Russia and the Middle East

A recent photo appearing in the news showed   Putin and  Erdogan , discussing their “peace treaty” in Syria, siting in a room overlooked by a statue of Catherine the Great. If one believes in symbology as it seems almost everybody but Americans do,   the Russians were making a not-so subtle hint.

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Putin reading the riot act to Erdogan

 

Renown British diplomat and historian Sir reader Bullard, wrote, “Catherine openly proposed to expel the Turks from Constantinople and re-establish the Byzantine empire under a Russian nominee. ” Catherine the Great built the Russian empire out of the disintegrating Islamic world,  always had deep inroads into Iran, invaded it twice, took provinces away from Turkey and in their protocols  agreement with the Nazi  government,  They  made clear that they intended to eventually control the Bosporous  and Dardanelles. Yet despite some setbacks, the Russians always seem to be the innocent one, leading an expert on the Russian intelligence history to write,

“Though the United States possessed the world’s largest number of public relations experts, it found it difficult to project a favorable – or even balanced – image of its policies to the Third World And yet unlike the Soviet Union, the United States had much that the rest of the world wanted. American music, films, TV, IT, casual clothes, fast food and soft drink were all part of the most pervasive popular culture in world history.”

So why even today the United States is still the great Satin in most of the Middle Eastern and Islamic world? There are a number of reasons, few of which the best public diplomacy in the world can correct.

Envy– Much of the world, including old Europe has an inbred dislike of America and its people’s success. This attitude, so pronounced in France and among the upper classes everywhere in Western Europe, has been well illuminated by Barry Rubin (Hating America) and Jean Francois Revel( Anti -Americanism). The attitude of the European elite is very  welcome to the wannabe elites of the Middle East  (and here as well) who cling to the hope of being included within the circle of the European  anointed ones, giving them intellectual cover for cognitive puerility.

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Truman the new Hitler

Colonialism and Anti- Semitism. Whether we like it or not our wagon is firmly hitched to   European “colonialism and imperialism.” We may vociferously protest, going on about Wilsonian ideals and lack of an imperial past but it falls on deaf ears.  We are generally of the same skin color, religion and a similar culture  as Europeans( in Middle Eastern eyes) and that seems to be enough. Secondly, the anti semitism pervasive in Europe, and an Islamist pathology  in the Middle East,  is another  important factor in that we are seen in their world as manipulated by Jews and other miscreants.

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NYT adds to anti American attitudes linking Trump and Zionism

 

Correlation of Forces. A favorite term of Soviet military doctrine-  also sometimes refers to   the inevitability of a communist world dominion. In this case  the attractiveness of Communism or the Soviet model was  found among Middle Eastern intellectuals as a movement to accelerate the progress of a moribund Middle East to catch up with the West.  The Middle Eastern elite  were the impatient ones, shutting aside hundreds  of years  slow building by the Europeans to bypass all roadblocks and obtain instant gratification.  Their inability to do so was explained  in the Crisis of Islam by Bernard Lewis. Among the lower classes of the Middle East, the eternally disenfranchised peasants and urban poor were susceptible to Soviet propaganda, a fact a Frenchman nailed  when he wrote, “The Soviets are hailed and loved less for what they bring than what they destroy.”The urge to destroy and ravage is a common occurrence in history when the have nots break free of bondage in which they feel they have been held . I saw that in Iraq watching young men destroy and vandalize for no apparent reason. Destroying the remaining vestiges of order  was an aphrodisiac to the people of the Al Sadr city. So it was for the former subjects  to watch the imperious Frenchmen and haughty British depart the Middle East dragging their tails behind them. So it as been with the Americans as well, departing Iraq and soon  ( apparently) Afghanistan. The Soviets have cleverly used that facet of human nature to their advantage.

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The Russian bear

 

Soviet/Russian civilization and Middle Eastern. Russia has been called ” Upper Volta with missiles,” an appellation  applied to a Soviet Union with a massive well armed military compared to a comparable  third world civilian sector.   For many  in the Middle East, the fact that they and Russia had a common enemy-The West- was enough to accept the  incongruities of the Soviet State. Walter Laqueur wrote, ” for Soviet civilization is in some respects closer than Western culture to the feelings and aspirations of the intelligentsia in backward countries…” One of those incongruities was Islam. In the decades past, it was an axiom that Communism and  Islam were incompatible. Deeper studies have revealed that an all -encompassing Islam has more in common with totalitarian communism than democracy, ( Joel Carmichael, “Communism in the Middle East,  Nationalist-Communist Symbiosis.” The level of the average Soviet citizen then and  now is still “closer to the ground,” than most Westerners.  They have few of the amenities available to most Westerners.  I observed this in Egypt., working with Egyptian officers, relating their experiences with Russian advisors. In some ways, the less sophisticated Russian equipment, easier to maintain, and the life style of the advisors themselves, was closer to that of the Egyptians. There was a common understanding of the vicissitudes of life.

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über masculine Putin

Closed vs Open Society.  As Christopher Andrew in his book, The KGB and the Battle for the Third World, wrote,  “in the climate of the Cold War, one of the greatest strengths of American culture- its ability to criticize itself- became a foreign policy weakness.” As he correctly points out, our most severe critics were ourselves, particularly during the Vietnam war. The Russians and their vessel states, such as Cuba, didn’t have to dig up much dirt, as conspiracy theorists and left-wing fellow travelers did the work for them. American muck-rakers like Seymour Hersh made lots of money peddling fanciful tales, disgruntled American intelligence employees, like Philip Agee, fingered CIA agents world wide for free (over a thousand employees of the CIA were identified by Agee).  The  Senate select  Frank Church committee  deeply adversely affected the CIA,  failing to separate  domestic spying abuses with legitimate inquiries into American citizens receiving enemy foreign support. Moreover, Hollywood did its best to depict to depict American society as immoral, infested with criminality, and psychotic. The fact that Arabs love our films does not mean that they see them as the model for their society. Quite the opposite.  We send abroad many professors to teach in Middle Eastern institutions, but from my soundings, many of them,  being of the far left of center, join in the s chorus  of anti American criticism voiced by their students. Another  particularly egregiously wrong idea that  has been the bedrock of our appeal to the third world is the oft-quoted idea that all men (the collective term) cherish freedom.  From my experience, especially in the Middle East, it seems to me  that every man wants to be free but does not necessarily want that for his fellow man.  Erich Fromm nailed it in his book Escape from Freedom. 

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A big part of America’s public diplomacy  problem

 

Fear vs Love.  As Osama Bin Laden put it, people always prefer the strong horse and like all people, but more than most,  middle Easterners admire strength and power. The effectiveness of the fascist propaganda in the Middle East in World War II  was due in large part to the  admiration of German Nazi power and their unbridled us of it.  Several militant organizations in the Arab world were modeled on fascist organizations.The totalitarianism of both fascism and communism were ( and still are) powerfully addictive to the young Middle Easterners unable to articulate why their societies lags so far behind the rest of the world. As an example of how fear works, a coup of pages in the book Beirut Rules, by Fred Burton and Samuel Katz,  illustrates why Soviet diplomats and security personnel were mostly immune from the years oof terrorism perpetrated against Americans by Palestinian and Hezbollah terrorists. On September 1985, in Beirut,  the Hezbollah super terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, feeling his oats after terrorizing Americans without response, kidnapped four Russian  diplomats. One of them was murdered by his captors. In response the Russians flew  in their anti terrorist team Alpha Group,  they found out who the captors were  and abducted relatives of the kidnappers. They cut off ears and fingers and send them to the surviving relatives. Later they then abducted another male relative  and castrated him,  leaving his body and his testicles on the doorstep of one of the Hezbollah members doorstep.  The  three other Soviet diplomats were delivered to the gate of the Russian embassy a few days later.

To be loved is nice but in the Middle East  but if one has to choose it is better to be feared.

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Russian walking over mass gave of Chechens

 

 

About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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