Reaping what we sow in the Middle East

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The claim to be a civilized society, the claim to be rational, advanced, even superior, is utterly bankrupt of any truth if, at those very moments when civility and rationality are needed most, we choose instead to behave like barbarians.

Over many millennia, tribes and nations have devoted themselves to crushing the enemy without mercy, always indifferent to the fact that inhumanity sows the seeds of more war, the lust for more revenge. Injustice breeds injustice.  In spite what we like to tell ourselves, modern warfare is not “surgical”, war is never benevolent, and “collateral damage” is still the death of innocents.

The barbarism of ISIS must be stopped, but the US has filled for itself a large cup of contempt in the Arab world. We have intervened over and over again, mostly out of greed for precious oil.  We Americans suffer astounding degrees of arrogance and indifference in believing that our repeated interference in the region will not be remembered.

We have an affliction in our minds that we are somehow the gods of other nations, that we can and should execute “regime change”. In 1953 the US and Britain executed a coup in Iran that overthrew its first democratically elected leader and retained the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, simply because we Americans wanted to keep control over Iran’s oil reserves.  The Shah was the maniacal ruler of a brutal police state for 60 years, a dictator we supported and protected until his popular overthrow in 1979. In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration helped Saddam Hussein acquire chemical weapons that Iraq then used to kill tens of thousands of Iranians during the brutal Iraq-Iran war. And at the same time, Reagan illegally sold American Hawk surface-to-air missiles and TOW anti-tank missiles to Iranians. We played Iran and Iraq against each other, all for our own agenda.  I find this despicable.

The Republicans believed that in Iraq we could demolish a nation’s infrastructure and civil order, its army, its police, and render absolute upheaval, and that somehow, as Cheney predicted, we would be greeted by all as liberators. The entire war would be over in 60 days. Liberals warned that this was absurdly naïve and illegal, and they were right.  We installed a leader who rejected any notions of power-sharing and plurality, and who set the stage for civil war and regional upheaval.  Again, we did this for oil.

We defend Israel unconditionally, yet have no influence over their behavior toward Palestinians or their endless confiscation of the only territories that could ever be the basis for a Palestinian state, and peace between them.

Our ignorance and indifference to the consequences of invading Iraq spawned ISIS, but the history of America’s interference in the Middle East is much longer than this. And we wonder why we are hated. Our friends in Europe must look now at that lunacy of American policy in the region, especially the Bush invasion of Iraq, with revulsion.   Except for Britain, none of our western European allies joined us in invading Iraq, but they are now paying a dear price for the upheaval we created.  I offer my sincere apologies to the people of Paris. It is difficult to follow the plight of the refugees fleeing ISIS and as an American, not feel a sense of responsibility.  We caused this.  More precisely, the Bush Administration caused this.

ISIS is now a curse on the Western World and even on Muslim nations. In answer to ISIS, the leading Republican candidates stand before the cameras, beat their chests like tribal upstarts smeared in war paint, and declare the ever-more barbaric acts they will order if elected, some of which would be war crimes. Frenzied mobs cheer them on and physically attack anyone brave enough to challenge their ignorance.

Trump claims that he will ban all Muslims from entering the US. Reality check: There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and many are executives, teachers, scientists, doctors, and students who travel regularly to the US from all parts of the globe. Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson stated, “What good does it do to have a good nuclear triad if you’re afraid to use it?”  Carson, the pediatric brain surgeon, claims he would be uniquely qualified to kill innocent Arab civilians, including children, as commander-in-chief.  And Cruz, a self-proclaimed devout Christian, declares that he will kill thousands of innocents by “carpet bombing” and will permanently poison the region by making the “sand glow” – a clear reference to nuclear weapons.

These obscene proclamations by leading Republican presidential candidates are the best recruiting tools ISIS can get. I stare at the television, just a little distraught. The professed ability to commit mass killings, to commit war crimes, is apparently now a job requirement for Republican candidates.  And yet we wonder, how can ISIS recruit so many fighters when the West is so very civilized?  It may be unlikely that one of these fools will be elected, but the world witnesses this frenzy of American insanity and must wonder if we are the barbarians, driven by lust for revenge.  And so it goes.

Just before Christmas I sat on a bench in a crowded mall, next to a man who was reading a book. He was older and slightly frail, with gray hair. The writing was Arabic and I interrupted him to ask what he was reading. With difficult English and a thick accent, he replied, “Koran”.   He handed it to me. I carefully thumbed through the pages and noticed the elegant grace of the script, and was disappointed that I could read none of it.  We struggled with conversation, both wanting to connect. We were waiting for our wives. He and his family had recently emigrated from Iran.  I’ve never been to Iran, but I had spent years in the region serving on the Navy’s 6th fleet flag ship and have many good, fond memories of the various nations and cultures.  He talked of how democracy had been stolen from his Iran more than once, by the Americans (a detail he carefully avoided mentioning) and later by Iran’s religious theocracy. He talked about the profound agony of the failed Arab Spring in Iran, which he witnessed, his hopes for a decent life here for his family, and his fears of American politicians, especially Donald Trump. Then his phone rang, his wife.  We stood and shook hands. I told him I was sure he would always be welcome in the US.  His eyes glistened just a bit, and then he hugged me, smiled, and with his thick accent, said, “Merry Christmas.”

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