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Mr. President Doesn’t Like Advice

Mr. President Doesn’t Like Advice

Monday, 9 January, 2023 - 10:30
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Sometimes the decision-maker rejects golden advice that could have saved peoples and maps and prevented the waste of a sea of blood and waves of refugees. The danger increases when it comes to the head of a superpower that relies on a mighty arsenal.


The problem with rational voices is that they are often not heard by the decision-maker, especially in sharp turns and during the search for an opportunity for revenge. This is what happened on the sidelines of a NATO summit held in Prague in November 2002. Then-French President Jacques Chirac was worried about the amalgam of black clouds that could justify an American invasion of Iraq.


He sat in front of George Bush Jr. and told him honest words that predicted the coming years.


Chirac said that war will strike stability in the region, and that one of its results will be bringing the pro-Iran Shiites to power in Baghdad, and strengthening Tehran’s influence in Damascus and Lebanon through Hezbollah.


He added that such war will not be legitimate, but will create a rift within the international community and will destroy the credibility of the West. It will also cause chaos that will unleash a wave of terrorism, which will be difficult to control, according to the French president.


Bush showed no willingness to listen to the advice. America was wounded by the September 11 attacks, and the US president’s advisers viewed France as an old, servile country.


This account is taken from a book by Maurice Gourdault-Montagne, who was a diplomatic advisor to Chirac, and also assumed the position of Secretary-General of Foreign Affairs.


There is no need to mention the evidence that confirms the accuracy of Chirac’s predictions and his knowledge of the historical balances in the region, which did not convince the hawks of the US administration and the neoconservatives.


Chirac’s words reminded me of what I heard from a man who served at the Iraqi presidential palace during the era of Saddam Hussein.


He said that Tariq Aziz arrived late to dinner, with an angry face. He was the fourth person at the dinner that was held at the house of Ahmed Hussein, the head of the Presidential Court.


Aziz was aware that silence meant safety, but he could smell the catastrophe. He wanted to make sure in front of his friends that he had no contribution in rushing it over.


He told the attendees that Iraq’s senior officials met under the leadership of Saddam Hussein (eight days after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait). The annexation of Kuwait to Iraq to become the nineteenth governorate was brought up during the meeting.


The “president’s men” rushed to welcome the proposal. Aziz said that as foreign minister, he had drawn attention to the consequences that could result from the annexation of a member state of the United Nations, and that the West would take advantage of the move to turn international public opinion against Iraq and pave the way for targeting it.


Some of those present said that America and Israel did not respect international law. Aziz explained that Iraq was a country of modest size and could be harmed, while America is a big country.


Aziz saw that the senior officials did not like his words at all; instead, they tried to stir the leader’s anger against him. So he refrained from saying anything else.


Consequently, Kuwait was annexed to Iraq.


The truth is that Tariq Aziz was one of the “president’s men”, but he knew the world and the balance of power in it. He was hoping that if his advice was taken into account, he would move later to put forward the idea of withdrawing from Kuwait before the storm of war broke out.


The dinner guests realized the seriousness of what they had heard. The host asked Aziz about the expected result, and he contented himself with saying: “Only God knows...” The dinner was difficult and gloomy, and Aziz left with the feeling that the boat was sinking.


In the fall of 2021, American agencies gathered information about Russian military preparations near the borders of Ukraine. Washington feared that President Vladimir Putin might be on his way to strike Ukraine. President Joe Biden dispatched CIA Director William Burns to Moscow with something like an advice and warning.


Burns conveyed the message to the master of the Kremlin. Washington advised not to strike Ukraine or to intervene militarily in its territory, warning that it would not tolerate such an attack.


Putin did not take Burns’ advice seriously. On February 24, 2022, Moscow launched the “special military operation”, and the Ukrainian war ignited, which turned into a duel between the Russian and NATO arsenals.


It would be interesting if one day we read something similar to what Chirac said to Bush Jr., and what Tariq Aziz told the Iraqi leadership meeting. Was the position of Sergey Lavrov - who supposedly knows how to read the world balance - similar to Aziz’s?


Did he, being one of the “president’s men,” avoid angering the other comrades who were closest to the master of the Kremlin? Did anyone advise against invading Ukraine and warn of the consequences?


It is no exaggeration to say that we are at the beginning of the most dangerous year since World War II. Russia’s stability is vital to its surroundings and to the world.


No one has an interest in a turbulent Russia, where parts of its map can disperse, similar to what happened to the Soviet Union.


Russia is an ancient and large country, and the stability of the world cannot be established without its stability. Most likely, it will win the war if it is prolonged, taking advantage of the internal American contradictions and European fragility.


But what would Russia gain if it annexed Ukrainian provinces and awakened the sleeping “mines” within its territory?


Iraq paid the price for Saddam’s “mother of all battles”. The Middle East paid the price for the Bush “mother of battles”. We do not want the world to pay the price for Putin’s “mother of battles.”


It is true that Putin is not Bush Jr. or Saddam Hussein, but what is frightening is to discover, what is true in more than one place, that the President does not like advice.


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