Postmodern classic?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Understanding the Middle East

Loving being home, being on leave. But then you start to think about it again...

Sometimes you can only start to think clearly about something when you are away from it. You have to digest it a little, listen to friends and family, debate it and then you start to articulate what's going on. As a side note, there was also this interesting debate at QandO about insurgency warfare, although I appear to be pretty much ignored.

Well, I don't 'understand' the Middle East by any means, but after reading about the recent Israel-Lebanon thing, there are some things I can confidently assert, based on my experiences and insights. I started to think about this as I contemplated the 'Blair-Annan Plan for Peace', more UN involvement via internationally legitimate forces peacekeeping. Laughable. Just look at UNIFIL, the 2000 'peacekeepers' from Ghana, India, and wherever, which peacefully observed Israel withdrawing from Lebanon and Hezbollah peacefully building up massive stockpiles of weapons and other forms of complicity. But, you say, this time would be different: they would have a different mandate. And because they're internationally legitimate, it would be different. It's obvious on this case I am totally alongside the Israelis- the UN and what Army? What 'international legitimacy'? What mandate would bring a force that would reasonably be able to enforce peace?

None that the UN could provide. A cursory look at the performance of the UN 'peacekeeping' operations shows this simply. But for those who believe in the UN (unkindly but guiltily called EUNuchs in derisory humor that I, of course, wouldn't promote... hehe) seem to see the solution for everything in their eye. The status quo has got to change. And so I kind of followed that line of logic to the US involvement, a lot of the shriller critics look at the problems that have been in the Middle East, and how we've been involved.

Here is where the logic matters. There has been nastiness in the Middle East ever since we were involved. However, we did not create this nastiness- just looking at the Suez canal incident of '58 will give you an insight into the problems of the Middle East. My Cliff Notes summary would be as follows: European powers had dominion over the Middle Eastern states they (pretty much) created in 1919 following the collapse of the Turkish empire, formalized in the Sykes-Picot treaty. After blowing the crap out of each other in WW2, the aforementioned European powers lacked the power to maintain their dominion, which was challenged by resurgent Arab nationalism and charismatic Arab leaders, such as Egypt's Nasser. The US's lack of support in the ensuing conflict proved to be decisive, as the Egyptians regained dominion over the Suez Canal, the Europeans could no longer control their region. Now, why would we do that? It doesn't follow the evil imperialist motif our enemies would have you believe. So they want to cherry pick other examples, like us supporting the Shah- to which I would say, if we had done a better job we wouldn't have the problems we are now, but I am starting to digress further than I would like.

So the logical chain is this: people are still killing each other over religion in the Middle East + it's been going on since we've been involved = it's the US's fault. It makes a simple, easily comprehensible political argument that is supported by fact. The fact that it's completely out of context, with an unashamedly narrow US-centric perspective becomes clear only after you examine it a little closer. Then you start to realize that, wait a second, they've been killing each other over religion forever. What changed and when did it change? Well, to me, it starts to make sense when you learn more about the dissolution of the Turkish empire. The model of Islamic political leadership, through coercion in spirit with the times (read more than 400 years of the Turkish caliphate in which many peoples feelings were hurt, to say the least) fell apart and the result was the French and British in control of the area we now call the Middle East. Their methods were different- organizing the areas into states, and their influence was little- a few decades compared to the centuries of the Turk.

So this little political assumption falls apart under closer examination. How can it be that the US is not the worst thing that happened to the world? Look at all the bad things we've done.

Yes, we have, and as long as we have responsibilities abroad, we will continue to 'make history', of the regrettable type. It was nicer when we could avoid that, and blame European empires for everything as we did in the 19th century as one of the minor powers of the day. But now we find ourselves picking up the pieces of those European empires, or the ravages of 20th century Soviet Russia's expansionary militancy in the 3rd world. No matter what we do, many people resent us. They have a right to do so- and when they do something about it I'd love to listen more. But until then, we'll just keep on going. Because if you think the Middle East would be better without us there, you have another thing coming. Israel's present conflict in Lebanon visavis Iran and Syria has more to do with the ineffectual UN than any US policy. If this thing is not managed properly, 10 years from now we'll be wishing all we had was Iraq. Such is life, such is war.


Post a Comment

<< Home