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Mon

10

Sep

2007

The Closing of the Western Mind
Monday, 10 September 2007 12:09
by Tom Chartier

Regarding the Middle East, one might borrow the title of Allan Bloom’s fabled book. What I wonder is, was the western mind ever open?

In 1798 an attempt was made to shock and awe the freshly conquered Egyptians with superior Western technology. The French under command of Napoleon Bonaparte sent aloft a hot air balloon.

Intended to cow the Muslim population of Egypt, the French balloon had the opposite effect.

“It was expressed by an Arab chronicler in these terms,” writes Raphael Patai: “ ‘The French fabricated a monster which rose up into the sky with the intention of reaching and insulting God. But it rose only to a feeble height, then fell back, ridiculously impotent.’ ”

History doesn’t repeat itself: but you can always count on human folly to create the illusion that it does.

Viewing the Middle Eastern Islamic world with the arrogance of an idiot savant, Americans continue their futile quest to mold the Mid-East into a western model.

We know the results. And we don’t have to wait much longer before General Petraeus will confirm them.

What of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Iraq? Was not the Arab Revolt of 1916 a movement to expel the ruling Turkish Ottomans from Arabia and result in Arab self-rule? Well… that was the idea held by the Hashemite King Hussein, his sons Abdullah and Faisal. That was the goal of the Arabs who fought in the campaign.

But it was not the goal of the British Empire, France or Russia. Thanks to the conniving of Francoise Georges-Picot and Mark Sykes, the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement was signed in secrecy without Arab consultation. As spoils of war, Arabia was to be carved up into mandates and protectorates controlled by the British and French. Arabs were duped and used as tools to remove Turkey, a German ally, and thus secure Britain and France’s imperialistic designs.

The results of the Sykes-Picot Agreement reverberate today in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.

As for Palestine, Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, had a great but unrealistic dream. In 1896, with the founding of the World Zionist Organization, the pursuit of a safe Jewish homeland in Palestine was born.

In 1917, a famous letter was written. The letter read:

Foreign Office

November2nd, 1917

Dear Lord Rothschild,

I have much pleasure in conveying to you, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the following declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations which has been submitted to, and approved by, the Cabinet:

“His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country”. I should be grateful if you would bring this declaration to the knowledge of the Zionist Federation.

Yours sincerely

Arthur James Balfour

Despite the balanced tone of the famous letter, Balfour had no intention of consulting the Palestinian Arabs. In 1919 Balfour wrote: “For in Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants of the country, though the American Commission has been going through the forms of asking what they are. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder importance than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land. In my opinion, that is right.”

Did the early Zionists consider the reaction of the current residents of the region? Did they seriously believe European intrusion in Arab lands would be welcomed?

The western idea of “progress” was part of the luggage brought by immigrant Jews to their “homeland.” However, the Jewish establishment of settlements and farms in Palestine was seen by to the Arabs as theft. Perhaps the Arab residents of Palestine would have accepted a small number of Jewish immigrants had the new arrivals respected the local population.

With the borders to North America and Latin America closed to them, a flood of Jewish immigrants fleeing Hitler and Stalin had little choice but to slip illegally into the British Mandate Palestine. The resulting numbers of Jewish refugees overwhelmed the ruling British and indigenous Arab population.

Sir Martin Gilbert writes that:

"On October 21 (1948) the Government of Israel took a decision that was to have a lasting and divisive effect on the rights and status of those Arabs who lived within its borders: the official establishment of military government in the areas where most of the inhabitants were Arabs.”

These areas were termed ‘security zones.’ Permanent residents could not leave without a permit. Non-residents could not enter without one. The military was given the power to permanently remove permanent residents to other locations.

Today, who in their right mind actually wants to live in Israel or Palestine? Israel is not secure. The Palestinians are not secure. Paranoia and hatred runs rampant in this Kafkaesque nightmare. In a speech given last March in Tokyo, Ilian Pappe recounted that “a very well-known Israeli politician of the left,” is reported to have said: “ ‘My dream is to wake up one morning and to see that there are no Arabs in Israel.’ ”

Today, Western powers insist on forcing the Arab world into an impossible mold.

According to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office, the Iraqi government has failed to meet 11 of 18 benchmarks. And this is a surprise? By whose standards were these benchmarks set? The Iraqis? Of course not. We all know the policymakers of United States have imposed these benchmarks upon the Iraqi government, which in turn has imposed them upon the citizens of Iraq. So far it seems most Iraqis are unenthusiastic.

One recent report to Congress recommends disbanding the Iraqi Police Force because of corruption. Could it be that the Iraqi Police Force refuses to respect their Western masters? If corruption is the reason to disband a government entity, can you name one government entity that ought not to be disbanded?

Regarding the Iraqi Police Force, what about the millions of dollars spent training them, housing them? Now, Washington wants to disband them.

Remember what happened when Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi Army? That was, according to Retired Marine General Anthony C. Zinni: “the Bush administration’s ‘worst mistake’ in postwar Iraq.” It’s just what Iraq needs, more unemployed, angry, armed young men.

Likewise, the Iraqi Interior Ministry is reported to be rife with corruption. If corruption is an issue, why the hell has the U.S. Congress financed in Iraq a 200,000 strong shadow army of “reconstruction” contractors and “private military contractors?” It would seem corruption is fine and dandy as long as it and its kickbacks are confined to US war profiteers.

Do the powers that be in Washington seriously believe the Iraqis don’t notice this?

The only benchmark the people of Iraq might agree on would be an end to the U.S. occupation and a right to self-determination.

More reports on Iraqi “progress” are due this week from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker who will report on the Surge. Is it working? Is it a failure? Should we stay or should we go?

What difference does it make? No one in Washington will listen to what they don’t want to hear. Even if all reports on Iraq scream that everyone in the world wants the U.S. to withdraw, those reports will fail to address one basic fact. Western powers have no business meddling in the affairs of the Middle East.

Democratic efforts in Congress have imploded. Senate Democrats cannot muster 60 votes to override a Bush veto. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has just announced he is willing to negotiate with Republican Senators on plans to withdraw troops from Iraq. And not only has Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, refused to consider impeachment as an option, but also she no longer requires congressional approval for Bush’s future acts of aggression. Bush and Cheney can do as they please.

Let us not forget decades of US covert manipulation of Iranian politics, dirty back door deals and blatant threats. Perhaps this is why some Muslims ignore the wise counsel of Fformer Iranian President Mohammed Khatami and have resorted to anti-western rhetoric.

As Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs said: “Iran certainly needs to respect American power in the Middle East.” It seems that unless the people of Iran will learn this lesson, there may be no Iranians left to tell the tale.

It may be that all that stands between us and another illegal war is American military leadership. Last February, the London Times reported: “Some of America’s most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defense and intelligence sources.”

Knowledge of Middle Eastern languages, culture, history and religion appears to be thin on the ground in America. Arabs are confused with Persians and both are viewed as savage inferiors to be controlled… and all for what? A passage to India for the British Empire? The Promised Land for the Lost Tribe of Israel? Oil for a gluttonous United States?

Westerners cannot conceive that the Arab inhabitants of four thousand years might take exception to intrusion by these relative upstarts of European descent?

But let’s not be pessimistic. We will all vanish from the pages of time.

Elizabeth Gyllensvard contributed to and edited this story.
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a guest said:

0
US involvement in the Mideast and world
It appears to me that the USA has followed the patterns of many nations throughout history. Having become generally safe from foreign domination/attack and prosperous, the US now seeks to influence and dominate others (and has for a long time). It has gone from involvement in Central America and the Caribbean to involvement in numerous foreign wars, to the establishment of de facto colonies in places like the Philipines, and even the Mideast.

Anywhere the US has an economic interest seems to draw government meddling and even military involvement. This is everywhere as the USA is, and always has been, a trading nation. Unfortunately, the consent based economic exchange inherent in trade has largely given way to economic imperialism. We no longer exchange goods or gold for services, but dictate the terms of trade by demanding other nations accept a fiat dollar in exchange for real goods. We maintain the status of the dollar as a reserve currency by maintaining the petro-dollar concept which is predicated on American political hegemony and military power. This pattern also reflects historical cycles of empires. First, freedom (or relatively free) economies, thrift, industry, and investment leads to economic power. Economic power leads to military power, military power gets used to extend political influence, but it all becomes a drain on the economy. In time, the drain on the economy by growing committments becomes unsustainable so greater demands are placed on vassals and allies, and in the end it falls apart.

The US is constantly working to get its allies to help its foreign interventions with troops and money (which also lends a veneer of legitimacy in world politics). Even with the involvement of allies, these military interventions and growth of government inflate currencies, put demands on the resource base, lead to long term immense costs (disabled veteran care for one), and distort the economy as vast resources are shifted from the productive private sector and consumed by government.

In the end this becomes unsustainable, but you rarely see retrenchments in history before it is at the point of no return. Many people draw general parallels with Roman history, but few are really aware how valid the comparisons are. Be it military expansion, the growth of self defined national interest so that constant espionage, political intrigue and military interventions become the norm, the debasement of currencies, the looting of vassals, the loss of liberties and economic strength, the tendencies toward centralization of power and corruption, the degeneration of institutions, the breakdown of the sanctity of law, and eventual weakening and collapse of the society by numerous indicators, the USA resembles Rome.

I think the looting of vassals (euphamistically often called allies and trading partners) proceeds apace without general public notice because they don't recognize the modern mechanism by which it is achieved. The USA doesn't demand tribute in the form of gold and slaves. It demands that its vassals accept dollars in the balance of international payments in exchange for what it wants. It demands its trading partners underwrite its debts. Of course, these dollars are really backed by nothing but faith. As a result, so many of America's "trading partners" accumulate huge reserves of these dollars that are nigh unredeemable. They can be exchanged on the international market, but not all at once like a real currency lest the market be flooded and the resulting hyper inflation make their dollar reserves (promises to pay one and all) effectively worthless. There is little to nothing they actually want in the USA in trade because America, like Rome, is transforming increasingly to a nation that is an administrative center and not a producer. While this is not absolute and it is all shaded by degrees, it is a general observation that holds.

If America's partners all tried to redeem their dollar reserves for real US assets or goods and services, the resulting flood of dollars back to the US domestic markets would also trigger hyper inflation. It also would likely lead to a total repudiation of American debts, which no one wants to chance.

So the con continues where the "trading partners" of the USA (in reality its vassal states paying effective tribute) continue to accept fiat dollars for real goods and services. In the long run though, the joke is on the USA as America becomes dependent on what its vassals produce, and Americans quit producing the goods that were once the source of its economic and thus military power. The continual receiving of unearned wealth is often corrupting and Americans have become quite accustomed to getting foreign produced goods while so few Americans in the modern economy are actually engaged in the production of real wealth (and with so many in government employment, these are truly effective parasitical consumers).

In the long run, like Rome, this is unsustainable. Vassals usually don't like remaining vassals, especially as the relative balance of power shifts. As an EU acting in the interests of its member states realizes that the Euro can be a rival to the dollar, it may quit following the US line and even act against it (if only indirectly)). As nations like China, ancient and respected culturally, regain their relative power, they wonder why they should accept an inferior role in world politics, especially as they are the lender and the USA the debtor (I recall a phrase, Biblical perhaps, about the borrower being the servant to the one who lends). This is especially true as Chinese economic, technological, and thus political power grow rapidly whereas the US appears increasingly politically, economically, and militarily spent and hollowed out.

And finally there are always "rebellious provinces" or areas that never accepted vassal status even in the face of overwhelming power. Visiting France the last few weeks I was struck by the history of Brittany, which was never conquered by Rome, and its people always considered "old rebels." There are limits to power, and people don't always respect those who wield it. The USA finds itself in never ending military interventions precisely because countries defy its political wishes, despite its power. This hastens the trends that will lead to its collapse as the world power.

I fully expect American Empire to go the way of the Roman and British empires, which is to say it will hit a wall and it will have to retrench because it has exhausted itself. It will not be a voluntary process. It will involve loss, shame, heartache, and defeat. There will be a bitter adjustment in the national psychology. I do not know for sure what the psychology of the common people is in an empire that has suddenly gone into decline. We will find out (probably in my lifetime) what that is like. I do not expect that it will be gracious. People who are accustomed to thinking of themselves on top have a hard time accepting a fall. Plenty of Americans that I knew bitterly resented the loss in Vietnam and favoured turning the nation into a parking lot as we pulled out, and resented the "cowardice" of politicians who didn't do exactly that (destroying the village to save it on a national scale, or "if I can't have it, no one can). I expect that Americans may well come to hate and fear the Chinese as we perceive them threatening our authority and usurping "our" place at the head of the table of nations. There is already a bit of that in the public discourse.

I can say this. History moves in cycles, as any student of it knows. Nations don't stay on top for long, and all trends accelerate due to the effects of technology. America is far from spent, but its relative power is waning as other nations build up and modernize and the USA abandons much of what made it free, prosperous, and powerful. Its massive, imperial government is an enormous, unsustainable drain in the long term (as its national debt and currency debasements demonstrate). It is a nation sliding into bankruptcy on many levels. We will see the markers of current American dominance fade into obsolesence and other nations rise to pre-eminence and new technologies and industries become the basis of national power. In time, America may well find itself the object of other nations' machinations, manipulations, and interventions. The history of nations is usually a litany of the testing of the limits of power rather than exercises in morality. That worm will turn. I wonder how many Americans will appreciate the irony, and will accept their relegation to non-super power status with aplomb? I can say that those that remember it and defined their identity as citizen of the "most powerful nation on earth" will find the adjustment difficult. People may root for the underdog, but no one enjoys being the underdog. I do think America will flail about in a number of wars as an expression of this resentment as the general refusal to accept the limits of American national power slowly give way to material and political realities.

Time will tell though. I can say I feel sorry for the objects of American military power in the meanwhile. Too many of them are my friends abroad, and it is hard to explain to them why America feels it necessary to bomb their country for doing what their treaty rights under the non-proliferation treaty guarantee. Of course, in this particular example I refer to Iran, where I have engineer friends living and working with their families while they wonder if the hammer of American military might will fall, and how it will affect them.
 
September 11, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

a guest said:

0
US involvement in the Mideast and world
It appears to me that the USA has followed the patterns of many nations throughout history. Having become generally safe from foreign domination/attack and prosperous, the US now seeks to influence and dominate others (and has for a long time). It has gone from involvement in Central America and the Caribbean to involvement in numerous foreign wars, to the establishment of de facto colonies in places like the Philipines, and even the Mideast.

Anywhere the US has an economic interest seems to draw government meddling and even military involvement. This is everywhere as the USA is, and always has been, a trading nation. Unfortunately, the consent based economic exchange inherent in trade has largely given way to economic imperialism. We no longer exchange goods or gold for services, but dictate the terms of trade by demanding other nations accept a fiat dollar in exchange for real goods. We maintain the status of the dollar as a reserve currency by maintaining the petro-dollar concept which is predicated on American political hegemony and military power. This pattern also reflects historical cycles of empires. First, freedom (or relatively free) economies, thrift, industry, and investment leads to economic power. Economic power leads to military power, military power gets used to extend political influence, but it all becomes a drain on the economy. In time, the drain on the economy by growing committments becomes unsustainable so greater demands are placed on vassals and allies, and in the end it falls apart.

The US is constantly working to get its allies to help its foreign interventions with troops and money (which also lends a veneer of legitimacy in world politics). Even with the involvement of allies, these military interventions and growth of government inflate currencies, put demands on the resource base, lead to long term immense costs (disabled veteran care for one), and distort the economy as vast resources are shifted from the productive private sector and consumed by government.

In the end this becomes unsustainable, but you rarely see retrenchments in history before it is at the point of no return. Many people draw general parallels with Roman history, but few are really aware how valid the comparisons are. Be it military expansion, the growth of self defined national interest so that constant espionage, political intrigue and military interventions become the norm, the debasement of currencies, the looting of vassals, the loss of liberties and economic strength, the tendencies toward centralization of power and corruption, the degeneration of institutions, the breakdown of the sanctity of law, and eventual weakening and collapse of the society by numerous indicators, the USA resembles Rome.

I think the looting of vassals (euphamistically often called allies and trading partners) proceeds apace without general public notice because they don't recognize the modern mechanism by which it is achieved. The USA doesn't demand tribute in the form of gold and slaves. It demands that its vassals accept dollars in the balance of international payments in exchange for what it wants. It demands its trading partners underwrite its debts. Of course, these dollars are really backed by nothing but faith. As a result, so many of America's "trading partners" accumulate huge reserves of these dollars that are nigh unredeemable. They can be exchanged on the international market, but not all at once like a real currency lest the market be flooded and the resulting hyper inflation make their dollar reserves (promises to pay one and all) effectively worthless. There is little to nothing they actually want in the USA in trade because America, like Rome, is transforming increasingly to a nation that is an administrative center and not a producer. While this is not absolute and it is all shaded by degrees, it is a general observation that holds.

If America's partners all tried to redeem their dollar reserves for real US assets or goods and services, the resulting flood of dollars back to the US domestic markets would also trigger hyper inflation. It also would likely lead to a total repudiation of American debts, which no one wants to chance.

So the con continues where the "trading partners" of the USA (in reality its vassal states paying effective tribute) continue to accept fiat dollars for real goods and services. In the long run though, the joke is on the USA as America becomes dependent on what its vassals produce, and Americans quit producing the goods that were once the source of its economic and thus military power. The continual receiving of unearned wealth is often corrupting and Americans have become quite accustomed to getting foreign produced goods while so few Americans in the modern economy are actually engaged in the production of real wealth (and with so many in government employment, these are truly effective parasitical consumers).

In the long run, like Rome, this is unsustainable. Vassals usually don't like remaining vassals, especially as the relative balance of power shifts. As an EU acting in the interests of its member states realizes that the Euro can be a rival to the dollar, it may quit following the US line and even act against it (if only indirectly)). As nations like China, ancient and respected culturally, regain their relative power, they wonder why they should accept an inferior role in world politics, especially as they are the lender and the USA the debtor (I recall a phrase, Biblical perhaps, about the borrower being the servant to the one who lends). This is especially true as Chinese economic, technological, and thus political power grow rapidly whereas the US appears increasingly politically, economically, and militarily spent and hollowed out.

And finally there are always "rebellious provinces" or areas that never accepted vassal status even in the face of overwhelming power. Visiting France the last few weeks I was struck by the history of Brittany, which was never conquered by Rome, and its people always considered "old rebels." There are limits to power, and people don't always respect those who wield it. The USA finds itself in never ending military interventions precisely because countries defy its political wishes, despite its power. This hastens the trends that will lead to its collapse as the world power.

I fully expect American Empire to go the way of the Roman and British empires, which is to say it will hit a wall and it will have to retrench because it has exhausted itself. It will not be a voluntary process. It will involve loss, shame, heartache, and defeat. There will be a bitter adjustment in the national psychology. I do not know for sure what the psychology of the common people is in an empire that has suddenly gone into decline. We will find out (probably in my lifetime) what that is like. I do not expect that it will be gracious. People who are accustomed to thinking of themselves on top have a hard time accepting a fall. Plenty of Americans that I knew bitterly resented the loss in Vietnam and favoured turning the nation into a parking lot as we pulled out, and resented the "cowardice" of politicians who didn't do exactly that (destroying the village to save it on a national scale, or "if I can't have it, no one can). I expect that Americans may well come to hate and fear the Chinese as we perceive them threatening our authority and usurping "our" place at the head of the table of nations. There is already a bit of that in the public discourse.

I can say this. History moves in cycles, as any student of it knows. Nations don't stay on top for long, and all trends accelerate due to the effects of technology. America is far from spent, but its relative power is waning as other nations build up and modernize and the USA abandons much of what made it free, prosperous, and powerful. Its massive, imperial government is an enormous, unsustainable drain in the long term (as its national debt and currency debasements demonstrate). It is a nation sliding into bankruptcy on many levels. We will see the markers of current American dominance fade into obsolesence and other nations rise to pre-eminence and new technologies and industries become the basis of national power. In time, America may well find itself the object of other nations' machinations, manipulations, and interventions. The history of nations is usually a litany of the testing of the limits of power rather than exercises in morality. That worm will turn. I wonder how many Americans will appreciate the irony, and will accept their relegation to non-super power status with aplomb? I can say that those that remember it and defined their identity as citizen of the "most powerful nation on earth" will find the adjustment difficult. People may root for the underdog, but no one enjoys being the underdog. I do think America will flail about in a number of wars as an expression of this resentment as the general refusal to accept the limits of American national power slowly give way to material and political realities.

Time will tell though. I can say I feel sorry for the objects of American military power in the meanwhile. Too many of them are my friends abroad, and it is hard to explain to them why America feels it necessary to bomb their country for doing what their treaty rights under the non-proliferation treaty guarantee. Of course, in this particular example I refer to Iran, where I have engineer friends living and working with their families while they wonder if the hammer of American military might will fall, and how it will affect them.
 
September 11, 2007 | url
Votes: +0

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