Politics & Policy

Jordan’s Choice

Taking the right side this time.

Grim but determined. This was the impression that Jordan’s King Abdallah II gave the other day during an informal breakfast with some journalists at Davos, Switzerland.

“It would take a miracle to prevent war, now,” the king said. As a military man he knows that one cannot bring a quarter of a million troops from the other side of the world and then take them back without having changed the status quo. “Whatever we might do to prevent war may now prove to be too little, too late,” he said.

Apart from Iraq itself, no country is likely to be as affected by the looming war than Jordan. Jordan gets all of its oil needs, some 90,000 barrels a day, from Iraq at cut-rate prices. It also earns almost $1 billion a year from exports and transit rights to Iraq. Jordan is also home to an estimated 400,000 Iraqis whose lives are bound to change whatever the outcome of the war. It is obvious that the young king has pondered his options with care.

One option is to imitate his late father, King Hussein, and publicly stand on the side of Saddam Hussein. But the young king knows that it took Jordan five difficult years before it repaired the damage done to its relations with the United States, and its moderate Arab allies, in the 1990s.

That option is even less attractive for another reason. In 1991, when King Hussein sided with Iraq there was no question of a regime change in Iraq. There is no reason why Jordan should back a horse that is sure to lose.

The second option is for Jordan to play a double game: to be against the war in public but actively take part in it behind the scenes.

That option, too, is unattractive for two reasons. First, something like taking part in a war, in one way or another, cannot be kept secret for long. At the same time, the eventual victor is unlikely to respect an ally who tried to hedge its bets.

Anyone who watched the Jordanian king at Davos would notice the popularity he enjoys within the global elite. ” From our point of view, he is the perfect Muslim head of state,” says Professor Karl Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum. Not surprisingly, the young king and his wife, Queen Rania, have become permanent features at the forum and presented as “representatives of the Muslim world.” In fact, Queen Rania has just been named a member of the permanent council of the forum.

The king has chosen what he regards as the best option not only for Jordan but also for the Arabs as a whole. If and — as it now seems — when the war comes, the Hashemite kingdom will be on the side of the U.S.-led coalition.

In exchange, Jordan seeks more than mere kudos in Washington. The U.S. has already arranged for Kuwait to supply Jordan with the oil it needs to replace the Iraqi supplies that might be cut off for a while. Washington has also increased its military aid for this year, from $75 to $450 million. In addition, agreement has been reached in principle to compensate Jordan for losses it might sustain for the duration of the campaign to change the Iraqi regime.

Jordan is demanding more, especially in political terms. It wants to have a say in shaping the future regime in Baghdad. The king expects the U.S. to establish military rule for a maximum of two years during which Iraqi political parties and personalities will prepare the draft of a new constitution.

The king wants the option of restoring monarchy in Baghdad to be one of the choices offered to the Iraqi people in a constitutional referendum. The hope is that, if the Iraqis vote for restoration, a member of the Hashemite family will be placed on the throne. But even if monarchy is not restored, it is clear that the future Iraqi regime would regard Jordan as its closest friend and ally, if only because it is one of the few Arab states to take side in favor of change in Baghdad.

But, perhaps, the biggest concession that Jordan appears to have obtained from Washington, in exchange for its support, is a promise to work for the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of 2005.

The king has hammered in one key message: The new Middle East, of which President George W. Bush has been talking, will not be possible without a Palestinian state on the map.

Jordan’s choice may draw the ire of self-styled Pan-Arabists. But the tiny desert kingdom is practicing the only version of power politics it is capable of. It has chosen to strengthen its strategic alliance with the United States and Britain. It has adopted capitalism, complete with membership of the World Trade Organization, and seems irrevocably committed to developing a Western-style political system.

Throughout the forum, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher acted as a passionate defender of the United States at a time when it seemed to be everyone’s favorite punching bag. In exchange the kingdom hopes to emerge from the coming Iraq war, if not with all the gains it hopes for, at least without big losses

Amir Taheri is author of The Cauldron: The Middle East behind the headlines. Taheri is reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.


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