Once again, Western bombs are falling on the sand-blown weapons testing range that is north Africa, the Middle East and the landscape of the old Great Game. The area stretching roughly from Morocco to Afghanistan west to east, and Syria to the Persian Gulf north to south — let’s call this region Deathistan — long has been contested. But in the last century, the region has been treated as a plaything by Western capitals.
The United States and United Kingdom, which boast of enlightenment, cause harm when they please in the Deathistan region. Less than a generation ago it amused the United States to encourage Saddam Hussein to slaughter Iranians; then conditions changed, so the United States started killing in Iraq. Right now the United States and NATO are taking lives in Libya and Afghanistan. In these places, U.S. and other Western armed forces in the main behave with high ethics. But their missions are to slay and destroy, and here’s the bottom line: Western meddling in north Africa, the Arab world and the Great Game territories has not worked.
Israel exists: that is the West’s principal achievement in the region, though for a comparatively small number of people. Cheap oil flows. Moscow quit Afghanistan. Otherwise, the last century of attempts by the United States and European powers to manipulate the Deathistan region rarely has come to good.
We’ve sure blown a lot of stuff up. When innocents were killed inside the United States on 9-11, America claimed, with justification, a right of outrage. When innocents are killed by Western action elsewhere — hundreds of thousands have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. retaliation for the 3,000 dead of 2001 — the West washes its hands, or issues a press release.
Muammar Gaddafi is an awful dictator. But no one in the Washington or London establishments seemed to care about that even a short time ago. Libyan oil money was moving freely; in 2009,Gaddafi was presented to the world by the New York Times as an op-ed columnist, as a “leader” and sage. Now the West is bombing Libya, without debate in Congress or European parliaments — and over the objections of Turkey, which understands much of the region better than does the West. Though aimed at Gaddafi’s arms, some of the bombs are killing civilians: others, killing military conscripts who have little choice about their fates.
Maybe the bombing will stop Gaddafi from repressing his country. Maybe it will just smash some stuff and usher in a different type of repression — this being the Western pattern of interactions with the region.
Despite extensive Western involvement in Deathistan, most nations there remain backward and authoritarian. Maybe that’s in part because of Western meddling, including periodic fits of use of force.
Much of the modern form of the region was created by Western fiat. Borders of Iraq, Iran and many Gulf states were drawn in London; British troops occupied Iran during World War II; the United States deposed a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953, then tried to control Iran in the 1970s; then armed Iraq against Iran in the 1980s; now regularly shakes its fist at Tehran; Britain and France attacked Egypt in 1956; the United States armed Islamic rebels in Afghanistan in the 1980s and now fights Islamic rebels there. I don’t mean this paragraph as a history of the region, merely a brief reminder of the extent of Western involvement.
The fact that Europe and the United States shaped the Deathistan region does not give them a right to do as they please there. Of course the West should advocate change. But there’s a vast difference between siding with democracy and sending in attack jets.
Choose any nation roughly the geographic size of Iraq (say, Spain) or roughly the population of Libya (say, Sicily). If the United States had staged all-out attacks on Spain twice in the last 20 years, or bombed Sicily twice in the last 25 years, how advanced or happy might these nations be? That’s what the United States has done to Iraq and Libya.
Suppose really something bad were happening in America. Suppose George W. Bush refused to leave office: was barricaded in the White House, and attempting to cancel civil liberties. Now suppose Libya or Iraq possessed supercarrier strike groups, and responded to the bad news from the United States by launching missiles at military bases near Washington and dropping bombs along the East Coast. Not only would America be furious — this wouldn’t work! Things would not get better in America; they’d get worse.
Yet the West expects such tactics to work in north Africa, the Middle East and the old Great Game areas. I will skip the complication that use of force may be morally wrong: is there one single soul in Washington who still cares about morality in use of force? It is enough that the bottom line is that U.S. meddling usually fails.
If the United States and European Union stopped trying to manipulate the Deathistan region, and stopped dropping bombs there, the nations of this area might stay backward and repressive. Or, might improve. We’ll never find out until such time as the West simply leaves these nations alone, and lets them reform themselves.
Photo, top to bottom: People look at a U.S Air Force F-15E fighter jet after it crashed near the eastern city of Benghazi March 22, 2011. The fighter jet crashed in Libya overnight after apparent mechanical failure but its crew were safe, a spokesman for the U.S. military Africa Command said on Tuesday. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem; A protester sits in a makeshift shelter on a street during an anti-Gaddafi demonstration in Benghazi March 22, 2011. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem