Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Middle East - A Primer


One thing which sticks in my craw is when people in the media bray on and on about something where they clearly do not understand the context or direction. Certainly this is the case with the War in Iraq, where every MSM reporter seems to begin with a network orientation that presumes defeat, negativism, and anti-American anger by the locals. Such a posture is not only dishonest and falsely maligns the noble and costly work of our military, but also insults our Middle East allies.

Take the DP World ports deal, for example. Yes, it was badly handled by pretty much everyone, but the annoying presumption began with comparisons between the United Arab Emirates and Al Qaeda. Such statements only displayed a complete lack of comprehension about the history and character of the Middle East, usually made and repeated by people who couldn't be bothered to learn the basics. This article attempts to begin discussion about the Middle East by identifying the key players and their significance.

Most people do not care to learn History, so I will leave off from the thick mass of information, and just start off with a quick recitation about who the major players are in the Middle East, or as I think of them, the Six Directions of the Middle East. The cast may surprise you.

Egypt - Many people don't think of Egypt as a major player in the Middle East, but for most of History Egypt was definitely Big-League. When Rome set up its empire, the main nation in the Middle East was Egypt. When Napoleon set out to control the Middle East, he did so by taking control of Egypt. And Britain did the same, never quite making Egypt a colony but setting up garrisons all the same. One reason for the Suez Canal, after all, was that it established gains for both Egypt and Britain. And finally, two of the most significant major players in the 20th Century Arab world were named Nasser and Sadat. The first shock from the Middle East to scare both the Kremlin and Washington was not OPEC, but the United Arab Republic. And it was Nasser and Sadat whose 'Non-Aligned' nations tactics forced both sides to treat with them.

Saudi Arabia - When Islam granted Arabia control and stewardship of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, it was partly because of the piety represented by the families in place. When Ibn Saud made his deals with the Imam Muhammad Abdul Wahhab, it was a cunning blend of politics with religion, and led to the rise of modern-day Wahhabism, the reactionary sect which is believed to drive some, if not most, of the Jihadist violence of the past two centuries. The Royal Family has tried to distance themselves somewhat from the worst extremists, but this is a bit like a Mafia family trying to go 'legit' and pretend their money just happened through innocence. More, the Crown in Riyadh has always had a hand in affairs of the neighboring, and also smaller and less influential, countries, trying to annex desirable territory and coerce agreements to Saudi advantage. As an example, almost no one realizes that the U.A.E. was a band of small nations which created a federal government to prevent their invasion or plain annexation by Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi for example almost ceased to exist in 1949, as Riyadh claimed nearly 80% of the land as its own. Fortunately for the Sheikh, the Saudis attempted to bribe a British arbitrator in 1954, which offense caused the British to declare that a modified version of the 1937 boundaries would serve as the line. More than a few Middle Eat nations have suggested that Saudi Arabia has few friends beyond the ones impressed with its money.

Iran - It's a plain fact to people now, that the Muslim extremists in Teheran have been creating and supporting terrorist organizations, for the purpose of destabilizing Middle East regimes and pursuing an asynchronous warfare against the West. But the Shah also pressed to expand his empire, and another reason for forming the U.A.E. was Iran's continuing effort to seize desirable oil fields and strategic islands. "Persia", as Iran was called until 1971, regularly represented itself as the Empire of the Middle East.

Iraq - Besides its unmatched capacity for oil processing, Iraq served to counter both Saudi Arabia and Iran in weight and power, a check many Arabs thought was necessary to prevent hegemony. Yet the Communists almost turned Iraq into a trump card, by fueling insurgencies throughout the Middle East through proxy terror groups and various "Popular Fronts", such as Yemen. The Baath Party existed long before Saddam Hussein, and assassins hired in Baghdad are an old, old story.

Britain - When Napoleon invaded Egypt, Britain discovered that it needed to not only have friends in the Middle East, as a barrier to protect India and for its position in the Mediterranean Sea, but to control vital territory. Accordingly, Britain set garrisons in numerous places, and established not only the ruling families, but the boundaries of many countries. This arrangement lasted longer than the colony system for Britain, indeed well into the 1970s.

The United States - When Britain began to cut and run from military commitments in the Middle East, the nation which took up the slack was America. Not only because the United States also desired stable oil production and a barrier against Soviet overthrow of important strategic nations, but also because the Middle East recognized that they needed a 'Patron', a nation which would prevent apocalyptic change.

It comes down to this, then. Every significant international event by a Middle East nation in the past century has been in cooperation with, reaction to, or opposition against one of these six major players. From there, the course should make more sense.

No comments: