Conquering the Mideast

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sat Mar 22 08:05:07 MST 2003

WSJ, March 19, 2003

Past Mideast Invasions
Faced Unexpected Perils

Invaders Have Been Repelled
While Arab Casualties Mount

As President Bush steers the U.S. toward war, history offers a sobering lesson.

For two centuries, foreign powers have been conquering Mideast lands for
their own purposes, promising to uplift Arab societies along the way.
Sometimes they have modernized cities, taught new ideas and brought

But in nearly every incursion, both sides have endured a raft of unintended
consequences. From Napoleon's drive into Egypt through Britain's rule of
Iraq in the 1920s to Israel's march into Lebanon in 1982, Middle East
nations have tempted conquerors only to send them reeling.

Little wonder that even many Arabs who revile Saddam Hussein view the
prospect of a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq with trepidation. "Unless the
Americans are far more subtle than they've ever had the capacity to be, and
more subtle than the [colonial] British, it's going to end in tears,"
predicts Faisal Istrabadi, an Iraqi-born lawyer in Michigan who has worked
with the State Department on plans to rebuild Iraq's judiciary. "The
honeymoon will be very brief."


In a 17-point memo for fellow British officers, Lawrence of Arabia warned:
"The foreigner and Christian is not a popular person in Arabia. However
friendly and informal the treatment of yourself may be, remember always
that your foundations are very sandy ones."


Although I strongly recommend reading this article, it fails to come to
terms with the real T.E. Lawrence, who has been depicted both in film and
hagiographic books as having the same relationship to the Arab revolts of
the early 20th century as Lafayette had to the American revolution. In
fact, he should be considered as a buccaneer who took advantage of Arab
aspirations in order to further British imperial interests. This is an
excerpt from a letter Lawrence wrote in 1919 to Alan Dawnay, a British
foreign service functionary:

"The future is ours, as long as the Arabs of Mesopotamia [Iraq] back us,
for the population of Syria is never to be more than 5,000,000 (no metals
no fuel . . .no industry; and little arable land) and Mesopotamia has
thrice the acreage of Egypt (Egypt 13,000,000 /. Mesopotamia = 39,000,000)
and besides agriculture it has more petrol than any place on earth (cheap
fuel = industry) and about it, in Persia and the Kurdish hills, are copper,
lead and iron. These 40,000,000 will be there in the third generation from
now, or thereabouts, if they multiply like the Egyptians, and being Arabs
they are not Asiatics, but Semites and their interests lie in the
Mediterranean (they have never concerned Asia at any period). All the
effort of this 40,000,000 will be towards the Mediterranean, and if you
colour Mesopotamia green on a map you will see it is like a huge pistol
pointed at Alexandretta Bay or Tripoli. They will get there eventually."

(from Knightley and Simpson, "The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia")

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