In case you’ve lost track, after arming the (Sunni) Taliban so they could better kick our communist enemy, the Soviet Union, out of Afghanistan. the Taliban’s ally, Al Qaeda, took us for their next target (9/11). Strangely, most of the 9/11 highjackers weren’t from backward, rural, poppy-growing Afghanistan; they were from oil rich, modernizing Saudi Arabia.
Since we needed the oil, and the Bush and Saudi dynasty’s are intimate, instead of attacking Saudi Arabia, we attacked Iraq (so we could, eventually, get a hand on their oil, even if they didn’t have rulers in impressive robes and headdresses that look so great on photo-ops).
That, as it turned out, opened an unexpected can of worms: the Iraqis manage to be Shia and Sunni (leaving out the Kurds for the sake of this story), and as soon as we hung the strong man who was more or less making them behave, they resumed their centuries’ long massacres, with us in the middle.
What to do? The neighbors on one side are proud Persians, whose rulers in long robes and turbans, during the thirty years we stopped talking to them, hired top scientists to bring the country up to par with their nuclear neighbors, Pakistan and India, not to mention Israel, a favorite enemy.
On the other side, the Syrians are....Alawites, a Sunni sect nobody seems to like, that has been meddling in Lebanon (which, it must be said, had been historically part of Greater Syria) for thirty years.
Movie makers especially should read Sandra Mackey’s book “Lebanon”, for inspiration on swashbuckling, feuding, feudal intrigues, complete with 20th century massacres in beautiful mountain landscapes as well as in the deceptively civilized, Mediterranean big money town of Beirut.
For a swashbuckling wide screen refresher course on how the Middle East was born out of desert kingdoms, get a copy of Lawrence of Arabia...
The Saudis may have the oil, but the Lebanese, according to Mackey, although they know how to wheel and deal, have no sense of country, only of clan and tribe. The Shia, led by Hizbollah, are the only group which has begun to think in terms of country, where they are the majority; they are financed by iran.
Saddam emancipated Iraqi women, built schools and hospitals, trained doctors, but neglected the Shia. Now, with Iran’s help, it’s payback time. In case you think this is all about religion, think again: the Shias, from the time 1400 years ago, when Mohammed's son in law, Ali, first got passed over as successor and then was killed on the battlefield, it’s been about moneymakers vs the downtrodden: Ali was for the latter, as was the Prophet.
As Sunnis and Shia duke it out over the dead bodies of our soldiers, enter the Saudis: they’ve told us to support the Iraqi Sunnis (who are nominally in charge in the person of prime Minister Maliki) or else. The problem is that there are more Shias, and the Shias are close, religiously, to Iran, which may working toward a bomb.
Chalmers Johnson said it best on “Democracy Now” two days ago: “Iran will have the bomb, that’s normal, and we have to get used to it.” You cannot expect a big, proud country surrounded by neighbors armed with the latest, not to want to equal the playing field.
Suymour Hersh yesterday added this little tidbit to the mix: the former Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Prince Bandar, is now Saudi Arabia’s chief national security advisor. We’ve progressed from merely training other country’s troops and police, to training their security advisors... in Crawford, Texas.
I don’t think the fact that the U.S. has accepted to attend a regional conference called by the embattled Maliki government, is, as some are claiming, a victory for Rice and Gates over Cheney: I think it’s a victory for the Middle East, led by Saudi Arabia: Shia and Sunni may have their differences, but these pale in comparison to the presence, in Dar al Islam, of an infidel.
Oil must be sold, but it will be sold at conditions set by the owners. The price the U.S. is expected to pay for the new agreement that formally hands Iraqi oil over to its oil companies may well be that we leave the Sunnis and Shias to fight out their millenarian wars without our interference.
That may be the most likely way the troops will come home soon.