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March 21, 2003

The Arab Coalition

Dennis Ross writes about a new Arab view of the attack on Saddam
While many European leaders remain deeply fearful of the fallout from a war with Iraq, many Arab leaders in the Middle East began several weeks ago to adjust to what they perceive to be a new reality. They stopped trying to prevent the war and instead began signalling that they wanted neither to be on the wrong side of the conflict nor on the wrong side of the U.S. -- or our broader agenda in the region.

Consider Egypt's press, which has been emphasizing that Saddam Hussein is bringing the conflict on himself. In his trip to Berlin, Hosni Mubarak emphasized to his hosts that it was time to get the conflict over and remove Saddam. In Washington, a high-level Egyptian delegation made it clear recently that they would not oppose us and, in anticipation of our emphasis after the war, also suggested that Egypt did have a serious, if measured, approach to internal reform.

The Saudis, though more circumspect on the war, have also indicated a greater willingness to permit U.S. operations out of the kingdom during the conflict. Crown Prince Abdullah is now openly calling for a new charter on reform to be adopted by the Arab League. Both the Egyptians and Saudis seem to have anticipated President Bush's speech in which he proclaimed that the liberation of Iraq might be a springboard to broader transformations in the region. And both seem to see the way the wind is blowing in the area -- and they intend, at least tactically, to be on the right side of those winds.

They are not the only ones. Jordan publicly announced that an American contingent would come to the country to man Patriot missile batteries. Can anyone doubt that the Jordanian government was making a statement about where it was lining up in the event of war with Iraq? Contrast this posture with Jordan's posture during the Gulf War 12 years ago.

Syria's behavior is even more surprising. Not only has it been restraining Hezbollah of late, but as if to convey that it will not be a problem, Syria has withdrawn 4,000 troops from Lebanon.

What is going on? The political culture in the region has always put a premium on power and adjusted to it. The Arab leaders in the Middle East have accepted that we will go to war and that Saddam will be removed. For them, it is a given.

Does that mean that we don't face hostility from the so-called Arab street? No, but it means that no one is out there defending Saddam. And it also means that the anger -- though genuine -- was bound in some ways to become more pronounced at the point when our buildup to war was increasing, when the anticipation of the Iraqi people paying a terrible price was most acute, and yet when the results of the war could only be an abstraction.[more]