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American "Stooges" By: Judith Apter Klinghoffer
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, May 09, 2003


Am I the only person who has never heard of a "Russian stooge," a "Chinese stooge" or a "French stooge," but only of an "American stooge?" No. I googled it.  I discovered that the British also have stooges, for example, Morgan Tsangirai, the opposition leader in Zimbabwe.  Does that mean that only America and Britain have stooges?  Of course not, it is just that only democrats are burdened with that derogatory name. Everybody knows that the Lebanese government is a Syrian stooge, that Hizballa is an Iranian stooge and North Korea a Chinese one. Interestingly, not only aren't these stooges expected to distance themselves from their "mentors," but they advertise it.  After all, a significant part of their attraction is based on their ties to more powerful entities.  Everybody worries that if you mess with Pyongyang, Beijing may come after you and Hizballa is well armed and financed because Teheran considers it a strategic asset.

Amazingly, it is these basic advantages that the foreign policy establishment urges Washington to withhold from its worldwide supporters, including those in Iraq and Iran.  What is Ahmed Chalabi's ultimate sin? He is "too" pro-American. He actually wishes to build a liberal democracy in Iraq. Hence, he may be seen as an "American stooge," i.e., a person who enjoys the good will of the sole super power and the military ruler of Iraq.   People who wish to be on America's good side may just dare to flock to him.  We wouldn't want that, would we? No, "authentic" Iraqi leaders like pro-Syrian Baath party members, pro Saudi Sunni clerics or pro-Iranian Shia ones must know that the US plays no favorites.  Consequently, a Shiite ayatollah like Mohammed Hussein Sadr openly asserts that his skepticism about Ahmed Chalabi's is based in part upon his intentions toward Iran.  But Chalabi must assure supplicants that he enjoys no American backing and has no goodies to disperse.  Iran may reward it allies and punish its opponents but America cannot stoop so low.

You do the math. If everybody may support their favorite except the United States, the politician with the least support will be the pro-American.  Is it a wonder, that Sadr is not worried that he may be perceived as an Iranian stooge but Chalabi asserts that he does not "want to be the candidate of the United States under any circumstances."  Why? Because anyone wishing to convince the American administration that he deserves its support must keep his distance if not outright criticize the United States.  It is not because the local population demands it or believes it. It is because only such distancing gives the aspiring leader the "authentic" aura needed to secure the respect of the international media, "expert opinion" and the State Department.

When President Bush dared to divide the world between those who are with us or against us, I thought that 9/11 has finally brought home to Washington the perils of this absurd dynamic.  Hence, I argued, anti-Americanism will no longer be price free or pro-Americanism benefit free.  I underestimated the power of inertia.  Not only is the continued foreign policy experts adherence to the failed policies of the past about to scuttle the fruits of the liberation of Iraq but it is about to undermine the potential liberation of Iran.  Will Bush be like Reagan or Eisenhower, I have asked? The answer, I argued, depends on his treatment of the Iranian reform movement. "Down with the Taliban in Kabul and Teheran," Iranian students had shouted somewhat prematurely for Bush.  The methodical president wished to take care of Iraq first.  It was disappointing but understandable.  "Why did you stop? Why didn't you turn right?" Iranians kept asking reporters after the fall of Bagdad.   Listening to Secretary Powel's references to the overwhelming Iranian opposition to their theocratic regime, I assumed that Bush was going to follow in Reagan's footsteps. Just as Reagan helped Solidarity, Bush is going to aid Iranian dissidents.  Alas the signs have not been encouraging.

First, I read Michael Ledeen's articles, or more precisely, his cries of anguish at the sight of  opportunities lost.  Then, I read about the recent conference on American policy for the Middle East organized by the AEI and the Hudson Institute.  The experts agreed that the ouster of Saddam Hussein will not bring an immediate downfall of the Iranian regime. So, what did they think should be done to help the democratic aspirations of the people of Iran? Absolutely nothing, seemed to argue Judith Kipper, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and director of the Middle East Forum at the Council on Foreign Relations.  On the contrary, Washington "must do whatever it can to reconnect with Iran and get its government to the table."  Indeed, the Bush administration should not only do nothing. It should make sure that it is seen to be doing nothing lest Teheran becomes worried. "They take every word we say very, very seriously," said Kipper.

Daniel Brumberg, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, refused to go quite that far.  The United States may support Iranian reformers covertly but not overtly "because that could make them look like stooges of the United States."  The sole sane voice belonged to Meyrav Wurmser, the director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Hudson Institute.   Washington must make clear that it is focused "on ridding it of the regimes that aim to do harm to the United States and its allies."  In other words, let's make the enemies of America tremble and its friends take heart.  Let's make the world safe for American "stooges." Can you imagine a more profound transformation of American foreign policy? Personally, I cannot imagine a policy more conducive to peace and prosperity in both America and the Middle East.

Judith Apter Klinghoffer is a senior associate scholar at the Political Science Department at Rutgers University, Camden, the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East and a History News Network blogger.




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