The Iraqi Quagmire

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On August 31, 2010 President Obama officially called to an end the war in Iraq.  I use the word officially because of the US’s long standing tradition of adhering to the Hotel California principle of troop withdrawal. That is they may check out any time, but they will never leave. Which is why they still have a significant military presence in Europe, Japan, and Korea, decades after they ceased to be theaters of war. Now Iraq will be added to that long list with 50,000 US servicemen staying back, post-withdrawal, to “support” the Iraqi government.

History will look upon this as possibly the biggest American foreign policy blunder ever (and there is stiff competition for this honor), a war fought for the wrong reasons against the wrong enemy, a war for “cheap oil” that pushed oil prices up, a war to limit Iran’s influence that made Iran more powerful, a war to eliminate Al Qaeda that established a base for them where none existed, a war to establish US’s hegemony over the world that ended up increasing further its indebtedness to China and overall compromised its position as a military and economic superpower in a way not even the most dangerous radical Islam plot could ever hope to accomplish.

Reams have been written about the culpability of George Bush’s administration, wherein powerful members had direct financial interests in the conduct of the war and in the reconstruction efforts that followed. Comparatively less attention has been focused  on the  many Democrats who sided with the decision to invade Iraq (but quicky turned anti-war when the casualties started coming in and the war became the protracted long-drawn mess that it will be remembered for) and the many mainstream media pundits who stayed silent when the drumroll was being sounded, not pointing out,  perhaps because they themselves did not appreciate the nuances of the situation, the sheer ridiculousness of the alleged nexus between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein which served as one of the justifying reasons for the aggression (the other being the equally bogus claim of WMD possession).

To understand why this is ridiculous, one must go back a bit, to one of the most significant historical events of modern times—-the Iranian revolution of 1979. The United States of America, ostensibly because Iran was a listening post to monitor arch-rival USSR as well as a source of oil, had a vital strategic interest in keeping it “friendly” (euphemism for “as a vassal state”).  This is why the CIA had overthrown the democratically elected, popular leader Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and installed the puppet regime of the  Shah. In 1979, Shia cleric, Ayatollah Khomeni led a popular revolt of clerics against the Shah, seized power dramatically in a widely televised insurrection, held US embassy officials hostage and sparked off what many historians like Vali Nassr have called the “Shia revival”. It was unprecedented in its assertion of the power of political Islam, a display so stirring that it threw the Middle East into a tizzy. For long, the people on the streets in Cairo, Damascus and Gaza had become disillusioned with the largely secular Arabic leadership which they felt had achieved nothing with regards to solving the Palestine problem because they were weak, corrupt and  always bickering. Now, Ayatollah’s revolution showed the people on the streets what a powerful ideological umbrella Islam could be.

This assertion of radical, virulently anti-American Islam as a potent political force was not only disquieting for the Americans but also for the House of Saud, the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. Like the Shah, they too were autocrats,  lived lives of luxuriant opulence on the basis of their petroleum wealth and were militarily propped up by the Americans. And also, just like the Shah, they were facing increasingly strident rumblings from their clerical class, who wanted a greater say in the running of the country and of course the spoils of oil. The House of Saud, initially tried to placate them through placation and subjugation—the carrot consisted of endorsing an increasingly radical and medieval implementation of Islam and the stick was the imprisonment of many Islamic dissidents. That strategy worked to a point but the clerical class in Saudi Arabia, tapping into the discontent in the region, kept on getting stronger.

The Iranian revolution was seen, by the House of Saud, a blueprint for how they too could be toppled. This made them desperate to ensure that the rule of the clerics in Iran was overthrown. And if that was not enough reason to hate Ayatollah’s Iran, there was also the small matter of the fact that while Saudis were Sunnis, the Iranis were Shias, whom the Sunnis hate with a passion. And here was the Ayatollah making grand statements about the Palestine conflict, propping up the Hezbollah with their oil money and in general meddling in Saudi turf, throwing a barely concealed challenge to their authority in the region.

It was in this context that the Saudis approached Saddam Hussein, the ruler of Iraq. Saddam was a rather interesting specimen. Politically he was a Ba’athist, the Ba’ath philosophy  an expression of radically socialist, Communist-leaning, secular Arab nationalism. He was also a megalomaniac in the best traditions of African despots, with grand designs of emerging as a  mythic Arab hero. He was also a Sunni ruling a majority Shia country, where radical Shias, with support from Iran, were trying to overthrow him. The Saudis convinced Saddam to launch an assault against Shia Iran, promising him financial backing and logistic and military support from the United States. This last thing was supervised by, among other people, Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East, one Donald Rumsfeld, who would in a few years become to Saddam,  and here I am translating Dilip Kumar in Saudagar, the most dangerous type of enemy a man can have, the ex-best-friend.

But the Iranians held on in the face of a dirty war, one which saw chemical warfare being used. Soon it was Saddam’s Iraq which went on the backfoot. When Saddam turned to Saudi Arabia for more cash, he only heard the sound of doors closing  in Riyadh. The Sauds had become sick of his craziness and corruption and refused to finance this war further. In petulance, Saddam decided to attack Kuwait with the aim of using its oil revenue to shore up his depleted coffers.

Lets leave the story here and go back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 again. Besides unleashing the beast of political Islam, it also provoked the Russians to make the hasty decision to invade Afghanistan, driven by the fear that with Iran lost, the Americans would move their listening posts there. The Americans, with logistic support provided by the ISI, decided to create an army of radical Sunni Islam Mujahideen to take on the Russians. The most radical Islamic crazies, languishing in prisons in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, were given the opportunity to come to Afghanistan and wage jihad against the Godless Communists.That they did, training in special military camps collectively referred to as The Base. Or Al Qaeda.

There was but one problem, to unite this diverse group of Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians and Saudis, a figurehead would be needed, preferably someone with royal blood. Now the Saudi princes,while fine with donating money for a holy cause, were not going to leave their lives of luxurious debauchery and fight in the badlands of Afghanistan against a ruthless enemy. Well all except one, a second-rate royal, considered fanatically crazy and lethal by the Saudis themselves. One Osama Bin Laden.

Osama and his friends, once they had defeated the Russians, needed a new place to fight the infidels. Here the key figures in Al Qaeda differed among themselves. Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian, wanted to take the fight to the Israelis in Pakistan. Egyptian cleric, Ayman al-Zawahiri wanted to overthrow the secular government in Egypt which was cracking down on Islamic Jihad and the Brotherhood. The ISI wanted the Mujahideen to fight in Kashmir. While Osama, emboldened by having defeated one superpower, felt strong enough to take on the other and establish the empire of Islam. In the struggle for the future of Al Qaeda, Osama won—Azzam was assassinated by a bomb blast and al-Zawahiri, smart man no doubt,  threw in his hat with Osama.

It was around this time that Saddam’s army rolled into Kuwait. Osama went to Saudi Arabia, offered King Fahd the services of his band of Jihadis to fight Saddam, who he perceived as Godless secular communist,  an enemy of his vision of Islam. The Sauds, very wisely, preferred the organized army of the United States over the ragtag fighters of Osama. And so when the US forced set foot in Saudi Arabia to start Desert Shield, Osama declared war on not only the US but also on the house of Saud.

This long recounting of history was needed just to demonstrate how unlikely it would have been for  Osama and Saddam,  sworn enemies of each other, to cooperate with each other, even against their sworn enemy the US. And yet, there was hardly any mention of this deep visceral ideological schism between the two (and for people like Osama, ideology is everything and not pragmatics)  in the run-in to the Iraq war in the popular space. To the average Americans, and afraid to say even those in power, everyone in that region was just Muslim—Shia or Sunni be damned, purely defined by their opposition to the US and never by their own deep divisions and blood feuds.

Even today, the Republican foreign policy agenda remains to engage aggressively with Iran. Here too, none of the major political commentators seem to want to call out the entity that would benefit most from an US-Iran conflict, namely Saudi Arabia. The same entity that benefited the most from Saddam’s overthrow, the same entity that would love for the US to fight their regional battles for them, with the US taxpayer footing the bill.

Instead most popular discourse follows predictable and simplistic ideological fault lines—-for the conservative press every Muslim country is evil, driven solely by their hatred of the “greatest nation in the world” and for the liberals,  “Israel and the conservatives” are the bogyemen. [As an example, Michael Moore shows how the Bush family has had close ties with the Bin Ladens, primarily as a means to personally discredit the Bushes without analyzing the wider political ramifications of the many interests of the Saudi ruling class in all sections of the American political landscape, including a large stake in the mouthpiece of the Conservatives—Fox Networks]

It is because of the pervasive ignorance of the region’s complexities, that the US press never asks the questions they should be asking like “Do explain to me why sworn enemies and utter loonies like Saddam and Bin Laden would co-operate with each other” or “Is it a co-incidence that every time we end up overthrowing a regime, that regime just happens to be one of the biggest enemies of the Saudis?”

Which is also why the US will keep getting shepherded from one destructive war to another on the falsest of pretexts.

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92 thoughts on “The Iraqi Quagmire

  1. First?

    Anyway, the US might have ‘ended’ combat ops in Iraq officially, but Americans will continue to kill and get killed there. There are many American contractors working in Iraq for which, the Americans provide security. Besides, I don’t think that the present Iraqi security forces will be able to keep the insurgents and terrorists at bay from big disruptive activities.

    US forces will remain active. It will be impossible for America to come out of the the quagmire so easily.

  2. One of the greatest mysteries of this entire saga is how Harry Bin Laden, London playboy, idle rich and man about town got converted into the Osama Bin Laden we all know of by now. Taki Theodoracopoulos, member of old school conservative movement and Pat Buchanan buddy had once mentioned in his Spectator column how he was friends with Harry during his London salad days.

    Also an utterly bizarre but sort of plausible theory I heard about the Iranian revolution. As you know, the Iranian opposition movement had started out as an amalgam of leftist and religious conservative forces and the Iranian Communist Party was a substantial presence in the dissent against the Shah.

    When the Iranian revolution began, it initially started as a popular movement by left-leading radical students. Now the theory goes that the US, so afraid that Soviets would get a hold of Iran and hence have access to both Iranian oil and the Persian Gulf had to quickly think of a counter-strategy. And given that the Americans weren’t above flirting with radical Islam in those days, it didn’t take them long to pluck an obscure cleric from exile in Iraq (Khomeini was way down the rung in terms of seniority in Shia clergy) and packed him off to Iran to turn a left-leaning revolution into one for radical Islam.

    Wacky thought, innit? Khomeini and Carter in cahoots!! Which would then explain the Iran-Contra thing much more easily. Also, the US embassy hostage situation wasn’t of Khomeini’s making – the man just played along when he found out.

  3. And in-spite of such posts you continue to mislead your fans claiming to be a phd in computer science 🙂

    On a serious note – very well researched post.Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hey GB…loved the post coz this bit of history always held my interest…in this context…did u watch “Charlie Wilson’s war”? It qyt nicely sums up the afghanistan crisis and hints at the possible post war ramifications….Which makes me ask the same qstn? Can Islam as a military threat ever be eradicated withut addressing social reformations via post war rehab…Just ravaging a country with talibans and al qaeda and leaving the mess behind creates more breeding ground for future radicals Id guess 😦

  5. Beautifully written! Everyone should watch Green Zone. Well this feels like 2 drunk guys walking. 1 Falls and the other does too

  6. Good article Arnab.

    I am currently reading a book by Karen Armstrong and it validates what you have said.

    You also forgot one more thing. Another country which benefited from the invasion of Iraq is Israel. Saddam was the only character that posed a danger to them in the middle east.

    The Israelies are upset with the Iranian clerics because the Shah used to sell lots of oil to Israel and South Africa. The first thing that the Iranian clerics did when they came to power was to stop selling Iranian oil to South Africa and Israel.

    Plus Iran is making nuclear weapons which is upsetting both the Saudis and the Israelies. So attacking Iran is some thing both the Israelies and the Saudis want.

  7. Ok Junaid opens his mouth and out comes Israel bashings.

    Karen Armstrong, another convert to Islam, who writes book for Saudi donations.

  8. 66 percent of the amercans approved the war on Iraq when America actually invaded Iraq. Reason… they did not want another 9/11.

    Bush was a true idealistic. He was not pragmatic.

    One of the reasons why lot of historians say that the world war 2 occurred was that, nations did not clip the wings of hitler in a timely manner. Rather the took the path of appeasement.

    History has shown time and again that in the (true) long run only the idealistic thoughts and actions prevail.

    Tony blair, in a recent interview, recalled a comment by Iraqi women who said, “why do I have to choose between rule by dictator ( Read Saddam) or rule by terror ( the current state of Iraq). Why can’t we just choose our own rulers like you(UK)”. And that is what Bush set out to do.

    Think of Iran and North Korea. The people of these countries do not want a dictatorship. Given a slight chance they would revolt.
    Generations of freedom and lives have been lost becuase of the dictatorship (esp. in North Korea)… I dont think the idea to provide independence to thes people is wrong.

    Think of post 9/11… Well these could be the thoughts…

    Let’s get rid of one dictator (Saddam). Lets free the people of Iraq, Iran and north korea and what would I have loose… nothing becuase during theh gulf war in 1990s America lost almost nothing…
    What do have to gain… One potential eliminate the breeding ground for terror, Two, have American friendly democratic countries, three once and for all eliminae even the remote possibility of another 9/11 and then if Amerca gets oil deals its a bonus….

    Both bush and blair always maintain that had they envisioned this kind of scenario where 200K Iraqi lives could be lost along with another 4000 plus american and UK soldiers, they would have let the state of affairs continue as it were before attacking Saddam.

  9. Thalassa, in the book Bin Ladens (by Steven Coll), Osama is portrayed as anything but a playboy. He was always a religious person, finding succor in Islam. His side of the bin laden family was on the periphery of the bin laden. He only gained wider acceptance in the family because he became pretty religious unlike a lot of his male cousins who led lives of debauchery in the west. The Harry character you mention is most likely Osama’s cousin, many of whom lived and went to school in London.

  10. Pakistan and Iraq are two different situations

    Pakis threw away their chance to become a better country. They started as a democratic nation. Then they supported terrorism which has come back to bite them. They should remember that the same thing will happen with regards to the support to terrorism in Kashmir.

    The difference is – Pakis had a chance, whereas the people of Iraq and North Korea did not even have.

  11. Another big event in 1979 was the seige of the mosque in Mecca in November of that year by Islamic radicals. If I remember correctly it took a few weeks to end the seige and a few hundred people died. French special forces were eventually brought in and were instrumental in clearing the mosque (I think the Pakistani special forces also played a part in the operations). The seige scared the bejesus out of the Sauds and as a sop to the hardline Islamists the saudi regime became more Islamic.

    The Sauds detest the Iranians also because they think the ayatollahs in Tehran create trouble in Saudi through the large disenfranchised Shia population in SA.

  12. Nice post. Seems like you had this one in the draft section for a while, and finally got around to writing it. I need to read more on this issue before I can comment on the merits though.

  13. @Fish out of water – Nopes. Osama aka Harry it was. This is pretty well established. Whatever else you may think of Taki, he knows his idle rich in Europe very well. He even had a photo of a very young, clean shaven bin Laden in a Saville Row suit to prove his point.

    And he acknowledged bin Laden as a personal acquaintance – surely he should know that it’s the same Osama.

  14. @Junaid, Karen Armstrong?? Seriously? She calls for the removal of the Pope and praises the muslim brotherhood, and that makes her…..–Why not just stick to A Roy and Tehelka?

    Also, RK raised a valid point. The removal of Saddam was desirable from every point of view, the only thing debatable was the rationale in attacking Iraq without winding up in Afghanistan. Also, the Saudi innuendo seems very far-fetched considering that Fox News and its commentators continue to thrash Iran AND the Saudis( for example- the repeated references to Guliani’s rebuttal to the Saudi prince days after the 9/11, the questions about whether Iran OR Saudi money will be used for the mosque).

  15. Decent piece. But I really need to ask how much is fact and how much is a theory or conjecture. Again, you blog, your writing, me just a visitor; albeit a regular one and a fairly interesting topic to have a confab about over a looong beer. Sources anyone?

  16. Great article. I liked certain histotical details which i didnt know.

    @RK, Saddam was just a dictator (like all those african dictators). He could not defeat Iran so why will he be a threat to any super power. Its not in the hands of the so called super powers to decide whom to take out and take in (Its not like CIA in south America). If tomorrow they attack India what will u say? I despise USA just bcos of their support for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan which led to very bad times for Muslims across the world.

  17. Nice analysis Arnab.
    America like any other geopolitical superpower has made grave starategic mistakes, but in the long run those mistakes have not hindered America’s geopolitical ambitions much. 20th century history is a testimony to that.
    In a ideal world scenario, America wanted to replace Saudi Arabia with Iraq as its primary node of power projection in the Middle East, had the war ended earlier, with a friendlier, less fractous regime in place. The oil would have flowed and Saudi Arabia could have become less of a liability.

    Saddam was not the problem. Iraq had one of the largest resource base in the Arab world and a pro-American regime their was always on the cards. As for Iran, they will see a regime change too. Over the next few years.

    @ RK
    “History has shown time and again that in the (true) long run only the idealistic thoughts and actions prevail.”

    Idealists make history. Pragmatists analayze it.

  18. @Junaid – there is the small matter of Israel being the intermediary in the Iran-Contra affair. Israelis may not have access to their oil, but the Islamic Republic wasn’t averse to dealing with Israel.

    By the way, here’s something that doesn’t seem to get much play these days. Saddam not only used chemical weapons against his own population, he even used them against Iranians during the later years of the Iran-Iraq war. Guess who supplied him with the weapons? If you guess a certain European country that likes to get all sanctimonious and moralizing about other nations, you’ve guessed right. So much for always villainizing the Americans.

    Also, Germany and France continued to supply weapons to both sides in the Iran-Iraq conflict. Despite all the bleeding heart Ayatollahs sending Iranian oil money to support the Palestinian cause, Yasser Arafat sent Palestinians over to fight the Arab war with Iraq against Iranians.

    You know, I despise the Islamic regime in Iran so much that if the Americans could have taken them down in a bloodless coup, I’d be all for it. Unfortunately, it seems that the Americans leave terrible collateral damage in such operations.

  19. Have to disagree with some of the analysis here. America isn’t an anti-Islamic country by a long shot. It’s actually quite pro-Saudi and its spiritual bastard Pakistan.

    Practically speaking, for Americans, Saudi Arabia is the most reliable allay in the region because of its monarchy. Other countries have flirted with socialism, populism, revolution etc. Saudi Arabia is also THE beacon for Sunnis in the region, hence the need for close ties with them. More importantly it splits the muslim resistance to Israel. Finally it’s got the largest supply of oil.

    The price for all of this is opposing/toppling Christian/secular governments in the middle east such as Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon etc. and weakening Shia countries like Iran. Iran actually reels from terrorist attacks from Sunni groups, and is engaged in a tit-for-tat Shia insurgency in Iraq. In exchange for looking the other way on Israel/Palestine, the Saudis expect the Americans to help out Pakistan/Kashmir. Pakistan is easily the most pro-Sunni and most comfortable with the Saudi monarchy. Hence they remain a beneficiary of American largesse. The pro-Israel hawks are quite comfortable with this arrangement.

    America is simply practising realpolitik here to safeguard its economic interests and the security of Israel. I see absolutely no mistakes or contradictions in America’s foreign policy.

  20. @All

    I have just finished reading Karen Armstrong’s book “The battle for God” and have not found a single sentence where she has praised or supported any extremist group from Judaism, Christianity or Islam. She has clearly termed the forces of extremism as a nihilistic evil on mankind which need to be dealt with great care.

    Guys better not rely on popular media. Rather try to investigate.

  21. @Thalassa

    You know, I despise the Islamic regime in Iran so much that if the Americans could have taken them down in a bloodless coup, I’d be all for it.

    That depends upon how historically informed you are about what the US did to destroy democracy in Iran by staging coups in 1952 and the British in 1906.

    Perhaps if you read the article written by GB, it makes a reference to foreign powers meddling in the internal affairs of Iran since 1800s. Read the history of Iran and you will realize why the revolution happened in the first place.

  22. The question now is what does India do?. Any attempt to embrace Israel will only toxify India’s image, one it has worked hard to build with decades of a strict moral stance over Palestine, and will be used as propaganda by jehadis as a global Hindu-Christian-Jewish conspiracy. It will also jeopardize any oil supply as no muslim nation will want to deal with us.

    Does India have any interests either way regarding Israel/Palestine? No! What’s there to gain? This is why I’m considerably irritated by this whipping up of pro-Israel feelings by right-wingers, it does us no favours. Let us restrict to covert sharing of Intel over terror. Israel desperately wants to be in India’s position i.e. a country with a large muslim population as loyal and patriotic as their Hindu brethren. Why would we want to swap places with them?

  23. A very well written piece – for me, it provided a complete overview of the Iranian revolution and the middle-east geoplitics

  24. @ satish
    “Any attempt to embrace Israel will only toxify India’s image, one it has worked hard to build with decades of a strict moral stance over Palestine, and will be used as propaganda by jehadis as a global Hindu-Christian-Jewish conspiracy”

    awww!! cho chweet. Satish is ensuring his halal meat status.

  25. @Junaid,

    1. No idiot is denying that Israel benefited from Iraq war, if tomorrow US decides to take out Pakistan’s nukes for the fear of them landing in the hands of Al Qaeda, India will definitely be happy. That does not mean you have to smell zionist conspiracy in every incident. Also, even if I admit your views, I still dont understand what is your problem if US would have indeed attacked Iraq to protect Israel? After all, its Iraq which as the dutiful member of the Arab League had actively sought to destroy Israel and not the other way round.

    2. No one is denying either that the British ousted the democracy from Iran by installing the puppet in the Shah. But, what did the Islamists do in ’79 when they ousted the king, they slaughtered the leftists and removed any traces of a functional democracy. SO, blaming British is fine, but when are you going to come out of your victim mindset and blame the likes of the regime in Iran too??

    3. Regarding Karen Armstrong, I did not even know her name, but her wiki page mentions her favorable comment on Muslim brotherhood and denouncement of Israel–thats kinda dejavu for anyone who has come across a liberal zombie before. Seriously, if someone favors a political militant, supremacist religious organization thats a good enough point to stop respecting her views.

  26. It is not a question of nation or states. What one need to focus is the very basis of fundementalism which has no face but pose a distinct threat to humanity. Terrorism as means to achieve goal has influenced many minds towards the violent means, be it a Nation, a State, a Community or a group with similar ideology. Nation like Pakistan survive due to the support they extend towards such internationally banned outfits, even by shaping their diplomacy.
    A person with a fanatic religious belief can easily associate with such an anti social ideology.A resposible society need to devise means to contain and destroy such vehement religious attitudes.

  27. Arnab,

    If I understand it correctly I guess what you are implying in a way is that we (Indians) need a strong and smart US which can balance the greatest external threats India faces: China and Islamic terrorism/onslaught?

    Plato

  28. @Dib

    The book I read is written by Karen herself.

    The wiki page you read about her has been authored by ….. ummm I dont know.

  29. @Dib

    I still dont understand what is your problem if US would have indeed attacked Iraq to protect Israel? After all, its Iraq which as the dutiful member of the Arab League had actively sought to destroy Israel and not the other way round.

    That is what I am also saying. There is no problem in A attacking B.

    Its the law of the jungle. But this law can work against you as well. So dont complain when it does.

    Thats all I am trying to say.

  30. @Junaid,

    1. The wiki page has reference with an associate link, its her own quotation , not an opinion by a third person.
    2. So, when Iraq attacks Israel, its not a bad thing since it would destroy the “all-pervading” , “omnipotent” zionist entity that you hallucinate in everything. But, if US comes to Israel’s rescue, that becomes a loathsome ” rule of the jungle” ( whatever that means) –awesome!!
    Besides, lets say India becomes an unpopular dictatorship tomorrow and some years down the line US interest leads them to attack the regime, do you think I am going to complain about that? One more thing, in the first Gulf war, the majority Shias in Iraq begged George Bush snr to attack Saddam so that they might rise in rebellion. How does that fit into your “rule of the jungle ” maxim?

  31. I have read most of Karen Armstrong’s works and I must say she *sidesteps* the horrors perpetrated in the name of Islam. Well, she does that will all Semitic religions you know….. she’s got a Monotheism thing and who does Monotheism better than Islam? I get the feeling she thinks those genocides and murderous military campaigns are more an expression of parochial political visions OR a result of some happenstance in history rather due to their *search for god*. She dwells fairly long on how the Persian/Egyptian invasions and Jewish revolts against Rome shaped Judaism (and Christianity) but I must say I didn’t see such a rigorous approach with Quraysh War, Ridda Wars, the post-Rashidun civil war or the Mihna shaping Islam. And she should have spent some more time on Salafis, Arabian Ikhwan and Syed Qutub also….
    Still her works like “A History of God”, “The Battle for God”, “The Great Transformation”, “The Bible: A Biography” etc are quite useful in a getting a feel of the various Semitic religious denominations.

    Just my 2 cents.

  32. Nice post Arnab…atleast the historical part, i.e. 1979 and thereabouts. I think where you muddle up a bit is in accessing the current motivations of the American establishment. Think @RK puts that part in the correct perspective.

    Take care…and keep it going.

  33. @Greatbong:
    Very well written piece of analysis.

    While most of your analysis seems to be accurate and logical, there’s another theory doing the rounds – its called “petrodollar warfare”. Its a fantastic theory and might be a little over-the-top, but its certainly worth investigating.

    It claims that the war on Iraq was launched simply because of economic reasons and not because of oil/policy/strategic considerations. Many people are unaware of how critical it is for the U.S. Economy, for the Dollar to be the sole reserve currency of the world. Its absolute dominance as a currency of exchange for major commodities like oil ensures the immense strength of the Dollar against other currencies and keeps America afloat inspite of its out-of-control National Debt and Trade Deficits.

    It is claimed that Saddam Hussein had threatened to renounce the Dollar for Iraqi oil and instead start accepting Euros. Emboldened by his stance, it was a very real possibility that other mid-east nations might make a similar move and the Dollar would have faced an imminent and sudden collapse in value, sinking the U.S. Economy with it. That was the major reason why the U.S. needed to overthrow Saddam’s regime and install a regime that would continue to do business with it in Dollars.

    Like I said, I haven’t tested the theory nor know of its accuracy. But it sure is an interesting aspect of the story. I wish to know your thoughts on this one for sure.

  34. @Junaid – I know the history of Iran very well, thank you. Both from books and from countless first person accounts by Iranian friends who are all over the political spectrum, including one descendant of a former Iranian Prime Minister.

    The coup that the Americans staged in Iran at the height of the cold war was something that the Americans should be justifiably ashamed of.

    However, what Khomeini subsequently unleashed on the people of Iran was a 100 times worse and I think it is disingenuous to mention one without the other.

    What the Islamic regime did to Iran’s leftists and religious minorities like Bahais (executing thousands and thousands of both groups right after coming to power) is one of the most traumatic episodes in Iranian history. And as if that was not enough, this personification of evil Khomeini turned down negotiation offers that would have ended the Iran-Iraq war after a year and prolonged it to 8 years leading to a million Iranian deaths – including children as young as 13-14 sent to the front.

    Poor Iranians – they were disgusted with the SAVAK, and yet what monstrosity was unleashed in trying to get rid of it.

    It’s the “evil undemocratic” Americans who have the most fair revenue sharing agreement in Saudi Aramco – unlike the Brits who wanted a lion’s share through the Anglo Iranian Oil Company – necessitating the nationalization by Mosaddegh. Think of that the next time you rail against the Americans while staying silent on the havoc wrought by the Islamic republic.

    And as for blaming the Americans for lack of democracy in the Middle East – damn it, Israel is a client state of the Americans and it has managed to be a functional democracy for all of its existence.

  35. Sir, can you please elaborate how the war on Iraq in its ‘chahat’ for hegemony has turned out to be an indebtedness to China ?

    And what you have mentioned over as ‘reams’ is available in zeitgeist videos. Initially i considered it a lie, but your post has really set the truth going in me!

  36. Nice one GB. May I recommend this book by Robert Fisk I am currently reading – “The great war for civilization – the conquest for the middle east”. Its a brilliant first hand (mostly) account of the events mentioned in this post and places them in the greater historical context. Btw guess who supplied the chemical weapons to Saddam which killed millions of Iranians and Kurds – uncle Sam. And then, a couple of decades later Iraq is attacked for WMDs….sweet, isn’t it?

    A slightly tangential reference – The aforesaid book also mentions an incident in May 1987 when American warship Vincennes fired two heat seeking missiles on a civilian flight to Dubai killing 240 people – without warning!! As per Fisk, US then claimed that the plane was being driven by a ‘suicide’ pilot and it was descending to attack the warship. This was proved to be a lie later through 3 separate Air traffic control records…nevertheless, Mrs. Thatcher said it was “understandable” and President Reagon said it was a closed chapter and he did not need to apologise further!! Mainstream media in US and UK didnot report this correctly and Mr. Fisk’s own report to “the Times” (UK) was heavily tampered with to delete all anti-US stuff – Mr. Fisk resigned from Times in protest. Interestingly, the crew of Vincennes received heroes’ welcome once they came bak to US…several other such stuff has been done by US and UK and now they wonder why Iran hates them so much !!

  37. @Sudipta – the chemical weapons were supplied by the Germans, not Uncle Sam. Also, don’t confuse the Iranian establishment with the Iranian people. The Iranian people hated Saddam several times more – which is why they cheered when the Americans rolled into Iraq and took Saddam down.

    Besides this, the Iranian Islamic establishment loves the UK. Not only that several progeny of top Iranian clerics have US, UK and Canadian passports and park their assets in Canada and Europe.

    Of course the Americans are not blameless in the least – the shooting down of the Iranian civilian plane was a heinous act and they did almost nothing to address it.

  38. Interesting reading and I totally agree with Arnab.
    @Thalassa: I thought Yugoslavia and Spain sold weapons to both the countries, and the chemical warheads were made in Spain.

  39. Thalassa,
    Both French and Germans were culpable yes, but please read the following excerpt:
    “But on 25 May 1994 the committe on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs of the US Senate produced a report, ‘United states Chemical and Biological Warfare-related Dual-use exports to Iraq and their posible impact on the health consequences of the Persian Gulf war’….The committee’s report informed the US congress about government shipments of biological agents sent by American companies to Iraq from 1985 or earlier….the report stated that the ‘United States provided the Governmenbt of Iraq with ‘dual use’ licensed materials whichj assisted in the development of iraqi chemical, biological and missile system programs,….including chemical warfare agent production facility plant….”

    Page 259-260, Robert Fisk, “The great war for civilization – the conquest for the middle east”.

    May be this will change ur mind abt US complicity in chemical warfare and its hypocrisy vis a vis the ‘war on terror’.

    Btw, lot of Iranians study in US as well, that does not mean Iranians love US. For example, lot of Kashmiri Muslims study in Indian educational institutes – that does not mean that Kashmiri muslims have any affection for India

  40. GB,
    Good one, but less no of links make me think that a whole lot of it is speculation.

    Satish,
    So if we continue to shape our foreign policies based on what Islamist would think, then what is the benefit? Islamists already scream about Judeo-Hindu conspiracy. Big deal!!! When Israel was formed, the then PM, the self-declared champion of world peace wrote to Einstein that while he believed that every nation had a right to home land, it is not possible for him to support formation of Israel because India had a significant Muslim population.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/feb/16/israel.india
    The tradition continued along with the tradition of hypocrisy. Although actions of Israel was not appreciated, the same champion of world peace did not mind asking Israel for arms during 1962 war without the markings to identify that the arms were from Israel. The arms were delivered on a regular basis, Israelis continued to receive condemnation along with the money in return of the arms.
    A friend is identified by his behaviour when you need help. Israel passed the test with 1962, when are we going to take the test?

  41. Sudipta – the Iranian opinion on the US is a lot more complex than what the clerics would like people to believe. There are people who hate the US, those who are indifferent to it and those who love it unabashedly.

    The Iranian students in US example is perhaps not too apt, because most of them are upper middle class Iranians who do tend to view the US quite favourably.

    But certainly even when there is no love, there is no visceral hatred either – those “marg bar Amrika” processions are a running joke amongst Iranians.

    Also, at least the Americans have the fig leaf of “dual intent”. What do the French have to say for themselves?

  42. you should go the Malcolm gladwell way and you would make a much better malcolm gladwell. you would also be making a lot more money than one can with angrezi books for the Indian market.

  43. @Thalassa

    Think of that the next time you rail against the Americans while staying silent on the havoc wrought by the Islamic republic.

    There is a saying in Urdu, “Is hammam me sab nange hain”

    Every one is naked in this bathhouse.

    Hope you get the point. As I said, its the law of the jungle. Jis ke laathi, uski bhense.

  44. @GB:
    You write – Which is also why the US will keep getting shepherded from one destructive war to another on the falsest of pretexts.

    But why do we think that the US is actually getting “shepherded” from one war to another.

    Maybe the powers-to-be in the US actually want it this way.
    Maybe they knew all along abt the Shia – Sunni schism…

    I fear that a lot of us feel like arm-chair experts… laughing at the “ignorance” of the US politicians.

    But maybe in reality, these politicians are laughing all the way to the banks… and are probably laughing at us too..

  45. @Sid

    So if we continue to shape our foreign policies based on what Islamist would think, then what is the benefit?

    Not at all. We should shape our foreign policy on what’s good for us vis-a-vis Kashmir and Pak. Not what’s good for Israel or join on the “global” war on anti-Christian/Jewish terrorism to soothe our egos.

    Have we gotten ANY help catching OUR terrorists EVER? Indians are living in a fantasy world if they think America will one day “wake up” to Pakistani terror and treat India like a long lost beta. The game here is to let India be a place where terrorists can safely blow off some steam and infidels while leaving Israel/Europe/America etc. alone. Why should we be the whipping boys? Focus on the realpolitik at play here.

    Stopping terror tactically is very hard, I’m sure India, America, Russia, Israel etc. will always work together behind the scenes on Intelligence.

    Islamists already scream about Judeo-Hindu conspiracy

    That maybe true among Pakistanis, but we don’t need Muslims all over the world having this impression. What else would India sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong (Arabia) look like?

  46. @Sid
    Israel helping out India with arms is a no-brainer for them.

    Not only the Guardian article you posted, but also Haaretz (Israeli) paper published that Indians have the most favourable view of Israel (more than US or UK!). Articles like that only try to play to our inferiority complexes or seek to paint us as more anti-Islam than them, remember that nuclear deal came to us after WE decided to build a Iran-Pak-India pipeline. It’s not for no reason that Zionist David Miliband, erstwhile British foreign minister, said that the Mumbai attacks were motivated by injustice in Kashmir but has defended Israeli actions. They build up “pro-Muslim” bank balance in Kashmir and spend it on Israel. We should do the same in the Middle East.

    Let’s worry about improving our internal security, being united as a nation to stave off terrorism in India. A prime example of “cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face” this from Indian armchair hawks.

  47. Satish,
    you said
    Not at all. We should shape our foreign policy on what’s good for us vis-a-vis Kashmir and Pak. Not what’s good for Israel or join on the “global” war on anti-Christian/Jewish terrorism to soothe our egos.
    I see. But it was you in the previous post who were advising us to be careful about what Islamist would say and then you did it again one para later.

    You said
    Have we gotten ANY help catching OUR terrorists EVER?
    Please explain why would anyone help us. Where is that expectation coming from? We must fight Islamic terror because we are hurt, not because Israel/America is hurt. My post was there to show the deep level of hypocrisy and dishonest ideology we embed in our foreign policy. I also showed that when it came to Arab countries and Israel, whom should we trust to keep their end of any deal.

    You said
    That maybe true among Pakistanis, but we don’t need Muslims all over the world having this impression.
    And then you are claiming that we should have an independent foreign policy? What do we have got to do with Muslims all over the world? What benefit do we get from them that we have to worry about their opinion? We must get any support we can have, be it Israel, America or Russia to keep our “self-interest” up. That is the key.

    You said,
    Articles like that only try to play to our inferiority complexes or seek to paint us as more anti-Islam than them
    Would you explain how my article establish the inferiority complex? It was about Nehru and Einstein and it shows Nehru what he was: a dishonest ideologue unfit for leadership of any nation.

    You said
    It’s not for no reason that Zionist David Miliband
    David Miliband is a leftist and well-known India-baiter. Why would we care about what he says?

    You said
    They build up “pro-Muslim” bank balance in Kashmir and spend it on Israel. We should do the same in the Middle East.
    You are totally confused, are you not? What have we got to do in middle east? Israel or America is as valuable as long as we need them. Arabs never cared to support us, what we would anyone among us would talk about helping them?
    BTW, the pipeline deal is still on. Instead of Iran-Pakistan-India it may become Iran-undersea-India ( http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Politics/27-May-2010/India-Iran-mull-undersea-gasline-bypassing-Pak ) and Turkmenistan-Iran-undersea-India. The nuclear deal had nothing to do with it, it served a different American interest. Nuclear deal as a replacement for pipeline is a Prakash-Karat-N-Ram line of argument, but their reputation for truth is as strong as chance of coal being white. But given your sources, one can clearly see why these loony bin theories are attractive to you.

  48. @Sid,

    well said. I read an editorial in some online Egyptian newspaper, where the guy was lamenting on the fact that despite the constant support shown by India towards the Palestinians, they were regularly snubbed in favor of Pakistan. Maybe it was around the 26/11 attacks

  49. Its not just the Palestine cause… even the Tibetan cause.

    The world just pays a “lip service” to the Tibetan cause and the Dalai Lama.. and hardly has any world leader acknowledged India’s role in this.

    And hence while India keeps getting ticked off by China on this issue, not one world leader or country comes upto India’s defence…

    And by the way – the only reason Pakistan is favoured over India in the Arab League is because of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia sees itself as this champion of Sunni muslims. And only Pakistan is the other country so blatantly in support of Sunnis over Shias… And hence the Saudi push for Pakistan. (Notice the number of Pakistani leaders who go to Saudi when they are “exiled).

    Most of the Arab countries do have a much favourable opinion of India compared to Pakistan. India has been a known supporter of Arab causes (even the Caliphate / Khilafat movement during our pre-Independence days and which was supported so much by Gandhiji).

  50. Excellently written, bravo!!!

    The answer is also obvious, the reason why US fights war outside is to ensure the American way of life inside. It is the vanguard of Anglo-Saxon greater co-prosepertiy sphere whose leadership was handed to US by Britan post WWII and Betton-Woods pact etc.

    The alternative is a financial melt down in US, turning it back to a rustic second rate power as before WW I, with dying up of the stream of emigration of best of humanity that has propelled its rise to power and this time there is no Colonial Britan controlling a vast area of earth with Iron hand to partner with.

  51. Good analysis GB on the history of Iranian revolution and middle-east power balance.

    However, if anything, Saddam was a great counterweight to Iran. The US in toppling him has made Iraq too go into the hands of Shias, and made Iran a regional power. On this, I don’t buy your explanation that Americans can’t distinguish between a Shia and a Sunni, or that they thought bin Laden was in cahoots with Saddam. The average American is dumb and ignorant, but the political and military leadership is not. I am sure this problem occurred to them.

    That leaves the main motive question unanswered. I suspect one of the oil theories may be at work here. Of course, given the way Iraq has panned out, it certainly hasn’t been even remotely as Bush would have planned. But I think oil was one main motivator all along, in one form or the other

  52. Oh, you are so underestimating George Bush. US attacked Iraq because God met Bush and asked him to save the mankind and establish ‘Ram Rajya’ in the world.

  53. Once again…I have an objection against this paragraph in your post:

    History will look upon this as possibly the biggest American foreign policy blunder ever (and there is stiff competition for this honor), a war fought for the wrong reasons against the wrong enemy, a war for “cheap oil” that pushed oil prices up, a war to limit Iran’s influence that made Iran more powerful, a war to eliminate Al Qaeda that established a base for them where none existed, a war to establish US’s hegemony over the world that ended up increasing further its indebtedness to China and overall compromised its position as a military and economic superpower in a way not even the most dangerous radical Islam plot could ever hope to accomplish.
    That’s exactly what was said on the Daily Show.

    Having a well thought out opinion is one thing. Stealing somebody else’s thought is, well…plagiarism. You *must* give due acknowledgment to the source of your blog material/sections.Facts: yes. Those are something you get. Prose, Opinion and Insight is something you develop. Otherwise it is all just hypocrisy and hearsay. You are a good writer and that has been your dream, so it is even more of an issue of ethics and principles.

    Just my two cents. I am not here as a troll. Your satire has been sharp and original most of the times. This just isn’t one of those posts.

  54. Serendipity,

    I have never heard this on the Daily Show. If this was said EXACTLY on the Daily Show, I have not seen the relevant program. I would be obliged if you quote it or provide a link since you say it IS EXACTLY what he said. I have never ever plagiarized anything in my life. By the way the point that Iraq increased prices for oil and each of the others have been pointed out by Michael Moore, Bill Maher, Maddows, Olbermann, Chris Roc and many others. However you are obliged to provide me with the EXACT sentence as a video link since you have accused me of plagiarism.

  55. Yes….we need proofs. Put up or shut up. The only way John Stewart could have said that EXACTLY is if he/ one of his writers plagiarized from this blog.

  56. @Serendipity: Why haven’t you given the link of the Daily Show as proof for legitimizing your 19 lines of accusation against greatbong for plagiarism(as u wrote “That’s exactly what was said on the Daily Show”.)? Why don’t u give us the link? Why are you now silent? Don’t act as a coward – come out clean in the name of fairness – of course assuming that u have heard the word “fairness” before!!!
    By the way, someone who has readers from all over the world would not be so foolish to plagiarize by writing “exactly what was said in Daily Show”. Hey, so next time u accuse someone at least use ur brain.
    I am a regular reader of this blog though i seldom comment here. I also read a lot and thus have never found this blog writer to plagiarize. He does have a moral integrity worth mentioning.

  57. I am sorry that I do not have a link. And I am a regular reader of the blog. I agree that I do not have any facts to corroborate with. For that I sincerely apologize. You may strike this comment off this post.

    I was not able to dig this video out of Daily Show archives so far. As and when I do, I’ll probably send a link out.

    Again…sincere apologies to Arnab and whoever was offended by my comment.

  58. @Serendipity: Thank you for owning up to your mistake and thus apologizing. By rectifying your mistake, you have proved that you are not a coward. I sincerely thank you as you have made me believe that still there are some people who do own up to their mistakes or wrong insinuations.
    @ shana: why is it that one has to attack someone personally (here you attacked yourfan2 and greatbong) You may very well not agree with the writer or with people who agree with the writer but why say “Do u work for GB? U seem to be a great flatterer of the Greatbong.”? Instead of making personal attacks, if you expressed your thoughts clearly then everybody here including me would have respected you even though we might have disagreed with your thoughts.

  59. @ Malini Ma’am, U imagine that my comment was a personal attack on yourfan2 and GB!! I haven’t attacked GB and I am not saying that to play to the gallery or to seek other commentators’ approval but because I am a fan of GB’s and I wouldn’t personally attack a blogger I respect. Hell, I don’t even oppose his views on issues he writes about coz I feel he’ll find some way to convince. His is the only blog that I read regularly and I admire him for his rational approach and articulate writing. And I didn’t even attack yourfan2. I don’t go launching personal attacks on people for harmless comments. But yes, I did want to ask yourfan2 this question because if you’ve noticed, even in the last post, he seems to speak for GB. Like I remember in the last post, he said WE have addressed issues through this blog. And here too, he gets immediately defensive when someone is attacking the post. God, it was only a casually made comment, I certainly didn’t get bothered enough (like you) to attack someone personally.

  60. @ jay
    Next article can be on Deganga (Barasat) rampages. Afterall Army doest do flagmarch 20 miles from Kolkata very often…….. yet.

  61. @shana: if anybody reads your reply then the only thing that will be clear to him/her is that you have managed to only contradict yourself.
    You wrote “I am a fan of GB’s ……… I admire him for his rational approach and articulate writing.” Well, does this mean “you work for GB” or does this mean to anybody that you are a “great flatterer of the Greatbong”? I bet it doesn’t in any way just as it doesnt make yourfan2 or for that matter me (who “admire GB’s rational approach and articulate writing”) a flatter of GB or working for him!! Oh lastly,as far as i can understand, using the word WE only means that those ppl agree with each other on that topic – simply nothing more than that!!!!

  62. OK I don’t know what Ur problem is – ‘Majoring in minor things’ I guess. When I read WE in yourfan’s comment, it seemed as if this person helps GB write the blog or something. I don’t know but his comment sounded as if he had contributed to this blog’s success. That’s what I meant when I asked if he works for GB. I hadn’t even analyzed this much when I commented. And have I asked what YOU think yourfan meant when he used the word WE? Why are u answering a question I posed to a specific commenter and addressing that answer to me? And if you have to answer, can u not presume that it was a personal attack that I made when I commented?
    I am not a flatterer but I mentioned I admire GB because you accused me of personally attacking GB by my comment. Get a life!! I had only heard of eccentric people on the internet before.
    Also, if you don’t understand my comments, why are u bothering to reply? Stay away. You don’t HAVE TO waste ur energy trying to understand what I say. And I’m done indulging in this little game of senseless berating that you’ve started. I made the comment in a lighter vein and I was expecting a light hearted answer until you came along.

  63. Another good reference along these lines: “Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude” by Robert Baer.

  64. hello, this is the fourth or fifth time i’m re-reading this post. it is almost like a reference i keep revisiting. and i got introduced to the great Vali Nasr through you. you have done a great service with this blog. i sometimes miss the bollywood reviews and flippancy but i love how this space has evolved with time. keep up the great work sir.

  65. “Any attempt to embrace Israel will only toxify India’s image, one it has worked hard to build with decades of a strict moral stance over Palestine, and will be used as propaganda by jehadis as a global Hindu-Christian-Jewish conspiracy”

    Satish, What makes you think that Jihadists won’t find some other propaganda against India? If its not Israel, it will be Kashmir. After Kashmir, there will be something else. Why weren’t we showered with love for being neutral
    during the cold war and openly supporting Palestine?

    Religion is seen as a useful weapon by Godless Geo-political thugs. Religious extremism is an opportunity they can’t let go.

    For years Americans played India against Pakistan over kashmir while simultaneoulsy playing India against China over Tibet.
    Now, Instead of calling us rivals of pakistan, they are calling us emerging superpower next to China.
    I am a pessimist. So, I say, They couldn’t find the Indian Osama Bin Laden or Pol Pot or Kim Jong and we don’t have rich natural resources that interests them. But, we may as well say that they were pleased by our amazing tolerant culture(that gives refuge to international saints), a rising economy, English-learning capabilities, secularism, democracy, colors and smells and bollywood.

  66. Pingback: Israeli Car Blast ||| A new danger - Page 4

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