December 30, 2006

OK, 2007 is upon us, and the end of history, as in Francis Fukuyama’s fearless forecast of 1990, has turned out to be full of you-know-what. In fact, never in seven centuries, give or take a few, has this planet of ours been in more turmoil. Fukuyama is a great scholar, and he meant well, but what he got wrong was religious fervour and human nature. Basically, the urge to control one another’s behaviour. Better yet, the incompatibility of Islamic beliefs and liberal democracy. Let’s begin with Iraq.

Uncle Sam’s wrongheaded attempt to placate Sunni Arabs has failed utterly. For all the rhetoric against Shiite shenanigans, it’s the Sunnis who have destroyed Iraq. The Saudis are threatening to fund the insurgents if the Americans pull out, but that’s the biggest bluff since Bill Clinton threatened to punch a Washington pundit on the nose for writing something unkind about the ghastly Hillary. The Saudis have made whores of everyone in Washington, starting with Bush and Cheney, but the day Riyadh invades Mesopotamia to safeguard their fellow Sunnis, I will lead the Gay and Lesbian parade down Piccadilly. The Saudis could have undercut the Sunni insurgency in 2003; instead they bankrolled it and continue to do so.

The only way America can prevail in that miserable country is by deploying more troops, mounting foot patrols, cracking down on Shia and Sunni militias, imposing zero tolerance on weapons possession and disarming all private security elements in Baghdad. In other words, an almost impossible task. To all intents and purposes, Iraq is lost. No use spilling more blood. If I were living in the White House, I would declare defeat and get out. The country would splinter, and the region would remain as unstable as it is today, but as time wounds all heels, things would eventually revert to normal. The Saudis would not invade, nor would the Iranians, Lebanon would stay as unstable as it is today, Jordan ditto, and Israel would continue to be the dominant force in the Middle East. What Bush needs to do is to lay out clear goals, not use rhetoric about freedom and democracy. The Middle East is all about theocracy, not democracy. The sooner we in the West accept this, the better and clearer the situation will be.

And speaking of Israel, Jimmy Carter is being put through the grinder as I write. The 39th president’s opus on Israeli apartheid is a timely and honest book, but the Jewish community in America does not want to know. Carter is being called all sorts of names, starting with the de rigueur anti-Semite slander. He is nothing of the kind, and there are millions of Jews in and out of Israel who agree with him, but only the Jewish lobby in Washington gets a hearing.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is not designed to promote peace. It exists in order to protect and defend the policies of the Israeli government, which in my not so humble opinion is an extremist one which believes in driving the Palestinians out of the West Bank and into Jordan. Even if the Israel government were not as extremist as I believe it to be, it exists in fear of the zealot settlers, most of whom are American-born or Russian. The sooner Washington reads the Israelis the riot act, the better, but that’s like waiting for Godot, and then some.

Let’s face it. The net result of Israel’s intransigence and America’s invasion of Iraq is that Iran has emerged as the regional superpower. The Thirty Years’ War was not a war between nation-states but a conflict between faiths and tribes. Today’s Middle East is like Europe in the 17th century. Arab societies are based on family, tribe and faith. Not national boundaries. If Silvestre Reyes, the Democratic nominee to head the Congressional Intelligence Committee, does not know the difference between Sunnis and Shias, which he does not — at least he didn’t last week when he was put to the test — why should the average Westerner comprehend the ever-shifting conflicts between sects and tribes? Even old Winnie himself asked an aide to remind him of the difference between Sunnis and Shiites while he was drawing the map of Mesopotamia. And Winnie had read more history than poor old George W.

Yes, dear readers, we’re in a mess as we begin the year of Our Lord 2007, but in Gstaad the residents are worried not about the Sunnis or the Shiites, but the lack of snow. Global warming aside, the Alps without snow are like Paris Hilton without the oxygen of publicity. Useless. Unlike the good Dr Fukuyama, I will not venture into making fearless forecasts about the future. Especially where the Middle East is concerned. I will stick to what I know, which is that Paris Hilton will not get married, to a Greek or anyone else. People may have bad taste, but no one is that stupid. Or perhaps they are. Karolos Fix, the greatest money manager of his time, will have 100 per cent returns for 2007 — minimum — and AIPAC will denounce anyone critical of Israel as anti-Semitic.

Have a very happy New Year.

Spectator, December 30, 2006


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