Following World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, two people figured prominently in Britain’s plans for the Middle East. There was Chaim Weizmann, who in 1917 had been elected President of the British Zionist Federation, and there was Hussein ibn Ali, Sherif and Emir of Mecca and later, King of the Hejaz.
Weizmann was close to British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, who as a lawyer had represented the Zionists. Not so coincidentally, Lord Alfred Balfour, Lloyd George’s Foreign Minister, proclaimed the Balfour Declaration, also in 1917, promising the Jews a homeland in Palestine, a former Ottoman province turned over to Britain by the League of Nations through a mandate. Lest anyone claim that this was for fees paid to Lloyd George as the lawyer for Weizmann’s organization, Lloyd George circulated the story that he had given the Balfour Declaration in appreciation for Weizmann’s contribution to the war effort. Weizmann, a chemist, had discovered the process to extract acetone, a significant ingredient in the manufacture of explosives, from maize, then donated the formula to the British government. But Lloyd George’s account was a self-serving distortion.
Hussein of Mecca was a member of the illustrious House of Hashem, which claimed to be direct descendents of the Prophet Muhammad and had led the Arab revolt against the Turks during World War I (with help from Lawrence of Arabia). But when the war was over, he failed to win the fight with Ibn Saud for control of Arabia, also a former Ottoman province. Captured by Ibn Saud, Hussein lost power but won a consolation prize when Churchill created Iraq out of Ottoman territories and proclaimed Hussein’s son, Feisal, its king. Through this puppet monarchy, Britain intended to retain control of Iraq and its natural resources. Feisal was also pro-Jewish and appointed numerous Jewish Iraqis to high administrative positions, including that of economics minister. Feisal was useful in other ways as well. In a country deeply divided between the two branches of Islam—Sunni and Shi’ite—Feisal was the perfect unifier on paper. A Sunni, he was descended from Muhammad, and the Shi’ites believed that the true leaders of Islam were not the Caliphs but the descendents of Muhammad, whom they called the Imams. They revered the House of Hashem for this reason. It was therefore possible for Feisal to be both the Caliph to the Sunnis and the true Imam to the Shi’ites. All he had to do was shut up and do what the British told him.
Churchill’s idea was simple. In exchange for giving Feisal the throne of Iraq, Feisal would support a Jewish state in Palestine. And in return for giving the Zionists a homeland in Palestine, they would help out Feisal. Years later, a scheme was hatched whereby the Iraqis would send their Jews by military truck through the desert in Jordan to Israel, and the Israelis would send a large number of the Palestinians they were in the process of evicting to Iraq, with a mutual confiscation of property. It never came to pass, and the idea faded until the coming of Viceroy Wolfowitz of Baghdad.
In the world of postwar Iraq, Paul Wolfowitz looms large. He has assembled a postwar government of Americans in Kuwait, ready to take over Iraq and govern it during an “interim period” of indeterminate length until a legitimate Iraqi government “emerges”—whatever that means. And to be eligible to make it into this colonial government, it is widely accepted that one must be one of “Wolfie’s People,” his own private entourage of subservient sycophants to a man driven by a mission to create an Iraq that tilts towards Israel and, Wolfowitz insists, is, at least superficially, democratic. As Disraeli famously made Queen Victoria the Empress of India, for which she remained loyal to him through thick and thin, so Wolfie will make George W. Bush the Emperor of Iraq, for which he will reward him handsomely, perhaps making him the next Secretary of State, after Powell leaves at the beginning of the second term.
Serving as head of non-military operations in Iraq will be retired Maj. Gen. Jay Garner, whose operation has the Orwellian title of “Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.” Garner is a defense contractor on leave from L-3 Communications, who had been in charge of protecting the Kurds in Northern Iraq during the last war in the Persian Gulf. Of course, America pulled out, and thousands of the Kurds were exterminated, but Garner is now there for the duration. The only extermination will be of the Iraqis who don’t join the team. They will be called “war criminals” and tried exclusively by the American military, not by an international tribunal. In addition to Garner, there will be the “true believers,” starting with Robert Reilly, who headed the Voice of America and who can be expected to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqis by exposing them to Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera videos. And high up on the list is also James Woolsey, known at Langley as “Jimmy the Brief” for his short tenure as Clinton’s head of CIA, during which the president met with him approximately three times. He is to be Minister of Information, a highly sensitive and important position, for which he has strong Pentagon backing. Woolsey has unilaterally declared World War IV (World War III being the Cold War), in which Iraq is just the beginning, to be followed by the sorting out of Iran, Syria, and North Korea, not to mention al-Qaeda and assorted other Islamic extremist terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.
A couple of other contenders are worth mentioning. There is Timothy Carney, the ex-ambassador to the Sudan, to run the Baghdad Ministry of Industry, who is liked by Wolfie but is resented by the Pentagon because he had the temerity to criticize the intelligence failures in the Sudan that led the United States to make disastrous policy decisions in the Islamic world. Later, as ambassador to Haiti, Carney questioned whether the use of force could guarantee democracy. He serves on the Board of Advisors to the Haiti Democracy Project. If force hasn’t brought about democracy in tiny Haiti, can it possibly do so in a deeply divided, California-size Iraq? Stay tuned.
There is also the Queen of Baghdad, Barbara Bodine, the ex-ambassador to Yemen, who is not exactly loved by the Pentagon but who appeals to Wolfie because she has condemned the stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims. She is distrusted because, as ambassador to Yemen, she thwarted the FBI counterintelligence investigation of the bombing of the Cole because the FBI guys came in with a lot of armed soldiers and offended Yemeni officials. She actually survived a terrorist hijacking but is none the worse for wear and has already picked out her villa in Baghdad, of which she will be the mayor in all but name.
As Wolfie sees it, the various Iraqi factions will never be able to agree on a government. Ahmad Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), with his 700 fighters, is prepared to form a provisional government but is dismissed by American intelligence. The Shi’ite religious leader, Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim is departing Iran with his Iran-backed group known as SCIRI, which has as many as 15,000 paramilitaries. Al-Hakim’s group is fundamentalist Muslim and pro-Iranian. Throw in the Kurds and you have a prescription for civil war. This is a potential nightmare for Wolfie.
Wolfowitz looks into his crystal ball and sees something. It is the old Iraqi royal family, ousted by the 1958 coup that eventually brought Saddam Hussein to power, waiting in the wings, particularly Sherif Ali bin al-Hussein, a cousin of the late Iraqi king. By restoring the Hashemites, an objective supported by King Abdullah of Jordan, a Hashemite (the British put them on that throne as well), Wolfie can kill many birds with one stone. The Shi’ite population of southern Lebanon currently supports Hezbollah, which is supported by both Syria, with its territorial ambitions (its army occupies Lebanon), and Iran. But these Shi’ites, as do those in Iraq, still venerate the House of Hashem because it is the Prophet’s family. The royal family is Sunni, so it will have Sunni support. It is trusted by the Kurds and tilts towards Israel, making it, on paper, perfect—sort of.
The Iraq Liberation Act of 1998 provides funds for the various Iraqi opposition groups, and money could start flowing, big time, to the royals under Wolfie’s regime. In a thousand and one nights and after a magic carpet ride to the strains of Scheherazade, we could be back to 1917. Monarchy isn’t exactly democracy but, oh well, you can’t have everything. Such is faith—or neocon dreaming. _________________________________________________
Richard Cummings writes and lectures on international affairs.