Cutting through the bullshit.

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Those pesky natives!

‘David Fromkin, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University, is the author of “A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East.”’

As if setting out to prove Chomsky’s assertion that intellectuals are completely subservient to power, he published an op-ed entitled ‘Stuck in the Canal’ in yesterday’s Times.

The article purports to be a dispassionate look at the ‘Suez crisis’ in anticipation of its fiftieth anniversary today, coincidentally, Turkish Republic Day.

…the United States was engaged in an effort to hold the line against Russia

The Middle East was essential to this policy of containment. The Arabic-speaking Muslim world had been taken in hand by Britain and France after the First World War, and though they had since achieved independence, the countries of the Middle East remained predominantly Western-influenced. European and American oil companies played an important role in Middle Eastern affairs. Britain retained a presence at the strategically vital Suez Canal in the form of a major military base and a garrison of more than 80,000 men.

The esteemed professor surely understands that the nonsensical expression ‘the United States was engaged in an effort to hold the line against Russia’ will raise few eyebrows among Times readers. We all know that it was the responsibility of America, ‘the leader of the free world’ to ‘hold the line’ against ‘Soviet aggression’. And yet, since 1924, when Stalin took control of Russia, with his profoundly antiMarxist doctrine of ‘socialism in one country’, fomenting workers’ revolutions was completely off the Soviet agenda. After WWII, Russia was very much on the defensive. It is not absolutely obvious who was holding what lines against whose aggression. In this context, the kind of Soviet aggression Professor Fromkin intends is the threat that the Greek anti fascist resistance might take power, and the successful attempts by the US and Britain to make sure that resurrected fascists regained control.

‘The Middle East was essential to this policy of containment’ because they were sitting on ‘our oil’. That might be why the beneficent British and French had done the poor deluded natives the favour of ‘taking them in hand’ after graciously freeing them from the Ottoman Sultan’s yoke. Funny that a Professor of History and author of a book on the fall of the Ottoman Empire can’t be bothered mentioning Sykes or Picot and the underhanded sellout of the Arabs, the Kurds, and anyone else they could think to betray. It was all the Turks could do to hang on to Anatolia and a little piece of Thrace, after fighting for five more years.

It is nice of the Prof to collocate ‘European and American oil companies played an important role in Middle Eastern affairs’ with ‘the countries of the Middle East remained predominantly Western-influenced.’ Obviously he wouldn’t want to prejudice our own conclusions by actually pointing out the nature of that ‘important role’. And that insignificant British ‘presence’ was sufficient to station a soldier every two metres along the 163km long canal.

The professor feels no need to clarify why it might be that, ‘As early as 1952, the C.I.A. was searching for an Arab leader to support, someone who would make hard, unpopular decisions.’ Must be their commitment to democracy that leads them to want to support a ‘leader’ ready to sell out the popular aspirations of the led.

‘Eisenhower and Dulles believed that by their actions at Suez they were showing the nonaligned nations that, unlike the British and French, Americans were not imperialists — but the third world remained unconvinced.’ Those pesky ungrateful natives. They never appreciate what the white folks do for them. They probably thought the US had some nefarious reason for overthrowing the elected government of Mossadegh and installing that nice Shah in Iran just three years earlier, or the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954.

‘And in Europe, skeptics claimed the episode showed that the Americans intended to steal the empires of Britain and France.’ Now why would they think a thing like that? After all, it had already been over half a century since the US stole the Spanish Empire. On the leftwrites site, Robert Bollard recently reminded us of the origins of ‘the white man’s burden’, quoting from Kipling’s poem and an apropos anti-imperialist quote from Mark Twain.

Some say Kipling’s poem, apparently enjoining the US to accept the traditional ‘responsibility’ of the colonists of myth for the welfare of the colonized ‘sullen peoples’, was in reality intended as satirical. It begins:

Take up the White Man’s burden–

Send forth the best ye breed–

Go bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives’ need;

To wait in heavy harness,

On fluttered folk and wild–

Your new-caught, sullen peoples,

Half-devil and half-child.

Professor Fromkin may not be strictly accurate in writing ‘Within years of the Suez crisis, Britain and France began decolonization programs in which they released territories they had held around the world. The winds of change had begun to blow — and they had come from Suez.’ I seem to recall, however, that the Algerians and Vietnamese had quite a time persuading the French to leave, and the Tahitians, Marquesans, Martiniquains, and others still haven’t managed it.

And, as I wrote in response to Robert’s post,

It is also worth remembering that it’s not over yet. Some of the trophies acquired during the Spanish-American War, unlike the Philippines and Cuba, have remained US colonial possessions to this day. The most significant among these are Puerto Rico and Guam. Eastern (American) Samoa, another US colony, was acquired from Germany at the same time, in 1899. Although Hawai’i, annexed in 1898, was ‘granted statehood’ in 1959, and its people can therefore vote in US elections, it still looks very much like a colonial possession. By 1959, of course, the indigenous Hawai’ians were a small minority.

Although it doesn’t get as much attention as its French counterpart, the US colonial empire is actually much larger, both in area and population.

Israel compromised itself through its partnership with European imperialism — providing evidence to enemies who had asserted all along that Israel was no more than a European imperialist itself.’ It’s odd that Professor Fromkin can describe Theodore Herzl as among Israel’s enemies – some call him the founder of Zionism, with his 1896 pamphlet The Jewish state, where he writes, ‘If His Majesty the Sultan were to give us Palestine, we could in return undertake to regulate the whole finances of Turkey. We should there form a portion of a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism.’

‘And its victory in the Sinai campaign — one of many dazzling triumphs — illustrated the paradox that the more Israel won on the battlefield, the further it got from achieving the peace that it sought.’ A curious paradox that the regional bully, after a long campaign of ethnic cleansing, consistently winning ‘dazzling triumphs’ against its neighbours fails to achieve peace. And obviously peace is precisely the objective of all the wars.

In this connection, it is worth remembering, although far be it from the Professor of History to remind us, that today also marks the massacre of 47 helpless ‘Israeli Arab’ civilians lined up against a wall at Kafr Qasem and shot for the crime of returning home after the curfew was declared and nobody had bothered to tell them about. Fortunately, another historian, Tom Segev, writing in Ha’aretz, has not forgotten this irrelevant detail.

A spokeswoman at the Education Ministry quoted Minister Yuli Tamir: "The massacre and the subsequent trial became a foundation stone in Israeli society's national consciousness and imprinted upon generations of commanders and soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces the moral boundary by which to act." In other words, we've learned the lesson. How nice.

How nice, indeed! It’s a relief to know that the IDF has known the moral boundary since 1956 and cleaves to its fabled purity of arms, never, ever hurting anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

On a happier note, ‘On Oct. 29, 1929, stock prices collapsed on the New York Stock Exchange amid panic selling. Thousands of investors were wiped out.’ Happy Wall Street Crash Day – here’s to many more!

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