Connecting dots on the shifting sands of Middle Eastern history is like performing a land survey on a dune. “The Syrian Jihad”, by Charles R. Lister, is Dante’s “Inferno” come to life in the most probable of all settings.
The story is a journey through a place with 240,000 killed, two million injured (through August 2015), the formation of a caliphate, competition of 1500 jihadi groups who alternately collaborate and kill each other and a government which has ceded control to people whose motto is “Death to America”. And oh yes, America, whose red line is “carved” in the same sand dune, sent rockets into the wrong town, killing civilians because they misspelled the name of the town.
The dots that got us here:
- 1979 – 1989 Russian occupation of Afghanistan
- “Charlie Wilson’s War”, a book and a movie about a congressman who surreptitiously funneled hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to train and equip poor Pakistani and Afghan young men to fight the Russians and die for 72 virgins
- An American ambassador to Iraq who gave a clear signal to Saddam Hussein that we didn’t give a hoot about what he did with Kuwait.
- A Saudi King who rejected Osama Bin Laden’s offer of protection from Saddam in preference to the U.S. Army.
- Sykes-Picot a French/English treaty that drew arbitrary lines on a map and named countries.
- Balfour Doctrine which created Israel holding America hostage to a Middle East presence to perpetuity.
- Oil we couldn’t do without because of environmental “know-nothings” who had the political clout to prevent development of our own abundant resources.
Dots 1 & 2
Out of efforts by Charlie Wilson and others, thousands of young peasant were trained and equipped to form the Taliban and Mujahedeen which finally convinced the Soviets that holding on to Afghanistan wasn’t worth the effort. The war ended and with no more battles to fight, these young men faced a future of returning to a life of primitive poverty.
Following the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam Hussein set about to rebuild his economy, repairing the damage and pay off a mountain of debt. The New York Times reported that on July 25, 1990, Saddam Hussein met with U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie to sound out U.S. opinion on Kuwait. Several accounts carry the following quote by ambassador Glaspie, “We have no opinion on your Arab-Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary (of State James) Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.”
(Saddam smiles) One week later on August 2, he invaded Kuwait.
Having no way of knowing Saddam Hussein’s ultimate intent, Saudi Arabia reacted with alarm at their neighbor’s invasion. In a meeting with Saudi King Fahd, Osama Bin Laden offered protection using the ‘unemployed’ Afghan fighters and was rejected. The King then invited U.S. forces to deploy on Saudi soil leading to Bin Laden’s estrangement and relocation to Afghanistan and Al-Qaeda headquarters which he had formed two years prior.
Funds had not been made available for the training of a peasant army in Afghanistan, the Russians might still be there. So what? This pile of primitive rocks has not been a boon to anyone and a reservoir of unemployed fighting talent would not have been available to supply conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Chechen, Syria and elsewhere.
Ambassador Glaspie had given a firm hands-off signal to Saddam instead of driving directions to Kuwait, there would have been no need for U.S. armed forces to be in Saudi Arabia or, for that matter, any place East of Suez. Events that caused Bin Laden’s outrage at foreign military on sacred soil would never have happened and 9/11 might never have occurred. The follow-on is that there would have been no provocation for U.S. troops to be engaged in Afghanistan or even a second Iraq war which has produced ISIS and Syrian Jihad.
To be sure, U.S. diplomacy, however inept, had European help in creating the hodge-podge of the post Ottoman Middle East. Sykes-Picot, an agreement kept secret from the Arabs while England and France used their help in World War I, created arbitrary countries with built in conflicts that made no sense. Out of the current turmoil, it can be hoped for a realignment that promotes Sunni/Shia peace.
The 1917 Balfour Declaration led to the formation of a Jewish state 31 years later which the U.S. is morally and politically committed to protect to perpetuity.
And then there is oil. The sooner we can eliminate any dependence on this source, the better. The U.S. has the largest storehouse of fossil fuels in the world which are there for the taking.
And Here We Are
U.S. diplomacy and foreign policy has all the constancy available in four and eight year increments. Political campaign promises soon get squashed by the reality that every new administration encounters but every president is secure in the knowledge that voters will never know what has happened because they aren’t paying attention. When the cheese gets too binding, it will be time for another election and a new guy gets to clean up your mess.
It has taken four different administrations, Democrat and Republican to set the table for the next president. It should be a doozy and, of course, it’s all the fault of the last administration. Consider, the Bush administration went on a democratization crusade (can you believe he actually used that term) and got rid of the dictators who insured domestic stability. Before an alternate stability could be put in place, along came Obama who said, ‘we’re done here’.
In his farewell address, George Washington said:
“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is, in extending our commercial relations to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop.”