Jordan's King May Rule Post-War Iraq
by William O. Beeman
February 23, 2003
A recently revealed document suggests that until recently, regime change in Iraq was considered not as a U.S. security issue, but as an Israeli one. PNS commentator William O. Beeman looks at the ill-advised plan.
In September 2002, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Vice President Dick Cheney reportedly suggested that a post-war Iraq be unified with Jordan into a "Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and Iraq." The story was dismissed by many Middle East experts as a wild rumor. However, the rumor has surfaced again, and it is given new credence by the revelation of a document written in 1996 by Bush White House policy makers now associated with Wolfowitz and Cheney.
The possibility that Iraq could be ruled by the Royal Family of Jordan in the future gives new meaning to the frequently used term "regime change."
It is admittedly impossible to determine whether the Bush administration will ever adopt this improbable scheme, but the fact that it is seriously discussed in the corridors of power in Washington must make thoughtful Americans seriously question the competence of those conducting the war effort.
In 1996, incoming Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu solicited foreign policy advice for his government from a group of U.S. policy-makers. The document, entitled "A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm," recommended the incoming prime minister make a clean break with the past. The group saw Syria as the principal threat to Israel. The policy-makers wrote: "Israel can shape its strategic environment in cooperation with Turkey and Jordan, by weakening, containing and even rolling back Syria. This effort can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq -- an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right -- as a means of foiling Syria's regional ambitions."
The authors of the report included Richard Perle, now chairman of the Defense Science Board; Douglas Feith, now U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy; and David Wurmser, author of "Tyranny's Ally: America's Failure to Defeat Saddam Hussein," and director of Middle East Studies of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.
The surprise in this report is the almost dismissive manner in which Saddam Hussein is mentioned. It is as if he poses little danger in comparison to the Syrian threat. The authors talk of his removal from power in an almost cavalier manner, and the idea that Iraq could be simply absorbed into Jordan is an offhand remark: "Since Iraq's future could affect the strategic balance in the Middle East profoundly, it would be understandable that Israel has an interest in supporting the Hashemites in their efforts to redefine Iraq..."
The plan to "redefine" Iraq into a Jordanian province was revised by Wolfowitz and Cheney last year. After the death of King Hussein in 1999, they suggested giving Iraq to Hussein's brother, Crown Prince Hassan, who had been deprived of the throne in Amman on Hussein's deathbed in favor of his son Abdullah. This was discussed in July 2002 in a meeting between Hassan and Iraqi opposition leaders. Since King Faisal II of Iraq, who was deposed in 1958, was a Hashemite and the second cousin of King Abdullah, this move was seen as having some vague potential legitimacy with the Arab leadership.
The Hashemite plan has numerous flaws. Most important, the Hashemites are a family rooted in what is now Saudi Arabia. They are descendents of the sharif of the holy city of Mecca, who was rewarded by the British for authorizing Arabs to fight their Muslim brethren in the Ottoman Empire in World War I by having his son made king of these two completely new nations, Jordan and Iraq. People in the region, even Jordanians, still consider them foreign interlopers. Apparently, the plan also paid no attention to the Kurds, Turkomen and Shiites of Iraq who would certainly reject rule by King Abdullah or Crown Prince Hassan completely, even if they were allowed autonomy or even separate states. Such a state would undoubtedly fail in a paroxysm of civil discord more dangerous than the current state of affairs.
But the most serious political problem with the Hashemite scheme is how wildly different it is from current strategies used to sell the Iraqi war to the world. Far from presenting Iraq's destruction as a mere ploy in a strategy to weaken Syria, the White House team members now present Saddam Hussein as the chief evil in the region. White House rhetoric noticeably downplays those things that will not play well with the American public: nation-building, the creation of new monarchical rule instead of democratic institutions in the region and the fact that Israel reaps the primary advantages from Iraq's elimination.
The Bush administration has never revealed or discussed the 1996 document. Little wonder -- consideration of American interests in the region were totally left out of it and its subsequent manifestations. This poses the difficult question as to how seriously those questions are being considered today.
William O. Beeman teaches anthropology and is director of Middle East Studies at Brown University. He has lived and conducted research in the region for over 30 years. Email: William_beeman@brown.edu. This article may be freely distributed for any non-commercial purpose. For commercial use, please contact the writer or Pacific News Service.