Monday, June 6, 2016

How Americans Came to Die in the Middle East

The writing of this historical synopsis began yesterday, Memorial Day. It is an attempt by this former artillery officer with a father buried in a veteran’s cemetery to understand why brave Americans were sent to their death in the Middle East and are still dying there.

The hope is that we finally can learn from history and not keep repeating the same mistakes.

It’s important to stick to the facts, since the history of the Middle East already has been grossly distorted by partisan finger-pointing and by denial and cognitive dissonance among the politicians, foreign policy experts (in their own minds), and media blowhards and literati on the left and right, who now claim that they had nothing to do with grievous policy mistakes that they had once endorsed.

The key question, as in all history, is where to begin the history lesson.

We could go all the way back to religious myths, especially the ones about Moses and the Ten Commandments and about Mohammed and his flying horse. Or on a related note, we could go back to the schism that took place between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the seventh century. Such history is relevant, because American soldiers have been foolishly inserted in the middle of the competing myths and irreconcilable schism, but without the inserters acknowledging the religious minefields and steering clear of them.

We also could go back to the First World War and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire, when France and Britain carved up the Middle East into unnatural client states, when Arabs were given false promises of self-determination, when American geologists masqueraded as archeologists as they surreptitiously surveyed for oil, and when the United States joined Saudi Arabia at the hip through the joint oil venture of Aramco.

Another starting point could be 1948, when the United States, under the lead of President Truman, supported the formal establishment of the Jewish State of Israel, thus reversing the longstanding opposition to Zionism by many (most?) American and European Jews and non-Jews. One can endlessly debate the plusses and minuses of our alliance with Israel, as well as the morality of Israel’s violent founding and the violent Palestinian resistance. But it’s undeniable that the alliance has led many Muslims to put a target on Uncle Sam’s back.

Still another starting point could be the 1953 coup d’├ętat against the democratically-elected Iranian President Mohammad Mosaddegh, orchestrated by the CIA in conjunction with the Brits. The coup was triggered when Mosaddegh demanded an auditing of the books of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, a British company known today as BP. He threatened nationalization when the British refused to allow the audit. He was replaced by the Shah of Iran, who was seen by many Iranians and Arabs as a puppet of the United States. (Ironically, during the Second World War, Great Britain and the Soviet Union had occupied Iran and deposed an earlier shah.)

It’s considered unpatriotic to ask how my fellow Americans would feel if the tables had been turned and Iranians had deposed an American president and replaced him with their lackey. Therefore, I won’t ask.

It also would be unpatriotic to ask how we’d feel if Iranians had shot down one of our passenger jets, as we had shot down one of theirs in 1988 as it was crossing the Persian Gulf to Dubai from Tehran. Again, I’m not asking.

Anyway, let’s return to the Shah. Starting with President Nixon and continuing with President Carter, the USA sold weapons to the Shah worth billions of dollars. There was even an agreement to sell nuclear reactors to him. Those weapons would later be used by Iran against the U.S. in the Persian Gulf after we had sided with Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran.

At a state dinner in Tehran on December 31, 1977, the Shah toasted President Carter. Carter responded effusively, saying that Iran was “an island of stability in one of the more troubled areas of the world.” He went on to say: This is a great tribute to you, Your Majesty, and to your leadership and to the respect and the admiration and love which your people give to you.”

Actually, most Iranians hated the Shah. Two years later, on January 16, 1979, the unpopular Shah fled into exile after losing control of the country to Shiite cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and his Iranian Revolution.

Then in October of that year, Carter allowed the Shah to come to the USA for medical treatment. Responding with rage, Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took embassy personnel hostage, in a hostage drama that would last 444 days, including a failed attempt to rescue the hostages that left dead American soldiers and burnt helicopters in Iran. The drama ended on the day that Carter left office.

But none of the above events is where our history of American lives lost in the Middle East should begin. It should begin in the summer of 1979, with a report written by a low-level Defense Department official by the name of Paul Wolfowitz. His “Limited Contingency Study” assessed the political, geopolitical, sectarian, ethnic, and military situation in the Middle East and recommended a more active American involvement in the region, including possible military intervention to blunt the Soviet Union’s influence, protect our access to oil, and thwart the ambitions of Iraq under its dictator, Saddam Hussein.

Wolfowitz would later become a deputy to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld under the presidency of George W. Bush.

Note that Wolfowitz’s paper was written long before 9/11 and long before the toppling of Saddam Hussein in the Second Gulf War after he was accused of having weapons of mass destruction.

Until the Wolfowitz report, the USA had taken a rather passive and indirect role in the Middle East, placing it secondary to other geopolitical matters and using proxies and intelligence “spooks” to protect its interests in the region. Of course this low-level interference in the affairs of other nations was not seen as low level by the targets of the actions. To use common vernacular, it pissed them off, just as it would have pissed us off if the roles had been reversed. But again, it’s unpatriotic to consider the feelings of others, especially if they are seen as the enemy, or backwards, or religious zealots.

Strategic and tactical thinking began to change with the Wolfowitz paper. Plans started to be developed for military action to replace more benign approaches. Eventually, the plans indeed resulted in military actions, ranging from full-scale war to bombing from the air to drone warfare, in such places as Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, and Somalia (the locale of “Blackhawk Down”), with side actions outside of the Middle East in Bosnia and Kosovo.

In each case the American military performed admirably and often exceptionally, but less so for Defense Department analysts, for Congress and the White House, for the press on the left and right, or for the public at large—most of whom got caught up in the passions of the moment and didn’t understand the cultures they were dealing with and didn’t think through the unintended consequences of military actions in lands where Western concepts of justice, fairness, equality, tolerance, pluralism, religious freedom, diversity, and multiculturalism were as foreign and out of place as an American tourist wearing flipflops and shorts in a mosque.

by Craig Cantoni, Mish Talk | Read more:
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