Why America will fail in Iraq [Archives:2004/733/Opinion]

April 29 2004

By Muhammad Shamsaddin Megalommatis
[email protected]

If one follows the main editorials of American newspapers, and the major speeches of American statesmen, diplomats and intellectuals, one notices an anxiety about security issues that reaches an unprecedented level. The result of the September 11th attacks has changed America; it is obvious. It led to what one can describe as an Israelization of America. At no stage of the Cold War did the US react in a similar way, all crises taken into consideration: Cuba, Vietnam, Hungary, Afghanistan or Ethiopia. Of course, those years belong to the world of the nuclear deterrence, but this does not truly say much.
Great support to this change of America is certainly offered by the press and the intellectuals of Israel; it is obvious that, by depicting themselves in a kind of parallel war against 'terrorism', Israeli opinion makers attempt to get a wider backing for their policies. Israelis stress the point that the world after September 11th is another world! However, all accounts made, Israelis fail to get the backing they try laboriously to get! In contrast, the world moves further from the Israeli practices in Palestine. Why?
Contrary to what one can read in newspapers like the Jerusalem Post, the world after September 11th did not change at all. It remained the same! Absolutely the same! The only thing that changed was the dream of America! Not necessarily the so often mentioned dream of invulnerability, but the main dream of the 'only existing super-power'.
America cultivated this dream for a very long period indeed! The collapse of the colonial powers, Britain and France, at the end of the Second World War, along with the quasi-annihilation of Germany and the Japan, helped the formation of a dream, namely that of the 'leading power of the free world'. It was the chance for America to eclipse the only remaining powers, Britain and France, by attaching them in the 'American Chariot of Liberty' at the moment both colonial powers were losing all their colonies. It was just a dream. And with the collapse of the USSR, it looked as if it came true!
Quite unfortunately, it has all been an illusion, the American illusion! And the moment of realisation has a name: September 11th! I will not enter into subjects that do not belong to my field; I will not repeat what was already stressed, namely that what happened in America on September 11th 2001 could never have happened in France or Britain because of the superiority of their respective secret services
I will rather focus on the American quantitative approach of evaluating almost anything! There lies the fundamental mistake of their wrong evaluation of their power. Whenever it comes to an evaluation or even simple enumeration, Americans are pleased to stress that they represent something quantitatively awful! Go to Yahoo Education; you will find that almost half of the world's universities are in the US! Refer to military expenses; you will find that US spends for 'defense' as much as the following 8 or 9 largest-spending countries on the list! Pick up economic performance stats, and check the GDP; America (with almost 280 million people) produces more than China, Japan, and India altogether (more than 2.4 billion people!) – or as much as Japan, Germany, France, England, Italy, Canada, i.e. all the other member states (with 410 million people) of the G 7, the group of the most developed countries in the world! And Americans like to enjoy this type of data!
Yet, all this, if placed within real historical context, is just rubbish! The entire world is full of examples that all this means nothing! Cyrus the Achaemenidian was far poorer than Nabunaid's Babylon, but Babylon fell! No one doubts that Alexandria, Ctesiphon and Jond-e Shapur had better academic establishments and real universities that could not be compared with any establishment of knowledge, research and exploration available in Mecca and Medina at the times of the Prophet and the first Caliphs! But yet Islamic armies entered these cities of the Iranian and the Byzantine Empires! A more powerful military machine does not guarantee victory either, and some striking examples that are very well known in history, as this discipline is taught in the Western establishments, are Alexander the Great in Granikos, Issos or Gaugamela, Caesar in Alexandria, or Marc Anthony at Actium! The colonial powers can in this regard give a lesson or two to America; Britain maintained its presence in Egypt with very limited military power, whereas in France 'le parti colonial' could not possibly demand a sizeable number of soldiers overseas, since the bulk of the French military had to be assigned against Germany in the period 1871 – 1914!
Why is the quantitative approach mistaken? The answer here is simple; it is the human mind – not the material volume – that truly creates power. And in this Americans seem to be left far behind! It took them one year after their 'victory' to realize that they – truly speaking – did not win over anybody! Well, eventually they overthrew a tyrannical dictator who was ruling based on a minority! This is not a big deal! The British did better in Egypt, already in 1914! Without declaring any war, they overthrew Abbas Helmi, who was in Istanbul ready to coordinate with the Sultan an alliance with Imperial Germany! They used the Wafd Party and royal family members for this purpose, not their soldiers.
What are the challenges Americans are facing? Certainly not the Shia and Sunni revolution in Iraq! They can silence them; it will take just one butchery more! Nothing new! But then, another problem will come to surface, and then another, and so on! It will never end! Why?
The answer lies in the real understanding of the modern history of the Middle East, and more particularly in the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, as carried out by the British and French. It would be very wrong to assume that this event happened at the aftermath of the First World War! This 'event' took no less than 120 years! It started with Napoleon's arrival in Egypt in 1798! It just ended in 1918! All the stages of the event, if studied correctly, give us the key to understanding what was targeted by the colonial powers, and what can be expected as a plausible development in this area.
The main link among that vast area's numerous and diverse elements was not Islam, but the Islamic Caliphate; and that was ultimately broken down and lost. Then, a multitude of otherwise unconnected languages, cultures and religions in a great variety of natural landscapes was left in a situation that incapacitates either a sort of merger or a further use by another power.
First, there is nothing to link even two neighboring parts, let us say Iraq and Syria, or Lebanon and Palestine. That is why all efforts of Pan-Arabism in the 50s and the 60s failed.
Second, no other power can truly take profit from or make use of the region. The Soviet Union at its best was not truly able to obtain in these lands the ideological or political control it did in various other parts of the world! And in this way, America will fail to export here the own model that the US exported successfully to Colombia, Zambia, Korea and Singapore.
The reason for this conclusion lies in the ideological, cultural, educational and political developments that took place in this part of the world, according to plans secretly envisioned by France and Britain. At the end of the day, one could truly ask the following question:
If the rise of the Neo-Turks and of Mustafa Kemal Pasha Ataturk in Turkey corresponded to French and British political – ideological choices, why did the two colonial powers did not leave the entire Ottoman Empire intact, so that they facilitate the imposition of the Western concepts of society and life throughout its surface?
The answer is simple; if the entire Ottoman empire from Yemen to Turkey and from Palestine to Oman turned out to be a united modern state run by the same ideals and principles that secularist Turkey, or even France or Finland were run by, it would soon become a power far stronger than the Ottoman Empire itself, or – even worse – stronger than France itself! Leaving all the rich energy resources (all the oil of Iraq, Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Emirates and Oman) in the hands of just one typically Western modern government would be an act of suicide for France and Britain.
The demarcation lines, the borders-to-be, the shaping of the future states, the 'tribal – royal' families supported, and the culture and ideology diffused in this part of the world were all planned in a way that would bring despair, division and weakness. It is essential to notice that the colonial powers did not wish to westernize fully the populations and the societies that existed on the confiscated Ottoman soil. You cannot compare the diffusion of French culture in Senegal and Madagascar with French culture propagation in Syria; British culture was diffused in South Africa, in Singapore and in India on much greater a scale than in Iraq or Yemen.
How can one truly measure these developments in an accurate way? It is simple; if one compares the diffusion – as emanated from France and England – of nationalist ideology in the education and the culture of two sample countries, one truly understands what was at stake, and up to what extent the colonial powers wished each colonized country to follow, to keep pace with, the ideological and cultural developments of the 19th and the 20th centuries, and to reach the colonizing powers' social, educational and intellectual level.
Greece and Egypt are two good examples in this respect; the two countries have been formed at the beginning of the dismemberment procedure of the Ottoman Empire. French and English, as well as other Europeans participating in the anti-Ottoman process, excavated equally in both countries, shipped illegally outside the country of origin a similar number of antiquities in both cases, invested and controlled the burgeoning market economy of both countries to the same extent, and were equivalently involved in directing and even ordering the policies of both local governments.
But in the case of Greece there was more. The new elite that was formed in the Western capitals was so overwhelmingly driven by its nationalist quest that set up a new, modern Greek language and imposed it as such in the primary and secondary education system of the small Greek state of the 19th century. The children were forced to learn a language that was not comprehensible to their parents, who were told by their own children that they were not speaking the correct language! What one spoke in a Greek city in the Ottoman Empire in 1780 – let us say in Patras – and the prevailing language in that same Greek city one hundred years later are two different things. In the former case, it was a mixture of Turkish, Albanian, Slavic and Greek; in the second case, it was the fabricated language of Adamantios Korais, the pupil, puppet and 'enfant gate' of the French academia. This did not occur in Egypt, where – quite contrarily – Coptic was abandoned and was lost, although it was still spoken at the times of Champollion, who learnt it in order to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphics!
A cultural, literary, philological, philosophical, educational, artistic, ideological and political archaeolatry and archaeomania were developed to an unbelievable degree in 19th century Greece. The main concern for a Greek poet of the time was to imitate an ancient Greek rhyme or rhythm, the central issue for a Greek intellectual was to deliberate about Platonic, Aristotelian, Epicurian and Stoic approaches to a topic, the ideal for a Greek architect was the most perfect neo-classicist achievement, whereas the politicians and the statesmen were told that their success depended more on studies on Thucydides, Xenophon, Arrian, Demosthenes and Diogenes Laerce. In the school, pupils and students had to learn the epics of Homer and Hesiod, the verses of Sophocles and Pindar by heart! All this was first suggested in Paris, in Venice, in Vienna and in London, and then implemented in 19th century Athens.
But in the case of Egypt, the leading European Egyptologists, from Mariette and Lepsius to Maspero, Flinders Petrie and A. Erman, did not bother at all to convince young Egyptians to embark on an effort similar to that of the contemporaneous Greeks! For almost the first century of Egyptology there was not a single Egyptian Egyptologist. The same situation reigned in other sectors of Orientalism, notably Assyriology, Iranology and Hittitology, to name a few.
The decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics had advanced enough in 1915 so that Egyptian schoolboys could study the campaigns of Thutmoses III, the expedition to Punt by Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the adventures of Wenamun and the Amarna pharaonic correspondence at secondary school, as the Greek schoolboys were studying Herodotus, Pausanias and Strabo. But the pushing factor, the interest of the colonizing academia and statesmen, diplomats and intellectuals was not there. Other calculations and machinations had already been made, and they aimed at shaping the Middle East in a very different way. In a way that would keep the local peoples permanently undeveloped.
Contrary to what many assume, America today is about to find its Middle Eastern dream ('Greater Middle East') crushed on these terrible rocks set by the colonial powers to their exclusive permanent profit. The case of Iraq, and both its Assyrian and Iranian streams of heritage, is quite indicative.