August 10, 2006

The Middle Eastern Powder-Thimble

An obsessive neocon trope for the last five years has been that this very moment is the autumn of 1938 all over again, when it's our last possible chance to stop the New Hitler (whose precise identity seems to be hazy -- it used to be Osama bin Laden, but then we lost interest in catching him and the New Hitler became Saddam Hussein, and then that Zarqawi maniac, and now, apparently, it's that guy in Iran who looks like Yakov Smirnoff or Borat, or maybe this Nasrallah fellow in Lebanon).

Now, former Clinton Administration foreign policy honcho Richard Holbrooke explains in the Washington Post in "The Guns of August" that it's really the summer of 1914 or maybe the fall of 1962 all over again.

A reader writes:

The author (Richard Holbrooke) begins with this:

"Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency. A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay. Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists based there. Syria could easily get pulled into the war in southern Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under pressure from jihadists to support Hezbollah, even though the governments in Cairo and Riyadh hate that organization. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of giving shelter to al-Qaeda and the Taliban; there is constant fighting on both sides of that border. NATO's own war in Afghanistan is not going well. India talks of taking punitive action against Pakistan for allegedly being behind the Bombay bombings. Uzbekistan is a repressive dictatorship with a growing Islamic resistance."

According to Holbrooke, the following are either happening or might happen: 1. Turkey is "talking" about invading northern Iraq. 2. Syria "gets pulled" (passive voice) into the war in Lebanon. 3. Egypt and Saudi Arabia "are under pressure" to support Hezbollah by disfavored domestic elements that those governments routinely ignore and/or repress. 4. "Afghanistan" (I think he means the mostly ineffective national government of that country) accuses Pakistan of something everyone knows they do - providing cover to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Etc. etc. etc.

The author then adds these seemingly typical Middle Eastern problems up and concludes that "This combination of combustible elements poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, history's only nuclear superpower confrontation."

Wow. I find that an amazing conclusion. The ongoing border skirmishes and ethnic/religious battles in the Middle East, which we're all pretty used to (and tired of) are suddenly, seemingly through the addition of the single element of Israeli involvement, transformed into "the greatest threat to global stability since" the Soviet Union and the United States nearly blew up the world.


Clearly, the Iraq Attaq has had a destabilizing effect on the Middle East and, contrary to the neocon theory that America causing more disorder over there would be (through some magical alchemy) constructive, it's more common in that part of the world for perturbations to cause things to go from bad to worse than from bad to good. The Second Law of Thermodynamics tends to work more strongly over there than in some other regions.

Still, it's just a bunch of Middle Eastern countries we're talking about. If some of them didn't have oil, they'd rank up there with Burma in global importance. And they all have big incentives to keep pumping oil into the world market. Obviously, various people in America have emotional, family, religious, and ethnocentric ties to various countries over there, but, in the final analysis of American national interest, so what?

So, please, keep in mind that if the Great Powers had paused in the summer of 1914 and said, "Jeez, it's just somebody shooting somebody in Bosnia-Herzegovina, for heaven's sake," the next 75 years of unpleasantness up through 1989 could have been avoided.

Especially because today there aren't any Great Powers around for each other to worry about. There's just the Hyperpower -- us -- with 47% of the whole world's military spending. And there's a motley cast of a supporting actors: a future Great Power in China, a staggering ex-Superpower in Russia, a few Medium Powers like Britain and France, two potential Medium Powers in Japan and Germany, a far future potential Great Power in Indian, a Regional Micro-Superpower in Israel, and so forth. According to the CIA World Factbook, Iran comes in 25th in military spending (as of 2003), wedged among such imposing military colossi as Singapore, Argentina, Norway, and Belgium.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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