View Full Version : Middle East Explained

11-24-2002, 11:35 PM
The following opinion piece really helped me understand the middle eastern situation and the instability that seemingly never resolves. I know there are some here who have a better understanding of this than I do. Do you think this analysis is on the mark or not?


11-25-2002, 02:01 AM
So what do we do, break it up into several hundred city states? That would sure make getting at the oil easier.

IIRC, the Ottoman Empire had a lively time of governing the middle east too. The Sultan was always worried about some provinical governor getting ideas and trying to take over his job, not withstanding the taking of family hostages and ruthless elimination of rivals, including the Sultan's own siblings.

After WW I, I think some of the problem can be laid at the British doorstep. One of their favorite colonial governing tactics was to set rival factions off on each other so that they'd be too busy to bother with the occupying power.

I was sent to Japan for 6 weeks in 1985 to work on a joint project of my employer and a large Japanese company. Coming off the plane, I was struck by how much the Japanese landscape resembled the set of some B-grade sci-fi movie. Later I discovered beautiful french pastries filled with sweet bean paste instead of the western traditional sweet filling. Milkshakes at "McDonaldo's" where bizzare - short on milk, long on shake and the flavoring came as a jelly in a separate packet! I felt like I was a visitor to an alien planet. I came to the realization that trying to look at Japan or any other culture through American/western eyes just wasn't possible.

Aliens aren't coming: they're already here and they live in places like Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Karachi, Deli, Bangkok, Beijing and Tokyo! They may look like us and have the same needs for shelter, food and security, but they don't think like us, don't have the same mindset and don't have our values. Trying to impress our culture on their situation is not going to work IMO.

11-25-2002, 02:27 AM
Yeah, what really struck me was the line about "the family business", it being running their own little territory, kind of like the mob on a larger scale.

While you're right about the differences in culture being so extreme, I have to wonder if the common guy on the street doesn't have the same wants/needs/values as the rest of humanity, but doesn't have the opportunity to express or achieve them. I don't have an understanding or sense of how educated or involved the average guy is over there- maybe they don't care 'cause they don't know, or it has no practical impact. But I'd like to think they might appreciate some more freedom once they got a taste of it and could put it to use in a system that recognized individual effort, not just family heritage.

11-25-2002, 03:13 AM
I think the wants and needs are universal - the values vary by culture IMO. Educationally, I think the S. Koreans, Japanese and Chinese are the most educated and, on average, Japanese are probably better educated then us (which, anymore, isn't saying much - we're pretty far down the list I think). Even average Indian college graduates are probably better educated then our average graduates, although the bulk of India is pretty illiterate (heaven help us when they catch up - they're already breathing on our heels and taking software jobs away from the US).

The Japanese are still pretty big on family and family connections and the old Japanese samurai aristocracy are still around and deferred to in subtle ways. I actually got to work with a Tokugawa, the family that started the shogunate and ruled Japan for about 400 years. His supervisors deferred to him socially and he was treated in a way that his job title would not have given him if he was an ordinary Japanese "commoner". Democracy is a veneer over the old feudal system which can still be seen if you know what to look for and know anything about Japanese history and customs. (If you talk to a guy with a small family crest embroidered on his upper shirt sleeve (often white on white - very subtle), you're talking to samurai aristocracy. Mr. Tokugawa wasn't the only crest wearer around and even within that group there was an evident pecking order based on family status.)

There was election campaigning going on in Japan while I was there with lots of televised political rallies, none of which I understood (although I understood that they where political rallies - a lot of other Japanese TV was like from another planet!). I got the distinct impression that the average man in the street treated the topic as if it was an outting - dress up, wave flags, smile a lot; and that most Japanese voted their parties ticket, but didn't take the whole thing too seriously. There are obviously politically activists in Japan - mostly students who have the "impromptu" (NOTHING in Japan is ever impromptu - it wouldn't be proper! Besides, how can you dress properly if you don't know ahead of time ;) ) street rallies/marches and clashes with police.

Back to the middle east: the point of all this about the Japanese, is that even with 7 years of occupation and 50 years of exposure to American culture, they still think radically different from us. I don't think the middle east would be any different if we (as we probably will) end up invading and occupying Iraq. I think it will be far, far worse then Japan was too. The japanese where relatively well educated and accustomed to obedience to their leaders and since we won, we where the proper authorities to be obedient to. In contrast, Iraqis are, to put it charitably, far less literate and far less inclined to view us as legitimate. That's before you get to the religious clash. Add that to the mix and I think any attempt at occupying Iraq would come at an extreme cost in US lives and treasure. Occupying forces can look to being ambushed at every turn and at every opportunity until we go away IMO.

[ 11-25-2002, 04:42 AM: Message edited by: Meerkat ]

11-25-2002, 07:58 AM
Meerkat, I was in Japan that same year,,blew me away to see beer vending machines outside little grocery stores in little towns. Young people under the age of 21 didn't use them,,because they were underage! Downtown Tokyo there were cars in alley ways with keys in the ignition,,,while deliveries were being made and the car was unattended...madness!
And the US is going to bring WHAT to the Middle East to people who KNOW where they came from?
"where are you from?" "oh I was born in... , but we moved to ...then again,,,,and now I'm living in ....."
I haven't read the link above but the more I read about the world where the US is "stepping in because no one else is" the more it looks like we're leading from ignorance and distance as much as power,universal values and self-interest.

11-25-2002, 08:08 AM
Conrad, that's a concise article. There's a thick paper back book out called The Saddam Hussein Reader,,a compilation of writings from a range of sources about SH. It's worth wading into.

John of Phoenix
11-25-2002, 11:18 AM
It's an accurate piece, I think. What I find interesting is the reference to the post WWI borders and how the nations constructed at the time are basically meaningless. My experience in Iran during the revolution supports that view, borders mean nothing really. The Mideast seems to be a region that is consumed with its past and just won’t leave it behind, despite the fact that it’s not particularly filled with “Good old days.” It’s almost medieval and they seem intent on staying that way.

This is the most interesting observation to me.

They hate us for the condition of humiliating subjection in which they find themselves, and for which, rightly or wrongly, they hold us responsible. They feel we prop up the dictators that oppress them, yet they violently oppose our overthrowing SH. :confused: They fail to realize that if it weren’t the dictator they have now, there would be another to do the same thing. They don’t realize that they’re damned either way, but it winds up as the West’s fault that they are oppressed. And they seem intent on having their revenge.

The closing sentence is prophetic, IMHO.

We're on the brink of an intervention that will rank in Arabian history beside the Sykes-Picot Agreement and the Balfour Declaration, and we are bringing to that intervention a terrifying mixture of ignorance and amnesia.

Scott Rosen
11-25-2002, 05:47 PM
I've been following and studying the Middle East for quite some time. The following is everything I know about the Middle East:


[ 11-25-2002, 06:47 PM: Message edited by: Scott Rosen ]

11-25-2002, 06:04 PM
From what I read the FBI and CIA doesn't know much more than that either, Scott.


Peter Malcolm Jardine
11-25-2002, 06:22 PM
A quite concise and compelling statement on the reality of colonialism in the Middle East. It always amazes me how we always think of other cultures in the context of ourselves. Our own foreign policies are actions based on what we think the other nation SHOULD know. The afghani people had no idea what was coming, or where the United States even is. They just followed the word of the most educated person from their region, who happened to be Taliban. They are poor, uneducated peasants. Sadly for them they were, and are, manipulated by people of more zealous belief and action. Iran... we didn't care for the Ayatollah Khomeini, but the Shah was supported by the US and was a horribly oppressive ruler. Western nations need to give articles like this the credibility they deserve. :(

[ 11-25-2002, 07:24 PM: Message edited by: Peter Malcolm ]

11-25-2002, 07:14 PM
Well, if it's accurate I'll probably have to change my thinking about the current situation. It doesn't look like we'll be as successful as hoped changing the long term structure of the region. Perhaps the best we can hope for is knocking the wind out of the more dangerous elements for the next couple of years, then having to deal with it again later.

11-26-2002, 04:04 AM
Quite a good article, but Raban overlooks the point that these nations are no longer so new; hardly any of their citizens can recall any other arrangement. All the Iraqis and Syrians (to take an example) whom I have ever met (mostly refugees!) have promptly identified themselves as "Iraqi" or "Syrian". By the time a nation has a flag, an airline, a national anthem, an army, a (corrupt) Customs service, a (closely censored) TV station and an army, and has gone to war with its neighbours a couple of times, it is sufficiently identified in the minds of its neighbours.

A propos Gertrude Bell, Raban has a bit of fun with dragging sticks in the sand, but the boundaries were settled at the Versailles Conference which the USA walked out of. They were arrived at after a great deal of careful analysis, by two nations which were appointed to control the area by the League of Nations, Britain and France.

What else was to be done, given that the Turkish Empire had collapsed completely? Britain had spent the previous 150 years propping up the Turkish Empire because it represented the best way of governing the region, unpleasant as the Turks often were.

Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, was not invented by Britain and France. The United States bears sole responsibility for that one!

jack grebe
12-29-2006, 02:11 PM
A very good thread to re-visit......
check out the link in the first post

12-29-2006, 07:00 PM
Thanks for the info. In my ignorance I heretofore believed that the national boundaries were drawn on napkin at the bar of one of London's more exclusive clubs.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
12-29-2006, 07:22 PM
I've just re-read what I wrote then, and I stand by it.

Iraq as we now know it was created out of three administrative units of the Ottoman Empire, but those three units had been known as "Iraq" for an awful long time before then.

I'm also a little tired of the canard that the British colonial adminstrators operated on the principle of "divide and rule" so its all our fault.

They did not. They operated on two principles, either "direct rule" or "indirect rule". "Direct rule" is obvious - you impose your own administration, all the way through. In "indirect rule" you govern through the rulers who were in place when you arrived. In neither case was it in the interest of the colonial power to foment discord between groups of people, which would have led to just the sort of troubles the colonial administrators, people like my father and my uncle, were trying very hard to avoid.

Osborne Russell
12-30-2006, 11:50 AM
Iraq as we now know it was created out of three administrative units of the Ottoman Empire, but those three units had been known as "Iraq" for an awful long time before then.

By whom? The people that lived there? Did they make the division into three, and the combination of the three into one?

President Bush said, "They hate us for our freedoms" — but that's not true: Freedom is a rare commodity that Arabs would dearly like a lot more of. They hate us, rather, for the condition of humiliating subjection in which they find themselves, and for which, rightly or wrongly, they hold us responsible. They hate us for Sir Mark Sykes, for Georges Picot, for Gertrude Bell, for Arthur James Balfour; for America's steadfast support of what they perceive as corrupt and cruel regimes (like that of the Saud family in its glittering high-tech fortress of modern Riyadh) and for its bland indifference to the injustice suffered by the Palestinians. (emphasis added)

The coalition shattered Iraq on the basis of WMD's and other facts which they "rightly or wrongly" believed to exist.

So in a sense it boils to equality of illusion, and disparity of power. What kind of policy would address that is a tough question, but of course, if you insist that any first step must be to tell the discontented people of the middle east that they are simply fantasizing their discontent, you won't get far with whatever else you decide upon.