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Last Updated: Monday, 14 November 2005, 13:56 GMT
Bombs made Jordan's fears a reality
John Simpson
By John Simpson
BBC World Affairs Editor

Jordanians at a peace rally in Amman
The Amman bombings have shaken Jordan
The bombings in the Jordanian capital, Amman, last week provided King Abdullah with a melancholy victory - the kind he certainly did not want.

In 2002, during the run-up to the US invasion of neighbouring Iraq, he warned the US that Jordan might suffer from a wave of anger and violence if Saddam Hussein were overthrown.

King Abdullah, like his father King Hussein before him, is a quiet, resolute, loyal man: a good and thoughtful ally, and not at all the kind of man whose views should be swept aside without thinking.

But they were.

Strategy

The prevailing view in the White House and the Department of Defense was that the invasion of Iraq would begin a process by which democracy would spread fast throughout the Middle East.

Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the second and third most senior figures in the Pentagon at the time, assured the president that people like King Abdullah were simply suffering the equivalent of pre-match nerves.

King Abdullah of Jordan
Jordan's king has been a strong US ally and supporter of the Iraq war

Once the dominoes started falling, they said, no-one would remember the previous anxieties.

But it was King Abdullah, and not Mr Wolfowitz or Mr Feith, who got it right.

And it will not be much of a solace to the king to recall that both men have been eased out of their jobs in the administration of President George W Bush.

Just one domino has fallen so far.

That was Lebanon, which this year managed to get rid of the Syrian military presence that has stifled the country for years.

It was certainly an achievement, though it was won only because its former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, was murdered in a huge car-bombing in February.

High risk

The demonstrations which forced the Syrians out were certainly a reminder of the revolutions which brought democracy to Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe in 1989.

But any spark of hope in the White House that this was the start of a process quickly died away.

King Abdullah understood... no-one wants democracy to be foisted on them by outsiders

Neither Mr Wolfowitz nor Mr Feith, as they urged President Bush on to invade Iraq, seemed to reflect that the Middle East and Eastern Europe might be different in kind.

Anyone who suggested that the circumstances were not the same in Iraq was silenced: do you really mean, the pro-invasionists would say, that the Arab world is not ready for democracy?

King Abdullah understood what was wrong with that argument - no-one wants democracy to be foisted on them by outsiders.

By overthrowing Saddam, he said, the Americans would endanger Iraq's ultra-fragile stability, and risk spreading the violence to Jordan.

The Americans have long believed that King Abdullah and his father underestimated the strength of their own position.

Falluja link

True, that position has proved to be remarkably enduring.

In January 1991, at the start of the first Gulf War, I sat at dinner with King Hussein, and listened as he spoke in gloomy terms about his likely future.

He seemed to expect that he would have to flee Jordan and spend the rest of his life on his estate outside London.

Police guard the body of a victim of the Amman hotel suicide bombings
Many Jordanians had assumed they were safe

Instead, of course, King Hussein lived out his life peacefully in Jordan, and his death was marked by a huge outpouring of affection and grief.

King Abdullah, his son, has managed to maintain that support for the monarchy, while edging the country towards greater democracy.

But it is a difficult and delicate process.

Last week's bombs in Amman, which killed 57 people, have shown how vulnerable Jordan is to the kind of violence which has become a daily reality in Iraq.

The US newspaper publisher Knight Ridder, which is one of the best sources of information there, reports that one of the suicide bombers involved in the attacks, Safaa Mohammed Ali, seems to have been captured a year ago by US marines in Falluja.

He was then released because he seemed to pose no threat to security.

Ali was captured in the same mosque in Falluja where a cameraman filmed a US marine shooting dead a wounded prisoner.

That, according to Knight Ridder's investigation, increased his hatred of the US.

Fragile hopes

It is precisely the kind of story which King Abdullah and his advisers can point to as evidence for their deep anxieties about the region.

If, as now seems likely, British and US forces pull out of Iraq either mostly or completely by the end of next year, it takes a real optimist to believe that the fighting there will quickly come to an end.

The Iraqi government thinks, or wants to think, that the resistance draws its support and its force from the fact that foreign troops patrol the streets of Iraq's towns and cities, and are involved in daily acts of confrontation and violence with ordinary Iraqis - the kind of thing which helped turn Safaa Mohammed Ali into a suicide bomber.

If there are no foreign troops in Iraq, the argument goes, then Iraqis can sort out their problems between themselves.

King Abdullah knows that, either way, the next year or so will be a difficult time for his country and his government.

He certainly does not want Jordan to become the Cambodia of this war.

Having been ignored and proved right, all he can do now is to hope for the best.


Do you agree with John Simpson's views? Has the Iraq war made Jordan more vulnerable? Will the country suffer from more attacks?

Your comments:

T, from England, hit the nail on the head: whoever "are allowed to get on with making things better one school and hospital at a time." Surely this is not about Kings or the commonfolk: it's about people. It must also be an argument about life rather than death. If people live, and breathe, and love, and argue and have the generosity of dissent, without the murder and horror, then they have the chance to be human. Because then they have a future and their children have a future - free of their parent's folly and hatred and murder, wherever they are from.
Peter, Melbourne, Australia

I agree with John Simpson. Definitely the war in Iraq has made Jordan more vulnerable. It's likely to get worse as the militants see it as a safe haven for westerns who work in Iraq but live in Jordan.
Ade Ajala, Lagos, Nigeria

John Simpson typically neglects to say that 64% of the electorate turned out in the latest Iraqi elections - significantly above the turn out figures for the UK and most other western democracies - hardly the sign of a people having democracy forced on them by outsiders.
Don Constable, Market Drayton Shropshire

I've never been in favor of the war in Iraq. And I agree that democracy can't be forced on people and that the insurgency in Iraq was to be expected. However, this article makes it seem like the attack in Jordan was a logical result of the war. I fail to see the logic of killing innocent Jordanians as a means of ending the US-led occupation. Last week's attack was a wasted effort. If Iraqi violence continues to spill into Jordan, it will do so to nobody's advantage. I believe it is important to condemn these attacks as the foolish, powerless acts they are rather than pretending there is a method to this madness.
Jim, NJ, USA

As always John Simpson presents a very clear synopsis of the situation in Jordan and Iraq. I have had the opportunity over the years to visit a number of Arab states in the Gulf region, North Africa, Lebanon and Syria during the 50s through to the 80s. I have also worked with and become friends with a number of Arab colleagues. I can honestly say that I have always been treated in a friendly and courteous manner by those with whom I came into contact. I do find that there is a tendency in the UK to approach the "Arab World" as if it was one homogeneous mass rather than a number of different countries each with its own identity, culture, manners and governmental system. Do we adopt a similar approach to Europe? I don't think so. King Abdulla and the Jordanian people deserve our help and assistance at this time and his knowledge and understanding of the region should receive careful consideration
Gerrard Brown, Wickford, Essex, UK

John Simpson may well be wrong and he should perhaps, as a BBC journalist, keep his comments more evenly balanced. Only time will tell for sure. But do note that terrorists were at work long before the invasion of Iraq. It may well be, as I believe, that Iraq's destabilising effect on the Middle East (Iran war, Kuwait invasion) and the rise of militant Islam posed a serious long term threat to us. To wait until the problems were overpoweringly strong would have been a serious mistake. Dealing with the threat from Iraq and attempting to help bring democracy to the Middle East may well prove to be the right course.
Mike Bowden, Twickenham, England

I agree. Not only Jordan but the rest of the world is now more threatened than ever. Imperialism is imperialism, whether or not it is hidden behind the guise of democracy (Which, when brought about by the people, is a good thing, but when forced on the people from the outside, will likely have a negative effect). ALL countries will suffer from more attacks, and we may be riding on a train that has no brakes. Nuff said.
Joe4, Boise, ID USA

John Simpson has hit the nail on the head again with this article. Jordan is to be admired for the way in which it has maintained its position in the Middle East. This is due in no small part to King Hussein who was an outstanding leader for his people and now to his son King Abdullah an equally charismatic man and leader. He, like his father before him, is trying to balance so many conflicting issues both nationally and within the region as a whole. They deserve better of their allies at least they deserve credit for knowing what they are talking about when it comes to dealing with the issues. The single minded, doctrinaire and inflexible attitude of the US Government is doing much to undermine one of the best friends in the region that they have.
Tom Hanna, Liptovsky Mikulas, Slovakia

I can only hope that King Abdullah's council carries more weight now that it can be seen that his foresight then matched our hindsight now
T, England
Having met the then Crown Prince Abdullah very briefly in my work, I can only add to Mr Simpson's portrait by describing him as a gentle, intelligent and deeply committed man who is more interested in giving power away than in retaining it. He also thinks of progress in terms of years and decades. The contrast with our 'democracy by next weekend' Western leaders could not be more stark. I am deeply upset that Jordan, a country of warm and kind people that I came to love during my stay there, is now being dragged into this horrid exercise in empire building and sabre rattling. I can only hope that King Abdullah's council carries more weight now that it can be seen that his foresight then matched our hindsight now. It's not too late to pull the region back from the brink, but only if the King Abdullahs of the world are allowed to get on with making things better one school and hospital at a time.
T, England

I agree very much with the views of Mr Simpson, the Iraq war has not just made Jordan more vulnerable but directly the Middle East and indirectly virtually all participating countries. Democracy cannot be imposed by another state. It must be realised by the people of that state, and, it is a grave folly of the US & the coalition to have entered into a conflict which is not transparent in its objectives, legally dubious and requiring a long term commitment to the region as a whole, supporting and more importantly listening to the views of experienced State leaders such as King Abdullah about the fragile circumstances surrounding any conflicts.
Ben Blunt, London UK

Has Iraq made Jordan more vulnerable? The explosion of the Iraqi Tinderbox has made the whole region more vulnerable. The chances of conflagration into a regional Middle East War are increasing by the day. All this is thanks to America's Imperial Hubris, despite the vocal voices worldwide warning of such consequences.
Atif Raja, London, UK

In 1967 Jordan got burned badly and since than developed the high art of diplomacy. Now King Abdullah is following the footsteps of the late King Hussein. His Western education pays off really well: he knows how to talk to the West. Unfortunately he has not been taken seriously, but I do not think the blame should be laid on his doorstep. Jordan became a major beneficiary of the head-on-rush to the war in Iraq lacking appropriate exit strategy. Jordan is a major ally and the softest target in the region. Harsh Jordanian economic with frightfully high unemployment rate does not help things either. I only pray that morale will be stronger than temptation so Al-Qaeda 'missionaries' will fail to recruit new members among Jordanians.
Mary McCannon, Budapest, Hungary

I understand that the continuing involvement and occupying of any sovereign country by foreign regimes will destabilise the region and nobody will disagree with that, whether you are European, American , Asian or anybody else. So if you really want peace and stability, the first thing to do is to pull out the occupying troops from Iraq. Election or constitution or any other measures will work only when this is done.
M.Kuni, Riyadh - KSA

It is clear that Bush's invasion of Iraq was an idiotic thing to do, unless you are an agency profiting monetarily. Everyone seems to be affected in an adverse way of some kind from it. "King Abdullah understood what was wrong with that argument - no-one wants democracy to be foisted on them by outsiders." I totally agree with this statement by the late King, and I have made this same statement many times since the Bush administration has said it is going to put a democratic government in Iraq. The Iraq situation is different from Viet Nam, but it is just as stupid.
William Bright, Lexingtom, NC, USA

Of course invading Iraq has made Jordan more vulnerable. Jordan, all the other neighbouring countries, England, the United States, every country in the world has been made more vulnerable by the reckless, immoral invasion and subsequent occupation of a sovereign nation. How could anyone, anywhere, ever have thought any differently?
Samuel Bradshaw, Portsmouth, UK

Agree absolutely. How the West, in particular the gun ho US, could so casually blind itself to King Abdullah's concerns beggars belief. The self inflated egos that exist in the West and which profess to know what is good and best for the Middle East as so far away from where they need to be. Historically we, the West, have let the Middle East down repeatedly. The concerns of Lawrence of Arabia with regards the Middle Eastern map carve up were ignored. We knew best. We didn't then and we don't now. Dialogue is the only hope for the Middle East. Violence only serves to fuel violence.
Simon Pearson, Harrogate - UK

Well it is hardly surprising that Simpson and the BBC are crowing at the neo-cons mistakes. After all Abdullah's father was installed by the British and his country represents the results of British foreign policy over the past decades. To see him replaced as a result of US inspired democracy would be a slap in the face for Whitehall mandarins.
H Ali, UK

What a great article! Yes, I agree completely, and can only pray that George Bush himself will also read it and learn.
Chris Olsen, Duncan, Canada

Why was it only the White House and its stooges in Downing St that could not see the obvious? Taking an indefensible western invasion to a hugely volatile area could only ever result in the domino effect going in the opposite way to that desired - i.e. massive unrest and Islamic fundamentalism spreading into the more "stable" and western friendly states.
Mike, Ascot England

The Iraqi 'war' has made the whole world more vulnerable. Even more so for Jordan because of its geographical position & long-time more modern & "Westernised" outlook. I hope for the best for King Abdullah & his people, but won't be at all surprised if they suffer more attacks in the future.
Sheena, N. Ireland

Excellent piece by John Simpson. King Abdullah is a good man in a bad world. Jordan surrounded by its neighbours is very much an oasis in the desert of chaos. We can only hope Jordan can come through this with out becoming as John Simpson says the next Cambodia.
Paul Galley, Manchester

The people of Iraq are choosing their own kind of democracy
Thomas Betham, London, UK
John Simpson is wrong. Democracy is not being foisted upon Iraq. The people of Iraq are choosing their own kind of democracy. Having already elected an interim government and most recently agreed a constitution the people sill soon elect their own legitimate government. As a friend of the US Jordan would always have been a target, just like Saudi Arabia. It is too simplistic to suggest the Iraq war has increased terrorism. The first Bali bombing in 2002, allegedly for Australia's involvement in East Timor's independence, proves the error of such simple causes and effect thinking. The world of terrorism is much more complex.
Thomas Betham, London, UK

I now do agree with John Simpson's about face. I, and many others, said from the outset that no one will accept democracy, or anything else, forced upon them by outsiders. However John Simpson did not initially agree, he was more or less in accord with the government's line. His current stance is a complete about face, doubtless due to the hindsight of constantly emerging events to the contrary of his original stance. It is not that many months ago that I, on several occasions, submitted to this forum my complete disagreement with John Simpson. My point of view/opinions have not changed events are proving those of us that said this is how it would be where/are correct.
DRL, Milton Keynes, UK






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