It’s a Mad, Mad World
A Middle Eastern proverb says, “The dreams of mice would scare the cat”. We are the cat, trying to keep the mice in line and doing things our way. Many countries would like to have us out of their hair, so they could pursue their agendas. It is high time that Americans should start looking at international politics from outside the box. This is year 2006, not 1945, when most of the world lay in ruins or disarray. What we are reaping in Iraq and Afghanistan can be blamed on lessons not learned since World War II.
We cannot continue in the belief that ours is the greatest power on earth. We are the greatest grower of food, the greatest consumer and the greatest debtor with the greatest destructive power. Our national integrity , economy and the industrial might, which formed the foundation of American power, have been squandered by greedy carpetbaggers, focused on quick profits, never mind the cost to our nation.
Iraq. There can be no question that our prospects in Iraq are, to quote a former president, “in deep doodoo”. Shortly after the ousting of Saddam Hussein’s regime we had a small window of success (a few months at most) in which to gain the confidence of the Iraqis. Our military did their job but our politicians, who should have had a realistic administrative plan, screwed up. Thousands of young Americans have paid for that blunder with their lives, while others will suffer for the rest of their days from wounds and emotional scars. As for the Iraqis, all the bitterness caused by Saddam Hussein and his costly war with Iran is now being directed against us. What our politicians brush aside as collateral damage, is being translated into hatred of America by the terrorists and insurgents.
Before the First Gulf War, Saddam Hussein conducted a ten year war with Iran, which devastated the economy and caused huge military losses. According to “Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf” by Judith Miller and Laurie Mylroie, Iraq’s military lost 130,000 killed and 300,000 wounded. 300,000 Shiites were forced out of Iraq into Iran. Tens of thousands Iraqi soldiers deserted. During 1984 to 1989 some 25,000 Iraqi Kurds were killed on Saddam’s orders. The First Gulf War cost Iraqi army thousands of killed or wounded, and huge losses of materiel.
After the First Gulf War, President Bush the Father called for an uprising against Saddam, allowing the insurgency to be violently suppressed. We let him do it. Tens of thousands of Shiites were killed or displaced in Southern Iraq by Saddam’s executioners, while a million Kurds had to flee in the North. Iraq’s economy virtually collapsed, with a debt of billions of dollars.
Thus, when our troops overthrew the Saddam regime, the expectations of a better, or at least more peaceful, life were high among the Iraqis. Our ignorant and arrogant manner of administration played right into the terrorists’ hands. With escalating “collateral damage” and lack of security, insurgency against us and the hastily set up regime has steadily grown, allowing the terrorist activities to spread.
“Victory”, which three years ago meant restoring stability in the Middle East and putting an end to terrorism, today means our getting out of Iraq without allowing the region to fall prey to Islamist extremists. “Unified Iraq”, touted by Washington, is but a smoke screen.
With a little knowledge of regional history, our foreign policy makers should have known that a unified Iraq, under a democratic government, was an utter pipe dream. In May 2003 OBSERVER, I wrote, “At best, Washington should strive at something similar to the Swiss system, uniting fairly autonomous ‘cantons’, with different languages and customs, in a central government.” Currently, the Iraqi constitution is being, apparently, modified to allow such a “federalized” solution.
Achieving even that may prove to be just a temporary solution, allowing us to withdraw. With Iraqi economy in ruins, the only viable source of revenue is the oil. It would take King Solomon’s wisdom to figure out how to maintain and divide this revenue fairly. While the relations between the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds (on whose lands the greatest oil deposits are located) present one set of problems, there are also financial and political interests of international outsiders to consider.
Federalization of Iraq, if successful, might bring an end to terrorism there. Each autonomous region would, naturally, strive to eliminate the terrorist elements within its jurisdiction, without worrying about the methods as we do. The population of each region would have a reason to normalize their lives and, therefore, withdraw their support of insurgents. Sunni Al Qaida and Shiite terrorist factions might neutralize each other. There is always hope. Unfortunately, there are also other players involved in this game. The most unpredictable element, however, are the Kurds. This nation without a country, spread over Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria has, for centuries, dreamt of an independent state of Kurdistan.
Jihad and Terrorism. Our press and media have the unfortunate habit of painting both forms with the same brush. In the context of Iraq, the terrorists use jihad as a tool to inflame the religious fervor among Muslims worldwide. Millions of Muslims outside the Middle East have no idea of the principles of Christianity or Judaism, nor do they have any concept of the economical parameters of the world.
Since it is required that the Quran be read in Arabic, which most of them do not know, its verses are interpreted by clerics in the native tongue. Many of these clerics retain the respect of the masses through their oratory. Most of them owe their education to “madrassahs”, schools primarily limited to learning the Quran by rote. Being human, their oratory can be maneuvered by clever political and terrorist agents. For countless generations the masses have been exploited by kings, princes, rajahs and sheiks and, in more recent history, by colonialists acting through the authority of the latter.
Religion, in this case Islam, is the only expression and spiritual refuge they have been allowed. Having been brought up on hate, they answer the call and become a ready material for suicide bombers and such.
Victory against jihad is not possible. One example is the fight waged by the Russians in Chechnya. That struggle is based on Islamism and nationalism combined, and dates back to the Russian invasion of Caucasus in 1834. The fight against Muslim “Murids”, led by Shamyl, lasted for 25 years and cost the Russians some 500,000 casualties. During World War II, the Soviets deported entire nations for alleged or actual cooperation with the Germans. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, that version of jihad has flared up. Until the 9/11 tragedy, our CIA was involved in helping Chechens and neighboring nations in their struggle against the Russians. Chechens figure prominently among the jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Terrorism is a political phenomenon. As such, it can be traced to specific groups. Religion is incidental, although it may serve as means of support or, as in the case of jihad, as weapon.
During the formation of Israel, terrorism was used by Jews against the British. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) is a recognized terrorist organization. Let’s face it, during the American War of Independence, many British viewed American irregulars as terrorists, certainly the Tories did.
In Asia and the Middle East, terrorism has been an accepted method for ages; Mongols, Tatars and Arabs (like the “old Man of the Mountain”) were adept in extending control through assassination or mass murder.The irony is that terrorists frequently become respectable statesmen and, as such, are accepted in palaces and presidential mansions.
Let’s look now at the other players in the great Middle East game:
Russia – The end of Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union have not changed Russia’s interest in the Middle East and adjoining Asian territories. 350 years ago Czar Peter the Great established the trend and Russia has stuck to it. Russia today has many reasons to wish U.S. embarrassed and weakened in the region. Russia wants to bring back into its fold all the republics which split away after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It also wants to keep us out of the Black Sea region; we apparently want to station naval units in Bulgarian and Romanian ports, a nightmare for the Russians. Iran and the Middle East are viewed by the Russians as a huge market for their arms and nuclear technology. Also, last but not least, is Russia’s concern over the growing Chinese influence in the region extending west of China’s border and well into Africa.
China – Besides own Muslim population in its western region, China considers itself an “ethnic” godfather of Mongolian nations, with particular reference to former Soviet republics, from its borders to the Caspian Sea. Then, there is China’s need for oil. Already, the Chinese are developing oilfields in Sudan, in Africa. China has no love for Russia and, therefore, is in strategic and economic competition in the region. Both want to market arms and nuclear power. Neither China nor Russia will, therefore, spare any effort in pushing the U.S. out of the game.
Turkey – Any kind of autonomy for the Kurds is an anathema for the Turks. The large Kurdish population in Turkey has been in a state of virtual rebellion against the Turkish government for decades. Saddam allowed Turkish forces to kill rebels on Iraq territory. During our campaign against Saddam, the Turks did not allow passage for U.S. troops from Turkish ports to northern Iraq out of concern that it might cause the Kurdish rebellion to flare up. Turkey has made it very plain in recent times that it might resort to armed force should the Iraqi Kurds attain autonomy.
Iran – The Iranian agenda is far more complex. Iran also has a large Kurdish population which, during the Allied occupation of Iran in World War II, had been given a state of autonomy by the Soviet Union. Hence there is still a very active pro-Communist faction among the Kurds. The Kurds have been a perennial concern to shahs and ayatollahs of Iran. Past Washington administrations have meddled in those intrigues.
The grand design of Iran in the Middle East, however, involves both oil and religion. Even during the shah’s reign, there had been talk of a take over of Saudi Arabia, since the Iranian oilfields have limited deposits. More than that, however, is the Shiite desire to control the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It is a matter of “gaining face” among all the Muslims worldwide. The nuclear gambit is part of that.
The Iraqi Shiites are Arabs and, therefore, ethnically different from Iranians. This may, eventually, cause some cultural friction and limit the Iranian influence among Iraqi Shiites.
Saudi Arabia – With a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Al Qaida will direct its activities at the overthrow of the Saudi regime; it would be a natural step, since Al Qaida’s objective is an economic war against the United States. Saudi Arabia is ready for plucking. Any attempt to re-introduce American forces there would only speed up the downfall. Besides U.S., the Saudis are a major financial supporter of Egypt. Tens of thousands of Egyptians are employed there; many of them belong to extremist Islamic organizations and would hasten an Islamist takeover in Egypt.
Syria – Syria’s primary objective is a takeover of Lebanon. This, of course, would be directly contested by Israel, possibly resulting in a war. The situation would be further complicated by designs harbored by Al Qaida and possible conflict with the Shiite Hezbollah militia backed by Iran. Thus, Iran might act as a deterrent for Syrian action against Lebanon. Syria might also establish some kind of economic agreement with the Sunni faction in Iraq. The Syrians might also undertake some joint action with the Turks against the Iraqi Kurds, should they gain autonomy.
Lebanon – The success of Hezbollah in resisting and attacking Israel will affect the internal political situation. It can be assumed that Hezbollah will gain more seats in the Lebanese government. The ineffective manner in which Israel dealt with Hezbollah spells danger for the future.
Jordan – This kingdom is merely a shadow of its integrity under late king Hussein. The core of Jordanian army, which is the backbone of Jordan, consisted of British trained Bedouins, having little love for the Palestinian Arabs. Today, the population is predominantly Palestinian and, as such, favoring Hamas and other terrorist organizations. They will use every chance to topple Jordan as in independent state and join Palestine.
Israel – The State of Israel may very well become our bastion in the region. All the events mentioned above will impact Israel and make its situation more precarious. On the other hand, they will exacerbate Israel’s importance as an ally of America. Anyway, in the eyes of the Islamists we are joined at the hip with Israel anyway, so our “diplomacy” vs. the emerging regimes would be a waste of time.
Both the current Arab regimes and the Islamists want Israel destroyed. Our inept policy and the relative lethargy of some Israeli factions, relying on paper treaties, have strengthened the Arab stance. The 1973 Yom Kippur War caught the Israeli intelligence and military napping. Howard Blum’s book, “The Eve of Destruction” clearly points out the confusion. Recent Israeli conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon has shown that Israel vastly underestimated the danger. Time to wake up!
Even if the Islamists do not immediately succeed in taking over the Arab countries, the current regimes will only increase the political focus and terrorist activities against Israel. Israel also has a growing ratio of Arab population vs. that of Israelis, making the security problem more precarious.
The creation of a free Palestinian state is, in my opinion, a rhetorical exercise as far as Israel is concerned. Both the Arab countries and Iran would make such a state a base of operations against Israel, closing the ring of fire around it. For its own survival, Israel should never agree to such a solution. Treaties and such are just pieces of paper, without a force backing them up.
I hope that our government is realistically viewing the deteriorating situation in the Middle East and the adjoining region. If we are to retain some clout there, we must at least develop a strategic infrastructure in Israel which would enable us to move troops and materiel there at a moment’s notice.