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Many Americans wonder why the US military has such a dismal record of failure in its wars in Moslem territories. Do we not have the most modern forces in the world? How can a force armed with fighter-bombers, B1s, night-vision goggles, helicopter gunships, heavy armor, and advanced remotely-piloted vehicles lose routinely to lightly-armed goatherds?

Journalistic old-hands in the regions, men who have spent decades following the wars and the complex and shifting alliances, say quietly that the cause is American ignorance of both the lands and the people. Virtually no one in the United States has any notion of the region, they say, though all seem to have strong opinions. Policy thus rests on self-assurance buttressed by factual vacuum.

Journalism being what it is today, reporters cannot say openly that the US, from the White House to the Pentagon to the public, is (as an acquaintance of mine put it inelegantly) “pig ignorant,” and that, with reference to Afghanis, the average citizen “couldn’t find his ass with a flashlight and both hands to grope with.” Coverage is often utter nonsense, they say, but no one notices.

Perhaps a few examples of the sorts of misunderstandings prevalent among commentators would be of use:

It is well known that Paul Bremer, the virtual viceroy of Bagdad after the city’s fall in Gulf I, disbanded the Iraqi army. Less known is that he replaced Mohammed al Aksa, the chief of intelligence, with Abdul dhar es Salaam, a known Sufi extremistwith ties to Iranian intelligence. In fact he seemed to be on its payroll: The man had palatial residences, widely suspected of having been paid for by Tehran, in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein’s home town, in Bangui in the Kurdish north, as well as in the ritzy Sulawesi suburbs of Fallujah (the latter dwelling destroyed by American shell-fire in the siege).

Bremer apparently didn’t know any of this, though it was a commonplace in journalistic hangouts. Dhar es Salaam was instrumental in stirring up resistance to Coalition forces trying to pacify the country—while on the American payroll.

As everyone knows, General David Petraeus saved the situation, or at least bought time, by playing off the Awali and Litani sects against each other with the help of Muqtada al Sadr. He did this by simply paying the irregulars of both sides to join the loyalist militias. This was eminently practical, though not lasting.

The Petraean tactics which proved so successful in Iraq, pacifying the provinces of Anbar, Shakti, and particularly the suburbs of Sudra, a notorious Shia stronghold, failed utterly in the barren mountains of Afghanistan’s Anterior Zygopophysis range, through which runs the famous Khyber Pass.

Why? A spokesman for the US command in Kabul attempted to pin the blame on Iran in what has become a standard tactic for diverting attention from failure. Extremist groups outside of Afghanistan were responsible, he said: “outside agitators” so to speak. Allegedly, fanatics of the Falafel Brotherhood were crossing the Afghan-Tajic border with weaponry supplied by Tehran. This view drew support from the later Bush administration and came to be accepted in Congress.

It was nonsense, like so much of what is written about the wars.

Those more familiar with the region responded that the “Afghans” and “Tajiks” were in fact pastoralists dominated by tribal, not national loyalties, and looked not to the central government in Kabul, but to their own leaders, Ahmed Shah Massoud and Sala al-Din for guidance. (Or Akhmed Shah Massoud: The guttural is transliterated in various ways.) These men were essentially rebranded Mamelukes, having been raised in or around the Janissary madrassas (Koranic schools) of Kandahar before the Russian invasion of1976. Warlords at heart, they were suspected by US intelligence of being interested chiefly in extending their rule beyond the Chagras River into the rich opium lands of the Bekaa Valley. They had no connection to Iran.

This is the small change of chitchat in press bars of the region (yes, there are bars, Islam or no, usually in international hotels.) Why do Congress and the American public know nothing of it? How does one explain this to an American populace that does not know whether Oman borders or Catarrh or Djibouti? A public that has been taught to blame Iran for everything?

Journalists who have worked in Washington might add, “How many Congressmen know any of this?” These are not trick questions, like “How many minarets does the mosque of Ahmet Beit Agron have?” or “Name the first four Caliphs.” They are facts known even in the bazaars of Damascus.

It is important to understand the motivations of the regional powers. In the news—I almost want to write “news”—and in comments-sections following stories about the Mideast, one gets the impression that the ferocious to-the-last-man resistance to Coalition forces besieging Fallujah sprang from Islamic hatred of the West. In part, yes. But how many know that Fallujah is the site of the tombs of the Harappa dynasty, who ruled during the Abbasid Caliphate, and is perhaps the fourth-holiest site in Islam?

The West, being an almost entirely secular society, does not grasp the importance to a profoundly religious people of things sacred to them. The twelfth-century defeat by the Harrappans of the invading Bandarlog tribes under the Golden Khan, Suleiman I of Akkad, bears in Islamic tradition something resembling the victory of the Jewish Maccabees in the Second Century BCE.


I mention these things not because I think the details of complex historical periods are in themselves particularly important, but to make the point that in aggregate they shape tribal loyalties in the region. These in turn affect national governments. When the Israelis shifted their nuclear storage facilities from Dimona in the Negev to Rafa—a change which, mysteriously, doesn’t show on Google Earth—it had nothing to do with fear of (nonexistent) long-range Iranian missiles, though this was how it was reported by CBS. Rather it was the increasing number of Alawites among the Bedouin tribesmen and their considerable experience with explosives acquired during their decades-long undeclared war against the Druze of Lebanon. While they could not possibly have defeated Israeli security forces, a determined suicide attack might briefly have breached defenses, causing an international uproar and hysterical headlines. (“Israeli Nukes Susceptible to Terrorist Theft, New York in Danger.”) The Israelis do not like to have attention called to their nuclear weapons. So they moved them.

The inability of Americans, in and out of Congress, to tell nonsense from truth, the tendency to simplify baffling complexity into slogans, makes US policy easily shoved in directions favored by special interests. Make no mistake: The ignorance is real. A Congressman I once spoke with told me of going to Thailand on a junket with a fellow member of the legislature who constantly referred to the country as “Taiwan.” The Mideast is far more contorted in its politics. Our “leaders” need to learn to know when they are being gulled, to distinguish fact from twaddle. They cannot, and neither can the public. There will be a price.

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Middle East 
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  1. abj_slant says:

    “Policy thus rests on self-assurance buttressed by factual vacuum.”

    Very poignant summation.

  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Zygopophysis range? Sufi extremist? 12th century Harappans? Fred, there are many of us out there who can tell nonsense from truth. This article is utter nonsense.

  3. MarkinLA says:

    Oh come one, I think AIPAC got everything it wanted in Iraq.

  4. FN says:

    Bekaa valley in Afghanistan? Harappa dynasty in Iraq? Catarrh? Anterior Zygopophysis?

    You’re being a little unfair here, Fred. Don’t rub it in.

    • Replies: @Nador
  5. FN says:

    It must have been that damn Padre Kino that did it.

  6. schmenz says:

    Fine article, Fred, but…”BCE”? Really, Fred: “BCE”?? Does the entire history of civilization have to be changed just to mollify the Dark Suits?

  7. Nador says:

    I believe Fred has already written an article like this once.

  8. MarkinLA says:

    The inability of Americans, in and out of Congress, to tell nonsense from truth, the tendency to simplify baffling complexity into slogans, makes US policy easily shoved in directions favored by special interests.

    The average American when it comes to the outside world is dumb as a box of rocks but to put that on the Congress with the exception of a few profoundly stupid people like Maxine Waters is to play along with their game. The majority of members of Congress know exactly what is going on. However, they know more about the American electorate. It is easier to be reelected if you pretend you were just as fooled as they are than to admit you knew what you were voting for but did it anyway because you just really don’t give a shit about average Americans.

    We see this combination of willful ignorance and “better to ask forgiveness than permission” action all the time. We just had Tom McClintock say “gulsh darn it, we made a mistake with that Cromnibus bill” trying to make people think he is sincere and would change his vote if he only could. Of course next time he will be the designated against voter and somebody who voted no today will vote yes for the next bill the people do not want. The people never seem to catch on.

    Congress has thousands of people at it’s disposal to get information on any topic. That they are ignorant of history and the situation on the ground is laughable. They have an agenda and are pursuing that agenda at the behest of somebody. Knowledge just gets in the way.

    • Replies: @Dutch Boy
  9. In general I like your stuff, Fred, but this reads like the problem could be solved if Washington just weren’t populated with such dumbasses.

    Granted they are dumbasses, but neither you nor anyone else is going to “solve” the problem without depopulating the region.

    /Just in case you misunderstand, I am not volunteering for the duty.

  10. Adar. says:

    “The inability of Americans, in and out of Congress, to tell nonsense from truth”

    Fred is really trying to confuse everyone by presenting this NONSENSE OF HIS AS TRUTH! “See”, says Fred, “I told you!”

    I know your from the backwoods Fred, but you can’t fool ALL the people all the time.

    • Replies: @rustbeltreader
  11. Gene Su says:

    Uhhhhh. Fred? Is this another “practical joke” article? I can spot some weird errors in this.

    These men were essentially rebranded Mamelukes, having been raised in or around the Janissary madrassas (Koranic schools) of Kandahar before the Russian invasion of1976

    There are no more Mamelukes or Jannisaries. The Mamelukes were the slave soldiers of an early Muslim empire in Egypt. The Jannisaries were the convert soldiers of the Ottoman empire. They eventually became a heriditorial warrior class and the Sultan had to get rid of them (with fire power) in the 1800’s because they got too corrupt and ineffectual.

    But how many know that Fallujah is the site of the tombs of the Harappa dynasty, who ruled during the Abbasid Caliphate, and is perhaps the fourth-holiest site in Islam?

    I think Harappa were Hindu rulers. The Abbasid Muslims ruled from Baghdad. Those poor bastards were subject to genocide by the Mongols in 1258… which makes Baghdad a holy place of historical importance to many Muslims.

  12. Fred Reed says:

    Readers of the Unz Review are not average people. I have indeed written one similar piece, and you would be (I think) astonished at how many people took it seriously, seeing perhaps one error or two. Try the man in the stret, or a grade-school teacher with an Ed degree. And the right to vote. Try it on a class in Women’s Studies or Black Studies. They too vote. Some of them several times, given that no ID is needed.

  13. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Calling them “wars” is a misnomer. They were invasions followed by occupation. In the case of Iraq there was a short war in that they had a national army that put up resistance but folded up rapidly. Afghanistan did not even have what could be considered a real army. What’s popularly been called the “war in” Iraq or Afghanistan have really been the constant anti-insurgency operations, trying to tamp down rebel actions. It’s easy to understand that no one wants heavily armed foreign troops marching around in their country giving orders to everyone as their new overlords. The invaders are racially and culturally alien to the people of the country and don’t fit in, especially not in their robocop outfits. Resistance to outside invaders is to be expected.
    There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of expertise on these places in the foreign policy establishment. Or perhaps they do have some but are overruled by arrogant politicians who think they know better. I can’t really count the number of people I’ve run across in person or on the internet who believe we invaded those countries so as to do them a favor and are now of the opinion that those people are ungrateful after all we’ve done for them. It’s astounding as to how large a part of the American public is brain dead.

    • Replies: @Jim
  14. j says: • Website

    I get that Fred is trying to prove that the American government is ignorant and therefore is losing against lightly armed tribesmen. Fred is wrong. Americans have good intelligence and are achieving their goal of degrading Arab power. From Lybia to the border of Iran no functional Arab State remains. The region is ready for Pax Americana.

  15. “Military operations must be judged by whether and how they contribute to accomplishing war aims. No clear view is possible of where we are today and where we are headed without constant focus on war aims and how they affect US interests. The interaction of interests, war aims, and military operations defines the strategic context in which we find ourselves. We cannot have the slightest understanding of the likely consequences of proposed changes in our war policy without relating them to the strategic context.”


    There will be a price and now there’s a shortage of funds. Now we have a strategy free context.

    “The U.S. has been in a “strategy-free” stance in Iraq for some time, and it didn’t begin with the Obama administration, Mattis said. He applauded President Barack Obama for visiting Saudi Arabia this week to reinforce ties with the longtime Middle Eastern ally, and for using U.S. influence to help oust Nouri al-Maliki, the polarizing former Iraqi prime minister.”

    [READ: ISIS Claims It Will Launch 24-Hour News Network to Counter Propaganda]
    “They have a sense that it becomes very simple: You need a camera, you need somebody that speaks English, you need good discipline, and voilà: You don’t need CNN anymore,” she says.
    They’re going to replace Wolf Blitzer with a wolf.

    Life: A User’s Manual

    From Publishers Weekly
    Though Perec (1936-1982) is “experimental” in the tradition of Joyce and Nabokov, his work is rich with word games and acrostics that reveal the secret life of language this euphoric novel, winner of the Prix Medicis, will enchant a range of readers. The serial storytelling within the framework narrative is as beguiling and inexhaustible as Scheherazade’s. The facade is removed from a Parisian apartment house on the Rue Simon-Crubellier, permitting us to spy on its tenants in the grid of rooms and to examine their pictures and bibelots. Books, letters, clippings and announcements add to the textual welter, all interlocking like pieces of a puzzle, the novel’s chief metaphor. Tales told in stylishly reinvented genres, romance, detection, adventure, constitute what is experienced, read about or dreamed up by an array of restaurateurs, mediums, cyclists, antique dealers and pious widows. A quester for the Nile tries to rescue a beautiful German girl from a harem. A judge’s wife, whose sexually thrilling thefts result in a sentence of hard labor, ends as a bag lady on a park bench.

  16. @Adar.

    You can fool enough of the people enough of the time though.

  17. Mike says:

    Gene Su-

    I wasn’t aware Hulugu Khan did genocide in Old Baghdad. By all accounts it was a world class “rape,
    pillage and plunder” ass kicking that the Arabs never really recovered from.

  18. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Oh, Fred, you one funny funny man!

  19. Serty says:

    A google search with keyword Arabist,Krytol,and the site will give the links to the dominance of the stupidities,racial hatred,neocon bias and fealty to Israel in the administration as far as Middle East is concerned . They provide information. They do same in Canada .

    Including results for Arabists kristol
    Search only for Arabist krystol
    Search Results
    Bill Kristol celebrates Republican Party purge of … – Mondoweiss…/bill-kristol-celebrates-republican-party-purge-of-oldfash…
    May 21, 2012 – Republican Party boss Bill Kristol is treated like royalty on the Upper West Side in a … but it was an Arabist, oldfashioned Republican Party, which was certainly very … Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of
    Daniel Pipes says he and Steve Rosen drove Senate … – Mondoweiss…/daniel-pipes-says-he-and-steve-rosen-drove-senate-re-so…
    May 29, 2012 – Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Other posts by Philip … solid on other issues. How Bill Kristol Purged the Arabists.
    How Bill Kristol Purged the Arabists – Patrick J. Buchanan
    May 29, 2012 – I did not ask what he had been doing in New York, but thanks to the website Mondoweiss, I found out. Kristol was there for a March 16 “debate” …
    Mondoweiss on Twitter: “Bill Kristol celebrates Republican Party …

    May 21, 2012 – Mondoweiss ‏@Mondoweiss 21 May 2012 … Arabist’ realists Scowcroft, Baker and Bush I
    How Bill Kristol Purged The “Arabists” a.k.a. non-Neocons From … › The Phora › The Academy › Political Arena
    May 29, 2012 – 32 posts – ‎14 authors
    [Bill Kristol celebrates Republican Party purge of ‘oldfashioned Arabists’ Scowcroft, Baker and Bush I (
    How Bill Kristol Purged the Arabists – Original…/how-bill-kristol-purged-the-arabists…
    May 29, 2012 – I did not ask what he had been doing in New York, but thanks to the website Mondoweiss, I found out. Kristol was there for a May 15 “debate” …
    #[1]RSS 2.0 [2]RSS .92 [3]Atom 0.3 [4] Original » How ……/How-Bill-Kristol-Purged-the-Arabists-by-Patrick-J…
    May 29, 2012 – Kristol was there for a May 15 “debate” with Jeremy Ben-Ami of [21]J Street, the … And not only had the “Arabists” like President Bush been shoved …. 22. http:// …
    How Bill Kristol Purged the Arabists by Patrick J. Buchanan ……/how-bill-kristol-purged-the-arabists-by-pa…
    May 29, 2012 – Romney imbibed the Kristol Kool-Aid that caused the war and cost the … Arabists’ Scowcroft, Baker and Bush I (; For What, …
    How Kristol purged the Arabists by Pat Buchanan | Independent Film …
    May 31, 2012 – And not only had “Arabists” like President Bush been shoved aside by neocons, the “Pat … I did not ask what he had been doing in New York, but thanks to the website Mondoweiss, I found out. Kristol …
    Links March 27th to March 28th — The Arabist
    Mar 28, 2009 – Mondoweiss: Jeffrey Goldberg guilt-trips Ari Roth over Jewish requirement … New neocon think tank headed by Robert Kagan and Bill Kristol.

    Pat Buchanan is right there exposing them .

    How did the ignorance take over? Ignorance has taken over so many other key areas – science health,psychology,social sciences , ( recent Measles outbreak is the product of the celebration of the ignorance in the name of the individual right and choices ) and obviously the political debates.
    Neocon used the information gap and created more ,then prohibited new information from sources other than their own.

  20. I honestly had no idea how incredibly “pig ignorant” we were until I saw them propose to make the new occupational flag of Iraq in 2004 very similar to the Israel flag. It confirmed my worst fears on how incredibly stupid and ignorant the George W crowd could be. I was warned when General Tommy Franks called pentagon number 3 man Doug Feith “The stupidest fucking guy on the face of the planet.” But little did I know he wasn’t exaggerating. Their was no where to go but uphill from how completely we screwed up occupying Iraq in 2004, but sad to say we didn’t move far.

  21. SJ says:

    The Falafel Brotherhood poses a grave danger to the American food supply.

  22. Fake Name says:

    When war is necessary, America should wage war like Joshua. You kill every living substance until the enemy ceases to exist.

    If it’s not worth doing that, then you should not go to war.

    • Replies: @Jim
  23. Gene Su says:


    Somewhere between a 200,000 to 2,000,000 civilians massacred? Civilians who gave no resistance? Citizens of a city all ready to surrender? To please a bunch of murderers who wanted to rule the earth? I call that genocide!

    @Fred Reed

    Was any of this article correct? Did Petraeus do anything productive during his tenure? A lot of people called him a desk jockey who made a mess of things. All I know is that the Shia-Sunni boundary runs through Iraq and Syria and sooner or later those two sects are probably going to murder each other.

    • Replies: @Jim
  24. SeanK says:

    I give Fred a thumbs up on this article. But he neglected to insult negros, a favorite pastime of Fred.

    • Replies: @Jim
  25. Dutch Boy says:

    They don’t want to know.

  26. Jim says:

    For American officers and troops a tour of duty in a place like Afghanistan is just something to get through (hopefully in one piece), punch your ticket and put it on your resume. The Afghans live there.

  27. Jim says:
    @Gene Su

    The Mongol invasion of China is estimated to have resulted in the death of a quarter to a third of the Chinese population.

  28. Jim says:

    The “countries” of Iraq or Afghanistan never existed any more than the “countries” of Yugoslavia or Ruritania did.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  29. Jim says:
    @Fake Name

    That’s not actually easy to do even with nuclear weapons. Genocide is very labor entensive.

  30. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The “countries” of Iraq or Afghanistan never existed

    The map produced by National Geographic showed countries by that name. Perhaps the USA doesn’t exist either.

    • Replies: @Jim
  31. Jim says:

    No doubt maps show a “country” called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Maps show official reality. You’re naive to believe them.

  32. Jim says:

    That’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

  33. Yes, there were ridiculous words in the story such as catarrh which I believe relates to nasal and throat drainage and Zygopophysis which sounds more like an anatomic bone thing. Falafel…?
    We are supposed to pick through for the truth and yes, our newspapers blame Iran for everything and of course all Muslims in American mainstream media are “militant”.
    I have to go to sites on the computer for information because I know I’ll never get truth from over 95% of mainstream newspapers and TV shows. I learn a lot from the comments made by many on this site.
    I might know something about what it is like on the ground. I do know that Marines in Vietnam were often alone in the sense that they were positioned “out there” and often could be easily eliminated/decimated.
    It seems the USA military still does the same things such as putting far too many troops at base camps and then having troops spread too thin where it is most needed.

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