Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Actions Have Their Consequences in the Middle East

 

shutterstock_169881086About a decade ago, most of my time was occupied with editing literature and teaching aspiring writers how to craft essays that didn’t put readers to sleep. For a short time, I had two students that were of Middle Eastern descent. I was working with one of them and asked why she didn’t associate with the other student from the same region. Her reply was simple and to the point: “My family hasn’t associated with anyone from that family in generations.”

I’m guessing that she chose the word “family” because she had been in America long enough to pick up the local vernacular. If we had been somewhere else in the world, maybe she would have used the term “tribe” or “clan.” The point remains the same, and it is an issue that makes dealing with political issues in the Middle East so difficult for Westerners. The arguments, battles, and wars in that region often have histories that stretch back hundreds of years.

The current situation in Iraq is not just about what has happened in that region in the past 20 years, just like the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein dated back to when a map was arbitrarily drawn by the British. Beyond the history that is driving the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), there are current religious and political issues in play that are intertwined throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The lines on the map are near meaningless to anyone except Westerners.

Of course, that means countries in the region fully expect Westerners to respect those borders. Libya is not pleased with the U.S. for breaching their borders to apprehend Abu Khatallah for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The history of the U.S. performing raids in Libya isn’t short, since it dates back to at least 1804. That doesn’t make things any better, though.

In addition to Libya being annoyed with the U.S., there is also Saudi Arabia. That’s a slightly longer issue, since they started warning the U.S. to stay out of Iraq last year. Of course, Saudi Arabia has also taken to warning Iran to stay out of Iraq, but since they’re using the term “outsiders,” it can be assumed it still applies to Western powers.

Keeping in mind that people in this region often hold grudges in one way or another for centuries, this does not bode well for America. Politicians keep debating whether a given terrorist organization in that region will ever attempt to perform an attack in the U.S. It’s probably better to just admit it will happen eventually, even if it turns out to be generations from now. Since ISIL apparently just claimed the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled, this might be the right time for some lawmakers in Washington to start getting a little nervous.

As for how those in the Middle East and North Africa look at Americans, we’re all at fault. They don’t tend to differentiate between our political parties, at least not when looking to avenge a wrong. We’re all equal, and deserving of repayment. Yes, there are peaceful people there, and we don’t need to worry about them. They’re not the ones waging civil war, or amassing weapons. They’re also not stopping the radicals that will eventually return the favor to us, and start some interventions of their own on our soil.

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  1. Pelayo Inactive

    Wait just a minute….

    Since ISIL apparently just claimed the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled, this might be the right time for some lawmakers in Washington to start getting a little nervous.

    Haven’t we been told over and over again that there were no WMDs in Iraq? Does this mean Dick Cheney was right?

    • #1
    • June 20, 2014, at 11:29 AM PDT
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  2. Rachel Lu Contributor

    So the upshot is… what? It’s a region full of people who hate each other and also us, and who have so little prospect of peace and prosperity that many feel they basically have nothing to lose and may as well wreak havoc on anyone who does have some chance of being happy.

    Is there anything that can help in such a situation or do we just need to start building our bunkers and stocking up on gas masks?

    • #2
    • June 20, 2014, at 12:58 PM PDT
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  3. Liz Harrison Contributor
    Liz Harrison

    Rachel Lu:

    Is there anything that can help in such a situation or do we just need to start building our bunkers and stocking up on gas masks?

     We need to tell our leaders to just keep out, and focus on making it possible for us to not rely on Iraq or any other nation in that region for anything. Of course, that’s the cynical/pragmatic response to the problem. Iraq in particular highly complicates the only issue we really need to be addressing in the region – Iran acquiring nuclear capabilities.

    • #3
    • June 20, 2014, at 1:25 PM PDT
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  4. Zafar Member

    Liz Harrison:

    We need to tell our leaders to just keep out, and focus on making it possible for us to not rely on Iraq or any other nation in that region for anything. Of course, that’s the cynical/pragmatic response to the problem. 

    Especially since ISIS picked up a cache of weapons deposited in Iraq by the US for the use of Maliki’s Govt – not Saddam’s WMD that suddenly materialised after being resolutely nonexistent for ten years of sanctions and ten of occupation.

    • #4
    • June 20, 2014, at 4:14 PM PDT
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  5. Fredösphere Member
    FredösphereJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Pelayo:

    Wait just a minute….

    Since ISIL apparently just claimed the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled, this might be the right time for some lawmakers in Washington to start getting a little nervous.

    Haven’t we been told over and over again that there were no WMDs in Iraq? Does this mean Dick Cheney was right?

    Yeah, I keep hearing about this. Are those chemical weapons “stockpiles” empty? Or do they not count as WMD for some reason? I can’t believe this confusion is not being addressed.

    UPDATE: I see Zafar addressed this. If he’s right, then those news reports are badly in need of correction.

    • #5
    • June 20, 2014, at 4:25 PM PDT
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  6. Zafar Member

    The news came amid reports that ISIS had seized a major Saddam Hussein-era chemical weapons facility in al-Muthanna, north of Baghdad. Ward notes, however, that it is extremely unlikely ISIS will be able to do anything with the chemical materials left at the facility, which are believed to have been sealed under concrete or rendered unusable by international forces about a decade ago.

    U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded to the reports Thursday, telling the Wall Street Journal and Britain’s Telegraph the U.S. government remains “concerned about the seizure of any military site by the ISIL,” but that the Obama administration does “not believe that the complex contains CW materials of military value and it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely move the materials.”

    That stance was backed up Friday by Jean Pascal Zanders, a long-time European chemical weapons expert and founder of The Trench blog, who told CBS News that to the best of his knowledge, “none of it is usable… I understand it is in concrete containers and things have been sealed off.”

    • #6
    • June 20, 2014, at 4:37 PM PDT
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  7. Zafar Member

    Only an issue to clarify because let’s not turn discussion of options today into a “Bush was right about WMDs all along” rehash.

    I think Liz is raising an excellent point about how cultures respond to armed intervention/occupation by outsiders – and how this affects their perception of the intervening group in the long term.

    • #7
    • June 20, 2014, at 4:42 PM PDT
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  8. Liz Harrison Contributor
    Liz Harrison

    I saw a report after I wrote this that suggested that the weapons were sarin and mustard gas “leftovers” from Hussein’s days, that are not generally categorized as WMD’s. However, times have changed, and there’s nothing saying that they couldn’t be used in conjunction with another weapon – an IED, for example – to amplify the harm against casualties. For political purposes, WMD’s are typically weapons that on their own can cause mass casualties and deaths. In the hands of terrorists? Ten pounds of roofing nails can be used to take out a platoon. And that is another point about the cultural divide here – ISIL will not be at all concerned about killing civilians, even if they are on their side, if they get in the way. Western forces tend to try to avoid killing innocent by-standers. In Iraq, we’re evil if we kill civilians. If ISIL kills them, they performed a service, and sent them to Allah in paradise.

    • #8
    • June 20, 2014, at 4:52 PM PDT
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  9. Duane Oyen Member
    Duane OyenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Bush did not condition the Iraq action on WMD. That was the smallest of rationale.

    So we should ignore explosive cauldrons of world disaster if some two bit locals tell us it is not a cauldron of world disaster, they can handle it just fine? We should be taking the Saudi public statements at face value even though that has never been the case before? How about when they tell us that Israel has no right to exist?

    The neoisolationist on the “right” are really something. Our side is as stoopid now as the Lindbergh gang was in 1936.

    • #9
    • June 21, 2014, at 7:53 PM PDT
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  10. Zafar Member

    Duane Oyen:

    So we should ignore explosive cauldrons of world disaster if some two bit locals tell us it is not a cauldron of world disaster, they can handle it just fine? We should be taking the Saudi public statements at face value even though that has never been the case before? How about when they tell us that Israel has no right to exist? 

    We (the West) should probably try not to make things worse – which is sometimes (not always) achieved just by showing up and involving ourselves.

    Sometimes non-intervention really is a better long term option for the majority of people involved. Not always, but sometimes.

    Re ‘right to exist’ – does Saudi Arabia have a ‘right to exist’? Sez who? Why?

    Do the Saudis bother to ask for anybody else’s endorsement?

    • #10
    • June 22, 2014, at 12:27 AM PDT
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  11. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar: Re ‘right to exist’ – does Saudi Arabia have a ‘right to exist’? Sez who? Why? Do the Saudis bother to ask for anybody else’s endorsement?

     Of course Saudi Arabia has a right to exist. Israel, and every other country recognizes Saudi Arabia’s existence. The Saudis aren’t bothering to ask for endorsement because they already have it. Most countries that lack recognition are highly motivated to fix that. Do you wander up to hobos and ask them why they don’t think about giving you cash and complaining about their raising the topic of food and who has it? 

    Liz Harrison: Yes, there are peaceful people there, and we don’t need to worry about them. They’re not the ones waging civil war, or amassing weapons. They’re also not stopping the radicals that will eventually return the favor to us, and start some interventions of their own on our soil.

     It’s true that by definition the people fighting ISIS tend to be fighters, but the vast bulk of people fighting ISIS are peace loving Iraqis, as can be seen by essentially any report of the fighting going on. 

    What data, news story, or other demonstration would it take for you to see that the vast bulk of those who have fought and died on our side in the War on Terror have been Muslim Iraqis? 

    • #11
    • June 22, 2014, at 12:10 PM PDT
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  12. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Liz Harrison: The current situation in Iraq is not just about what has happened in that region in the past 20 years, just like the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein dated back to when a map was arbitrarily drawn by the British.

     It’s hard to overstate how untrue this is. I recognize that History 101 in Cal State and other havens of Marxism, and many teachers taught by them, like to teach that history begins with colonialism and slavery, there’s a whole world out there of non-European stuff. 

    The borders that were recognized (rather than established) in the 1913 Anglo-Ottoman convention had been in place for centuries. The convention was a mutual agreement not to change things, so Kuwait would remain an effectively independent country under nominal control, as it had been for centuries. Borders were not an important part of the discussion, because Kuwait had natural and long established borders, making their location non-controversial. 

    The Gulf War was started because Saddam was an evil dictator who consistently solved political problems, in this instance a budget problem exacerbated by Kuwaiti loans to support him in the Iran-Iraq War coming due, by killing the people who got in his way.
    This was not a colonial problem. 

    • #12
    • June 22, 2014, at 12:59 PM PDT
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  13. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Liz Harrison: I’m guessing that she chose the word “family” because she had been in America long enough to pick up the local vernacular. If we had been somewhere else in the world, maybe she would have used the term “tribe” or “clan.”

     If she was an urbanized and relatively wealthy Arab, as the vast bulk of students in America are, it’s quite likely that she meant family. The tribes are bigger in the rural Middle East, but not everyone is a hick. It’s also possible that she meant tribe; the Middle East is a big place, and there’s a lot of different cultures out there, but that’s not the way to bet unless you have information you didn’t post. 

    • #13
    • June 22, 2014, at 1:12 PM PDT
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  14. Zafar Member

    Is it possible they were from different social classes? Would that be significant in Iraq?

    • #14
    • June 22, 2014, at 4:04 PM PDT
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  15. Zafar Member

    James, the hobo analogy is a pretty good one. 

    Re borders, did Sykes-Picot basically divide the Ottoman Sanjaks into zones of influence, drawing straight lines in the desert where there was little population and demarcation?

    Wasn’t there some randomness wrt which Sanjak was influenced by whom? Also, weren’t these generally administrative rather than ethnic or religiously defined borders?

    • #15
    • June 22, 2014, at 4:16 PM PDT
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  16. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar:

    Is it possible they were from different social classes? Would that be significant in Iraq?

     I don’t know if they were Iraqis; there are very few Iraqi students in the US (shamefully), and an awful lot of Turks, Saudis, Jordanians, Lebanese, Kuwaitis and Persians, and some Egyptians and Emiratis. Not a lot of Afghans or Yemenis, either. While the DoD has seen a lot of success with the WoT, State appears to have a lot of other things to think about. 

    There are some substantial class boundaries in Iraq, but the sentence wouldn’t make sense if it was about that, and was non-evasive; aristocratic families don’t have generational feuds with lower class families. On the other hand, it’s totally possible that the answer was evasive; who knows what rift there may have been that could more comfortably be explained by resorting to ethnic stereotypes? 

    • #16
    • June 22, 2014, at 4:32 PM PDT
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  17. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar:

    James, the hobo analogy is a pretty good one.

    Re borders, did Sykes-Picot basically divide the Ottoman Sanjaks into zones of influence, drawing straight lines in the desert where there was little population and demarcation?

    Wasn’t there some randomness wrt which Sanjak was influenced by whom? Also, weren’t these generally administrative rather than ethnic or religiously defined borders?

     It’s worth remembering that Sykes Picot never got enacted and was never intended to be; it was an extremely vague outline that was helpful during the war. Other than Jordan, which is hardly the most violent ME country, no country has much of its borders falling on the Sykes Picot line. 

    I’m not sure what you mean by the influence question; is this about who got to influence, eg., Mosul between 1918 and 1920? Before that and after that the answer was obvious. Again, I should note that at no point was Kuwait, the example in the OP, in any serious respect ambiguous in its borders, rulers, or foreign relationships, and nor was it affected by Sykes Picot. 

    • #17
    • June 22, 2014, at 4:47 PM PDT
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  18. James Of England Moderator
    James Of EnglandJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Zafar: Also, weren’t these generally administrative rather than ethnic or religiously defined borders?

     Well, yes. Almost all national and provincial boundaries are. For most of these countries, though, the dominant ethnicity is Arab, so an ethnic border wouldn’t have made a lot of sense. Where there were important and stable tribal borders, those were generally respected (see, e.g., Saudi/ Emirati borders, where the lack of Ottoman control meant that the tribes were dominant and had definite borders), but for the most part the administrative boundaries became national boundaries. The Turkish border was somewhat ethnically (but not tribally) determined, the Kurds were split, and for this discussion I assume we’re excluding the Russian dominated Caucasus. 

    Religious borders, similarly, existed in places where they made sense (Lebanon and Israel were both specifically formed to protect religious groups), but the rest of the ME is uniformly Muslim with assorted minorities. The Sunni/ Shia split didn’t become important until much later. Again, religious borders were issues in the Caucasus and Sudan, but those seem out of scope for this. 

    • #18
    • June 22, 2014, at 5:03 PM PDT
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  19. Zafar Member

    James Of England

    I’m not sure what you mean by the influence question; is this about who got to influence, eg., Mosul between 1918 and 1920?

    Yes, pretty much. (Though what is the answer for Mosul?) Greater Lebanon emerged from Greater Syria pretty much because the French wished it.

    Not intrinsically a bad thing – and arguably good for many of its inhabitants – but with the wisdom of hindsight some of those borders might have been different. And like any division of a heterogenous area, it may have created as many problems for the minorities left behind as it did for the minorities it made majorities in smaller states.

    • #19
    • June 22, 2014, at 10:14 PM PDT
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