Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Middle East on the Anniversary of the Great War (to end All Wars).

"He Who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind..."
Hosea 8:7

One hundred years after the Central Powers fought the Allies in the forests of the Ardenne, Flanders, and the trenches throughout France where millions died excruciatingly  in bloody disembowelment, dismemberment and gaseous clouds of poison, Europe is deluged with the remnants of their colonial empires.  the Sykes-Picot treaty artificially carving up the Middle East and that presided over the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire still lives with us today--as a creaking anachronism.   Some argue that the only real countries in the Middle East are Egypt, Persia (Iran) and Turkey. Recently, however, the boundary between artificially created Iraq and Syria is vanishing into a morass of perverted theocracy.

The warring tribes of Arabia, as depicted in T.E. Lawrence's classic tale, still exist in an even more virulent format.  In one part of that great film, Anthony Quinn enters a tent to unify the Arab tribes in their British-inspired battle against the Turks.   Bedlam ensues, the tribes shouting insults and homicidal threats against each other.  Lawrence is aghast but phlegmatically persists in his quest to become Lawrence of Arabia.

Nothing really has changed in the Arab world, except an exacerbation of the old conflicts partially because of the technological empowerment and unification of previously amorphous individuals who heretofore were mostly disconnected, and exacerbating the old religious dichotomies between the sects.   The tribes still exist, therefore, but with  more cohesiveness because they are able to talk on cell phones, plotting a new Arab world order based upon Sharia law. Since the opinions as to whose Sharia is correct differ and there is little, if any rational discourse among the factions, we have religious war.  In addition, US meddling created a power vacuum,  filled by warring fundamentalists.

The Western colonial powers which had misanthropically built their oil-driven economies upon the subservience of these more primitive societies are now reaping the whirlwind. The European colonial powers, having participated in the carving up of the Middle East into artificial territories are now subsumed by immigrants derived  from their colonial past.

However, in all fairness, it is not entirely their fault.   The Islamic world simply has not yet had a Reformation.  That Reformation occurred in Europe in the 16th century.  The Islamists are just a few centuries behind, steeped in ignorance, subjugation of women and barbarism.  Most of us in the West cannot really any longer understand fundamental religious wars although much of our civilization arose from them.  Getting involved in them is a zero-sum game.

The Arab world, wracked by tribalism, Islamism, fundamentalism, and a perversion of the faith is on a great particle-accelerator cultural collision course with modernity.  What is hard to understand is why, in a more modern world, these religious differences have become even more pronounced.

Were all the beheadings and slaughter of religious minorities always present, or are they just more visible today because of information technology?  Was it simply the rule of steel-fisted autocrats who suffered no dissent that tamped down any opposition? It sort of begs the question that if the concentration camps in Poland had been visible through satellite imagery, would the Nazis have been able so secretly prosecute their unspeakable crimes?

Many of the youth, in Iran, for example, would like to shed the religious strictures cast upon them by their authoritarian theocracy.  They just do not have enough steam to do it.    The United States has lost much of its power to change the course of events, but perhaps can contribute to the destruction of the more radical elements through selective and covert activity and strategic bombing, such as is occurring now in Iraq and Syria.  This, however, is problematic at best and useless at worst, becuase nation-building takes hundreds of years.

Here in the US there are some who fear that ISIS wishes to establish a caliphate and to kill all the infidels (us).  Such marginal threats may exaggerate Islamophobia here, and fears of another 9/11, but with our security forces spying on everyone, it seems less likely that someone will bring a suitcase nuke to the Homeland anytime soon, although, who knows?  This results in a demand for more vigilance, more effective means of defense strategy and less freedom.

But as dangerous as current threats seem, we have lived through much worse, such as over 700,000 Americans dead in a civil war, and 253,000 dead GIs in World War II and 53,000 dead in Viet Nam.  War seems so 19th and 20th century, but  the current television news broadcasts say not. President Obama in expressing this thought, invoked, of course, the ire of Lindsay Graham and John McCain, who, though not saying so, would probably like to send more US troops tnto the fray.

We think that moderation in addressing our problems today, as important as they are, seems more prudent than rushing into another war.  Should the US be the world's policeman?   Should we have been afraid of the Communists dominoes falling in Southeast Asia?  Is South Korea a product of American determination?   Should the Europeans, especially the Germans be devoting far more of their GDP to deter a  egomaniacal kleptocratic, aggressive Vladimir Putin who has stifled dissent in Russia and has usurped control of the media?  Believing that Putin has 80% internal approval means that Russians are stupid or that they do not have access to full information or, perhaps, Russian culture gravitates towards autocracy.  After all, their democratic institutions are less than 35 years old. Finally, Russia reasserting control over Ukraine is not an entirely new condition.  Why Putin wants a Ukrainian economic albatross around his neck does not entirely make sense, except an narcissistic, egomaniacal power trip, or a paranoid fear of NATO dominating what was former Soviet territory.   In any event,  paranoid egomaniacs have been in charge of large nations before and the result has not been, shall we say, utopian.   This KGB gangster fits quite neatly in that paradigm.

Today, September 1st is the 75th anniversary of the German invasion of Poland, generating the conflagration of World War II, resulting in 50 milliion deaths.  Churchill had warned about the dangers of appeasement.   Does the moderation of the Obama administration represent the actions of Neville Chamberlain?     These lessons of history are not so easy to interpret; today's world is far more open and, at the same time, more complex.   The new world order is not, by any means a bipolar environment of America and the USSR.  Republicans such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham plead for more active US involvement, but do not advocate direct US "boots on the ground."   Democrats say that we need to do more to support the rebels.  But which ones?  Where are the moderates in the Arab world who speak out against ISIS?  

The Middle Eastern whirlwind sowed by Bush and Cheney has not even begun to be played out.