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The world and the Middle East

By Alan Caruba
web posted May 17, 2004

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I did not wake up and go to sleep every day hearing, seeing, and reading about the Middle East. For much of my life it was little more than a setting for the movie "Lawrence of Arabia" and, earlier, movies about Sinbad. I vaguely understood it to be a very backward place consisting mostly of sand.

There isn't much good to be said of the Middle East. After World War I Great Britain and France divided it between each other. World War II made it necessary for the US to ally with Saudi Arabia to insure a steady supply of oil. Mostly though, it has been lurking around our consciousness since the founding of Israel in 1948. That initiated what would turn out to be more than fifty years of unrelenting Islamic hostility to a nation about the size of New Jersey.

Israel's only real ally would be America. It is the only real democracy in the Middle East. It has been through an endless series of wars and other events that have required some of our attention, but not much while the Cold War continued. When the Soviet Union came to an end, every nation was thrust into a new world and one very much in need of a new set of rules with which to relate to one another.

A book by Thomas P. M. Barnett, The Pentagon's New Map ($24.95, G.P. Putnam's Sons) looks at "War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century." Barnett, a futurist and analyst for the Pentagon, spells out a new set of "rules" which the world is now fashioning.

At the heart of those rules is "globalization", the way one part of the world is "connected" by economic and other treaties, the magic of modern communications, and how another part, the Middle East, is seeking to remain "unconnected" from the West, presumably to protect Islam and the sources of power that permit despots to continue ruling over the lives of billions of its people.

The Middle East is in the grip of a first class lunatic called Osama bin Laden who, on 9-11, got the world's attention. His goal is to disconnect the Middle East from the rest of the world and, if that means killing a lot of infidels and a lot of Muslims, so be it. Israel, always the background music to everything else in the Middle East, has a problem called Yasser Arafat. Until he dies, there isn't a hope of peace with the so-called Palestinians.

"The grand historical arc of our relationship with Islam is clearly peaking with the Bush Administration's decision to topple Saddam Hussein's regime and rehabilitate Baathist Iraq, much as we did with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan following WW II," writes Barnett. "Over the long run, the real danger we face in this era is more than just the attempts by terrorists to drive the US out of the Middle East; rather, it is their increasingly desperate attempts to drive the Middle East out of the world."

Barnett's book is devoted to the concept of how some nations, mostly the West as well as some in the East, have become "connected" through the ways modern communications and transportation has facilitated greater trade and prosperity, while those in the Middle East deliberately have not. "To be disconnected in this world," he writes, "is to be kept isolated, deprived, repressed, and uneducated, "adding, "For young men, it means being kept ignorant and bored and malleable."

What seems perfectly normal to us is the opposite of what those in Middle Eastern nations have never known. "We are the only country in the world," writes Barnett, "purposefully built around the ideas that animate globalization's advance: freedom of choice, freedom of movement, (and) freedom of expression. We are connectivity personified."

"If, in waging war against the forces of disconnectiveness, the United States ends up dividing the West, or the heart of the Core (group of nations who subscribe to globalization), then our cure ends up being worse than the disease." This is the problem we are encountering with Europe. With the exception of those nations still supporting our war in Iraq, others have shown a reluctance to support our effort, i.e., Spain, France, Germany, and the Russian Republic. There are other nations that fear or hate us enough who also would not mind seeing us fail.

Barnett correctly identifies the biggest problem facing us. "As America is learning in this global war on terrorism, it is one thing to topple the Taliban or Saddam Hussein with our highly-lethal, highly-maneuverable force, but quite another to actually transform those battered societies into something bigger—to reconnect them to the larger, globalizing world outside."

A longtime, highly respected Pentagon analyst, Barnett has been arguing inside that vast institution that we need to transform it to deal with a new era. "In the post-Cold War era the US tends to send its military to where the wild things are, to the places and situations where the normal rules about not resorting to violence and warfare simply do not seem to hold." This explains why we have lost more military personnel since the capture of Baghdad than in the campaign to take the city and the nation. We don't fight wars like our enemy.

We don't send airplanes loaded with innocent passengers into buildings filled with more innocent people. Having liberated the Iraqis, we don't understand why they won't or can't embrace it. The simple answer is that they have no real experience with freedom and will have to learn how to be a democracy. If, in fact, they want to be one. It is, however, vitally necessary to our future and the future of the world that they become a viable democracy. That will take time and patience.

Right now, one of the problems Americans face is the failure of the Bush Administration to effectively explain why we are in Iraq and Afghanistan. "In short," says Barnett, "the Bush Administration needs to level with the American public as to where this whole thing—this global war on terrorism and the preemption strategy—is really going. And if these policy makers themselves are unclear as to these strategies' ultimate course heading, then they better let the rest of the citizenry in on the inside debates that apparently continue to rage between Colin Powell's State Department and Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Department."

To me, that is the most chilling aspect of the war on terrorism to which the President has committed the United States. He is not much of an orator. He has been talking about freedom and its spread around the world, but offering little more by way of explaining why this is so important. Barnett says, "We will need many presidents—Democrat and Republican—over the coming decades who will keep our political system, our public, and the rest of the Core focused on the prize we seek—making globalization truly global, and shrinking the Gap" (between the Core Western nations and the Gap represented by all those now controlled by Islamic and other oppressive societies.)

In the last great, worldwide war, we fought nation-states that threatened to enslave the world. We defeated and transformed them. In this new asymmetrical war, we are faced by Islamists who fear that globalization will undermine their religion and their way of life. They are prepared to destroy the United States as the world's beacon of freedom. The question is, are we prepared to take the time, the resources, and the power necessary to defeat them? The answer is that we must.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly commentary, "Warning Signs", posted on the website of The National Anxiety Center, www.anxietycenter.com. © Alan Caruba 2004

Buy The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century at Amazon.com for only $18.33 (32% off)

Other related articles: (Open in a new window)

  • A future worth creating: An interview with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett: U.S. Naval War College professor Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett believes he has the key to creating a permanent peace around the world. What it will take, he tells Steve Martinovich, is a decades long commitment to changing the world

  • A vision for the future: Steve Martinovich found Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-First Century to be an engaging and remarkable call for a new grand vision for the United States

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