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Iraq's Neighbor Prepares for War

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Iraq’s neighbor prepares for war

Jordan, a key U.S. ally seeks to persuade wary citizens to support Iraq battle plans

ANALYSIS

By Paul Nassar

NBC NEWS PRODUCER

AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 8 — The image itself could not be simpler, yet the message that it tries to convey is steeped in the complexities of the political landscape of the Middle East: The raised Jordanian flag, upheld by the arms of several of its citizens is splashed time and again all over the country. The slogan “Jordan First” is a way of preparing this kingdom’s population for what the government here deems inevitable: another Gulf War.

NO COUNTRY IS more precariously placed in this potential clash than Jordan. Sandwiched as it is by Israel and the Palestinian territories on one end, and Iraq on the other, the kingdom finds itself literally being squeezed between the two major political issues that plague the region. With more than 60 percent of its population of Palestinian descent, and its economy heavily reliant on the import of cheap Iraqi oil, Jordanians could not be blamed for feeling that they will pay a heavy price, no matter what the political developments are in the next few months.

As in other parts of the Arab world, many Jordanians strongly question the foreign policy of the current U.S. administration. Many believe that President Bush’s war on terrorism is nothing more than a declaration of war on the whole Arabic and Islamic world. This sense of anti-Americanism has increased in recent months, and many have attributed the recent murder of an American diplomat in Amman to individuals or groups who thrive on such views.

U.S. ASSISTANCE WELCOMED

Most Jordanians, however, are equally aware that the United States has become an an increasingly important financial backer, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars in an effort to revive its economy. Jordan has become the fourth largest recipient of U.S. financial and military aid in the world.

The hardening of U.S. policy since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last year has also highlighted the benefits of being in the world’s sole superpower’s good books. Yet many here are skeptical about supporting policies that they believe will harm their Arab neighbors, be they Palestinian or Iraqi.

The slogan "Jordan First" on countless public advertisements is a way of preparing this kingdom's population for what the government deems inevitable: another Gulf War.

It is to these skeptics that the Jordanian government is reaching out, laying the groundwork for a possible policy shift. The monarch and his government have stressed in recent days that the campaign is not aimed at washing their hands of the problems that afflict their Arab neighbors.

Rather, the king himself stated to his prime minister in an open letter that “Jordan First” is a working plan meant to “mould Jordanian men and women in a unified social fiber that promotes their sense of loyalty to their homeland, and pride in their Jordanian, Arab, and Islamic identity in a climate of freedom, democracy, pluralism tolerance and social justice.” Unmentioned in the letter, published in The Jordan Times last week, is why the sense of patriotism needs to be promoted in the first place.

POLITICAL NO-MAN’S LAND

Back in 1990-1991, the then King Hussein of Jordan — undoubtedly one of the most moderate leaders in the Arab world — could not bring himself to support military action against Iraq in order to liberate Kuwait. It is not that Hussein approved of the Iraqi invasion. Rather, his belief was that his population would not turn against Saddam Hussein given the Iraqi leader’s strong support for the Palestinian cause.

Hussein’s Jordan paid a heavy price, with hundreds of thousands of Jordanians being forced to leave the newly liberated Kuwait, despite many having spent decades in that country playing a crucial part in its development. The influx of so many Jordanians back into the country, coupled with being frozen out by the U.S. administration for not being “on side,” led to the economy spiraling downward into a recession from which the kingdom has yet to fully recover. Jordan did not begin its journey back from the cold until a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 confirmed its moderate policies in the eyes of the West.

It is in an effort to prevent being swept back into the political no-man’s-land that the current Jordanian government is attempting to lay the groundwork for a new policy, one that is based firmly in the interests of Jordan itself, and not those of the Arab world as a whole. The current stand of this government is one that mirrors most Arab states, whereby the current monarch, King Abdullah II, is calling for a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis.

ABDULLAH’S CHALLENGE

This king, however, is not willing to repeat the mistakes of the early 1990s. Should war become inevitable, as many in this region believe, then it seems likely that his government will eventually actively support the military action against Iraq. Though Abdullah recognizes that this move will be unpopular with large sections of his population, he hopes that by putting “Jordan First” he will be able to prevent the economic downturn that followed the last Gulf War, as well to keep Jordan firmly within the respectable international society.

The extent to which Jordan will lean toward U.S. policy is still uncertain. The United States has set up bases in the Jordanian desert where it has carried out multiple military training exercises in recent months. Whether the Jordanians will be active participants in any attack against Saddam, or whether they will merely allow for U.S. troops to use Jordanian territory in its activities against Iraq is still undetermined.

What is certain, however, is that the Jordanian government wants to prevent a repeat of events following the first Gulf War. In promoting his “Jordan First” policy, Abdullah hopes to convince enough of his population to swallow what for many can only be described as the bitterest of pills: the support, tacit or otherwise, of American military action against a fellow Arab state.

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