Condi’s Pitch for a "Different Kind" of Middle East


"We are going to build a different kind of Middle East, a different kind of broader Middle East that is going to be stable and democratic and where our children will one day not have to be worried about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those planes into those buildings on Sept. 11."

Condoleezza Rice, to U.S. troops in Afghanistan, March 17, 2005

Straight from the horse’s mouth (although some find in it echoes of the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, Chapter 65), this pithy remark expresses the State Department’s attitude towards a large chunk of the planet. It cries out for translation and dissection. "We" of course means the United States, "coalitions of the willing" with shifting compositions, and most of all the GIs who comprised Rice’s Afghan audience. "Broader Middle East" (also known as "Greater Middle East") is not a term often used by geographers but is applied idiosyncratically by the administration to North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Southwest Asia and parts of Central Asia. Geographers do not consider Afghanistan a Middle East nation; the fact that Bush and Rice do is significant for reasons that will become apparent.

A "broader Middle East that is going to be stable and democratic," Condi declared as the worst bomb blast in 8 months killed 5 Afghans and injured over 30 in Kandahar. The resurgent Taliban vies for power with the Karzai puppet regime and the antidemocratic warlords in unstable Afghanistan, and as, two months after a supposedly democratic election, there is still no government in wobbly Iraq. The secretary would perhaps agree that neither of these "liberated" countries is stable yet, but Bush has repeatedly called them "democracies." This merely means they have governments resulting from some sort of consultative or electoral procedure, surrounded by American money and manipulation, that can be depicted as somehow "free." Elections have been shaped by U.S. operations in Georgia and Ukraine, and there will likely be U.S. input in the upcoming one in Lebanon. But Rice is talking to soldiers, talking about war that produces "regime change" and elections under U.S. guns.

These regime changes will, says Rice, ensure that "our children will one day not have to be worried about the kind of ideologies of hatred that led those people to fly those planes into those buildings on Sept. 11." This is a clever conflation of a whole range of ideologies supposedly menacing the wee ones. One of them is of course that of al-Qaeda. But al-Qaeda’s ideology of hatred wasn’t brewing among the people of Iraq before the U.S. invasion, and to the extent that it exerts some minority appeal today is—as various intelligence reports frankly concede—a result of that invasion. There is hatred for the U.S. among the various communities and political forces in Iraq and for that matter for U.S. policy throughout Europe, Latin America, pretty much everywhere. Is all this hatred based on "ideologies of hatred" or mere human revulsion at crimes like the Iraq War?

What do the various countries of the "broader Middle East" have in common that makes them collectively targeted for U.S.-imposed "democracy and stability"? Afghanistan, the first target, was ruled by the Taliban who applied a very harsh version of Islamic law. The Taliban ran a bare-bones government that sought cordial ties with the U.S., and while Washington didn’t recognize the Taliban regime some of its leaders were entertained in the late nineties by Zalmay Khalilzad (former State Department official, Afghan-American and now ambassador to Afghanistan) on his Texas ranch while discussing an oil pipeline. Kabul received U.S. aid to successfully eradicate opium production in 2000. It’s not at all clear that Mullah Omar was even in on 9-11 although his primitive, unsophisticated regime did indeed host Osama bin Laden after he left Sudan in 1996. At the time the U.S. State Department felt that its former ally wouldn’t be able to do much harm from Afghanistan, which fell to the Taliban soon after bin Laden’s arrival.

In neighboring Iran, there is what State Department official Richard Armitage once acknowledged to be a "democracy," managed by the Shiite mullahs who prune the electoral lists. It’s a very different regime (with a very different ideology) from the Taliban, and it almost went to war with Afghanistan five or six years ago. Bordering it, Iraq was under Saddam a secular Baathist state. The mullahs oppose Baathist ideology, although they maintain an alliance with secular Baathist Syria. Lebanon is probably the most democratic country in the Arab Middle East, although the political system gives Christians disproportionate power. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that applies Sunni religious law. Jordan is a constitutional monarchy with a weak parliament. We can continue this list but let us just notice that there is much political and ideological diversity among even the countries of this limited swath of the "broader Middle East." Let us note too that Americans are generally weak on geography, not much concerned with foreign affairs until their family members are sent to kill and be killed out there in that wide foreign world where 95% of humans live, and would be hard-pressed to define "ideology." Furthermore many are inclined to believe the government.

So what do the countries of that broad geographic category have in common that instills "ideologies of hatred" and inclines people to fly planes into buildings? Maybe all "those people" from Morocco to Afghanistan enjoy peanuts, chickpeas, figs, olives, chicken and mutton, but no one to my knowledge suggests that diet is a factor. Really the only thing they have in common is that they’re predominantly Muslim! So Rice is hinting that broader Middle East countries currently tend to generate hatred for the U.S. because Islam itself is the problem. Surely you have people in government who are true Islamophobes. Elliott Abrams, for example, is director of the National Security Council’s Office for Democracy and Human Rights and charged with promoting "democracy" throughout the world. His efforts to strengthen fundamentalist Christian support for Israel (in the name of America’s "Judeo-Christian tradition"), and disrespect for Muslim countries and people caused Muslim-Americans to bitterly oppose his appointment. Daniel Pipes, who has sat on the board of the presidentially-appointed "U.S. Institute for Peace" has stated, "The Muslim population in this country is not like any other group, for it includes within it a substantial body of people..who share with the suicide hijackers a hatred of the United States." He has warmly welcomed Michelle Markin’s recent defense of the World War II Japanese internment camps and hinted that similar facilities may be appropriate for this suspect population.

Of course Condi doesn’t say Islam is the problem. Secretaries of state in today’s world, which is 20% Muslim, can’t say such things. But her implication is clear. Unless the U.S. installs its allies in broader Middle East (Muslim) capitals and works with them to change the "hearts and minds" of their Muslim populations, so that they get it into their heads that (as Bush insists) "the American people are a good people" (and their government also good by definition) our children here in the U.S. will have to worry about their safety. The "different kind of Middle East" the administration envisions is one in which Islamic belief itself undergoes a kind of reformation induced from without. The concept of jihad (in the sense of religious war) so enthusiastically promoted by Zbigniew Brzezinski when the U.S. made common cause with the anti-Soviet jihadis in Afghanistan, now needs to be castrated. Education needs to be reformed and secularized, even as the opposite trend occurs in the U.S. Networks like al-Jazeera, portrayed by U.S. officials (and Fox News) as "anti-American" need to be closed down. Then shall your children be able to sleep soundly.

But the proposition that the U.S. can through the efforts of its troops reduce the level of rage in the Muslim world against U.S. policies, particularly pertaining to Israel, is as absurd as the notion that you can quench fire with gasoline. I’ll bet that the learned Dr. Rice recognizes this, in which case she won’t be the first secretary of state to say things she doesn’t really believe. So peeling the onion just a little more, we get to the core. The U.S., which wants to establish its hegemony over a region producing 40% of the world’s oil, through conquests, convert actions and other interference, knows such actions will inevitably generate more antipathy towards the U.S. It blames and will continue to blame perfectly reasonable resistance to oppression on "ideologies of hatred." While publicly insisting that it respects Islam as "a religion of peace," the administration will continue to do what American politicians have done for years. "I’m for racial equality, equality of opportunity," they’ll say, then use nuance and symbols and subtly play the race card. The administration exploits anti-Muslim bigotry and irrational fear of "those people" to justify to the American public an ongoing campaign, currently honing in on Syria and Iran, to "build" a "stable" Muslim world.

Parents dispatched to fight the imperialist wars will be told that to defend the Homeland they must force those people of the broader Middle Eastern people to cower naked, like Abu Ghraib detainees, in front of the Empire’s gaping canine jaws. While doing so they can take comfort in the belief that their children won’t have nightmares about airplanes, hijacked by those jihad-crazed Muslims, hitting their upright American homes. That’s the plan anyway. Use fear, racism, feelings of victimhood, knee-jerk "support our troops" nationalism, Christian millenarianism and Islamophobia to build domestic support for this project to "build a different kind of Middle East" in this New American Century. I have no doubt it will generate different kinds of outrage, different kinds of hatred, different ideological responses, different kinds of instability, and different kinds of resistance in the targeted region. Nor do I doubt that in those Middle Eastern homes, for years to come, some good children will dream of avenging the death of their own loved ones by actions some people, with some selectivity, label "terrorism."

* * * * *

Just for reference, here’s what God, according to the Bible, says to the prophet Isaiah, way back when, concerning "a different Middle East" in the future, after God through fire and brimstone executes his righteous judgment on the region. Children have no worries, buildings are secure, all conflict ends, all worship the True God, and there is rejoicing in Jerusalem.

Isaiah 65:17 For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

65:18 But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy.

65:19 And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people: and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying.

65:20 There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.

65:21 And they shall build houses, and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them.

65:22 They shall not build, and another inhabit; they shall not plant, and another eat: for as the days of a tree are the days of my people, and mine elect shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labour in vain, nor bring forth for trouble; for they are the seed of the blessed of the LORD, and their offspring with them.

65:24 And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, and the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: and dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the LORD.

Question for discussion: Does such material influence administration thinking?

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu


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