Sunday, July 28, 2013

Before the Jihad V


We exchange again.  Another fortnight of irregularities  -- problems with a vintage computer in The Mother Ship, our sprawling farmhouse built originally on this New Hampshire crossroads by an avowed Abolitionist in 1837 and updated every half-century or so, whether the ancient relic needed it or not.

Further musings about where and how we ought to involve ourselves in the chaos of the Middle East.  No doubt we'd better step back and size up what the Arab Spring has turned itself into.  The shift is becoming tectonic, the enormous subcultural plates -- Shia versus Sunni, traditional versus modern -- are heaving up one country after another, grinding on one another and producing political chaos.

For years a very prominent Pakistani diplomat, Jamsheed Marker, a pal of Musharrev and at one time Pakistan's ambassador to the United States, lived part of every year in St. Petersburg.  He became a friend.  The descendant of an old and wealthy Zoroastrian family, Marker confided to me once that these upheavals in the Muslim world seemed to be endemic.  Fanaticism took hold; from what he could tell it took some time -- seven years was typical -- before the fever passed and what could be regarded as normalcy returned.  The populations throughout the Middle East were not conditioned to anything like democracy, and some form of responsible autocracy appeared to work best.  Himself a deft negotiator -- he worked out the terms that finally ended the bloodbath in East Timor and created the resulting state -- Marker was a gifted and insightful analyst.

The upheavals in Syria and Egypt today certainly tend to bear Marker out.  In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood -- Morsi -- interpreted its victory at the polls as a mandate to bulldoze the judiciary, convulse the economy, force its radical Islamic precepts on the contemporary half of the citizenry.  Millions took to the streets and the country's wary military brought down a coup, a Putsch.  In Egypt the outcome is likely to be the return, without Mubarak, to what Sukarno liked to refer to as a "guided democracy," the sort of government our CIA ushered in to dump King Farouk during the fifties which led to the Nasser takeover.

Syria is more interesting.  Right now we have an open Shiite-Sunni civil war tearing the place apart.  Behind the Assad regime is Iran and Russia,
with effective elements of Hezbollah -- the Shia militants who blew up our Marine barracks in Beirut during the Reagan presidency and threaten Israel now with thousands of rockets -- starting to turn the fighting in Assad's favor.  Most effective on the rebel side are the al Nusra brigades, an arm of al Qaeda, itself the outgrowth of the mujahedin guerilla campaign we sponsored to force the Soviets out of Afghanistan when Bill Casey was CIA director -- Charlie Wilson's War.

Now, the ground having shifted utterly, strategic masterminds like Senator McCain keep pushing Obama to back these freedom-loving rebels, institute a no-fly-zone -- an expensive and difficult feat, requiring saturation bombing of airfields, heavy costs, and a huge commitment of vulnerable Western aircraft -- to back the anti-Assad forces.  For what, to entrench Al Qaeda in Syria?  They will no doubt dominate Afghanistan within a year or so in any case.  Do we want to invite two al Qaeda-controlled states into existence?

One recent development that ought to send up some kind of a flare is the outright public opposition by Hamas, the fundamentalist Palestinian entity that governs Gaza, to the rebels in Syria.  There are times in any Great Power's strategizing when it becomes apparent that own purposes are best served by permitting elements antagonistic to its own interests to have it out.  Let's you and him fight.  This is a cold-blooded, realist's approach, but it is clearly one that President Obama -- and the Israelis -- appear to understand.  Befuddled by so many decades of American "exceptionalism," too many decrepid, aging Cold Warriors and too many greedy corporate spokesmen in the West are eager to resupply yet another bloodbath.  As throughout our wasting, ill-fated march into Iraq, the facts on the ground speak for themselves.

This is not isolationism.  This is well-informed common sense.

Cheers.  Enjoy August.

Burton Hersh


Monday, July 15, 2013

Before the Jihad

Countrycommandos, Again, something of a delay. By spring this year the shingles on the Mother Ship were shearing off with every ice storm. This meant a new roof, with three layers of shingle, down to the ancient green hexagonals, landing for several weeks on the surrounding lawns and fields. Almost under control at this point. Memories of my trip across Turkey in the fifties kept recurring after the last blog. Turkey is a venerable crossroads of civilization; Istanbul itself has nourished thousands of years of civilization, including -- as Constantinople -- an era as the Alternate Papacy. The Turks are traditionally hard-bitten -- their performance with UN Forces during the Korean War left our commanders breathless. Islamic but oriented toward contemporary political thinking, NATO members, the Turks function as a kind of bridge between Europe and the faction-ridden Middle East. Many of the Ben-Gurion generation of Israeli founders picked up their law degrees in Istanbul. Throughout most of Israel's besieged existence Turkey has been a closet ally. Turkey came to mind recently at a small dinner party in Florida with a couple of retired, high-level State Department professionals. Syria came up -- should we get involved in the rebellion? These were seasoned policy-makers; they both came down hard: No! Even among the Cold-War generation, conditioned to alarm bells around the world, enough U.S. Excepionalism is enough. "The Turks are sitting right along the Syrian border, refugees are pouring in, they have some of the best military in the world and even the Islamist general elected president of Turkey is obviously hesitant. Uneasy as his government remains about the Kurds in Turkey, why would he add the Kurds in Syria to his sleepless nights? Why should we?" Perhaps we can learn. For all our claims to sophistication we are still meat-eating primates, easily tricked into picking up our clubs and storming across the river to commit genocide against the next village. If anybody doubts this, review the vote in the Senate in 2003 approving the resolution to invade Iraq. The WMD evidence was clear, and still Senators Kerry, Clinton and Biden went along with this march into quicksand. Even Ted Kennedy -- I had a hand in his decision -- wavered before he cast what he later called the best vote of his life and opposed the invasion. This would become important for his legacy -- see my book Edward Kennedy -- An Intimate Biography. Thoughts in a torrid July. Burton Hersh