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Back in April 2007 I was in Washington DC and wandered into a bookshop for a coffee.  On display was Stephen Kinzer's  National Best Seller: Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq.  So I bought it to read, before bed and on the plane. 

It is a heavily researched and work; very well described by the New York Times as: "A detailed passionate and convincing book... with the pace and grip of a good thriller."  And like a good thriller it was hard to put down.  I can recommend it.




Rather than give you my own summary I can do little better than quote from various reviewers:

"Regime change" did not begin with the administration of George W. Bush but has been an integral part of U.S. foreign policy for more than one hundred years. In Overthrow, Stephen Kinzer tells the stories of the audacious American politicians, spies, military commanders, and businessmen who took it upon themselves to depose foreign regimes, starting with the toppling of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893. He details the three eras of America's regime-change century: the imperial era, when Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras were brought into the U.S. orbit; the Cold War era, when the CIA deposed governments in Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam, and Chile; and the invasion era, when American troops overthrew governments in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Kinzer explains why the U.S. government carried out these operations and why so many of them have had disastrous long-term consequences. Overthrow is a cautionary tale that serves as an urgent warning as the United States seeks to define its role in the modern world.
- The Washington Post - Book World

"Overthrow makes it abundantly clear that far from being some innovation devised in the aftermath of 9/11, 'regime change' has long been a mainstay of American statecraft. When targeting some offending potentate for retirement, Kinzer notes, Washington has seldom if ever acted for altruistic reasons."
-The Nation

"Again and again, Mr. Kinzer shows the complex interaction between economic interests, media fervour, political idealism and racism that so often combined to inspire an eagerness to invade."
-The Economist

That was before we visited Egypt, Jordan and Syria in October 2010.

A year ago I wrote the article:  Six degrees of separation, conspiracy and wealth, where I commented under the heading Revolution:

To some, the solution to finding themselves overshadowed by those who, as Jesus said,‘hath…  and shall be given, and… have more abundance’ is overthrow or revolution.  But as those who‘hath not’are in more abundance than those who‘hath’this is a poor strategy.  This is particularly so when one loses what one‘hath’then someone else steps-up to become a new network hub [power broker] and to enjoy the, now inevitably depleted, spoils.  Egyptian revolutionaries are discovering this as I speak.


On watching TV last night I couldn't help but say, yet again, 'I told you so'.   


In the meantime Colonel Gaddafi has been successfully overthrown in Libya with air support from the US and her Allies.  An Australian lawyer has already needed to be rescued by the personal intervention of our Foreign Minister as an outcome of the resulting political instability; and we are yet to see how that regime change resolves itself.



Middle East Geo-politics

I don't pretend to a full understanding for this complex area or its convoluted alliances and objectives.  I'm not sure who does.

I doubt that the Middle East would have moved much beyond an area of historical and cultural interest to outsiders were it not for the increasing importance of oil during the 20th century.   I have discussed this elsewhere; particularly in the article Whither Peak Oil.

In particular the US became dependent on Saudi Arabian oil; and other less reliable middle eastern suppliers; as an addict on her pusher.  

As my readers know I have little time for religious fundamentalism.  Yet it plays such an important part in this part of the world.    

In particular the establishment, on highly dubious Biblical grounds, of the State of Israel in an area of established Arab and Islamic presence, for over 700 years, has caused a polarisation of religious differences; not just between Jews and Muslims but within both these faiths; and against and between Christians.  

All these faith followers believe that they possess insights hidden from the others; that there is a life after death that will be enjoyed only by their followers; and that there is a God, amazingly the same one, who listens exclusively to their prayers. Each religion preaches tolerance; all trace their origins back to Abraham; all recite the same 3,000 year old Psalms in their services and prayers.  Yet they have regularly set about killing each other; ever since their individual inceptions or split from each other.  

How many Christians realise that Jews and Muslims use exactly the same Psalms in their prayers; or that at least one: Psalm 104 has been believed by scholars to have its origins in Egyptian sun worship?  This Psalm can thus be reliably dated to at least 1340 BCE.   Modern scholars of antiquity say that the first 33 can be found in ancient texts dated to before the reign of King David (1040–970 BCE); to whom most are biblically attributed.  Additional Psalms, no longer in the present Jewish or Christian Bible, have been found in documents among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I must say that was something I didn't learn in Sunday School.  I thought 'The Lord is my shepherd' referred to Jesus!  I was not told that Jesus, or his initial biographer (possibly the author of Mathew or Mark), was simply re-using a metaphor that was already at least a thousand years old; even though this became obvious the moment I opened the Bible for myself. Obviously the Psalms are in the old Testament and like most, in the King James version Psalm 23 is headed A Psalm of David.  And David is King David, the father of Solomon.

It is also noteworthy that two of the Synoptic (consistent) Gospels of the New Testament go to some lengths to establish Jesus' paternal line back through Joseph to David (Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38); obviously because this was an essential qualification for him to be the Jewish Messiah.  Confusingly, in Sunday School I was told his father was God.  Some Christians struggle with this contradiction too - for a truly bizarre solution, demonstrating the power of double-think click here.

Just as differences between Jews and Christians led to many centuries of Pogroms and more recently to the Holocaust; and differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants to many decades of fighting; most recently in the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland; so differences between Sunni Islam and Shi'a Islam have resulted in recent and on-going slaughter.  

Now most countries, and populations, within the Middle East line up along religious lines.  Iran and Syria along with elements in Iraq and Lebanon support Shiite activists in the Middle East and Pakistan; while Saudi Arabia is intent on replacing them with its own brand of even more extreme fundamentalism.

These differences have played into the hands of those wanting to ferment regime change.  




Now we are seeing the pattern set out in Overthrow being played out in Syria.

While Assad is no doubt a tyrant to some minorities, and no democrat, in 2010 we saw a country with a thriving economy with the highest educational standards of any Arab country.  Read More...

We remarked that people of diverse ethnicity and religion were polite to each other and to us, more generous than in most other countries and apparently happy.  Apart from the usual bargaining in the markets no one tried to rob us of cheat us and there were no beggars. On the contrary we were often given a free gift after another purchase. Although we didn't go far into the countryside we travelled by bus out of the suburbs of Damascus to an adjoining town and saw nothing untoward; but apparently happy people going about their business.

For example, there was no comparison between the living standards of the average Syrian we came across and the average Egyptian we had seen.  One appeared to be healthy, wealthy well educated and generous; the other dirt poor, often under nourished, ignorant and, out of necessity, dishonest. 

Certainly we met plenty of wealthy middle class Egyptians but, as in much of India, they are vastly outnumbered by the poor and helpless.  Even the English speaking guides appeared to be bizarrely ill-informed. 

Maybe we were deceived in Syria.  Maybe Assad had murdered all the poor or moved them all into the desert?  I don't think so.

But I don't want to be hard on India.  Unlike the Australian media that uncritically shows images originating from one side only, I thought that the press in India, during our recent visit, was much more even-handed in its analysis of the present Syrian situation. 

Syria has long been a thorn in the side of both Israel and of the US.  Historically Syria is suspected of training anti-Israeli terrorists.  Israel bombed Syrian nuclear facilities as recently as September 2007; and of course still occupies the disputed Golan Heights.

Syria's borders with Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey and to a lesser extent Israel and Jordan are very porous.  Much of the fighting has been based on Aleppo; over 300km from Damascus but only about 40km from the Turkish border and not far from Syria's difficult to defend coastline.

According to the Indian press most of the 'freedom fighters' in Syria are not Syrian but Sunni Muslim extremists determined to bring down the Alawite dominated government. The Alawite faith is a more secular sub-division of Shia Islam.  The fighters are allegedly in Syria to support the oppressed Sunni majority who can't defend themselves. 

I hope that our Government is taking note of what is happening in Egypt in its enthusiastic support of the US in its clandestine attempts, through Saudi Arabia and others, to ferment regime change in Syria.

Based on experience elsewhere in the region what we are likely to get in Assad's place is something a lot worse for the people of Syria; in an already substantially impoverished country; brought low by the present conflict.

The principal justification for this action is that Syria is allied to Shi’ite Iran; generally characterised as extremists.  Iran is the principal supplier of rockets to Israel's Hezbollah and Hamas enemies in Lebanon and the Gaza strip respectively.  




As we all have read and seen on TV on 14 November 2012 an Israeli air strike assassinated  Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas's militant wing, as he drove through Gaza City.  This initiated retaliatory rocket attacks on Israel and set off the most recent Gaza conflict; revealing that a new class of longer range rockets, capable of reaching Tel Aviv, had been smuggled in.

It also seems, on pretty convincing grounds, that Iran is developing a nuclear warhead for its Ashoura, or another, ballistic missile.   If this succeeds Israel will no longer be the only nuclear weapons power in the Middle East; changing the geopolitical balance in the region.

To date Israel's response to this threat has been limited to the assassination of key Iranian nuclear scientists.  But for some time Iran has been under threat of an attack by Israel on their uranium enrichment facilities; similar to the Israeli operation against Syria. 

Til now such an attack has been dependent on Israel getting the backing of the US. This was more likely had the Republicans won the Presidential Election.

Nevertheless it is certain that the US will remain committed to the preservation of the State of Israel.

So some commentators think Israel's PM Netanyahu might 'go it alone'; expecting that the US will have no alternative than to support an attack retrospectively; while others would like to see the Syrian matter concluded, against Iran's interest, before it becomes a nuclear power.


The imminent fall of Assad

The Assad regime has only managed to survive with the support of  both Russia and China. Russia has oil interests and China is a major trading partner. 

Some commentators think that because the US is again becoming fossil fuel self-sufficient it can afford to begin a strategic withdraw from the Middle East. Others dispute this (see the last link).

Whether or not the US  becomes less dependent on the Middle East for oil, China is set the replace the US the world's largest market for oil. 

It seems that China is already interested in supporting regimes that favour their geopolitical interests.  Will the Chinese work with what they see; or follow the US example of fermenting regime change to further their interests?

While fundamentalism in Iran is a serious concern, that in Saudi Arabia may well be worse.  It is alleged that Saudi Arabia continues to finance the fundamentalist Islamic Seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania (the home of the Taliban); and of course it was a Saudi (Bin Laden) who founded Al-Qaeda.

Are we sure that we know what we are doing in giving, the extreme and fundamentalist, Saudi Arabia the upper hand in Syria; particularly when they too may soon fall into another commercial orbit; around China's rising star?

While Assad has not lived up the the expectations of those who saw him as a more benign leader than his father, the coming change in Syria may drive the country backwards to look more like other Middle Eastern states; descending into chaos with economies destroyed by the unrest and increasing religious fundamentalism.




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