Franklin Countys First News

Letter to the Editor: How we got here

If you'd followed developments in the Middle East as Defense Professionals concerned with how those events might impact your person as well as your nation did, then you'd have seen the link between history and what's transpired since 9/11. You'd know, for instance, that Middle Eastern leaders have consistently made use of extremists to enrich and empower themselves since at least the 1600's when pirates who hold European shipping vessels and their crews for ransom. You'd also that despite making war with those nations responsible those European powers were unable to put a stop to the practice, that in fact they'd tell the United States in 1788 when our first trade vessel was held for ransom that it would be best to just pay the ransom. Given the fact that nothing was then off the table as far as war efforts were concerned, including germ warfare which was then commonly used, we might then have decided to starve the region of trade instead of going to war as we would in 1801. That year marked the beginning of the Barbary Pirates War, so called because the northern coast of Africa adjacent to the Persian Gulf was then known as the Barbary Coast. This is the war mentioned in the Marine's Hymn when "the shores of Tripoli" is uttered. In fact US Marines then fought in what are now the nations of Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. Two wars were waged there by the US in just 15 years before we'd join the effort to unseat the Ottoman Empire we then blamed for creating space for extremists. That effort would become known as the Great Game as it was largely constructed of espionage campaigns waged there by Europe, Russia, and the United States. This began in 1813 and would not conclude until 1907 when Russia redrew the border between their empire and Afghanistan. It kicked off at the tail end of the Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) and would provoke several more, including the Caucausus War (1828-1859), the Crimean War (1853-1860), and the Anglo-Afghanistan War of 1852. (Side note: If you note a similarity between the terms "caucasian" and "Caucausus" that's because the man who defined caucasian as a us racial group saw the Caucausus Mountains as the dividing line between them and Asians.)

When the Ottoman Empire did fall Britain and Russia took control of the region and made an attempt to change that culture which so readily turned to extremism to solve its problems. They were ultimately unsuccessful, although they did manage to carve the region into the various nations we know today. Though that control was challenged by Germans who sought to fuel their growth, and to stifle that of the rest of Europe and Russia in the process, that effort would only be successful in further dividing that control with the United States taking charge with the formation of the modern State of Israel. While one might be led to believe that extremism tapered off until this decision inspired Egyptians and Palestinians to take up the effort in an attempt to drive that Jewish population away, to do so one would have to ignore the extremism that led Britain and Russia to carve the region up as they did before that occurred. In fact, Israel was carved from what the British called the Palestine Mandate because it had by then become clear that the growing population of European Jews and those Palestinians they came to live alongside would never give up extremism. The British had by then labeled several Jewish and Palestinian groups terrorist organizations because both bombed British authorities there by 1948, when Israel was founded.

During the Cold War which followed extremism would remain a fact of life in the Middle East. Americans, Europeans, and Russians would continue to contend with it as they struggled to deny the other access. Talk to those who served in the region during that time and you'll the same kind of stories we heard from those who served in the region after the Gulf War. Terrorism was and remains a constant threat in that region and vigilance alone determines who will be affected by it. The only real difference occurred when first members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the al Qaeda targeted our airlines in an attempt to further their goals. The PLO in exchange for ransom as the Barbary Pirates before them, and al Qaeda to provoke Americans. The mistake many Americans make in assessing the later is in assigning reason to it. What we know of those who initiated that movement is that they believed they could punish our nation with war, as they had the Soviet Union by drawing out their occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980's, if they could just get us to commit to occupation ourselves. These leaders were not concerned with their survival, as is demonstrated by their use of the suicide attack, so it wouldn't matter to them how much the Middle East suffered as a result. That's a problem for those who think, "if we just make them suffer enough they'll relent." Different culture, different notion of suffering. For them it's a part of life, if not a way of life.

Now I'm not saying we can't do business in the Middle East or anywhere else. What I am saying is that our focus needs to be on security and not on utopian dreams that led some to believe that we can change the cultures that resist those efforts instead. I left this out above because I simply didn't want to include too much detail, but the Greeks, Mongols, and Dark Age Europeans had no better luck with the region than those who've sought trade there since. Security, security, security. It isn't as exciting as to the ear as war but the only real way to do business with a region like the Middle East is to remain vigilant and resist the urge to lash out blindly or with lofty goals in mind. Target those targeting you when possible but take care not to unintentionally aid the recruitment efforts of those groups. That's the only method that has proven effective there.

Jamie Beaulieu

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