The International Writers Magazine: Middle East Politics
America’s dominance of the air and the seven seas is indisputable. It’s only when it tries to ground itself on dry land that it becomes problematic.
Witness the guerrilla attack this weekend on the Iraqi petroleum refinery at Baiji, which supplies a large portion of that country’s consumption of refined oil products. The attack, which was termed “catastrophic”, will result in massive shortage of gasoline, heating oil and other benzene products for many months to come. What is truly outrageous is that it was perpetrated by two assailants armed with pistols and hand grenades, and they got away, like a Vin Diesel action adventure movie, only all the heroics were on the other side.
Paradoxically, the resulting shortages may do more to weaken the insurgent forces, for whom revenue from contraband oil products pilfered from the refinery were a major source of illicit financing. After ten years of military involvement and trillions of dollars of squandered treasure in Iraq, this “Catch 22” tragicomedy of comedic inspiration is what we have to show for our efforts.
The problem of worldwide hegemony is that any threat, however remote, is regarded as a dagger directed directly at the heart of the empire, which is what motivated the Roman Empire to deploy legions as far afield as Hadrian’s Wall and Asia Minor. The “Great Game” of Afghanistan threatened the empires of Russia and Great Britain during the nineteenth century to the extent that they felt compelled to battle over that remote, barren geography. In our own day we have been forced to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great, though, to our credit, we first hesitated until Osama bin Laden used it as a staging ground to attack us. Unfortunately, we have not met with Alexander’s success, due to the constraints of social evolution, which prohibit us from exacting the requisite leverage needed to root out bin Laden. No shame in that. Alexander would have hacked the population to greasy suet until they handed over bin Laden’s head.
So we are in the precarious state of presiding over a “soft empire”, but, unfortunately, there is no model to follow. Add to that the small-town parochialism that causes us to staff our intelligence services with well-meaning boys and girls from the provinces who would not be out of place appearing in an Elvis Presley romantic comedy. I concede that this is somewhat of an oversimplification, but there is an element of truth to it. The fact remains that prior to 9/11 the backlog of Arabic-language data collected in electronic sweeps of satellite traffic went largely untranslated due to the paucity of Arabic-speaking operatives. Even so, we have been largely unable to affect events in Latin America despite our tremendous Spanish-speaking population. Maybe that’s for the best, considering the harm we caused and the animosity we aroused in that region over the past two centuries. Those countries presently seem to be doing better without our avuncular guidance.
It’s impossible to fault the Obama administration for being behind the curve in keeping up with the Superintefada occurring in the North African Maghreb, although it’s comical to watch Obama and Hillary Clinton, who are one beat behind events, singing like a retarded chorus who can’t quite keep up with the words on the screen in a karaoke bar. Having no concept of Arab society, it’s all they can do to keep up with events without embarrassing themselves. So far they have managed to avoid looking ridiculous, though just barely. I think Obama called for Egypt’s Mubarak to resign one day before the fact.
A lot of people are sorry to see Mubarak go. The clerk in the liquor store across the street from my home, whom I visit quite frequently ha-ha, is a Coptic Christian from Cairo. He lives in Brooklyn, and, like most denizens of that family-oriented borough, is totally family oriented. He did not immigrate to New York to make a big artistic impact, but to earn money to send back to his family in Cairo, which he calls every day, thanks to cut-rate telephone cards. He loves Mubarak, whom he considers a protector of the Copts. Likewise, the Jews love Mubarak, who faithfully enforced Sadat’s peace agreement with Israel.
My own analysis, for what it’s worth, is that any politician, no matter how beneficent, will have worn out his welcome after thirty years in power, and the younger generation certainly has s right to express its preference. Enough is enough. Add to that the interests of the Egyptian armed forces, who have a vested interest in preserving certain economic benefits that they feel are accruing to them, and I am predicting a gradual evolution in Egyptian society that will not overturn the social order by more than a few degrees.
What is more fascinating to me is Libya, which I primarily know from watching World War II documentaries featuring the Siege of Tobruk and the Battle of El-Alamain. Libya is a Mediterranean country of only seven million citizens who inhabit a pearl necklace of cities embracing the sea coast, with massive petroleum deposits further inland, rather like Canada, whose main population hugs the American border with a vast hinterland behind.
Colonel Gadaffi is an educated tribesman, a Captain in the army who seized power from the aged monarch, King Idris, in a bloodless coup in 1969. The Europeans came to accept him because he controlled the oil deposits, but the Americans not so much, with Pres. Reagan ordering Air Force strikes against him in 1982, in retaliation for the bombing of a nightclub in Germany that killed several American servicemen.
This night club bombing and the destruction of Pan Am flight 103 over Scotland in 1988, which killed several hundred Americans, are the main casus belli for American antagonism against Gadaffi, though whether he personally ordered these acts deserves to be questioned because, what country has total control over acts perpetrated by its intelligence services? I’m not trying to exonerate him for these acts, but, like an attorney, trying to advance an argument for a case of reasonable doubt. If we look at American, French, British or Russian intelligence services, how many things have they done over the years independently and on their own authority? A lot of things.
Apart from that, Gadaffi’s diplomatic service, such as it is, has sponsored some unfortunate United Nations resolutions. Otherwise, I personally have always regarded him as kind of a comic figure, like a movie character inspired in the mind of Mel Brooks. I keep believing that Gadaffi’s sartorial style, with his loopy Pirates of Penzance costumes, were a seminal inspiration in informing Michael Jackson’s stage wardrobe. Basically, he’s a cool guy. I bet he’s more fun at a party than Obama, and he probably is better at controlling his women than French President Sarkozy.
Sarko, incidentally, is emerging as the buffoon of the Mahgreb situation because he is once again emerging as the protagonist who can’t control his women, in this case French defence minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, whom he had to fire after remarks she made to the effect that Tunisian dictator Ben Ali might have held onto power if he would have had a stronger anti-riot response like the French CRS national police at his disposal. Upon closer investigation it was revealed that Alliot-Marie had accepted a Christmas holiday in Tunisia, including transportation by private jet, as a guest of one of Ben Ali’s relations. In addition, it was disclosed that Sarkozy’s hand-picked prime minister, François Fillon, had benefited from a similar arrangement over New Year’s, as a guest of the Egyptian government. You can’t make this stuff up, unless you happen to be a writer of comic theater like Molière.
But I have always admired Gadaffi, (aside from killing his own people) not least for his sartorial style but also for the fact that he lives in a tent in the desert and speaks like a poet who has taken too many acid trips. He reminds me a little bit of Keith Richards. This, I think is why the western establishment detests him with such vigor: he doesn’t play the G-20 game of champagne parties at Davos. Probably everything they say about Gadaffi is a lie, and always has been. He was supposed to be building weapons of mass destruction, but Libya doesn’t even have an army. How was he supposed to deliver these supposed bombs, carrier pigeon? Don’t make me laugh!
The fact is, Gadaffi lives in a tent in the desert, does not have any kind of organized army and maintains himself in power by playing the desert tribes against each other, like a sheik in “Lawrence of Arabia”. He’s not Islamist and he hates al-Qaeda. What pisses off the west is that he controls an ocean of oil and has money coming out his kazoo.
Gadaffi is living exactly the same as I would if I were loaded. I would live in an air-conditioned tent on the Mediterranean surrounded by camels and women, and smoking a shitload of fine reefer. As the philosopher Ouacki ben Turqi once wrote, “A puff of kief in the morning is stronger than a hundred camels in the courtyard”.
The latest story is that certain American elements are advocating arming insurrectionists within Libya. They obviously have still not learned any lessons from their interventions in Iraq or Afghanistan. They probably feel that Libya, with a population of less than seven million inhabitants, might be ripe for another oil grab under the guise of overthrowing an oppressive dictator, of the type that is failing so miserably in Iraq.
Before they proceed with such an idiotic concept, they should consider that an American intrusion into Libya would infuse Gadaffi with renewed purpose, as well as inflaming millions of unemployed youth in neighboring Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria, who are seething with resentment and just spoiling for a fight.
© Dean Borok March 1st 2011
Let The Games Begin
Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown is up for re-election next year for a full six year term