Michael Doran *97, assistant professor of Near Eastern studies
at Princeton and adjunct fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations,
published an article in the January/February issue of Foreign Affairs
magazine in which he argues that war against Saddam Hussein is justified,
because he represents a "direct threat that must be countered
firmly and effectively." In the same article he argues that
the Palestinian cause has become "protean" that
Palestine is not regarded merely as a place, but as a powerful symbol.
The Palestinian flag has come to represent a stand against the status-quo,
and not just in Palestine, Doran writes.
Doran is the author of Pan-Arabism Before Nasser: Egyptian Power
Politics and the Palestine Question (1999), and last semester he
cotaught The Historical Roots of the Bin Laden Phenomenon. Here
he talks with PAW's Lolly O'Brien.
What was the reaction to your article in Foreign Affairs?
All the reaction I've heard has been positive. Plenty of people
have disagreed with me. I was just at a seminar last week in New
York with some academics, some government people, and a lot of newspaper
reporters that had been organized by the Carnegie Foundation. The
seminar was around my article. And it was an interesting opportunity
for me to get some feedback.
The group was mixed; there were Republicans, Democrats, moderates,
independents, extremists, all sorts. There were people who were
clearly militantly in favor of what I said, people who were militantly
against, but the discussion was very, very spirited and profoundly
The people who were most against it were against my conclusion
that war against Saddam Hussein is justified or wise.
With regard to the component of the article that talks about Palestine
as place and Palestine as symbol, there were people who found it
insightful and told me so and said it really opened their eyes.
There were people who disagreed with me, but even the ones who disagreed
with me were willing to accept the principle that it is obvious
that this issue, outside of Palestinian society itself, in the wider
Arab world is a highly symbolic issue laden with meaning that goes
well beyond Palestine itself.
You point out that the idea of "Palestine-as-symbol"
has been used by groups wholly unrelated to Palestinians. An example
you used was in Northern Ireland last summer when the Irish Republican
Army raised the Palestinian flag over Republican strongholds.
Yes, and as I wrote, it's because for many around the world, this
flag now expresses simple anticolonial defiance. It's a protest
by those who believe their native rights have been trampled under
the boots of foreign rulers. And, at the same time, Unionists in
Ireland countered by flying the Israeli banner over their neighborhoods.You
say: "Then as now, defeating Saddam would offer the United
States a golden opportunity to show the Arab and Muslim worlds that
Arab aspirations are best achieved by working in cooperation with
Washington. If an American road to a calmer situation in Palestine
does in fact exist, it runs through Baghdad." Could you talk
about that a little bit?
What we're witnessing in the Middle East is that the deepest sources
of anti-Americanism are beyond policy. There's a generalized protest
against the status-quo that takes the form of Anti-Americanism.
How do you know this?
This is a question of analysis. In the article I gave the example
of the Al Jawf region in Saudi Arabia, where there were unlawful
protests on behalf of Palestine. But, then you ask the question,
why does the Al Jawf region feels particularly strongly about Palestine?
You don't have protests in Riyadh, but in Al Jawf, yes. And just
saying that people are upset about Palestine, which they are, is
not an explanation. That's a generalized phenomenon.
So you have to ask what's different in Al Jawf, and what's different
in Al Jawf is that it's a miserable place. The people are impoverished,
and they are very alienated from the central government. So what
are these protests all about really? Are they really about Palestine,
or are they about Jawf? I'm saying they're about Jawf.
Another example. There was a little intifada in Antwerp last year
[April 2002], when the Israelis were going into the West Bank. Though
the protest was in the name of Palestine, the primary concern, which
the protesters expressed openly, is the status of Muslims in Belgium.
These are unemployed Moroccans mainly. The Moroccan unemployment
rate in Belgium is 30% as opposed to a 10 % general Belgian unemployment.
Why is Saddam Hussein the most urgent issue now?
Because the U.S. position in the Gulf and in the region in general
is being undermined by our attempt to contain him and Iran simultaneously.
And that the undermining of our position causes instability in the
region in general.
What does Saddam Hussein want?
He wants, in the immediate term, he wants an end to the sanctions
regime. He wants to develop weapons of mass destruction, and he
wants drive the U.S. out of the Persian Gulf.
Because then if the Americans withdraw, Iraq will be much more
powerful, because it's more powerful than its neighbors.
That's why he's interested in fomenting all this discontent. Because
he calculates that if there were if the Americans weren't in the
Gulf militarily then the whole field would be open to him.
He's a madman, right?
I don't think he's mad, no. No more mad than a Mafioso. He's thuggish
and cruel, but he's very clever and he knows his own backyard. Otherwise
he wouldn't have been there. I mean you think the Ayatollah Khomeini,
his enemy is gone. Margaret Thatcher is gone; George Bush senior
Do other states want Saddam to go?
They would like him to evaporate. Nobody is shedding tears for
him the man. But they don't like to see so much American power right
on their borders.
If Saddam did not want weapons of mass destruction and did not
want those things he wants, everybody would be just happy to let
Actually it seems that a big section of the world is quite happy
to let him have weapons of mass destruction as well. But as long
as it doesn't look like he's going to attack any neighbors tomorrow
governments don't want to take responsibility for getting rid of
What is the U.S.
going to do in Iraq?
Hopefully, there's every reason to believe a war itself is going
to be short. If 1991 is anything to go by, there's not going to
be a lot of fight in the Iraqi army. And we're much stronger than
we were in 1991, so the combination of a weaker Iraqi army and a
stronger U.S. means it should be fast. My gut feeling is that it's
going to go down like a house of cards. Because we're much stronger
than we were in 1991, and he's much weaker, and you saw how everyone
gave up. But that doesn't mean we should plan for it to be a house
of cards. I mean there's all kinds of bad scenarios that one could
think of. I suspect that once we show real resolve, the regime is
going to down rather easily.
God willing, Saddam Hussein won't use any chemical or biological
weapons successfully, or if he does he'll use them sparingly. So
assuming that it's rather quick and there aren't a lot of casualties,
which is already a large assumption, hopefully, then there the U.S.
will begin some sort of reconstruction.
What that process is going to look like is not clear. Even if
there is a clear plan at this point, I'm sure that events will overtake
it. No one is really sure what they're going to find when they get
into Iraq, and at that point other regional powers like Iran, Turkey,
and Saudi Arabia will begin to try to influence the process of reconstruction.
Some people in the Department of Defense have talked about a military
government for a long period of time. Other people are arguing that
that's a big mistake, that it will be seen as direct American colonialism
and will be despised throughout the region. I'm sure that that debate
will be carried on inside the U.S. society, and it also will be
carried on inside the administration and it will be vigorous, and
exactly what the outcome will be, no one can say.
How will negative reaction be manifested?
There's the possibility of severe unrest in those three countries:
Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. My feeling though is if the war
is quick and if there are not a lot of casualties as a result of
Saddam Hussein using chemical or biological weapons, then the demonstrations
will lose steam, much as they did after the U.S. went into Afghanistan.
If it's quick...I think in that Iraqis in generals are going to
be dancing in the streets.What do you think the Saudis are going
to say when we go in?
I think what the Arab states are going to do is they're going
try to that are aligned with the United States is
they are going to try insulate themselves as much as possible. So,
for instance, there will be an initiative to ask Saddam Hussein
to step down. And the reason they'll do that is that knowing full
well that he's unlikely to do so, they'll then be able to say to
their own public we tried. Saddam Hussein brought this on himself.
We tried to find an alternative, and Saddam Hussein didn't work
with us. That's to try to deflect a little of the responsibility
from the Americans and from themselves. So they want to try to show
to their own public some sort of alternative that they worked at
so as to distance themselves from both Saddam Hussein and the United
States. So basically, it's going to happen. If Saddam doesn't go
out, then we're going to go in.
It looks like it's going to happen, but there's a lot of political
Why doesn't everyone agree with the U.S.?
People in general are very wary of American power. America is
so much more powerful now than any other country, it makes everybody
nervous. And this has become the test case.
Is al Qaeda alive and well at this point?
Alive certainly. How well, I'm not really sure.
How has al Qaeda changed in the last six months to a year?
Well, they've changed tactics somewhat. They attacked the Israelis
in Kenya, and they attacked in Bali and Yemen. The organization
is shadowy enough that it is hard for somebody like me to exactly
what changes it's gone through. It's clearly trying to demonstrate
to the world that it's still alive and capable of striking in a
variety of places.
What is the state of anti-Americanism in the Arab world today?
There are two schools of thought out there. One school of thought
says that anti-Americanism is a result of American policies, in
particular support of Israel, sanctions on Iraq, which are causing
suffering to the Iraqi population, and support for corrupt regimes.
There's a certain amount of truth in that, no doubt about it,
but I think I belong to a second school, which basically sees anti-Americanism,
and also anti-Israeli feeling, as to a certain extent a reflection
of hostility to the status quo in general. That's my big point.
A comparison to Iran is interesting. In 1979 there was the Iranian
revolution, which was a radical Islamic revolution against the shah,
who was an ally of the United States and was deeply anti-American
because at that point in time large sectors of Iranian society,
almost every major sector, was alienated from the shah's regime.
And their hostility to the shah was projected on to the U.S. because
the U.S. was seen as the guarantor of the system in Iran.
Now 20 years later, we've had the revolution in Iran, and the
revolutionaries are in power. And they're not delivering to the
population politically and economically. And there's a lot of hostility
in Iran to them. And in that climate, America is rather popular.
The exact thing is going on in Saudi Arabia, where America is
seen as the guarantor of order, so anybody who's hostile to the
status quo is hostile to the U.S.
Obviously the Arab world has a conflict with Israel. Very obviously
there is a sentiment in the Arab world that is sympathetic to the
Palestinians. But at the same time that those feelings are going
on, there is local politics in every part of the Arab world, and
the state of the Arab world today politically and economically is
very poor. Populations have been exploding throughout the Arab world.
In some countries, like Saudi Arabia, fully 50% of the population
is under the age of 20. And the economies as not growing fast enough
to keep pace with the rising populations, so there's a big stress
of the economy.
How does that flip over into anti-Americanism or anti-Israeli
Peoples' dissatisfaction with the status quo translates into anti-American
feeling, because America is seen as the guarantor of the status
quo. The good example is what took place in Iran in the last 20
You write : "Until the Arab and Muslim worlds create political
orders that do not disenfranchise huge segments of their own populations,
the civil war will continue to touch the U.S." Do you think
the Arab and Muslim worlds are interested in creating such political
No. I think there's total political stagnation in the Arab world
What DO they want?
The regimes just want to stay in power. But they're very narrowly
based. Saddam Hussein is an extreme example. But the trend is general.
It's an example of a small clique that controls the state; large
repressive apparatus, secret police, and everybody's in everybody's
to President Bush
If you were called in to President Bush's office and asked
to tell him specific things to do. What would you say?
I would tell him that he should topple Saddam Hussein sooner rather
He should get involved state building in Iraq for the long haul.
There's no quick fix.
He has to prepare the country, prepare Americans for the fact
that there is no quick fix and that we're in this for the long haul.
And after toppling Saddam Hussein that he should launch a serious
Arab-Israeli peace initiative.
Do you think weapons of mass destruction are the real issue?
I think that they are an important issue, yes. I don't think it's
the whole story.
Is it oil? How much is this oil, how much is this weapons of
I didn't answer that question directly in the article. What I
see as the fundamental driver of the U.S. policy, is maintaining
the U.S. predominance in the Persian Gulf.
What do you mean by predominance?
There's nobody who can threaten the American order. Of the three
major powers in the region, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, only one of
them is aligned with the U.S. And two of them are rather hostile
to the U.S. And the one that is aligned with the U.S., Saudi Arabia,
finds itself in a precarious position, in that the alliance with
the U.S. is very unpopular inside Saudi Arabia. And it's being attacked
outside Saudi Arabia for being aligned with the U.S.
For the U.S. that's an unstable position to be in. So the U.S.
is presented with the alternative of either backing away from its
attempt to contains Iran and Iraq and accepting much less influence
in all that goes on in the Gulf or toppling Saddam Hussein and reasserting
U.S. predominance in the region.
It means that any attempt by a regional power to reorganize the
area, like Iraq going into Kuwait, will be stopped. The reason the
U.S. wants predominance is because of oil. Ultimately that's why
the U.S. is involved in the Middle East. Everything that we do in
the Middle East is ultimately a result of our concern about oil.
That's our fundamental interest in the region. So if there were
no oil there, we wouldn't be all that interested. But the argument
out there that this is about oil, meaning that the U.S. is interested
in dominating this or that oil well or seeing to it that this or
that field is under the control of an American oil company seems
to me to be rather simple minded.
Is bin Laden of interest to you? Or is he a blip on the radar?
He is interesting to me as an example of the larger phenomenon.
Would you like to meet him?
I doubt that as an individual he is all that interesting. If I
had the opportunity to meet him I would. I doubt that I could spend
a couple of hours with him. I doubt that he could tell me very much.
He's a politician.