Playing at Dominoes in the Middle East

There are those in our nation’s capitol who seem to believe that democracy is on a roll in the Middle East, and are fully prepared to step up and claim the credit. No, these are not the educators who patiently, for well over a century, have kept the ideals of democracy and tolerance burning in places like the American University of Beirut. They are the ham-handed ideologues in the White House and the Department of Defense who have been rushing about the area with wrecking bars, creating havoc and alienating whatever natural allies we may have had, in the area itself and beyond.

Yes, we have the might, and we smashed Saddam’s army. Or did we? A lot of that army seems simply to have gone underground and gear up for a guerrilla war that continues to this day. Now, our triumphalist leaders are mucking around in Lebanon, growling at the Syrians while they try to figure out how best to prevent Hezbollah from dominating the new democracy we confidently expect to emerge. It never seems to occur to our peerless leaders that the descendants of the Phoenecians have been playing at politics for many thousands of years, and we are getting into a much deeper game than we can possibly understand. About all I can predict there is that if we aren’t careful, and lucky, the old civil war that devastated that unfortunate country a generation ago will re-erupt.

So maybe we should just take out Syria? And beyond Syria there is Iran. Who knows, if the US remains triumphalist and imperialist, we can go all the way, clean out the entire zone of problem states, as far as the Indian subcontinent. This will surely prove for all time that we have “the vision thing!” Instead of corrupt dictatorships and theocracies, we’ll have a belt of brave new democratic regimes, inspired by a respect for the rights of their citizens as well as sensitive to our interests.

Or will we? How about the law of unintended consequences, and the genius of the peoples of the Middle East for screwing up the best laid plans that the West prepares for them? Let’s talk about Iran for a minute or two. We cannot afford to invade Iran the way we invaded Iraq. Our military is stretched too thin and Iran is a much bigger country. So if the triumphalists in Washington are determined to bring that proud and ancient land to heel, they will have to figure out some other way to do it.

According to Sy Hersch, we have special forces in Northern Iraq, aided by Israeli “technicians”, training up some of our Kurdish friends for cross-border operations. This rings true to me, for various reasons. If it is, I can assure you of one thing: the Iranian security people will have the operation wired for sound, and if our proxies in Iraqi Kurdestan try to do anything in Iran, the Iranians will be prepared. Furthermore, they will be particularly alert to the possibility of capturing an Seal or two, or a Green Beret, with a distinctively American pedigree. When that happens they will hang our britches from the masthead and send our best and brightest home pantless, to the mockery and jeers of the multitude. It will be a greeat public relations coup, to catch the Great Satan out, and they will make the most of it.

The Iranians have already led us into one trap, and are probably still laughing at the way they caught us and hung us up to dry. I’m referring to the way they fed Chalabi a forged document that helped him “prove” that Saddam had a nuclear weapons capability a-building, thereby helping ensure that their number one enemy would be knocked out by their more distant enemy. They played us for suckers, and won.

The Iraqi Kurds are our buddies, straight shooters that we can deal with, or so we think. Yes, we double-crossed them a while back, and admittedly they haven’t forgotten it, but it’s a new day, isn’t it, and they have all the same enemies we do, don’t they? So why not give them some new toys and help them learn to use them, so that they will become more effective if push comes to shove and we need Middle East proxies that can fight and fight hard?

Here’s another thing I am quite certain about: the Kurds just love our new toys and are saying and doing whatever is necessary to keep us supplying them. Does this mean we can count on them?

About eighty years ago, after the French and Spanish put down a rebellion of Riffian tribesmen in northern Morocco, my father was roaming around in those parts, and formed a firm friendship with a tribesman named Limnibhi. Limnibhi told him the following story: Around 1916 or 1917 he went down to Fez and the French grabbed him and shipped him off to France to fight against the Germans. He was happy enough since they gave him a shiny new rifle, much more accurate than the old muzzle loader he had learned to shoot squirrels with. He was sent out between the lines on patrol and was the only survivor when an artillery shell burst near him. He tried out his new rifle and found it so accurate he could actually shoot Germans with it. He picked off a few and then reflected, what have the Germans ever done to me? I don’t even know any. But I do know the French, and they are a bunch of bastards. So he turned around and picked off a few French soldiers. Another shell knocked him out, he was rescued, and woke up in a French hospital, with the French mistakenly considering him a hero. A French general came in and gave him a medal, which he passed on to his English nurse. End of story, which is probably exaggerated, but my point is made.

What if our pet Kurds turn their shiny new weapons against the Turkomans in Kirkuk, or against our chosen instruments in Baghdad? I am not saying they will, and I certainly hope they won’t, but there are many possibilities, and they boggle the mind. Our peerless leaders are behaving like pyromaniacs passing out matches to children in a fireworks factory.

I could go on, but my speculation is already likely to disturb my slumbers more than I want. Let me revert to my initial thought: my government should stop playing games in the Middle East. Support AUB and AUC. Bring as many citizens of that region as possible to the US for study. They will go back knowing what’s good about us and motivated to graft whatever they can of it on to their own cultures. And above all we should be patient, let the wounds this administration has inflicted heal, and allow time for our peoples and cultures to grow together in a natural, organic way.

Carl Coon 3/27/05

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