- The Washington Times - Monday, October 21, 2002

AMMAN, Jordan.
As the only American and non-Arab at the same luncheon table with King Abdullah II, two former Jordanian prime ministers, the head of theDiwan (Royal Court), the Air Force chief (who is the king's younger brother) and two prominent Arab international businessmen, one gets a fairly accurate idea of how the leadership of a close friend of the United States thinks about the gathering storm in the Middle East.
The consensus that emerged from private exchanges around the table and in subsequent conversations covered these main points:
A U.S. war against Iraq is now a given. United Nations proceedings are a charade that gives the United States time to get its strategic assets in place throughout the region. This should be done by Dec. 15 and the war is expected to begin early in the New Year.
The hope is that the war will be short no more than 10 days but the fear is that a "siege of Baghdad" will take longer with unforeseen consequences, and that Saddam, seeing his days numbered, will set fire to the oil fields as he did in Kuwait 11 years ago. Jordan is between Iraq and a hard place the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The country cannot afford a two-front war. Jordan gets 60 percent of its oil free from Iraq and the rest bartered for vegetables.
The inevitable U.S. victory must be followed up by a determined U.S. effort to nail down a lasting two-state solution finally to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian war of attrition.
Jordan's biggest worry is that Saddam Hussein will manage to fire one or two Scud missiles tipped with a chemical warhead of mass destruction into an Israeli city. This, in turn, would free Israel from its obligation to the Bush administration not to intervene against Iraq. Muslim masses the world over would then perceive a common U.S.-Israeli front against yet another Muslim country.
Coupled with this fear is what is called "Sharon's transfer dream" shorthand for Israel availing itself of the opportunity of the new crisis to turn Jordan into a de facto Palestinian state by expelling tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank to the east bank of the Jordan River. While the Israelis have privately assured Jordan that this is contrary to their policies, the Jordanians are yet to see a single public statement by any Israeli official stating as much. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has long held the conviction that Jordan whose population is already 60 percent Palestinian will one day become a Palestinian state. Only decisive U.S. action after the coming war on Iraq can prevent the emergence of the Mideast equivalent of a Native American Indian reservation in the West Bank.
Jordan's perception of Mr. Sharon's "Israelification" strategy in the West Bank is to transform the present situation of Jewish islands (settlements) in a sea of Palestinians into Palestinian islands in a sea of Israelis.
The Jordanian army has been deployed along the border with the West Bank and along a desert frontier with Iraq with orders not to let in any refugees. Some 400,000 Iraqis already live in Jordan (out of a population of 5 million), and about 200,000 Palestinians have crossed into Jordan since Intifada II started two years ago. No new refugee camps will be allowed inside Jordan's borders. Jordanians well remember that during the 1990-91 Desert Shield/Storm period, Jordan was overrun by 1.5 million people fleeing Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
The Bush administration's ambitions to transform Iraq into a democratic Garden of Eden that would then become the lodestar for the region is a self-delusional mirage. There is little realization in Washington that democracy would make the region even more anti-American than it already is by giving free rein to Islamist fundamentalist extremists. One-man-one-vote-one-time would bring to power the kind of extremists that almost took over Algeria a decade ago and where some 100,000 have been killed in the civil war that followed.
Jordan now has 30 political parties with a total membership of 10,000. With free elections tentatively scheduled next spring, King Abdullah is encouraging political mergers to narrow the field down to three right, left and center. The result of the Oct. 10 elections in Pakistan should be a wake-up call to America's democratic dreamers. Despite the rigging, anti-U.S. fundamentalists scored big and captured the Northwest Frontier province that borders Afghanistan and its capital city of Peshawar and where some Taliban and al Qaeda personnel have been lying low since last December.
Ahmed Chalabi, the titular head of the London-based Iraqi opposition, does not have a chance if a liberated multi-ethnic Iraq is to remain a unitary state. An Iraqi "Karzai" someone in a role like the Afghan president could not hold Iraq together in one piece. This would have to be the job of an Iraqi general under a U.S. proconsul. But, the Jordanians ask, does America have the staying power for the kind of nation-building that will require at least a decade or more of focused effort?
Like Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, a successor state in Iraq could not function without the cadres of the previous regime. Some 150,000 people in Saddam's dreaded secret police cannot suddenly be excluded, or they will drift into the ranks of a terrorist underground.
No one will be sorry to see Saddam go down in flames. Everyone remembers how Saddam, at the height of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88) with hundreds of thousands already killed on both sides, told his Cabinet he was thinking of stepping aside temporarily while one of his ministers negotiated a cease-fire. "I will be in the background and will, of course, return after the end of hostilities." The new minister of health, Riyadh Ibrahim, a close family friend who had been Saddam's doctor, said he thought it was a meritorious idea. Saddam went up to him, unholstered his sidearm, and shot him dead between the eyes.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and for United Press International.

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