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US: UN or Pentagon?

This week the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco launched a series of programs on the Middle East, sponsored by the Coret Foundation, with a talk by Martin Peretz, editor of the New Republic. He presented the pro-Israel position. He dismissed the Quartet and the Road Map and said that Israel would never return to its 1949 boundaries. He repeatedly used the word mirage and ridiculed Saddam Hussein, who thought he was a new Saladin. (Here we go back to our history textbook project. It would be interesting to see what textbooks say about him in various countries. My guess is that much more stress is placed on him in Egypt than in Morocco. Do the Arabs admit he was a Kurd? In Iraq, did Saddam Hussein's cult of Saladin please the Kurds?). It discussing Iraq, Peretz said that in the old days there was a plurality of Jews in Baghdad. This confirms what I have repeatedly said: however much one likes Israel and views the Arabs with something close to contempt (which Peretz did), the fact is that the honored status of Jews in Arab countries ended with the creation of Israel and most of them were forced to emigrate.

Much of Peretz' talk was devoted to belittling the United Nations--in the very city where it was created. He said its main weakness was that it was based on the concept of sovereign nations, but he did not say how else it could be organized. As a result, small island nations are represented in the General Assembly. Power resides in the Security Council, which gave Peretz a chance to say unkind things about France. De Gaulle fooled Roosevelt into taking it seriously. Perets rightly expressed disapproval of the French cult of Napoleon, who brought so much misery to Europe. He did not mention the good work UN agencies are doing around the world. He stressed its failures, among them Biafra, the Congo, and Yugoslavia. In sum, he saw no role for the UN in Iraq.

On the other hand, he was full of praise for the Pentagon, attributing to it the knowledge and wisdom to conduct the affairs of the world. This referred presumably to the the Advisory Board of which Wolfowitz and Perle are prominent members. He made only a passing reference to Colin Powell and the State Department. The conclusion seemed to be that the conduct of foreign affairs should be left under the control of the Pentagon. He was not very clear as to what future he recommended for Iraq. He described it as the creation of Gertrude Bell, an English woman in the Indian service. He compared her to Lawrence of Arabia, and spoke of a film about her. It was not clear if the film is being made or if it is just a proposal. The conclusion to be drawn from his talk is that the forthcoming debate about the Road Map will, to płt it mildly, not be easy.

Ronald Hilton - 5/11/03