Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Jim Shipley
Shipley Speaks 

The elephant in the room

Jim Shipley


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana said this in his “Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1”... and it’s still true. Look, call it “Arab Spring,” “Uprisings,” “Revolution”—the end result is that some of Africa and most of the Middle East has been stood on its head in the past three years.

I listen to some supposedly really smart people parse the situation in Egypt, Syria, Libya and elsewhere. And I keep waiting. Okay? Now, tell us the real problem! Once in a great while, a writer like Jeffrey Goldberg will tackle the subject—but few if any others.

The president does not refer to it. I doubt Fox News even knows the subject—nor cares. It did not come up in Paris where The Foreign Ministers of the U.S., France and Britain all congratulated each other (and the Russians) for a “solution” to chemical weapons in Syria and who holds them.

What is it I’m speaking about? Well, good friends, go back to World War I. Take a look at the world. The Middle East was dominated not by Russia or the U.S. or even individual dictators. It was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, headquartered in Turkey. The sultan of the Empire was smart enough to stay out of the conflict spreading from Australia to Russia and eventually to the U.S.

The European Strategy, in addition to crushing the Kaiser and the Germanic peoples, was to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and whack it up amongst themselves. Hey! All that oil was there for the taking. Oil was going to be BIG in the post war world. Sea routes, the Suez Canal. All they had to do was dismantle the Ottoman Empire. So, they sucked the sultan into joining the Germans when the Brits went into Turkish waters to attack a German warship that had asked for sanctuary there.

What followed was a bloody but ultimately successful takeover of all the lands formerly held by the sultan and his acolytes. In order to accomplish this, the French and English promised the Arab tribes their own land if they would help in the war. “Lawrence of Arabia” got it mostly right.

Obviously the dictators of the peace process had no intention of giving the Arabs anything but sand. Woodrow Wilson had some pretty good ideas built around a “League of Nations,” but the Brits and French wanted to run that for their own interests and an Isolationist Congress in the U.S. made it impossible for the plan to work.

Meanwhile, no one paid any attention to history—specifically of Islam. They cared not about Shia or Sunni. They cared little for clans or loyalties among tribes, or the lack thereof. Oil. They wanted oil and sea routes and spices and the other spoils of war. So, as part of the Grand Bargain that resulted in WWII, they created borders where there were none, made nations with no loyal citizens and installed kings and dictators to replace the sultan.

There appeared on the world map nations such as Syria/Lebanon, Jordan (Ah! There is the gem that the British gave to the Arabs for their loyalty during the war), Iraq, Iran and a small, mandated piece of ground, less than one percent of the total landmass and called it “Palestine.”

They carefully protected their interest by selecting rulers that they could control, pay and keep in power. The U.S. was left out of all this and had to content themselves with doing the same thing in Central and South America: installing dictators and controlling bananas and pineapple.

Cobbled together with no national interests, nations only because the conquerors said they were, the elements of a monumental explosion were in place. Shia hated Sunni just as much as Sunni hated Shia. Loyalty was not to any arbitrary lines drawn on a map. Loyalty was “me against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, my cousin, my brother and I against you.” And all of this held together by brutal rulers. Explosion was inevitable.

When the kings and/or dictators became ineffective, the “major powers” exchanged them for others. America finally got into the game. Iran had a benevolent king but the U.S. was not sure of a steady flow of oil, so we replaced the king with a shah. The rest as they say, is history.

Shia and Sunni continued to boil under the surface. As the U.S. blundered in Iraq, the minority Sunni no longer in charge, Shia militants came out of the shadows where Saddam had put them and the carnage goes on to this day.

Syria is engaged in a civil war. It is not a war of the people against Assad. It is Sunni against Alawite and the rest of Shia Islam. The fighters of Hezballah are not there to shore up the regime—they are there for the War To Come. And that war my friend, is simmering and occasionally exploding all over the Middle East.

When it becomes an area conflict, all loyalties will be to the clans, the tribes. The Sunni Saudis will pour money in to protect their interests. The Shia Iranians (Islam but not Arabs) will make their move. It makes all this posturing about chemical weapons and should America get involved almost academic. The elephant is in the room. He will not sit for long.


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