Remember when World War III was envisioned as a nuclear Armageddon? That threat hung over the heads of my generation through our entire childhoods and into our adult lives. Then it vanished along with the Soviet Union. We may face it again someday, but for right now it's gone.
What isn't gone is the threat of another World War. And, thanks to George W. Bush and his Neoncon advisers we are on the brink of just that... a major war with international implications. And like almost every other world war, it has snuck up on us. To understand how that could be so you all you need to do is look back 93 years, to June 28, 1914.
At approximately 11:00 am on June 28, 1914, Prince Franz Ferdinand, the Archduke of Austria, and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The assassin was Gavrilo Princip, a member of a Bosnian separatist group. The event was the trigger of World War I, which began less than two months after Franz Ferdinand's death, with Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia. (More)
World War I, was a global military conflict that took place mostly in Europe between 1914 and 1918. It left millions dead and re-shaped the modern world. The Allied Powers, led by France, Russia, the British Empire, and later, Italy, defeated the Central Powers: Austria-Hungary, the German Empire, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire. (More)
Ferdinand wasn't the reason all Europe and the near east were thrust into years of bloody conflict. His assassination was simply the spark that ignited a long simmering toxic stew of petty gripes, border disputes, rivalries, personal hatreds and ethnic tensions. The lid had been on for a long time, the pressure had built and all it took was one moron to come along and set the whole thing off.
Exactly those conditions existed in Middle East on March 19, 2003 when George W. Bush decided it was good time to take out Saddam Hussein.
Just look at the geopolitical conditions that were boiling at the time. To the west Sunni nations, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, had each forged strong political and economic ties with the Christian/Judeao west. These nations were modernizing along western lines and falling increasingly in line with western diplomatic wishes, including tolerating and even recognizing Israel.
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To the east was the 900 pound gorilla, Shiite Iran. Iran was heading in the polar-opposite direction. Iran was determined to reclaim it;s Shia's mission as keeper of the pure Islamic flame and to reinstate Islamic religious rule throughout the region.
Iraq, dominated by it's minority Sunnis. had fought Iran to a standstill 1980's, brutal war that killed millions on both sides. After failing to defeat Iran, Iraq attacked neighboring Kuwait, only to be thrown out by western forces a few months later.
Afghanistan, to Iran's immediate east, had been in the hands of a crackpot cult of militant Muslims, the Taliban, which the Iranian hated and feared.
Then there was Syria, a majority Sunni nation, caught quite between Iraq and a hard place. It had mutual enemy Israel on it's southern border and a democratic Lebanon on its western. Syria had supported Saddam's dictatorship through ties with their common Baath parties. But, having been defeated decades earlier by Israel, which still occupied captured Syrian territory, Syria had turned to Iran for help, which Iran happily provided through its proxy army, Hezbollah.
And that's where things stood on March 19, 2003 when George W. Bush assassinated his version of Archduck Ferdinand by launching a full-scale invasion of Iraq. He lit a match that ignited the highly flammable tensions that filled the region – Israel v. Palestinians, Palestinians v. Palestinians, Shia v. Sunnis, Shia v.Shia, Sunni v. Sunni, Christians v. Muslims, Muslims v. Modernity, Modernity v. Muslims, Oil consuming nations v. anyone who gets in the way of their oil supplies. If there was ever a region ready to blow, it was the Middle East on March 19, 2003.
Only a fool would strike anywhere near such a fuse.
Bush's reckless war tore the lid off a boiling cauldron that is now boiling over and threatens to engulf the entire region in what history will likely record as a full fledged world war.
The decisions Congress must make in the months ahead about what to do with our troops in that region will be shaped by how they see what's actually going on and where it's headed. Which is why they need to start framing it in terms larger than “civil war.” Because it's not about Iraq today anymore than it was about Bosnia in 1914. It beyond that now. Way beyond that.
When this kind of war breaks out certain patterns are immediately recognizable. During World War I we witnessed the same kind of things we are now seeing in Iraq, among which is ethnic cleansing. During WWI the Armenians were massacred by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. We can parse terms, was it a massacre or was it genocide, but whatever it was it looks a lot like what gearing up in Iraq right now. So far at least 180,000 Sunnis have be ethnically forced to out -- cleansed -- from just Baghdad alone...right under the noses of US forces. Those who refuse to leave are killed.
The Saudis have taken notice and warned that if this continues they will have no choice but to begin arming and supporting Iraq's beleaguered Sunnis. Iran has countered that it would respond to that by making “trouble” for the Saudis – a thinly veiled threat to disrupt Saudi oil facilities and stir up opposition to the already fragile Saudi royal family.
Meanwhile Pakistan has been secretly rearming Afghan's defeated Taliban. Why? Because they simply do not want a US-dominated government on their border because they see the US as closer to Pakistan's mortal foe, India – a suspicion the US reinforced by singing a controversial nuclear deal with India earlier this year.
It's no coincidence that the Iran/Hezbollah./Syria axis decided now was the right moment to openly challenge the western-leaning democratic government in Lebanon. While Syria sees the destabilization of Lebanon as a bargaining chit in it's bid to reclaim the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and Hezbollah. sees it as the front line in its war against Israel, Iran sees Lebanon as the keystone in it's dream of establishing a Shia crescent running form Iran to the Mediterranean.
So what's everyone's next move? Iran knows the US can't sustain it's occupation of Iraq and is already taking an increasingly aggressive hand in shaping the new Iraq. That will mean growing Shiite control and that will manifest itself in growing pressure on Iraq's Sunnis. The Saudis won't stand for it and will jump into the fray by backing Sunni insurgents with money and US weapons. If that doesn't turn the tide, the Saudis could provide Sunnis with close air support with its formidable US-supplied air force.
The Iranians don't have an air force to speak of, but they do have long range missiles that can reach Saudi oil fields and refining facilities. One tit will be followed by one tat, then two, then three... then all hell breaks loose.
All this will force Syria to finally chose a side. Are they going to go with the dark side, Iran, or throw their lot in with fellow Sunni nations. If Syria goes with Iran then Lebanon is toast and Israel will look to Jordon and Egypt to join with them in a joint defense of Lebanon against Syria and, if necessary Iran as well. Because for Israel, a Syria and Lebanon controlled by Iran would be unacceptable.
The Iranians clearly see that scenario as a real possibility, which why they are racing to get a working nuclear weapon – to make Israel think twice before taking a swing at them.
More clues emerged last week when King Hussein of Jordon announced that he'd like his country to begin its own “civilian” nuclear program – like Iran's. Why? Because he too sees something awful his way comes.
And let us not forget those Ottoman Turks of WW I. They are still around in todays Turkey. During WW I they tried to exterminate the Armenians. This time they will try to itch another scratch that's been bugging them for decades, the Kurds. Turkey would love to get rid of separatist Kurds once and for all.
The Turks caught the Armenians by surprise and with the upper hand in WW I. The Kurds will not go quietly or as easily. That fight will be particularly bloody. And, as a member of NATO, meaning some generals in Belgium is going to have some hard decisions. Internally Turkey will be torn to pieces by those who, on one side want to become part of Western Europe and those on the other side whose hearts are with their ancient Muslim roots. Turkey will not likely emerge from such a war as we know it today.
I have no idea how this would affect the Israeli/Palestinian mess, except to say that it would be supremely foolish of the Palestinians to see all the trouble around them as an opportunity to make trouble for Israel. There is no nation on earth with less of a sense of humor when cornered than Israel.
It all seems so obvious, certainly to leaders in the region who are clearly already moving on their own and in their own national interests. Only the US seems unable or unwilling to see what we've ignited over there. We got it wrong from day one, and we're still getting it wrong. First we were told the problem was the tyrant, Saddam. Then, when it got worse the problem was “dead enders,” and Saddam loyalists. When it got worse again, it was blamed on “insurgents and al Qaida.” Now that the whole country is coming apart, it's a “civil war.”
Yes. George, it's a civil war... and so much more. It's the beginning of a major regional war... call it what you want, World War III, or the Middle East War or Smack Down in the Desert. But its a more than just a civil war – a lot more.
Just as the first two world wars reshaped all of Europe and the near east, this war will reshape the Middle East. It will reshape the region in ways we cannot now predict or prevent. All we can do now is prepare. Act like it's an emergency, because it is:
- We should withdraw our troops from Iraq immediately.
- We should redirect the $8 billion a month we are wasting there by allocating half to rebuilding and repairing our own now exhausted military and national defenses
- We should direct the other $4 billion a month into a crash “Manhattan Project” to develop and deploy alternative energy as quickly as possible.
Good idea George, but not nearly enough. We need to go the rest of the way. A fierce storm is brewing. Now is the time to secure all loose gear and batten down our own hatches. Raise taxes, enact standby procedures for mandatory energy conservation. And no "duck and cover" BS. We need to start doing real things to prepare the kind of real shortages that will occur when oil supplies are disrupted.
It took two catastrophic world wars before Europeans got it all out of their system. Hopefully middle easterners can settle it with one. In any event, we can no longer pretend nothing has really changed. We can no longer tether our national security to the fragile threat of middle east oil. We should begin the disengagement now, in a rapid but orderly manner and prepare for the troubled days ahead.
Otherwise we risk being swept up in the maelstrom, unprepared and at the mercy of events now far beyond our control.
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