SMOKE AND MIRRORS 

Many media outlets are currently lamenting an unravelling of administration policy and progress in Iraq. There seems to be a lack of coherence (or presence of confusion, if you prefer) among our expressed vital interests, our professed humanitarian imperatives and the strategies, costs and timing associated with achieving a "success" defined with reasonable clarity. This confusion is weakening the support of our populace and making potential allies (nation participants) reluctant to shoulder part of the load in putting Iraq back into autonomous and reasonably compliant operation. America's preemptive strike in March 2003 was ostensibly due to imminent threat of use of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam Hussein and retribution for Iraq's support of al Qaeda which implies some responsibility on the part of Iraq for the 9/11/01 World Trade Center tragedy. In the administration's world of smoke and mirrors, the Saudis somehow skated free of this opprobrium.

To anticipate the sincerity, speed and quality of aid the States might receive from our recently disaffected allies it is instructive to understand how the Europeans view and remember our role in World War I. President Wilson led our nation into the war for the reason: "support of Christianity and, in particular, American missionary colleges and missionary activities." A corollary, long-term objective was that "the peoples of the region were (to be) ruled by governments of their choice." As the realities of the war took hold and as the complexities of defining a durable peace loomed on the horizon the reasons and objectives for the war morphed through at least five iterations in 1918.

Designing the peace and the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I was an enormously complex task. In a diplomatic note from President Wilson to the French ambassador on March 24, 1920, the United States ducked any responsibility to further participate with England and France in Middle Eastern affairs. Moreover, the United States reneged on a commitment to accept mandates from the League of Nations to assume responsibilities for Armenia, Constantinople and the sea lane between the Aegean and Black seas. Yet the note concluded with a requirement that the anticipated treaty should be consonant with American views and in particular Wilson's views on specific Middle Eastern matters. A last requirement was that treaty nonparticipants would not be discriminated against and that existing American rights in the area would be preserved.

What were these existing rights? As defined in 1919 and 1920 by the Department of State, beyond the rights in the capitulation agreements, the United States insisted on freedom of navigation of the aforementioned sea lane; and protection of missionary, archaeological and commercial activities. Salient among these commercial interests were those of the American oil companies. Standard Oil of New York had exclusive, pre-war licenses from the Ottoman government to prospect in Palestine and Syria, but not Iraq. In 1919 Standard Oil of New Jersey jumped on the bandwagon and lobbied with the American delegation to the ongoing Peace Conference for similar preferences in Iraq. Unfortunately this was followed by a secret oil bargain between only France and Britain to monopolize the Middle East's oil output to the exclusion of U.S. interests.

This agreement was leaked to the American embassy and the reaction was severe. Not only did this deal discommode the two oil companies, it was viewed as an affront to the United State's interests. The Department of State was advised: "It is economically essential ... to obtain assured foreign supplies of petroleum."

This March 24, 1920, fundamental shift in American foreign policy was made even more strident under the administration of President Harding. The professed advocacy and protection for Christian activities in the Middle East dissolved into nothing when the administration declined to intervene in September 1922 in the self-described "sacrifice and martyrdom" of the Christians in Smyrna, the greatest city in Asia Minor, by the Turkish army. In a delayed response to pleas for intervention in the Smyrna massacre, the Secretary of State in Boston, October 1922, opined that "the entire situation was the result of a war to which the United States had not been a party; if the Allies, who were closely connected to the situation, did not choose to intervene, it certainly was no responsibility of America's to do so."

Finally in July 1928, with the Red Line agreement, U.S. participation in oil ventures in Iraq was assured.

In essence, by March 1920, the United States stopped being a team player of the entente Allies, and in the following years extorted what they could from exhausted, depleted and disarrayed British and French governments, and backed away from any responsibility to help manage the peace in the Middle East.

In early June 2004 it seems the shoe is now on the other foot. With this history in the Middle East it seems plausible that no nation will step forward today to shoulder part of the responsibility for managing the peace in Iraq and the surrounding area. The impertinence of the United States in almost single-handedly deposing Saddam Hussein without substantial international support and snubbing long-term allies as feckless traitors and cowards in the process, sets the stage for a torturous time in Iraq for the United States. This legacy could be as intractable as the Jew/Israel/Arab/Palestine debacle has been over the last 100 years. Moreover, the most obvious scam of the last century has been the attempted gulling of the U.S. citizenry and erstwhile allies that the United States's war motivation has humanitarian and self-preservation bases as opposed to a control of petroleum basis.

President Wilson's participation in the 1919 Peace Conference with Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau was characterized by Arthur Balfour as: "These three all-powerful, all-ignorant men, sitting there and carving up continents, with only a child to lead them."

One could conjure up a similar observation regarding President Bush's inner circle stampeding our nation and by reckless haste, leaving international cooperation and institutions in disarray, to go half-cocked into an Iraq adventure--before it "gets too hot over there." This hubris will haunt our nation for decades to come and stiffen resistance by Muslims everywhere to the initiatives and prerogatives of the United States. "Shock and awe" and "Bring 'em on" cockiness is not mature foreign policy. This is the most visible and memorable occurrence of the government of a first-rate, industrialized nation having a tantrum.

--Gene E. Bray, Meridian

Viewpoint features lengthier, in-depth opinions on local, national and international topics of interest from our readers. Submit 600- to 1,000-word pieces via e-mail to cynthia@boiseweekly.com.

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