Saturday, February 11, 2006

Our leaders have forgotten the legacy of Lawrence of Arabia

Read this Guardian Unlimited | Guardian daily comment | Our leaders have forgotten the legacy of Lawrence of Arabia and return for commentary.

First, my take is that it is a bit of a backhand compliment that America is not seeking empire. I'm sure that anyone reading this in the first place will not be convinced, but it is in the Guardian. Thus, there is no surprise when he starts wondering into the "Rumsfeld the mad bomber" commentary. What may be surprising is that he seems to be advocating the old detente policy of installing our own "SOB". To quote:

It defied the west's strategic interest in a Sunni/Shia balance in the Middle East. It defied the rule that nothing should enhance the status of Iran or galvanise Kurdish revanchism. As for Saddam, at least he should have been replaced with a leader who was secular and strong enough to hold Iraq together.

Which completely flies in the face of the original stated plan to install REAL democracy which includes getting different factions to compromise and work with each other. That was the stated plan. The question was whether to stand back and let people do whatever, duke it out, kill each other or work towards democracy.

He proceeds to talk about history of T E Lawrence and his dash to Damascus then proceeds to imply that the same techniques that worked for Lawrence should have been undertaken in Baghdad:

The British aide Colonel Stirling wrote of that weekend that "a thousand and one things had to be thought of, but never once was Lawrence at a loss". He met any breaches of order with a bullet. He also knew that this might be no passing glory. He wanted Emir Feisal to rule a new Arabia, but when an Arab asked him if Allenby's troops were coming, he answered: "Certainly, but the sorrow is that afterwards they may not go."

None of Lawrence's "thousand and one things" have been achieved in Baghdad in almost three years, let alone three days. The initial errors, the tolerance of looting and the mass sackings of soldiers and Ba'ath party officials have been analysed by authors as varied as Bob Woodward, Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, George Packer and Larry Diamond, and now David Phillips in Losing Iraq

Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Had the soldiers proceeded to shoot looters, they would have been accused of war crimes. Had Bremmer re-installed the Ba'athists, he would have been accused of doing just what Jenkins suggests and that is installing a puppet regime. In fact, that did and is happening despite the on-going struggles between different factions to come up with a government (obviously, if we had, we would have just picked somebody with some serious power and let them duke it out).

No, he isn't saying the Brits would have done it better simply because the government in Downing Street is wimpy bend with the Washington Wind. Of course, while he points to Lawrence of Arabia and then points to the problems in Iraq, this fellow completely disregards the point in front of his face (if not his head) and that is, this is not 1917. While T E had media attention, it was largely a single guy, following him around, lauding all his exploits. He didn't have 24 hour critical news programs up his rear, taking apart his every action. People didn't care if he killed a bunch of "filthy Turks". I mean, he did massacre a retreating force, right? Yes, they had just raped, pillaged, murdered and burned everything in a village, but in modern times, T E would have been crucified as a war criminal. He'd be on par with Sharon and Bush in most of the modern world's opinion.

Recall Saddam's retreating forces from Kuwait and the "highway of death". The Iraqi Army had just been driven out of Kuwait after raping, pillaging, murdering, torturing and burning, but world opinion, watching live on TV and confronted in their faces with the ongoing act couldn't stomach it, so they were let go, only to turn their power on the Shia and massacre them. So, T E has a nice lesson in the Seven Pillars about letting armies go intact, but I am certain his decision making processes would have been drastically changed in the face of modern media and world opinion.

Fallujah would be another good example.

No, T E Lawrence would have been sent home, court martialed and imprisoned or rotting away in his own personal obscurity if he had to live and make war in the modern world.

People saw Arabs as "noble savages", but they didn't respect them. And the Europeans screwed them over royally, leading to our current mess with Israel/Palestine and the rest of the post colonial Arab world. Which are two points that serve some serious notice about listening to history:

1) History is only right because you can't go back and change it even if you keep trying to re-write it.
2) Keep the Europeans out of policy decisions because, for all their professed modern love for the poor oppressed Arab, they are still the Europe of WWI: they see Arabs as this man does, "noble savages" that we should just run rough shod over. The also believe they should do whatever it takes to get what they want, even if it screws the Arab man on the street. The UN Oil For Food Scandal comes to mind.
3) Setting up strongmen eventually leads to the future where they decide they are the new Mahdi, Sal Ah Din, Nebuchadnezzar or Moses that will lead their people out of their current problems by fighting the very people that brought them to power in the first place. The best unifying enemy being the outside unknown. The future of strongmen we prop up is the future of revolutions. It's the future of mass murder on a state scale. It's the future where we have to go to war with a crazy bastard trying to get his hands on nukes.

Here's the truth: History is a Bitch. She's always reminding you of past glories and acting like she has all the answers for the future. The only problem is, being locked in her house baking glory days cookies all the time, she's constantly looking backwards and inwards without a clue in the world about the realities of current day she's living in.

Kind of like Mr. Jenkins.

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