Monday, January 09, 2006

The Betrayal

A good history lesson last night, Bush, with the rerun of a biography of the British maverick T.E.Lawrence--he of "Lawrence of Arabia" fame. This wasn't the Peter O'Toole film, though, but rather a straight TV documentary, and it was a useful reminder of the history of that part of the world that has your good self all tied in knots nearly one century later.

I presume the story is well known to you, Bush. But these things tend to fade in the memory, so I myself found it a useful refresher course: how that region populated in the main by Arab tribes had been for many years under the frequently brutal control of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, and how the Arabs saw their chance, as World War II began, to win the support of Britain in fighting for their freedom from the Turks. How the British, teetering on the verge of disaster in the Middle East, were happy to use the Arabs' warrior energy in their effort to beat back the Turks, and used the peculiar skills of Lawrence to corral and direct that energy. How they promised an independent nation in return for the support of the Arab Revolt. And how they at the very same time plotted treacherously with the French to divide the spoils of the Arab territory between them once the war was won. My political geography is a bit shaky, Bush, but as I recall the French nabbed what is now largely Lebanon, and the British took over the big swath of Arabia that included Palestine, Syria--and, of course, a good part Iraq, with its wealth of oil. It was at this time, too, that the state of Israel was first conceived.

What a mess they made of things, in their arrogant assumption of imperial rights! I realize that historical events are far too complex to be attributed to a single cause, and that subsequent interventions of various kinds have each contributed in their own way to the intractible problems that prevail throughout the Middle East today. But the legacy of this betrayal, and the lasting distrust that it left in the hearts and minds of Arabs, must surely be accounted a significant role. Without regard to the rights and wrongs, Iraq and Israel provide ample evidence--though in vastly different ways--of the truth that you can't just divide up territory in this arbitrary way and expect to wipe out centuries of tribal memory and ancient rights. They just run too deep.

So dozens more people died in Iraq today, in consequence of your own imperial action, Bush--your own assumption that you knew what was best for a country of which you had such meager historical knowledge and cultural understanding. I sensed a small, momentary ray of hope last week, when I heard you had convened a gaggle of former Secretaries of Defense and State, to learn, as I thought, from their collective wisdom. Until I discovered, later, that you yourself had given these august sages only ten minutes of your time! Did I hear that right? Ten minutes? Surely that can't be right? But it was certainly short shrift. And that otherwise the meeting had been devoted to a briefing by your staffers--a version, I heard, of the same pablum you've been feeding the American people.

Your rosy predictions for the region notwithstanding, Bush, the mighty weight of history is against you. It's a history of bad faith, betrayal, tribal and religious animosity, of bloodshed, hatred, and revenge. Your war has thus far failed notably to heal any of the historical wounds. In fact, it seems to be only rubbing salt into them. Time to rethink this utterly vain and foolish venture, and find a way out.

2 comments:

PK said...

Yes, 10 minutes is a long time for him to be cooped up with people who disagree with him. Usually they are met at the door of wherever he's at by his security and ushered out so he doesn't have to deal with these pesky people. 10 minutes. Unbelievable, with as much knowledge as he had in that room.

Freticat said...

You wrote "...the Arabs saw their chance, as World War II began, to win the support of Britain in fighting for their freedom from the Turks." (emphasis added).

It was before World War I, not II, that Lawrence's exploits among the Arabs took place. In fact, it couldn't have been during World War II for a several reasons, most notably 1: The Arab revolt was against the Ottoman Empire, a member of the Central Powers which was dissolved in 1922; 2: Turkey was not an enemy in WWII; 3: Lawrence died in 1935.