last month, only weeks after stepping into the White House, President George W. Bush antagonized entire populations of Islamic and non-Islamic countries by ordering major new air strikes against Iraq.

American and British fighter planes have patrolled no-fly zones across northern and southern Iraq since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, regularly bombing what they call "military" targets. But last month's attack near Baghdad was the biggest in more than two years.

Russia, China, Germany and France were among those who opposed the bombing, accusing the U.S. of trying to replace the authority of the United Nations Security Council; this constitutes a dangerous tendency that will destabilize an already fragile Middle East.

Yet Canada came out in support of the bombing. A foreign ministry spokesman said Canada "has supported, since sanctions were imposed on Iraq, all means necessary to ensure that the military forces under the regime of Saddam Hussein do not resume their assaults on the Kurds in the north of Iraq and the Shi'a population."

Iraq responded by imposing a ban on importing Canadian goods, mainly wheat.

Although trade between us and Iraq has not amounted to much over the last ten years, the political situation in the Middle East since the beginning of the Palestinian Intifada five-and-a-half months ago is already affecting our economy.

The tumbling of high-tech shares due to the U.S. economic slowdown is just one example. Since the increase in Israeli attempts to impose a military solution on the Palestinian Intifada, there has been a popular movement among many of the one-billion consumers in Arab and Muslim countries to boycott American-made goods. The U.S. was, and still is, perceived as supporting Israel in its oppressive policies against the Palestinians.

It had long been expected by many in the Arab and Muslim worlds that, sooner rather than later, the new American and Israeli administrations would employ a policy of "effective distraction," using open war or war tactics in the region to halt or weaken the Palestinian uprising.

Even before taking office, and during his confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Colin Powell labeled Saddam's government as a "threat to the region" and promised to make sure that Iraq adhered to its promise to dismantle any weapons of mass destruction. He also made it clear that Washington envisioned an indefinite continuation of the 10-year-old economic sanctions until that goal is achieved.

But the reasons given for bombing Iraq have discredited the U.S. even further and only increased popular support for the American goods boycott in Arab and Muslim countries.

Air defense equipment and warplanes are very sophisticated high-tech items: every three to four years, a new generation is developed to target yet another generation of someone else's warplanes.

During its war with Iran, the West -- mainly the U.S. -- supplied Iraq with state-of-the-art radar equipment in order to target U.S.-made Iranian warplanes. Since the sanctions against Iraq are now more than ten years old, the Iraqi air defense system is at least three generations out of date and virtually incapable of accurately sighting modern western-world warplanes. After all, not a single U.S. or British plane has been hit in the last ten years, despite hundreds of sorties every day into Iraqi airspace.

Arabs and Muslims on the streets are now asking; if this is the case, then why did President Bush order a major air strike against Iraq last month? And why are Americans and Israelis conducting military "exercises" in anticipation of an Iraqi "retaliation" on Israel? Retaliation?! With what? Decaying, out-dated military junk?

Also last month, the new Bush administration had approved a grant to exiled Iraqi dissidents. This gift of four million dollars (U.S.) would ostensibly aid groups opposed to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussain to resume so-called "resistance" (read terrorist?) activities inside Iraq. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the money, which will be given to the CIA-backed Iraqi National Congress, will be used to gather information to prove that the Iraqi president had committed crimes against humanity, as well as for military operations and other internal developments.

It is ironic that the majority of American Arab and Muslim votes in the last U.S. election went to Bush. The assumption of many American Arab and Muslim leaders had been that a Gore administration would be explicitly and energetically on Israel's side, even more so than its precursor. Bill Clinton was hailed by some pro-Israelis as the most sympathetic U.S. president for years, and since leaving the White House he has tried to keep his image as a friend of Israel untarnished.

The outcome so far is that George W. Bush's performance in foreign affairs should get a resounding failing grade. And if he keeps on in the same manner for the next four years, it will have a devastating impact on both the U.S. and world economies. Obviously, very few will benefit: Israel tops the list.

And at home the Pentagon's clamour for more money will be boosted; so will the momentum behind a revived "star wars" system of national missile defense, with supporters arguing that so-called "rogue states" and terror groups will be increasingly likely initiate an attack. What is least in doubt is that President Bush will go on to cause more death and destruction abroad and a major economic recession at home.


Mohamed Elmasry, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo, is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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