Israel: The Unlikely Nation

israel creation

The recent unveiling of the “deal of the Century,” begun with the probably forlorn hope of bringing peace to the Holy  land prompts me to go back and see how this small nation  came to pass particularly when there are so many people who  seem to live and breathe  its destruction.

There are a bewildering cascade of events and array of national interests that led to the founding of a Jewish State in Palestine. It is not easy to begin understanding, and made more so by the the cross currents of national interests, few of which had anything directly to do with the “Jewish question.”

I am not going into the futile issue of rights and wrongs and who has the moral high ground- a subject that continues to elicit angry partisans churning out roomfuls of vitriolic literature, few of which add one iota of new information to the “Palestinian Issue.”  My quest trying to find a truly  neutral  historical account  has been fruitless. About the closest to that neutrality and a very brief narration of the Israeli origin is found in Michael J. Cohen’s book, The Origins and Evolution of the Arab -Zionist Conflict

So I start with the Jews. The 1860’s in Europe saw a brief and illusionary period in East Europe, especially the Russian Empire where 80% of the Jews resided.  Tsar Alexander II, gave the Jewish communities hope  of emancipation with a number of liberal decrees but was assassinated in 1881 and the pogroms against Jewish settlements recommenced with renewed fury.   A Russian Jew, Leo Pinsker, began to write about the plight of the world wide Jewish community, positing that the Jews were aliens where ever they were, and they would never be accepted into Gentile society.  Jews began fleeing from inhospitable Eastern Europe but only a minute percentage chose to emigrate to Palestine. Most went to Western Europe and the United States,  prompting the acclaimed father of Zionism, Theodore Herzl, to quip that the Jews might flee anti-Semitism but they carried it with them in their baggage. In France the notorious Alfred Dreyfus case of 1894 substantiated the view that nowhere, even in the home of human rights, could Jews be sure of equitable treatment.

Zionism was not a religious movement but a socialist secular movement with an underpinning of cultural and religious motivations, i.e., a return to their ancestral home¹. Quite understandably, most Western European Jews vociferously opposed the Zionist movement, especially German Jews, which, ironically, was one reason the German Jews were so reluctant to leave Hitler’s Germany in the 1930’s. In fact the most outspoken opponent of Zionism in Great Britain was Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India, the highest ranking Jewish member of the British government. Truth to be told, the principal reason so many Western European Jews were against Zionism was the belief that the Europeans would now claim, “Ok you now have a home, leave!” A not ridiculous belief by any means! Among the English upper classes and the military higher ranks, anti -Semitism was prevalent. The political class with the exception of Churchill, Prime Minister Lloyd George sand a few others were also adamantly against establishing a “home for the Jews.” The British renown statesman, George Curzon, and a heavy hitter in political circles, was dead set against the scheme, opining, “that I cannot conceive of a worse bondage than to relegate an advanced and intellectual community to exile in Palestine.” What would become of the original inhabitants he wondered. Would they become simply “hewers of wood and drawers of water?” Curzon also saw the Sykes-Picot treaty as a document drawn up in “gross ignorance” with “fantastic and incredible boundaries” (Curzon by David Gilmour, an excellent but weighty book).

So why did the British end up with “the Palestine?” Well there were many very involved and intricate questions of which I can only provide the essence, not the details.  Where to begin? Well maybe with the visit of the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II to the Middle East in 1894. He met with the Ottoman Sultan (and last one) Abdelhamid II, a rather weak but well-meaning ruler. He established great rapport with the Sultan giving a fulsome speech of praise.  According to some other sources the Kaiser became enamored of Islam and saw it as a manly religion versus the passivity of Christianity.  Nevertheless, the Kaiser, who was full of contradictions, also wanted to build up the Lutheran Christianity of Germany in Palestine. German influence was already strong in Turkey and the massive German retinue of 100 soldiers and many palace courtiers accompanying  the Kaiser was indeed impressive to the Turkish media and people.

Kaiser into Jeruslaem

The favorable impression of the Kaiser and German officers who followed up the Kaiser’s visit is chronicled by General Liman Von Sanders in his book, Five Years in Turkey. He wrote an interesting account of his time with the Turks, very positive in his view of their fighting qualities but he deprecated their administrative efficiency. The Germans with traditional efficiency trained an army which fought with great valor, surprising skill, and not so surprising brutality in World War I. They dealt the Allies  two of their most devastating defeats, at Gallipoli  (1916)  and in Mesopotamia.(1916)

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General Leman Von Sanders

The Germans under the grandiose vision of Kaiser Wilhelm sought to rival the British empire in collecting colonies in the East, including Palestine, making a triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a white charger with a huge escort of Turkish and German soldiers and officials. Moreover the German were constructing  the Berlin to Baghdad railroad which had become very important to German imperialistic designs. Turkish support was essential.  Turkey heavily influenced by pro German Turkish military men, and poorly conducted British diplomatic efforts joined the Germans and Austrian -Hungarian Empire in the war against France and Great Britain.  despite British attempts to win their support, or at least neutrality.

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Turkish soldiers of WWI. In actuality most wore sandals and were very poorly equipped

Ok.  Let us count the ways Britain came to be to be the unhappy possessors of the Palestinian problem. First off was the East West debate. Within the British government one of the great debates concerning WWI was centered around the question of what strategy was best to defeat Germany. The French and British war on the Western front had turned into a quagmire. Bloody useless offensives resulted in a few miles (or yards) of gain and with the loss of thousands of lives. Far seeing people like Winston Churchill advocated an Eastern strategy, i.e., an attack through the “soft underbelly” of the “Triple Alliance”- an attack on the perceived weakest member of the German allies- Turkey. Therefore the Middle East became the focus of the war, including the people and the territory. However the implementation of this policy resulted in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign as well as the equally disastrous Mesopotamian campaign in Iraq. Turkish valor and spirit with German expertise was greatly underestimated by the British. Moreover, British and French naval and land force coordination, planning, and logistics support was abysmal.They had to look elsewhere for victory.

The British had five strategic objectives in the war: not necessarily in order of importance

  1. Maintain access to oil.
  2. Keep the French in the war
  3. Get the Americans in the war
  4. Keep the Suez canal in British control
  5. Control potential Islamic anti-British sentiment
  6. But at the same time secure perceived world wide “Jewish power.”

 

  1. The oil. The great British Navy was switching from coal to oil for their ships and the greatest access to it was from the oil fields of Iraq and Persia , especially around Mosul. As Lord Curzon put it, “the Allies floated to victory on a wave of oil.”map_of_iraq

 

2. Keep the French in the war. The French by 1917 had suffered a huge amount of casualties, and the promise of a war-ending offensive ended in disaster. This resulted in a mutiny that threatened to collapse the French army. Great Britain was desperate to keep France in the War and one of the sweeteners was the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided the Levant into French-British zones of influence. Palestine fell within the British zone. (The French disagreed but to no avail.) There are a ton of books on the evils of the Sykes-Picot agreement, however after decades of Arab and Western academics moaning and wailing about this agreement, which divided the Arab world into squabbling nations, there seems to be little enthusiasm among Arab leaders to erase the borders. Despite many prognostications predicting the demise of Arab borders, the Arab state system has proven stronger than many short lived unions as well as the Islamic State’s forlorn attempt to reinvent the Caliphate.

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Sykes-Picot Agreement. nebulous and amenable to interpretation many different ways

3.Get the Americans in the war. The Russian empire had collapsed and with German assistance, the Communists undermined the Russian will to fight, and as a consequence Russia left the War. A tremendous number of German and Austrian forces were then free to move to the western front, facing the war weary British and French. The outcome of the  was in question. The question was how to get President Wilson and America in the war? The British astutely decided on an indirect approach. President Wilson had a number of very influential Jewish confidants, sympathetic to the Zionist cause, such as Judge Louis Brandeis, Hans Morgenthau, and Felix Frankfurter. Wilson although sympathetic to a Jewish Palestine, was suspicious of a British Palestine, but in the end, as he did later in Paris, threw out great ideas and then walked away from implementation. Another important figure in winning Western support for a Jewish Palestine was Chaim Weizmann. He was a scientist of considerable repute, born in Russia and a naturalized British citizen, and close to the British politician Arthur Balfour. He was also influential in American political circles, molding public opinion and leading politicians to view the Balfour declaration positively. He also invented and gave to the British government a process for extracting acetone from maize, giving the British a vital lead in developing more lethal explosives. Of course German brutality conducting their submarine warfare, and the infamous “Zimmerman affair” were even more instrumental in pushing the Americans into the war

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Judge Felix Frankfurter Supreme Court Judge nominated by President Roosevelt and accepted by the senate without a single dissenting vote.

4.Muslim Sensibilities.The British were deathly afraid of the impact of the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan throwing their lot in with Germans. The Sultan, as the legitimate successor of the Caliphs of the Ommayad and Abbasid dynasties, was the titular head of all Muslims throughout the world, announced a Jihad against the British and French, which, like today, seems to cast a paralyzing fear over the West. The British Empire contained over 100 million Muslim subjects and made a ready-made target for the Germans. The myth of an “Islamic world” seems to perpetuate itself. The German military advisors in Turkey believed that the British Muslim soldiers would refuse to fire on their fellow Turkish Muslim soldiers. The British commanders, who had a very large number of Indian troops fighting for them, mostly Muslim, recalled earlier Muslim Indian soldier revolts, one time based on a rumor that ammunition was greased with pig fat. The Kaiser’s warm relations with the Ottoman sultan and the ongoing Berlin to Baghdad Express railroad which opened the way for German “archeologists” and many German “tourists” to find reasons to stay in the Middle East, worried the British overseers of the British empire. The British, who always pride themselves on an intimate knowledge of the Arab culture, began casting about for a Muslim counterweight to the Sultan, and they believed they found him in the person of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, ruler of Hijaz and a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Sir Henry McMahon, high commissioner of Egypt, began a correspondence with Sharif Hussein in 1915-16 making vague promises of some sort of Arab nation with Hussein as the ruler. At first, little became of it, but with the defection of a Kurdish soldier from the Ottoman army, Lt. Sharif Al Faruki, from Mosul, his claims of a secret Arab society al ‘Ahd, which was plotting against the Turkish control of Arab lands, convinced the British to step up their overtures to the Sharif of Mecca. The British then began to see an Arab revolt as an important asset in their war against the Turks. An Arab Bureau  was established in Cairo and with that  came the adventures of Lawrence of Arabia.  Actually the military value of Lawrence and his tribal Arab irregulars was rather minuscule, but later it became very important politically….especially in popular folklore. Later, after the Turks and Germans were pushed out of the Arab world. Sharif Hussein’s third son, Feisal was temporarily installed as the king of Syria, but as the French then reminded the British of the Sykes Picot treaty, and they did not approve of Feisal.  Feisal was ousted from Syria by the French but the British found a home for him in Iraq as the new king.

Feisel Iraq

Feisal Of Iraq

But returning to the central issue of the Jews and the Zionists,   the entrance of Prince Feisal  into the drama became importance because Prince Feisal and the Zionist prime mover, Chaim Weizman met and discussed the immigration of Jews to Palestine. Apparently the Zionist leader and Prince Feisal got along famously and Feisal signed a document indicating he had no problem with Jewish immigration to Palestine. Of course this is disputed, as is everything else regarding Palestine. But the champion of Arab independence, T.E. Lawrence  was there and read the document to Feisal. Other sources remarked that Feisal thought very little of Palestinians as Arabs, a cultural point that tracks with the general eastern and Gulf Arab attitude toward Palestinians today. A similar exchange between Felix Frankfurter, an important American Zionist and later supreme court justice , contained this in a letter from Feisal to Frankfurter.

 

“We Arabs, especially the educated ones among us, look with deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist organization to the peace conference and we regard them as moderate and proper.”

Later in the same letter , Feisal adds. “We wish the Jews a hearty welcome home.” BTW, 10 years later Feisal said he did not remember writing the latter.

 

This set the stage for the Balfour declaration, issued by the Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, in 1917. This nefarious document, which has been interpreted, reinterpreted, manipulated, scrubbed for satanic verses, blamed for everything including the heartbreak of psoriasis, is a fairly straightforward document. In a letter to Lord Rothschild, a wealthy Jewish banker, Lord Balfour wrote that his majesty’s government “views with favor the establishment in Palestine, a home for the Jewish people……….it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done to prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non Jewish communities in Palestine…

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Arthur Balfour

6.The “ Jewish international power”

Probably nothing so illustrates the ignorance upon which politicians, rulers, and intelligence agencies made decisions ( and still do) than the belief shared by many Western diplomats and observers that there existed in Constantinople a dark conspiracy which involved the Turkish/ Ottoman and German governments, supported by the financial power of international Jewry. It was a natural result of the fear, prevalent at the time, which brought about the popularity of the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a book supposedly written by Russian intelligence Czarists, feeding suspicions among Europeans that international Jewry was manipulating governments. (It is still popular among Islamists and extreme right wing fanatics). With the demise of the Czarist Russian empire and the advent of the communist take over, the number of Jews involved the communist movement gave rise to suspicions of Russian involvement in ousting the “Colonial Powers” as well. The aggressive Germans, with a star struck and mercurial Kaiser, who had also met Theodore Herzl previous to his trip to the Ottoman Empire, was convinced by him to plead the Zionist cast to the Sultan. He was reputed to have tried to convince the Sultan to give his blessing to Jewish settlement in Palestine. This prompted to the British to attach some urgency to a release of the Balfour letter.

protocols of zion

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Has been translated into almost every language and always finds a receptive audience.I saw one  copy prominently displayed in the Amman Sheraton.  sad commentary on the zeal of many to find an outside reason for their miserable lives.

 

So there you have it, a home for the Jews established by imperial powers with very little regard for the Jews or Arabs, mostly by politicians with very little empathy for the people affected by the swirl of great power politics. Do I blame the Brits? Absolutely not! As Elizabeth Monroe, one of the most noted historians of the British Empire in the Middle East, referring to Palestine, wrote, “Measured by British interests alone, it was one of the greatest mistakes of our imperial history.” Absolutely not! German submarine warfare had so affected the importation of food to the British Isles that people were living on a calorie intake below the minimum amount for sustained survival. The French were faltering of the Western front, the Russian collapse allowed many German and Austrian divisions to return to the Western Front, and the Americans were still debating whether to enter the war. Nation fighting for its survival should not be judged on its actions by chronocentric polemics of ideologues who know little or nothing of history. Do I blame the Zionists? Absolutely not! They were unwanted wherever they were, despite some overcoming adversity to become tolerated, but never entirely accepted. Looking at Palestine in those days, one could see a largely undeveloped land, sparse population and mostly barren. Arab nationalist advocate T.E. Lawrence wrote, “The sooner the Jews farm it, all the better, their colonies are bright spots in a desert.” I cannot blame the Arabs either, although their feigned sense of victim hood has become irritating and a distraction from learning. Their corrupt and rapacious leadership over the years, with the connivance of some Western academics, has turned Palestine into an Islamic and Arab tragedy. It did not need to turn out that way but it has. History is full of serendipitous events for some and disastrous for others. Christopher Columbus sailed to find gold and spices of East Asia and found the new world. That worked out well for the millions wishing to have opportunity and escape persecution from all over the world but not so well for the Indian inhabitants.The Europeans were engaged in a brutal struggle for empire and inadvertently founded a home for people who did not have one. It is the way of the world.

After note.. A Home for the Jews, as earlier proposed by Western Powers included the Sinai, Uganda and later Australia, and Tasmania. But as one might suspect , none of these were very appealing to the Jewish community, especially those of Western Europe and even those of the Middle East. As related by Sir Arnold Wilson, (Loyalties: Mesopotamia 1914-1917). Iraqi Jews said, “This is the garden of Eden (Mesopotamia, Iraq)). It is from this country that Adam was driven forth. Give us good government and we will make this country flourish. For us Mesopotamia is a home, a national home to which the Jews of Bombay, Persia and Turkey will be glad to come.” Unfortunately because of the innate exclusiveness of Arabism and religious triumphalism inherent in Islamism, The Jews were expelled and Iraq is the poorer because of it.

The Zimmerman message was  a secret message  by the German foreign Office  offering  Mexico the states of  New Mexico, Texas and Arizona to declare war against the United States also it sought to promote rebellion among the many German immigrants in the U.S. The sinking of the Lusitania by a German  submarine killing 123 Americans was a result of the unrestricted submarine warfare adopted by the Germans to starve the British.

BTW The Mexican President seriously considered the proposal but his Generals said  wisely …no way! One of the reasons they gave……. The anglo Texan civilians were too  well armed and would not submit to Mexican domination. Keep your weapons Texans!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Iraqi Army: the Wild Card

izwith barham salih Kurd leader

Me with Barham Salih in 2004, now the president of Iraq

As the Iraqi president continues to discuss with political blocs names of candidates to fill in the post of Prime Minister, the pressure from demonstrators to select an independent figure grows. So far the speculation in the media suggests the head of Iraq’s national intelligence Mustafa Al-Kazimi, and former communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi have emerged as likely most candidates, but as it appears there is a continuing impasse in selection of a Prime Minister, the environment for a military leader to assume control, by appointment or coup grows.

map_of_iraq

The Iraqi people see the army as the one institution of which they could be proud, even though the army has been involved in a number of brutal suppressions of domestic discontent, and has demonstrated a rather mediocre performance against the Israelis. They have always venerated the Iraq army from the time of its founding under the British. However, due to its earlier involvement in coups, especially the bloody one of 1958, and Iraqi politics, Saddam Hussein, who created the Republican Guard and the Special Republican Guard to balance the regular army, did not trust it. From then until now the regular army has not been deeply involved in the national politics and has not been an actor in the political chaos enveloping the nation since 2003.

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Iraqi Shi’a militia

The collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014 depicted it as a hapless fighting organization and it became an object of ridicule, as well as the American training that preceded the collapse. The reality of the situation was that when the ill-considered withdrawal of American trainers from Iraq in 2011, Iraqi politicians reshaped the army to configure to political considerations and many professional officers left the army. It quickly evolved into a corrupt institution maintained for political and financial reasons by the Shi’a politicians. Its performance in 2014 was an example of its woeful effectiveness.  However with the return of American trainers in 2014, a slow improvement began and a degree of professionalism returned. In the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) several units of the Iraqi army demonstrated combat mettle and impressive effectiveness. One the best is the Counter Terrorism Service (CTS), which, is now under the direct control of the Iraqi Prime Minister. Another is the 9th Mechanized division which has most of the best armor in the Iraqi army. These two units carried the fight to the ISIS.  The CTS organization, which is the headquarters of the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) Forces, also known as the Golden Division, lost a large number of their personnel as they performed as shock troops ferreting the ISIS terrorists out the city of Mosul.  Fighting in a traditional Arab city such as Mosul is one of the difficult operations one can attempt and the ISOF took many casualties doing it.

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Iraqi army officer cadets

 

The ISOF been rebuilt to some extent but its present capabilities are probably not up to pre-2014 standards, and some of the former prime minister Al-Maliki’s induced corruption has crept in, but it is still a good unit. The former commander of this unit, Lt. General Abdul-Wahhab Al Saadi became a popular figure and has been lionized by many of the current Iraqi protestors who are frustrated by the corruption and inept governing regime. Because of his popularity he was, in typical Arab style, pulled out of his command over troops and relegated to a desk job, which he rejected and preferred to retire. This is a symptom of one of the main problems affecting all Arab armies, the politicization of the officer corps. Advancement is the reward for mediocrity.

To an extent , the effort to establish a quota system to create the army with the “face of Iraqi diversity,“ requiring the military to represent general proportion of the sectarian groups, i.e., Shi’a, Sunni and Kurds,, has been a drawback, as it requires the absorption of many recruits of lower standards just to meet the quota system. However, on the other hand, because of their historical and traditional role, composing the majority of the officer corps, the return of the Sunni officers has re-energized the quest for professionalism. While the quota is an obviously important political measure to forge a sense of Iraqi solidarity, it, to some observers in Iraq believe it does not enhance the quality of the army. I would suggest suggest, however, that it has increased the professionalism of the officer corps, with a greater loyalty to the nation rather that political blocs.

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American training of Iraqi army

Another factor of importance is that the regular army has had far more exposure to American training and culture and many are pro-American in attitude, particular the officers at a junior and middle level. This sets them at odds with the Iranian supported Shi’a militias, many basically paid and directed by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to further Iranian interests. The innate rivalry to be expected between the Shi’a militias and regular army has grown to animosity down to the junior officer rank, even among the Shi’a officers.

So how does this play out?

The main point is this; It only takes a few units to effect a coup d’ etat. Most military coups in the Middle East have been carried out with very few units. There are three main criteria; one is that is that be a cohesive unit in which the officers are loyal to their commander, and the troops obey their officers. The troops need not be particularly in sync with the political motivations of their officers and commander.  Secondly the unit must be near the capitol to seize the primary means of communications and governing institutions to move quickly and unobtrusively into the governing center. Thirdly the coup must be done with lighting speed and firm direction. The loss of will on the part of the Turkish plotters in the 2016 attempted overthrow of Erdogan is one example of a loss of will. The book to read on this is  the classic  Coup d’ Etat: A Practical Handbook. Revised Edition. by Edward Luttwak.

There are several aspects of Iraq that make a coup d’ etat easier. Iraq, like most Arab counties is a mostly an urban population and is centralized around three main cities of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul.   For generations it has been governed by an authoritarian highly centralized regime. All power emanates from Baghdad. Take Baghdad and the rest of the country will follow, perhaps not immediately, but inevitably.

Iraq has been soaked in blood for decades. The people are tired of constant tension, violence, wars, and pervasive corruption.  The present situation presents a picture of a total breakdown of authority and order.  The old Arab saying, which could be applied anywhere in the world, ” a thousand days of tyranny is better than one day of chaos.” In Iraq, some (perhaps quite a few) yearn for the dictatorial Saddam regime and all wish for a strong leader to appear.  The mishmash of various Shi’a armed political organizations, all vying for power, destroying Iraq in the process, has worn the luster off their earlier heroic stance against the depredations of the ISIS, following the collapse of the Army in 2014.

An ambitious Iraqi general with a degree of charisma, a strong will, and from a reputable family,  with a loyal unit of perhaps no more than a reinforced brigade  with heavy weaponry could overpower the lightly armed militia groups. These groups are not unified, do not have uniform direction, and lack the religious fervor they possessed against the Sunni ISIS. Their leaders are mostly criminal type thugs and do not engender respect among the regular army officers. In a head to head confrontation, the militia groups could not prevail against armor and artillery. As Hafez Assad did against the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in the city of Hama in 1982, using artillery units manned by mostly Sunni soldiers, he pummeled the city until the Muslim Brotherhood was broken.  The Iraqi unit could do the same against the militia stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad.  The Shi’a militias would splinter as the undisciplined militiamen of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) remember their first priority is their families and leave the battlefield to save them. One must remember that in the Middle East the “hearts and minds” philosophies are not only disregarded, but also actually seen as weakness.

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Iraqi soldiers celebrate capture of Mosul

The conventional wisdom that the mostly Shi’a soldiers of the army would not fire on their fellow coreligionists, Shi’a militia members, is simply not viable. As has been shown so many times in recent era, the quest for power, or survival, always trumps religious considerations, even in the Islamic world. In the Shi’a revolt against the Saddam regime following the Gulf war in 1991, many Shi’a tribes not only failed to support the rebellion but also actively fought against it. In the American liberating invasion, the hoped for Shi’a collaboration did not materialize and later they became the prime opponents of the American efforts to fashion some sort of a viable democratic government.

As the military attaché in Jordan during the Palestinian- Jordanian civil war (some say Jordanian Arab Army versus the Palestinian Liberation Organization) I watched the resentment of the ordinary Jordanian soldiers build day after day as the PLO Fedayeen drove around in their Toyotas, harassing people, showing off their tiger uniforms , flirting  with young women,  and basically indicating they were in charge. The same is happening in Iraq. The militia will continue to play the hero with all the publicity and Western “experts” lauding their prowess, or opining that we must deal with them. This “prowess” was primarily in terms of propaganda in the dark days against the ISIS, as they swarmed into the streets of Baghdad, giving residents a feeling of security as the routed Iraqi army fled south from Mosul. However in the years of the tortuous march up country, reclaiming Iraq against the ISIS, it was the Army and the CTS that did most of the fighting. The militias followed as a sort of mop up force.

Since the regular army shows some attachment to the American military and the Shi’a militia forces are in the pocket of the Iranians, this coup would have international repercussions, leading some to forecast the destruction of the army. I disagree. Iran would not venture to put conventional troops into Iraq and the probable entrance of more IRGC forces would only lead to greater embarrassment for Iran by turning the coup into a classic Arab- Persian struggle. Of course this assessment can only be valid if the United States continues to show some backbone in the continuing confrontation. The Iranians must remain fearful of strong American intervention.

Is there a charismatic power hungry military Army commander (or perhaps an idealist) who can fill the role of the “man on horseback?” I do not know, but my background of Middle East experience suggests there is one, and as the turmoil in Iraq continues, public entreaties and pressure for someone to clean up the mess will create the right environment for the man, even if he, like Mohammed Naguib of Egypt, will only be temporary until an Iraqi Nasser emerges.   In the meantime the Iraqi army tanks and artillery remain in cantonments, waiting for the orders.

 

 

 

 

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Oman: An Amazing Arab Country

Of all the twenty plus countries I have visited or lived in over the years, one of the most interesting is the Sultanate of Oman. Certainly it is the most interesting of all the countries, emirates, etc in the Arabia peninsula. The diversity of people, cultures,  topography, history and strategic location  make it a singularly important  small nation that few, even American Middle East “experts” know much about.( Digression…more and more I put parenthesis around the term Middle East “experts,” particularly after their whining and idiotic reactions to the  elimination of the “Che Guevera” of the Middle East,  Qassem Suleimani.  Also I needed refuge from the fake “impeachment” show trial.

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The Sultanate of Musqat and Oman as it was originally known. The Musqat region in red and the Omani Imamate in orange.

I visited there with an officer student in about 2000 or earlier and I was very impressed with the possibilities of the country with the right leadership.  Since 1970 until January 2020 they had that leadership, under the Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said who died on 10 January  2020.  Qaboos was  gay and had no children. He was married briefly for cosmetic reasons but divorced a few years ago. He selected his cousin Haitham bin Tariq al Said as the new ruler.I know very little about Haitham but had a chance to observe the Sultan while visiting Salawah, the western- most city in Oman.  Amid the blaring of horns and a lot of yelling we watched a caravan of the Sultan in a convertible followed by  a number of pickup vehicles with a bunch of young men packed into them. Unlike the rest of the Arab world,  he had little or no security escort.  The young men did not appear to be armed.  How different from every other place I had visited or lived in during my time in the Middle East over the years.

Sultan Qaboos sent his father  Sultan, Said Bin Taimur, 1932-1970  packing after  Qaboos returned from the British Military Academy (Sandhurst). Bin Taimur was a larger than life character. He was the very embodiment of a reactionary and feudal leader. He told the British commander of the Sultan’s forces, Colonel David Smiley, that he did not want any more health clinics, saying,

We are a very poor country which can only support small population. At present many children  die in infancy, and so the population does not increase. If we build clinics many more will survive- but for what? To starve? “

When British officials pressed him to educate his people he replied,

“Where would the teachers come from? …They would come from Cairo and spread seditious ideas among their pupils. And what is there here for a young man with with education?  He would go to the university in Cairo or the London School of Economics, finish in Moscow and come  back here foment trouble.” The Sultan may have been reactionary but he was no dummy.  His only son, Qabuus returned from Sandhurst and  sent his father to London for good, assuming the rule of Oman.

However Oman has never been an easy  country to rule. It’s history  is replete with brutal factional and tribal warfare, dating back to the original division of the Arabs, the Adnani and Qatani tribal confederations. In fact there are some 200 tribes that reside in Oman, which coalesce around two main factions, the Ghafiri and Hinawi confederations. This rivalry is magnified by the fact that the Hinawi strongly identify with the Ibadis and the Hinawi with the Sunni.

The Ibadis are one of the three main sects of Islam, the Sunni, Shi’a and Ibadi. The Ibadis have a long and bloody history. They originated with the Kharajites, the most militant of the various forms of Islam. The Kharajites originally formed as the result of  the Battle of Siffin in which Ali, the son in law of the Prophet Mohammed was vying for the leadership of the Umma ( the Muslim Community). Ali unwisely chose to negotiate with the pretender Muawiyya, and came out the loser. The Kharajites, ( also known as the seceders), believing that Allah did not accept arbitration,  withdrew from the support of Ali and became his most implacable enemy. One of them assassinated Ali near Kufa in Iraq.

The Kharijites evolved into many branches,  mostly very violent , and influenced the leader of the Zinj revolt in Iraq, who led the black slaves ( originally imported from East Africa) of the Abbasid regime, employed in the saltpeter mines of southern Iraq, in one of the bloodiest revolts of all history. According to the German orientalist, Theodore Noldeke, the storming of the last bastion of the Zinj rebels, “Thus ended one of the bloodiest and most destructive rebellions in the history of West Asia records.”

The branch of the Kharajites who settled in Oman evolved into a rather inoffensive branch and in practice their day to day religious activities differ very little from the Sunni. however they generally do not intermarry with the Sunni and zealously guard their identity.

At one time Oman was a vast empire, stretching from east Africa  to Western India and the Omanis were intrepid seamen, ferrying goods from the Middle East as far as Indochina. One of the principal commodities were humans…the slaves from east Africa. This was one of the principal slave  trade  routes from Africa to the Arab world and East Asia.  It was a trade involving human suffering not exceeded in any epoch of history. A full  and gut wrenching  description of the Arab slave trade and its effects  can be found in Oman: a History by Wendell Phillips, (Longmans, 1967).  This aspect of the Arab slave trade has been largely ignored by modern writers, one of the many baleful effects of being “politically correct” ( dishonest, being  a more truthful description).

Since 1750 the Al Bu  Said family has ruled Oman and lived in near isolation, invaded by the Portuguese,( for over a hundred years), the Persians, and their Arab neighbors, the Saudis. When not under foreign rule, the Omanis were at each others throats, leading the most renown historian of the Persian Gulf region, J.B. Kelly, Arabia, the Gulf and the West, to write. As an aside perhaps it should be mentioned that none of the European imperialists could possibly approach the brutality of the Portuguese who routinely slaughtered women, and children,  burning down the towns. The Portuguese era in the Arabian peninsula is a very interesting one. I need to read more about them. Any way the quote by JB Kelly,

“Centuries of feuding have bred in them ( Omanis) a rancorous disposition , and long isolation has made them intensely suspicious of strangers and foreign influences. The contentiousness which is so marked a feature of Omani life is due in large measure to the inveterate religious discord and factional rivalry that exits within Omani society.”

I found that to be true. They were not of the generally welcoming nature one finds in Arab culture. Most Omani individuals seemed very dour and reserved but not as bad as their neighbors the Yemenis. There were some great exceptions but these mostly turned out to be  Indians, or Persians. Most of the shops were managed by Persians and Indians, both Hindu and Muslim but the shop owners were  Omanis, who largely eschew work as something real men don’t do. The oil wealth of the Omanis, not approaching anywhere near that of the Persian Gulf emirates, nevertheless has exacerbated the lack of a work ethic.  However,  what they lack in civic virtues they more than make up in martial qualities. The Dhofaris of the Dhofar  region of western Oman are justly renown for their soldierly qualities. as are the tribesmen of the Green mountain region of north east Oman..

I had the distinct pleasure of spending some time with the Trucial Oman Scouts in 1968, the British officered, Arab defense force of the Emirates ( now UAE). I was with the Squadron that was almost entirely  Dhofaris. They were  excellent tough soldiers and I very much enjoyed my time with them.

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Dhofaris of the Trucial Oman Scouts ( the paleface in the back is a Brit SAS troop)

Oman under the wise and benevolent rule of Sultan Qabuus leaped from the 15th Century several hundred years ahead. The society is still fairly primitive but the progress made under the late Sultan is truly remarkable. He is the example of what could happen in the Arab world if they had decent  leadership…….leaders who actually cared about the people instead of pursuing glory, quest for more power and personal wealth. It is probably the most peaceful nation in the Middle East , boasting of  many years of stability. He had maintained a miraculous degree of neutrality in a region wherein it is almost impossible to do so, amicably working with the Arab nations,  Iran, and Israel. He had not become embroiled in the useless and self defeating Palestinian issue.

Bibi, wife and Qabus

Bibi and wife greeting Sultan Qabuus. Note that Ms. Netanyahu is not wearing hair covering as so many American female  diplomats do  hoping to curry favor.

To be sure the British have played an important part in the stability of the Sultanate, very visible in the government  since  about 1891, when Oman became a British protectorate. In 1958 the Omanis and the British concluded an agreement in which the British assumed control and training of the armed forces of the Omanis. The Commanders of the British advisory in Oman have been some very famous British Officers. Brigadier Pat Waterfield , and especially retired Colonel David Smiley were among them at the time most crucial to the survival of the Sultanate.

Almost all the equipment  of the Omani military is of British origin, including the main British battle tank, the Challenger II and Typhoon fighters. British support has been critical in supporting the Sultan. The reign of Sultan Qabuus’s father, Said bin Taimur, was not always peaceful as the Marxists, Arab nationalists, and  the Saudis of Saudi Arabia have tried to overturn the regime. The first attempt was called  the Jebel Akhdar rebellion which lasted  from 1954 to 1959. One can get the left wing view of the war from wikipedia or the British view from J.B. Kelly and Wendell Phillips. The former depicts it as a war over oil discovered in the region, eagerly sought by the rapacious Sultan  and pushed by the greedy British imperialists. The British saw it as a war to  consolidate the rule of the Musqat  Sultan al Said over the rebellious interior which was involved in tribal warfare fanned by ambitious tribal sheikhs, amply supported by Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia with arms and training.  After some serious losses by the Sultan’s forces, the British began deploying regular units to defeat the rebels. In 1959 the British deployed  major Special Air Services units ( SAS) and  air force assets to decisively defeat the rebels.

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Green Mountain revolt  in the brown area in the north and the Dhofar rebellion in the south shaded area.

The more serious revolt fanned by Arab nationalism and Marxist expansionism was the Dhofari revolt, which dragged on from 1963 to 1976.  In this war, the British, the Shah’s Iran, Jordan, and Egypt assisted the Omanis,  while the Soviet Union, China, South Yemen, and Iraq supported the Dhofari rebels. Again it was the British SAS which made the difference and finally defeated the  Dhofari rebels in 1976.

Oman is  polyglot of different people, including Arabs, Persians,  Baluchis, Indians, East Africans, and a substantial number of British expatriates who are very involved in every aspect of Omani life.  In fact, the Dhofaris have their own own dialect of Arabic which sounds very different to the ear from Arabic, including traces of Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. In the Musandem peninsula, live a tribe called the Shihuh,  who also speak a different brand of Arabic mixed with Farsi. They are famous for a long handled axe which they use in an upper cut fashion to slash the throat of their opponent.

shihuh axe

The Jizr of the Shihuh

I bought one off a Shihuh tribesman who showed up at our campfire when I was with the TOS soldiers. Unfortunately in one of our many moves it disappeared.

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Market place in Musqat

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The blogger hanging out in Musqat on the waterfront

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One of many amazing things about Oman is the amount of water found in many parts of the Sultanate

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water water… not everywhere but Oman is blessed

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a grocer in a small town north east of Musqat. A happy guy. Doesn’t look like an Omani.

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hello! whats your sign?

 

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at the market with a contented grocer. The Omanis have the water in certain areas to grow almost anything,

But the most fantastic part of the visit to Oman was the time spent in Salawah, on the further most  western tip of  Oman. Flying from the city of Musqat to Salawah we flew over hundreds of miles of sun-baked desert with practically no vegetation, and then suddenly we flew into a fog shrouded mist that covers a good part of the region around Salawah and everything below turned green. It reminded  me of the movie Shangri La. This drastic change of scenery is the result of the tip of the Indian Monsoons reaching Salawah and the surrounding mountains to the north keeping the dry hot winds from Arabia from burning up the terrain.

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The interior Omani desert

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Approaching  Salawah the humid but cool mist comes into view

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At Salawah near the Ocean

Many Brits go camping in Oman and if properly equipped it is very enjoyable…… I was told. I chose to camp out in the Salawah Holiday Inn.

 

 

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Salawah is about a 1000 KM from Musqat. One can drive there ..it is about a 10 hour trip.

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near Salawah

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Streams near a park in Salawah

So in conclusion I am wondering why anyone with a choice would prefer stumbling around  cathedrals  and crumbling ruins in “old” Europe,  fighting their way through throngs of other tourists and being cheated by every surly arrogant shop owner the guide brings you to. I prefer being cheated the Arab way…with smiles and proffered coffee and tea. But there is no accounting for tastes!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christianity in the Middle East

Turkey Saint Sophia

St Sophia Cathedral behind me  A symbol of the Sad History of Christianity in the Middle East. Mostly a museum for tourists but Sultan Erdogan  wants to turn it into a Mosque. another one of his actions meant to stick his finger in the Eye of the Wes

THE TRAGEDY OF THE CHRISTIANS of THE MIDDLE EAST

This is from an article I wrote for the Jewish World Review about a year ago with slides from one of my presentations at the John F. Kennedy  Special Warfare Center and School.

Christmas has not been a particularly happy time for Christians of the East for many decades, and much of it is the result of the West’s indifference and their  more recent habit of burying their heads in the send to avoid confronting the Islamist  ( political Islam, the ideology) threat.

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The West, especially Western Europe, has shunned the Christians of the East as their Christianity has been mostly replaced by Hygge (a  lifestyle of Scandinavia emphasizing comfort and contentment)

I was discussing the sad plight of the Christians of the Middle East a few days ago with a Lebanese friend who recited a familiar refrain for the near extinction of the Christian communities of the Middle East. The basic reason he insisted was the Church teaching on “turning the other cheek.” In the face of militant Islam of the Arab expansionist era, the aggressive Muslims overwhelmed passive Christian communities, Then faced with dhimmi status, that of a second class citizen, they gradually assimilated or emigrated to non Muslim lands. As the story goes, the battle of Yarmuk presaged the fate of the Christian Byzantine Empire and   from there on, Islamic success brought more successes with many Christian communities switching sides at critical times.

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The Early Christians had to battle with a number of heresies centered around the nature of Christian…… fully human, dual nature, fully divine. Docetism   held Christ was totally totally ethereal, a phantasm, and Arianism  held that Jesus was wholly Human, the son of God but not consubstantial  ( three persons of the Trinity, i.e., Father, Son, and Holy Ghost)

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The Christians continue to divide and splinter into factions

The ill fated Crusades, ostensibly to regain the holy land from Islam, exemplified the basic deadly dichotomy of Christian East and West . “ Mutinous” soldiers of the fourth crusade (1204) attacked and sacked Constantinople, the Christian capitol of the Byzantine Empire. The lands of the longest lasting empire in history were divided up among the victors and the Byzantine Empire was too weak to withstand the unceasing expansionism of the Ottoman Empire. The destruction of Constantinople by Christians of the West really defines the basic weakness of Christianity of both West and East; they were always divided and at each others throats. The separation of the East and West church in 1054 came about principally over the issue of leadership, but the Western Church began to view the Eastern Church as idolatrous, providing a veneer of religious motivation for the sack of Constantinople. After that the Christian community began to splinter into many communities, at times persecuting one another. An example of this was the Greek Byzantine persecution of the adherents of the Latin Church driven into the mountains of Lebanon, now known as Maronites.

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Pope Urban II Nov 27, 1095 urges Christians to begin the Crusades to regain the holy land overrun by the Islamic Conquest.  “Deus Vult” God wills it.

 

In the modern era I observed up close the disintegration of the Christian communities and their pathetic efforts to survive in a world in which they are, at best, only tolerated.. In every surge of Islamic fervor, such as the brutal Islamic State expulsion of Christians, they have been subject to depredations.

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A Cave near Ephesus  used by Christians to escape the depredations of the Romans.

 

One would think that the Christian communities, driven apart by divisive opinions on the nature of Christ, with complex and often obscure inscrutable theological arguments, would band together to maintain their survival, but they do not and never have. Moreover they tend not to feel any commonality with other non-Christian minorities in the Islamic world, such as the Jewish, Yezidi, and Sabeans and have fought bloody wars with the Druze minority.

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The well at the site of the home of Paul the Apostle in Tarsus Turkey maintained by two Muslim Brothers who show you around for a few Turkish Lira. I drank from it despite my reservations. Saint Paul  kept me well. Praise the Lord!!

To my initial surprise I found that many Eastern Christians had antipathy to Judaism similar to that of the Muslims. This is, at least partially, a result of the often fruitless, but totally understandable, attempts of the Christian clergy to curry favor within their Muslim communities by finding some commonality. An egregious example of this happened in 2010 Baghdad when a number of Chaldean Catholic churches were attacked, and the Church leaders blamed Zionists. This sort of pathetic attempts to avoid blaming Muslim extremists only makes them seem weaker and somewhat ridiculous. It was Ibn Khaldun who wrote that subjugated people under the yoke of tyranny tend to acquire characteristics of “ insincerity and trickery.” So it has become for Christians in the Arab world.

\In Lebanon, the bloody civil war described by the media as a war between Christians and Muslims, but in fact, most Armenian Christians and Greek Orthodox avoided taking part. At the end of the Lebanese civil war the Maronites were reduced to killing each other. This war revealed another cleavage in the Christian community; an ethnic division added to the religious one, as Greek Orthodox consider themselves Arabs while the Egyptian Copts, Armenians, and Maronites do not.

Two other factors have also diminished the Christian communities of the Arab world. One is the proclivity to seek the protection of despots as shelter against Muslim hostility. Thus Christian communities have supported Saddam, Assad, and Mubarak. Of course when they go down, enmity for the Christians increase.

Secondly the Western powers have manipulated the Christians of the Middle East for their own purposes. The British used the Assyrian Christians in Iraq as an auxiliary force to maintain themselves in power, with tragic consequences for the Assyrian people as the British lost control. In the Levant the French sought to maintain a Maronite state to secure their empire after WWI but then greedily included the heavily Muslim Bekaa valley as part of Lebanon, which has had the sad result for the Christians losing their controlling status in Lebanon. Western Protestant missionaries came to the East, not to convert Muslims, but convert Eastern Christians to Protestantism, adding another dimension to their disunity. Today as their numbers continue to dwindle., the   secular West has essentially lost interest in the plight of the Christians in the Near East.

Nothing so illustrates the disunity of the Christians more than the state of the most sacred of Christian sites, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Six Christian denominations claim residence, but unable to agree on who should maintain the key and open the Church, the Church elders depend on two Muslim families to do so.

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Erudite Report. A New Online Periodical

http://www.erudite.report                     check it out.

For a long time it has been obvious that the American news media has downgraded international news ,except for news flashes on disasters or terror attacks, and then after a day or so they disappear  completely.  There is very little analyses, and very often these days, the slant on foreign news is oriented toward domestic political ideologies. I have written many times that one of the burdens of the Arab world toward a more civilized and democratic state has been the corruption of the Arab press and Media. The media and press are owned by the government or are heavily censored by the government.

John S

John Sjoholm editor of Erudite Report

Now I find to my chagrin that American media and especially the press are not much better, simply a Johnny  one note reflection of a superficial viewpoint – a zeigeist- that has suppressed contrary opinion or managed to submerge it under a deluge of political correct mantras that reflect only the views of the “elite.” The “elite” these days are poorly educated in that they are propagandized and not allowed to think for themselves. Many run  the media or are in the classrooms,  pontificating on issues they know very little about.  Social media are totally regulated by the amorphous “elitist” self censorship. It is a case of massive  “group think.” Those few periodicals and media that tries to  rise above this morass of  1984 Orwellian measures to keep the public content with bread and circuses, or more lately using East German Stasi tactics to put fear into the hearts of the  opposition. (Read  God’s Spies by Elisabeth Braw and the History of the Stasi by Jens Gieseke)  are ridiculed or legaled to death in a Court system that mirrors the zeitgeist.

So a very sharp and well traveled friend of mine, John Sjoholm, a modern  renaissance  man has set up an on line periodical called the Erudite Report ,  with a modest assist from myself, which will dissect and analyze foreign affairs- in depth- with a special focus on political – military affairs and trends. We will combine the historical and cultural factors with the current social environment to attempt to make sense of events that make the news ( or should make the news).

John is a former Swedish Special Forces troop , a former intelligence contractor turned management consultant, having done field research for investment companies. He has a lot of experience as a journalist in the Middle East and Europe and has a knack for surfacing the  meat of complicated issues in a coherent and cogent manner.

You can read who I am in a number of places but basically I am a senior citizen, retired army colonel from the artillery with many years on the ground experience in the Middle East. I love much about the Middle Easterners, but like all peoples they have grievous societal faults which continue to keep them under achievers. I love to read and write, whether read by anyone or not. Somewhat immodestly, I think I have something to add the market place of ideas, and I do not defer to any of the big names in the contest of ideas.

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Writer and Artilleryman

 

so check it out folks, the first report is on Turkey.

find at http://www.erudite.report

 

 

 

 

 

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Cocktail Commando: Another View

 

In 1999 I wrote a very strong plea for the correct use of political-military officers. Military officers who can add their military expertise to complicated  foreign policy issues are a tremendous asset. This is particularly  vital in the mostly low intensity wars we have been fighting for the past few decades.  The article is article below

The Political-Military Army Officer: Soldier Scholar or Cocktail Commando

But as we have seen there  always  a downside  to this when political-military  officers ( pol-mil)  forget the mil and go wild on the pol.   T.E. Lawrence is a good example of this; An asset of extraordinary  value leading the Arab tribes against the Turks but a  difficult burden when his blind support of  Feisal bin Hussein Ali AL -Hashemi, and his Arab tribes and his machinations  to install him king of  Syria.

The LTC Alexander  Vindman, case exemplifies my point.  Vindman,  a fuctionary in the National Security Council,  by virtue of his position,  had considerable power to do damage but not much to do any good.  One can argue the morality issue, but as an officer he can object to what he considers an unlawful order, but in this case he was given no order. As the “impeachment inquiry”  drags on  the only salient points I have seen so far is hard ball politics, and military officers should not become involved. It only diminishes the  image of the military. In my article above I did sound a cautionary note as below.

“The result of too little time in the “real” Army is evidenced by some officers who spend a great deal of their career within political-military upper echelons and often identify with their colleagues; in seeking acceptance, they try to become one of them in outlook, which is of no value to either side of the equation. Over the years I have known some who, having spent years in civilian clothes, tend to absorb the culture of their organization and the reason they are there, i.e., to provide a military voice to the process of making decisions is negated. The last thing needed is another echo.”

I recall an incident from my time in the Pentagon that had I been the Vindman type I could have achieved my 15 minutes of fame. While working in Army Intelligence I  was made  aware  of communications, intercepted  in Paris  between a senior aide to President Carter with aides of the Ayatollah Khomeini which  seemingly  considered a deal to hand over the Shah of Iran, who at that time was in the U.S. for medical treatment. The quid pro quo was continued Iranian relationship with the U.S,

The idea of that was morally repugnant to me and the person who shared it with me, but we were professional officers and we kept our noses out of politics.  Neither of us had much respect for the Carter regime. Had we gone to the media we would have momentary fame ( At least in some of the conservative  Press.)  and then shortly thereafter rightly cast out onto the dust bin of history.

Over the years, since I wrote the article above, there has been an explosion of military folks, especially the big shots, getting their asses entwined in politics and by doing so, in my not so humble opinion, vastly diminishing their  military reputation.  It seems to be an inevitable evolution that happens when military leaders,  primarily of flag officer rank , become quasi celebrities, get lionized in the Press, especially by journalists of a somewhat leftist bent.  They immediately begin to believe their own press releases and transfer their knowledge to politics, anthropology  and a host of other fields.They become very conscious  of their public image and legacy.  Unfortunately this can lead to untoward events. Getting too close to your  biographer can be fatal, particularly if she is winsome lass.

Of course when an officer retires he is free to speak his mind, but it is my considered opinion,  based on a lot of history, that top level flag officers, lieutenant general and above,  even when retired, should keep their opinions confined to military matters. If they really care about the military as much as they claim, they should keep their lips zipped.

This problem is particularly aggravated by relatively lower ranking officers assuming roles far beyond their pay grade, not even in military matters, (which they should at times)  but not in politics in which they are totally out of their element. But as a member of the upper level bureaucracy,  with bosses who are indifferent, or weak ,or scared of  reining in subordinates, these pumped up military officers ( they all seem to take on rather pompous attitudes ) can do a great deal of harm.  (I think of Oliver North in this respect). Mostly, however they erode the reputation of the military.  Having spent all these years in the Middle East I have seen first hand what happens to countries where the military becomes enmeshed  in ideologies, politics, and commerce. The country is weakened  and the military is destroyed.

No doubt these officers, in their minds,  believe they are “saving the country”  ( as apparently one recently did) or with their new found Middle Eastern expertise, saving the country from an  impending war with Iran, or even saving the president from himself, or most grievously, one four star  who recently adjudged  himself able to look into the hearts of a man and see evil.  Like supreme court judges who evolve, these senior intellectualized military leaders ascend from the knuckle dragging status they are usually initially assigned  by the “informed Press”  to find a warm embrace within academia  and the liberal press. These officers find the heady atmosphere intoxicating and for a short time bask in the glow. Alas and alack they often find the glow wears off rather quickly and they must resort to finding a job in industry again. In the process  many of us who do not agree with the exalted visions they claim for themselves,  write them off as just another idol with feet of clay.  No great problem there. However,  much more  sadly, the military as an institution has been tarnished and its pristine image- among those who care for it the most-  has been irretrievably harmed.

I usually go back into Middle Eastern history  for lessons unlearned and one popped right out of an older book I am reading…Arabic Political Memoirs and other Studies by Elie Kedourie. Published by Cass in 1974. One particular short chapter caught my eye, called “Wavell and Iraq.”

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  Lord Wavell  a distinguished   Soldier Scholar

Field Marshall Lord  Percival Wavell, commander of all Middle East  forces, including those  in Iraq in 1941, was an extraordinarily gifted military commander. In fact General Rommel opined that he ” showed a touch of genius,”.  He has served in the second Boer war,  and was wounded in WWI.  Wavell had spent a good part of his life in the Middle East,  including time spent with General Allenby ‘s force in Palestine and Syria. He was popular with his troops and officers and  a man of congenial disposition.   He was as gallant an officer as the British could field and was known as a “Soldier-scholar.” Unfortunately Churchill wrongly assumed  he was not quite the right stuff and replaced him with  Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck.

Wavell was appointed commander-in-Chief. Middle East in 1939 and held that position for two years. Prior to that time as commander of the British troops in Palestine he showed his cautious inclinations and his unfortunate plunge into the murky socio-political world of the Arab world. He refused to send his troops into a mosque to arrest the Hajj Husseini , Grand Mufti Of Jerusalem, for fear it would inflame the Arab world. The Grand Mufti, later safe  in Berlin, would give no end of grief to the British, both during the war and post WWII.  As an analyst on the Nazi- Arab connections in World War II, Jeffrey Herf wrote, ” …..the Mufti played a central role in the cultural fusion of European with Islamic traditions of Jew – hatred.” His vitriolic broadcasts against the Jews and British  were a constant problem for the British trying to win “Arab hearts and minds.”

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Haj Husseini with Hitler who was widely admired throughout the Arab word

Wavell also refused to proclaim martial law in Palestine as he saw it as simply provoking more violence.  He, like the vast majority of the British academics, opposed Zionism and were basically pro-Arab. He refused Churchill’s request to arm the Jewish settlers in Palestine as it would  unduly provoke  the Arabs.

Alie Kedourie wrote, “There has grown a whole literature in English about British policy in in the Middle East  since the world War, which is irredeemably mediocre,  the mediocrity of which resides primarily in the fact that it attributes to the conflict between Zionists and Arabs as exorbitant importance in explaining the tangled and tortuous  relations between Arab States in this period, as well as every reverse to the British position in the Middle East  and its ultimate and total ruin.”

This mind set has in no way diminished, as it permeates the State Department, and has recently found a secure home in mainstream journalism. One need only go back to the 9/11 report and the academic interpretation of it to find that  support of Israel was claimed as a major reason for the attack and as one of the reasons for Muslim animosity  toward the Americans.    American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have become famous ( notorious?) spouting these ideas. I’m sorry to say that Mearsheimer is a West Point graduate, but happy to say he served in the Air force, not the Army,  and only for the required 5 Years.

As I have written before, a good part of this ideological mind set was the absorption of the Toynbean philosophy as embedded in the British political and military circles of the era. Kedourie termed it the “Chatham House version,” the mindset inculcated in the ruling elite, scholarly, and military circles of Britain, especially the idea of a monolithic Arab world beset with problems engendered by Western colonialism.  It wasn’t that Wavell was pro-Arab. That was not the problem.  As Churchill wrote, Most British generals were anti Zionist . The problem was that he viewed the Arabs as a unitary, rigid people of narrow views.  According to one  British writer, a former  American  commander  of CENTCOM, who was one of the smartest generals I ever listened to  (extremely articulate  and charismatic) was fixated on the idea of “Arab honor,” and  that our use of the term “Shock and awe” violated their sense of honor in the invasion of Iraq in 2003. These superficial ideas of the Arab culture frequently drives our policies in the Middle East.

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King Feisal returning to Iraq  after fleeing from the Iraqi Nazi takeover. He was imposed on the Iraqis and during his reign was never accepted by the Iraqis. However after the calamities of modern rulers he is remembered  more kindly.

As the “golden  Square” of pro-Nazi Iraqi army officers seized power in Baghdad, Wavell tenaciously tried to forestall British intervention in Iraq.  Again,  he and the British ambassador  tried to assure Churchill that all was well and there was no need to intervene.  Wavell wanted to negotiate with the coup leader General  Rashid Ali al Kailani,  and was assured by Rashid that Iraq would uphold all obligations to the British…all the while he was permitting German fighter aircraft to land in Baghdad.  Wavell  greatly over-estimated the fighting power of the Iraqi army,  assuming that the advance of the British  would unite the Iraqis against his small force,  telling the War Office that the British could advance no further than Basra. Again, the old bugaboo of widespread Arab rebellion  was the main fear of Wavell,  ,beseeching  Churchill to avoid “major conflict with the Arabs.” Nevertheless, Churchill, who correctly observed that the only thing that mattered was strength and power,  and who the Arabs perceived as the winner.  Churchill had to continually urge Wavell to push on  from Basra,  as Wavell sent a stream of messages back reminding the Imperial staff of the disastrous Mesopotamian campaign in WWI.

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British force crossing the desert to get to Iraq were attacked by German aircraft flying from Mosul or Baghdad.

Under constant pressure from Churchill, a small force called the “Habforce” was formed  from scratch British units in Iraq and pushed the Iraqi army back as they mostly fled from a decisive encounter. There was very little enthusiasm among  the Iraqi population to support the Iraqi army, and many Shi’a  and Kurds supported the British. Ultimately, The British deployed two Indian divisions to Iraq and the Rashid Ali  al Kailani’s regime collapsed almost immediately. There was no uprising in the Arab world. Haj Husseini  made his way to Berlin where he was warmly welcomed, later serving as the Mufti for the Waffen SS 13th Mountain Division of Muslim Croats, and the Free Arabian Legion, Neither was of much fighting ability except to  terrorize Serb and Jews but they did have considerable propaganda value.

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Assyrian Iraqi troops securing bridge to Falluja. The Assyrians were serving the British Colonial regime and paid for it in blood after the Brits departed

 

There was one final, and for many, fatal error in  Wavel’s judgement. He believed that British troops entering Baghdad  would arouse the Arab population to great heights of violence, and to maintain the fiction that the Iraqis were self governing, he kept the  British troops standing for two days behind the gates of Baghdad while mobs of thugs, including police and some Iraqi military, surged through the city, raping, killing, and looting, mostly Jews  and Jewish businesses, a violent episode  termed a Farhud. 

At the time Wavell was fighting five different campaigns with a greatly under strength forces but while understanding his problems it seems even more problematic why he spent so much time interfering in a country Iraq ? He was under tremendous pressure from Churchill and the  Commander in Chief, India, Field Marshal Auchinleck, Wavells’ immediate boss. There is much to sympathize with in his defense.  Particularly as he was occupied fighting campaigns in 5 different regions. And he had particular animus about Iraq. As he wrote, ” I always disliked Iraq- the country, the people, and the military commitment…..” as Field Marshal Auckinleck believed, Wavell’s procrastination  was not based on military considerations but rather political ones.

I remember in my military era, politics was strictly avoided. I did not even vote till I was a Lt.  Col.  and most officers of my era were totally outside the political circuses.. I  don’t think our republic, or us officers, suffered because of it. Today it seems that high ranking officers take on all sorts of political hues and in the process make asses of themselves.  They seem to glory in the idea that somehow in their ascent to the top they have attended enough academic conferences, read enough  books on the Pentagon reading list to qualify as Middle East experts, etc. The problem is they learn just enough to become dangerous.

Today I find too many “celebrity” generals and admirals have absorbed an academic  viewpoint that the Arabs are too frivolous and  fickle to bother with, except for diplomatic niceties, and that we should,  somehow, mend fences with the Iranians and accept the fact that they are the emerging power in the Middle East. With enough mea culpas for assisting in dumping Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh ( not a nice guy BTW) and abject apologies for supporting the Shah, perhaps we  could  obtain a few kind words from President Hassan Rouhani  or  Prophet Mohammed’s Vicar on Earth, the Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei.  Seriously?

Those who understand the way despots and religious fanatics ( sincere or frauds)  operate in the Middle East know that the Iranians  will not cease aggressive Persian imperialism until stopped dead on the battlefield. That battle fields will be in the capitols of the West as well as the towns and deserts of the Middle East and Persian Gulf.

The action and feisal photos were taken from an excellent little book, Iraq1941: the Battles for Basra, Habbaniya, Fallujah and Baghdad. Published by Osprey Press. The photo of Haj Husseini and Hitler  is from the book Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

avoiding a war with Iran or ininMiddle Eastern affaairs

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Egypt and its army

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https://www.aljazeera.net/programs/rest-of-the-story/2019/11/11/%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ae%d8%a7%d8%b1%d8%ac%d9%88%d9%86-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%b5%d9%81-%d8%ad%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%a7%d8%aa-%d8%a7%d9%86%d8%b4%d9%82%d8%a7%d9%82-%d8%b9%d9%86-%d8%a7%d9%84%d8%ac%d9%8a%d8%b4-%d8%a7%d9%84%d9%85%d8%b5%d8%b1%d9%8a?fbclid=iwar1h8maoe5rsfdizwhy-bubuysvmfx1j6prbctsmg8nxgn86oncedllaawu

This long link above is the way to the Al Jazeera interview I did  some weeks ago. I am only on for a few minutes but the questions they asked me were interesting. Basically the program was about the huge military involvement in the Egyptian economy…some thing like up to 40% of their GDP with the army using low paid recruits to make not only military armament but also washing machines, baby formula,   etc. They also run hotels, service stations, farms and recreation areas.

The Egyptian president , Abdel Fattah al Sisi fooled everyone, including the previous president Mohammad Al Morsi, who currently resides in prison, put there by  Sisi who was selected to be al Morsi’s top military leader by Morsi himself. He passed himself off  as a closet member of the Muslim brotherhood.  While in the American Army War college  he wrote a thesis that some, very wrongly, depicted as fundamentalist. He is simply an opportunist and whatever else he is or is not he is way better than having Morsi or other members of the Muslim brotherhood running Egypt.

Having written that, the al Sisi regime is shot through  with corruption, nepotism, and every ill one can think of. He has used the military economy as featherbeds for retiring high officers despite a lack of any knowledge of the industry in which they are involved, putting them in charge of a number of state run industries and enterprises.  It might not be so bad if the generals simply let the mangers run the show but too many actually take their jobs seriously and muck up the industries they head.

Moreover many  lower grade officers own businesses, farms, shops, hotels etc. Many of these officers derive their primary income . not from the military but from their extra-curricular businesses. The officers themselves have a fairly comfortable life, living within “military cities, with commissaries, tax free shopping, and interest free auto purchases. Their apartments inside the military city are better than anything on the outside and rented for only a nominal fee.  But nevertheless many Egyptian officers find it necessary to look for other sources of income. In short they have it pretty good, but for many, apparently, not good enough.  Like any other human beings they look to care of their families first and are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. Thus the regime keeps the officer corps generally loyal.

Now in the program, Al Jazeera alleges  that more young officers are defecting from the  Al Sisi  regime. That could be true but I have no knowledge  of that. A young social media type named  Mohamed Ali has been making a lot of noise on social media from Spain attacking al Sisi and the corruption. No doubt the corruption is rampant but is it any worse than before? Doubtful!  Al Sisi has become much more authoritarian in the last year, making sure the population, especially the elite youth understand  that he will brook no upheavals. So it goes.

But, concerning the pervasive Egyptian army involvement in the economy, the most important truth is that while it is harmful to Egypt’s productivity, the impact on the military effectiveness of the military∗ is devastating. The fact that so many Egyptian officers find it necessary to have a secondary source of income makes it difficult to concentrate on soldiering when he needs to keep track of a business as well.

A  good book to read is Militarizing the Nation  by Zeinab Abul  Magd and a great article is in  Transparency International. Defence and Security at https://ti-defence.org/publications/the-officers-republic/

∗In Egypt as in most Arab countries, the army, despite its problems is usually seen as the only trustworthy institution in the country. See Dalia Said Mostafa; The Egyptian Military in Popular Culture

 

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