OR Books sent out a promo a few days ago for Patrick Cockburn’s War Diaries, which date back to 2001. It features an excerpted Q&A with Cockburn and began with this exchange, Cockburn’s end of which I found deft and provocative.
Q: The diaries go back to 2001. What can this long-ish view tell us that wasn’t apparent in day to day despatches?
Cockburn: It was not apparent until quite recently that the nine wars now going on between north Pakistan and north west Nigeria – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, south west Turkey, Yemen, Libya, South Sudan, north east Nigeria, Somalia – were part of a post-Cold War pattern in which states that had achieved independence and self-determination were destroyed or weakened by foreign intervention fueling and exacerbating internal discontents. There is beneath them a mix of on-and-off imperial intervention, sectarian war between Shia and Sunni, conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, dictatorship and revolution.
Nine wars. I’d never seen nor heard any commentator give the count before. We’re all aware of these conflicts, they’re in the news often enough, but in this obviously very broad statement Cockburn puts them all right in front of us, with geographic coherence. Looking at the map is intriguing: if you draw a line straight west, from the northern Afghanistan/Pakistan border, where we long were led to believe bin Laden was hiding, essentially to Gibraltor; and another down toward the southwest along the border and stretching from there to the equator, within that wedge are all the conflicts he names plus a few others he doesn’t (Mali, Western Sahara, etc). This is gratifying somehow: I doubt I’m alone in wondering from time to time what’s exactly going on with these conflicts, which involve, to greater or lesser degrees, jihadism, sectarianism, oil, power vacuums, total corruption, and large scale enslavement especially of women — yet which seem somehow disconnected, without a coherent narrative relationship that one senses ought to be there. Makes me, at least, want to read Cockburn’s book.
Final thought: Near the center of this triangular area you cannot help but notice pulsing there a large organ of blood and money, Saudi Arabia. North of it, Iran. Slowly, painfully, the Obama administration has kind of, sort of, reoriented the US’s interests and attention, VERY slightly away from the Saudis and really, really slightly toward the Iranians. Similarly, a slight, slight turning of the shoulder to the Israelis.
Of the three the only one that practices a democracy of full-participation is Iran, which remains a state in some respects run by its democratically elected government and in other crucial respects tyrannized by clerics. Saudi is a tyranny outright and en toto; and Israeli is an apartheid state. Throw in our old friends the Egyptians: a military dictatorship. The healthiest looking of these variously despotic and terroristic regimes — the one that shows any sort of promise of future improvement — to my eye is Iran. Nevertheless, the Obama reorientation will go no further under a Clinton administration and to some degree, likely a considerable degree, it will be reversed. Between the Iranians and the Saudis, I think we’ll be betting on the wrong horse. One of those kick-over-the-lantern and burn the stables down kind of horses, in fact.