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Iraq: How War Will Affect the Middle East
With Ariel Cohen
Heritage Foundation

Wednesday, Mar. 5, 2003; 10 a.m. ET

Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation was online Wednesday, Mar. 5 at 10 a.m. ET to discuss the perspective of Iraq's neighbors in the Middle East and Central Asia on the impending war.

He will also talk about the impact of the U.S.-led war in Iraq on peoples and governments in Turkey, Syria, Iran, Russia and Israel.

Cohen is the author of "Russian Imperialism: Development and Crisis" (Praeger Publishers, 1998) and of several articles published in the National Review, The Heritage Foundation, and Central Asian Caucus among others.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Ariel Cohen: I welcome the questions and comments because it is really important to get the facts on the table and engage in a real respectful and thoughtful debate. Too many simplifications were thrown around on the subject on the war to disarm Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Ariel Cohen: I believe the defense of blood thirsty genocidal dictators like Saddam after the horrors of genocide of the 20th centry are inexcusable.

Washington, D.C.: Thank you for being here today. I hope you can answer my questions.
1. If Saddam Hussein is so evil, why did the U.S. supply him with weapons during the Iran-Iraq war? Was he less evil then?
2. If he is so evil, why does the U.S. continue to buy Iraqi oil? Shouldn't we boycott his dictatorship, like we boycotted apartheid in South Africa?

Ariel Cohen: In the real world, countries and governments sometimes have to choose a lesser evil. During the Iran/Iraq war 1980-1988, the threat perception was from the Islamic Republic of Iran led by the late Homeini. To refresh our participants' memory, Iran was behind the blowing up of U.S. marine barracks and embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, killing over 300 U.S. citizens in 83-84. Iran was also exporting its brand of Islamic revolution and terrorism all over the world. As for buying the Iraqi oil today, the proceeds of these sales are dispersed by the United Nation's Oil for Food program and therefore benefit ordinary Iraqi citizens.

Pompano Beach, Fla.: TO: Ariel Cohen - Heritage Foundation (HF)
I can understand the interest for the HF about the evolving situation in the Middle East as it pertains to global security. How is the HF involved in "aftermath" of what will happen with Iraq and what do you think conservative minds will want to see with Iraq?

Ariel Cohen: The Heritage Foundation issued a number of policy papers on our suggestions of post-Saddam Iraq. We're also reissuing a paper for the building the post-war political architecture for Iraq and boosting the Iraqi economy. The previous series of papers were published in Sept. 2002 and the new updates will be available this week. You can visit the Heritage Foundation Web site and open the tab for research and then open the tab for the Middle East. Heritage would like to see a democratic and prosperous Iraq that enjoys territorial integrity, peace and equal rights for all citizens.

Medina, Saudi Arabia: Isn't there a way the USA can defend Saudi Arabia without being in our land?

Ariel Cohen: I don't understand why if Saudi Arabia needs U.S. security, it would object so much to the presence of the U.S. troops on its land? After all, the Europeans welcomed U.S. military presence on their territory that protected them from the Soviet threat for decades.

Oslo, Norway: Sir,
Could you explain why so-called "peace activists" would march all over the world in support of Saddam Hussein, when this person is responsible for war, genocide of ethnic minorities and torture of citizens? Why would anyone who claims to support peace be against the removal of Hussein?

Ariel Cohen: I don't understand why "peace activists" would support Saddam but I understand people everywhere yearn for peace. Supporting dictators however, and being manipulated by them does not bring peace but invites more aggression. Some of these "peace activists" remind me of what the founder of USSR, Vladimir Lenin, called "useful idiots." In addition many of the demonstrations are organized by the hard left such as the the Revolutionary Workers Party and different Trotskyite parties.

Mt. Lebanon, Pa.: How many Kurds live in northern Iraq and southern Turkey? And what's the critical mass necessary for the U.S. to support self determination for these courageous people who want an independent, prosperous, and sovereign Kurdistan? Isn't that why we're going to war in Iraq - to bring freedom to the oppresesed? Seems to me the Kurds are in the same boat. When is their appointed Independence Day? Thanks much. Signed.. Vietnam-Era Veteran.

Ariel Cohen: There are over 20 million Kurds living in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. At this stage, the U.S. supports full autonomy for Kurds in northern Iraq. Kurds failed to argue successfully their case for independence after World War I. Today, all Iraq's neighbors object to independent Kurdistan. Turkey's position preventing transit of U.S. troops to open the northern front against Saddam does not help the case of Turkey objecting to independent Kurdistan.

Glenmont, Md.: Why is it that the world is pushing for a two-state solution to resolve the Arab/Israeli conflict. Wasn't this the same offer given by the UN in 1947, which the arabs rejected and Israel accepted? Arabs occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip from 1948-1967. If the goal of the Arabs was Palestinian statehood, the Arabs would have created one during this period.

Ariel Cohen: I agree with your statement, not only the Arab states rejected the two-state solution in 1947, Yasser Arafat walked away from the similar proposal in 2000 given to him by the most dovish Israeli government led by Barak and endorsed by Bill Clinton. Today's explosion on the bus in Haifa, Israel demonstrates that the large faction on the Palestinian street which supports Hamas and other terrorist organizations rejects the existence of the state of Israel.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Will the war in Iraq send a message
to other rogue Arab countries in the Middle East such as Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia?

Ariel Cohen: The message of disarming Iraq will go beyond the rogue states in the Middle East, it should also resonate in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Kurgan, Russia: What do you think about relations between Russia and Iraq?

Ariel Cohen: Please refer to my Congressional testimony Russia and the Axis of Evil available on the Heritage Web site and also the Heritage paper published in 2002, as well as my most recent piece for the National Review online.

Laurel, Md.: To what extent are the neighboring states concerned that a long-term presence in Iraq is a "foot in the door" designed to produce long-term democratization and Westernization in the region as a whole?

Ariel Cohen: You bet they are concerned! Saudi Arabia regime is very concerned that post-Saddam Iraq may become a model of a democratic and pluralistic Middle Eastern Islamic society. I'm not sure they want it.

Bronx, N.Y.: Sir,

Don't you think one of the problems for the U.S. in the Middle East in terms of drumming up support for invading Iraq is its credibility? The Bush Administration rightly claims that Iraq is in violation of numerous UN Resolutions dictating that it disclose and disarm. However, Israel is also a long-standing violator of many UN resolutions, including many which demand its withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. Surely the Arabs must see a hypocrisy in the U.S. wanting to enforce resolutions against Iraq and not those against Israel. What do you think?

Ariel Cohen: The main difference between the Arab Israeli conflict and the Iraqi situation is that Israel fundamentally is ready for peace whereas Iraq is fundamentally is flaunting U.N. Security Council resolutions on disarmament. Please go back and read Security Council Resolution 242 which does not talk about either the Palestinian state or full and unconditional withdrawal of Israel from the territories it controls since 1967. Therefore, I did not see either hypocrisy or double standard in the U.S. position which has been supporting a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict for many decades.

Ocean City, Md.: How can the UN be serious about Middle East peace when Syria is on the Security Council? There is no doubt Syria is on the side of the terrorists.

Ariel Cohen: Not all of Syria is on the U.S. Dept. of State terrorism list while sitting on the Security Council, but also Libya is chairing the U.N. human rights commission while Iraq will share the U.N. disarmament commission. There is something wrong with this picture.

Arlington, Va.: Mr. Cohen, there has just been an apparent suicide bombing on a bus in Haifa, Israel. Any comments?

Ariel Cohen: Suicide/homicide bombings target children, women and elderly who are most likely to take public transportation in Israel. These are usually the most socially disadvantaged segments of the population. Terrorism against innocent civilians should be outlawed by all civilized nations just as human sacrifice, piracy and genocide were outlawed. I do not understand how any political cause can be advanced by killing the children of the other side or for that matter, sending dozens of your own children to a certain death.

Lyme, Conn.: Russia has a long term relationship with Iraq and reasons to fear terrorism. What is the sense of the Russian people on what the Russian government should do in the Middle East?

Ariel Cohen: The Russian people don't like Saddam Hussein. He reminds them too much of Joseph Stalin who murdered over 20 million Russians.

Gaithersburg, Md.: Does Saddam Hussein's most recent message broadcast to the Iraqis, in which he repeatedly used Islamic references, indicate a shift away from his supposedly secular stance to one more closely aligned with the radical Islamists such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah?

Ariel Cohen: Yes.

Harrisburg, Pa.: What are the internal political risks to the Turkish government if they allow American troops to launch a strike from Turkey? What would American economic assistance do for the Turkish economy, and how do the Turkish people view such offers of assistance?

Ariel Cohen: The Turkish economy will further suffer if American assistance package will not be forthcoming. The Turkish people want American assistance and they need to understand that the U.S. needs Turkish bases and transit to get to northern Iraq. I believe the Turkish government is stable enough to survive that challenge.

Cumberland, Md.: After the war can something be done to control Israel and Sharon from continuign to enlarge settlements? Should the U.S. consider cutting funds to Israel to prevent settlements?

Ariel Cohen: Israel accepted the U.S. position that if the violence stops there will be a political process: cessation of settlement activity is part of that political process but first civilians on buses, mothers and childrens, should not be murdered. Today, the U.S. funds do not go to Israeli settlements.

Cumberland, Md.: Do you think that once the war with Iraq has ended that the U.S. will turn its attention to the Palestinian crisis and effect ( and if necessary impose) a settlement on both parties?

Ariel Cohen: How do you impose a settlement on both parties when children as young as four are indoctrinated in Palestinian schools for suicide bombings and jihad?

Bethesda, Md.: Once the U.S. is succesful with the war in Iraq, what strategy do you suppose the U.S. will use in dealing with the "silent" axis of evil, Iran?

Ariel Cohen: The Iranian religious regime is extremely unpopular. The U.S. should support the forces of democracy and secularism in Iran.

Hopkinton, Mass.: What is the price Israel will be asked to pay for this war? Will it be safer and more prosperous in the region in post-Saddam era?

Ariel Cohen: Israeli civilians have been drilling civil defense exercises for days, the cost for their economy is staggering and the Israeli budget for 2003 is half a billion dollars. I hope the war against terrorism and post-Saddam Iraq will lead to a peaceful Middle East. All people, Christians, Muslims and Jews, need peace to get on with their lives. Killings and terrorism must stop.

Washington, D.C.: How do you think the establishment of a democratic Iraq will affect less democratic neighboring nations like Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc.?

Ariel Cohen: In the best case scenario, more democracy in Iraq will lead to more democracy in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, these regimes that are not democratically elected may violently resist the quest for freedom.

Wahington, D.C.: Is it not contradictory of the U.S. to undermine the UN and launch a unilateral strike against Iraq for not complying with UN resolutions?

Ariel Cohen: No it is not. The U.S. will enforce the previous Security Council resolutions and will attempt to give more power and authority to the U.N. The ones who undermine the U.N. are France, Germany and Russia which refuse to enforce the resolutions.

Arlington, Va: Why do neighboring countries object to an independent Kurdistan? Does it threaten their national security in any way? What interest would the US have in the existence or non-existence of Kurdistan? Thanks.

Ariel Cohen: The Kurds indeed are the largest stateless nation of the Middle East. However, for decades the strong U.S. Turkish ties prevented the emergence of independent Kurdistan. In addition during and after Gulf War I, there was pressure from Saudi Arabia to prevent the emergence of independent Kurdistan. Today the two major Kurdish organizations have accepted the idea of autonomous Kurd nation in democratized Iraq. The Kurds so far failed the critical mass to support their independence whereas the Palestinians have been successful to gain international support for their independent state. I am afraid that the Turkish intransigence will diminish U.S. opposition to the idea of independent Kurdistan. However I will also point out that Kurds are not Arabs and Arabs do not support Kurdish independence.

Rockville, Md.: Saddam Hussein has been paying $25,000 a head to the families of homicide bombers in the Palestinian Authority controlled territories. There have been repeated demonstrations on the part of Palestinians in the PA-controlled territories in which U.S. and Israeli flags are burned and people scream their support of Saddam. Why is the U.S. administration, and for that matter, the Western media, so so quiet about this bloody circus?

Ariel Cohen: The issue of Saddam's links to Palestinian terrorists and to al Qaeda has been proven by the Bush administration beyond reasonable doubt. Unfortunately there is a lot of support for Saddam among the Palestinian authority. Yasser Arafat recently sent an anti-U.S. congratulatory message to Saddam that Palestinians stand with Iraq shoulder to shoulder. The U.S. media has neglected to cover this story of Palestinian support of Saddam's regime and their historic links.

Ariel Cohen: On the balance, I believe that action on Iraq is preferable to inaction. If the U.S. steps back after it poured over ten thousand troops into the Middle East, this will lead to irreparable failure of U.S power in the world. This is the power today that guarantees peace and economomic prosperity to western countries and emerging markets. Without a strong U.S., the world will be a much more chaotic place with many more people suffering and dying. Many more dictators would be running around unchecked.

The challenges of a war against terrorism are linked with the battle against weapons of mass destruction in the hands of blood thirsty and irresponsible regimes and leaders such as Iraq and North Korea. These are countries which the U.S. State Dept. views as sponsors of terrorism. Just as in WWII, in the battle against Hitler and imperial Japan, it is sometimes hard to face these challenges. It is sometimes difficult for our allies to stand with us as was the case of France and Russia failing to face Adolf Hitler initially. If the U.S fails the cause of freedom itself will fail. Therefore, failure is not an option.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2002 The Washington Post Company


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