An alternative US view of the Middle East

31 October 2003
What is your assessment of developments in Iraq?

I was on record as saying we should get rid of Saddam Hussein, but let's not act until we have decided what to do that day after he falls. I think it was too soon and the plan was underprepared. If we had been prepared to wait a few months, we might well have brought the Europeans, particularly the Germans, on board. The timing should have been extended. There was no real need to move at that particular time.

We are not doing extremely well now. We did not have the capability to bring security to Iraq. Our Defence Secretary did not recognise that the security situation in Iraq after the war would be bad. We thought we would be welcomed in Iraq and that the government infrastructure would be in place. None of this was true. The problem is we are spending a lot of money, there are not enough troops there and we don't have the support of the international community we could have had and should have had.

What do you suggest the administration should do?

The only way to deal with this is an international police system. The answer isn't more US troops. No administration is going to give control of a US military force to the UN. You can go back to the UN and give the UN some control over the financial resources of the country, get some assistance from the international community in developing the structures of the country and some transparency in the contracting effort. We should get a UN Security Council resolution that would bring other countries in to deal with these problems.

I don't think US troops can be withdrawn at this point. Perhaps 18 months from now, they can go. But they will not be able to be withdrawn unless there is a sufficient influx of alternatives. This doesn't have to be the UN. It could be NATO. But with the conflict with France and Germany, it is not likely that we are going to go forward with either organisation.

Certain elements of this [Bush] administration have dug themselves in and are afraid that any compromise on their part would suggest that they were wrong about the war in the first place. Members of congress are starting to hear that the majority of Americans think we are paying too much money and perhaps have too many troops in Iraq.

What should the US do now on the peace process?

We should have pulled out all the stops and supported Abu Mazen; he was always losing out to Arafat. The Palestinians need a moderate alternative. What this means in practice is getting enough cash there in order that the Hamas social service network can be replaced. It means getting the Arab states to stop directly funding Arafat. There has to be co-operation involving us, the Israelis, the Arabs and the Europeans.

President Bush was pressured [into the roadmap] to answer criticisms from many Arab leaders who we depended on for the Iraq policy and to make it easier for them to co-operate. President Bush is a guy who makes promises and tries to keep them. He went on the record with Arab leaders and he was serious.

How much pressure are Saudi-US relations under?

Saudi Arabia is a target for a group of people in this country who don't like the way they run things. They feel it would be far better to have a meltdown in Saudi Arabia than continue this relationship. To me, it's insane. This means handing over resources to a fundamentalist Islamic regime, which is the likely outcome of destabilisation of Saudi Arabia.

You were ambassador to Egypt. What do you feel about its recent progress?

Egypt right now is sort of stagnant. The reform effort seems to have come to a halt. The business people I know are desperate. They would like to see a change in prime minister. But it would be a disaster for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father and a disaster for Egypt. He has a reform agenda, which is a good agenda. He has a good vision of the outside world. He can be of great value to Egypt. But to establish Egypt as a hereditary monarchy? It has been through that. It is time to move on. I would hate Egypt to be a replica of Libya and Syria.

Edward S Walker is president of the Middle East Institute, a Washington DC-based non-profit organisation. He was assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs in 1999-2001 after serving as ambassador to Israel, Egypt and the UAE.

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