So how are you doing at keeping up with events in MENA (the Middle East and North Africa)? Can the new Iraqi government get some kind of military act together? Will the Kurds hold on to Kobani, that Syrian city under siege by ISIS? Will the big guys in the neighborhood—Iran, Israel, Turkey, the Saudis—get seriously involved in the Iraq/Syria fighting? Is this Khorasan Group a real menace? Who’s in charge in Libya nowadays? Who are the Yazidis? What’s up with Egypt?
I do my dutiful best with it all, tracking the news websites and such opinionators as seem to have some firsthand grasp of the situation—the War Nerd, for example, who actually lives out there and knows the players.
The key word is “dutiful,” though. It’s a chore, reading all that stuff. I have no personal stake in the fortunes of MENA, and I can’t see that my country has, either. How are Americans better or worse off if Iraq falls apart, or Syria puts down its rebels, or Turkey beats up on the Kurds (again)?
Don’t tell me it’s a geopolitical great game, that we can’t afford to lose influence in a region that pumps a lot of oil and sits astride key trade routes. Fiddlesticks: MENA oil is traded on world markets; it’s not likely the U.S.A. would be excluded from those markets as punishment for minding our own business. In any case, U.S. crude imports peaked in 2005 and are dropping fast. The Suez Canal carries 8 percent of seaborne trade; but that’s mostly for Europe, not for us.
Yes, I know, there are self-interested foreign lobbies—AIPAC, the Saudis—keen to keep us involved. A plague on them all: but they ride on a world-saving impulse that long predates them, which is why we call it “Wilsonian.” It’s not AIPAC that keeps 30,000 U.S. servicemen stationed in Okinawa.
The humanitarian angle? These ISIS types are pretty beastly, no doubt about it, and Bashar al-Assad’s no pussycat, either. There’s beastliness all over, though: Kim Jong Un is beastlier to his citizens than Assad is to his. Neither dictator is any threat to us. Humanitarianism is in any case a rich-folks’ luxury on which we shall probably soon have to cut back.
The terrorist menace? Sensible border control and immigration policies would nullify, or at least minimize it. We are fools to allow settlement by Muslims. We shouldn’t even give visitor’s visas to them. Sure, sure: Very few Muslims are terrorists. Practically all terrorists are Muslims, though: there’s your raison d’état. Or there it would be, if we were still grown-up enough to acknowledge the concept of raison d’état.
And now, this ebola business. The Director of the Centers for Disease Control made a speech that was incoherent and stupid even by the dismal standards of today’s public officials. The gist of it, insofar as any gist could be extracted, was that restrictions on travel between one country and another are evil, and also fruitless:
When a wildfire breaks out we don’t fence it off. We go in to extinguish it before one of the random sparks sets off another outbreak somewhere else.
One word, sir: firebreak.
Our government has apparently decided that it would be—gasp! swoon!—racist to ban incoming flights from West Africa, thereby declaring national adherence to the doctrine I once characterized as “better dead than rude.”
My reaction to both situations, the MENA mayhem and the ebola epidemic, is: Raise the drawbridge!
The fortunes of Kurds and Yazidis are of no importance to the U.S.A. It’s nothing to us whether Iraq remains one nation or splits into three. Syria, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan: these trash can nations will never have any constitutional government, nor any economic, military, or cultural significance. Leave them alone, or at the mercy of their neighbors, to work out their own destinies. They are nothing to us.
Likewise with West Africa. The entire effect on the U.S.A. of a total ban on contacts with Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone would be a rise in the price of chocolate—not exactly an existential threat.
Raise the drawbridge!
Just as a sidebar note to all that, I noticed with interest this, in Tuesday’s New York Post, from a resident of Kobani who fled the ISIS advance while his cousin stayed behind:
“We phoned my cousin and [ISIS] answered his phone. They said, ‘We’ve got his head, and we’re taking it,’” Bakki said, adding that the most brutal ISIS barbarians were European.
“They are Chechen, they are English, they are from all over Europe. We know because we can hear their accent,” he told the paper after escaping to a refugee camp in Turkey.
I hear a lot of historical echoes there. The first Chinese person I knew well, back in England 40-odd years ago, had grown up in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation. He had some toe-curling stories about Japanese atrocities; but he’d always end them with a sort of half-excuse for the conquerors: “The Japanese themselves weren’t the worst. The worst were their colonial troops—Koreans, Mongolians, Manchus, Taiwanese …”
There’s something about those ethnic borderlands and colonies. The guy responsible for spreading Greek civilization all over the known world, at the point of a sword, was from backwoods Macedonia. Napoleon was Corsican; Hitler Austrian; Stalin Georgian.
George Orwell pondered this:
I have always held that if we ever have a Hitler in this country he will be, perhaps, an Ulsterman, a South African, a Maltese, a Eurasian, or perhaps an American … but, at any rate, not an Englishman. [Tribune, 6/30/44.]
An American? I think Orwell was being a bit snide there. He does, though, prompt the question: If we ever have an authoritarian dictator in the U.S.A., will he come from the borderlands? What borderlands? Puerto Rico? Guam?
Voice from the back of the class: Kenya?
Who said that? Which boy said that? Stand up, please. Was that you, Derbyshire? …