At 45 I went back to school. Already a MSc in Mechanical Engineering this time my eyes were set on a BA in Sociology.
During my senior years I had my epiphany: that being able to pass information from generation to generation both considerably sped up human evolution, as a species, and opened wider expanses for us to conquer.
Big deal, I hear some of you muttering. Everybody knows that we became what we are only after we developed articulate speech and, specially, after we learned to write.
Well, you are right. Only time has come for us to learn to read!
Herbert Simon was presented a Nobel prize in 1977 for his ideas about how an abundance of information might prove to be, if inappropriately managed, a handicap instead of a bonus. “What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” That’s why we should learn how to sift through the available information if we are to avoid reenacting mistakes that have already been committed by our forefathers and abundantly documented for future referral.
Nowadays the world’s attention is highly strung by what is happening in the Middle East, the last development being Putin’s announcement that he is satisfied with the new openness displayed by the Iranians so he intends to fulfill a longstanding order from Teheran for sophisticated air defense missiles.
Trading with Iran is part of how the Iranian people can be encouraged to overcome the current impasse in their development as a nation.
Using every possible opportunity to advance on the international arena – and to ‘hurt’ those whom you have designated as your adversaries – by stirring already murky waters and then callously walking on corpses might prove to be counterproductive in the long run, to use the mildest words possible.
To illustrate my point I’m going to propose to you a list of articles describing some examples of ‘foreign intervention’ in the Middle East:
Sykes-Picot deal in the aftermath of WWI: The true story of Lawrence of Arabia
“Lawrence sought allies wherever he could find them. Surely the most remarkable was Chaim Weizmann, head of the English Zionist Federation. In January 1919, on the eve of the peace conference, Lawrence had engineered an agreement between Faisal and Weizmann. In return for Zionist support of a Faisal-led Syria, Faisal would support increased Jewish emigration into Palestine, tacitly recognizing a future Jewish state in the region. The pact was soon scuttled by the French.
But the most poignant what-might-have-been involved the Americans. Suspicious of the imperialist schemes of his European partners in Paris, President Woodrow Wilson sent a fact-finding commission to the Middle East. For three months, the King-Crane Commission toured Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, and what they heard was unequivocal: The vast majority of every ethnic and religious group wanted independence or, barring that, American administration. Wilson, however, had far more interest in telling other nations how they should behave than in adding to American responsibilities. When the commission returned to Paris with its inconvenient finding, the report was simply locked away in a vault.
Lawrence’s efforts produced a cruel irony. At the same time that he was becoming a matinee idol in Britain, courtesy of a fanciful lecture show of his exploits delivered by American journalist Lowell Thomas, he was increasingly regarded by senior British officials as the enemy within, the malcontent who stood in the way of victorious Britain and France dividing the spoils of war. In the end, the obstreperous lieutenant colonel was effectively barred from the peace conference and prevented any further contact with Faisal. That accomplished, the path to imperial concord—and betrayal—was clear.
The repercussions were swift in coming. Within the year, most all of the Middle East was aflame as the Arab world, enraged at seeing their Ottoman masters replaced by European ones, rebelled. Lawrence was particularly prescient about Iraq. In 1919, he had predicted full-scale revolt against British rule there by March 1920—“If we don’t mend our ways.” The result of the uprising in May 1920 was some 10,000 dead, including 1,000 British soldiers and administrators.”
Iran, the Mossadegh affair: In 1953 President Eisenhower prevaricated a lot before OK-ing the coup against Mossadegh because he “was afraid of destabilizing Iran and the region, which in his estimation, would inevitably lead to a communist takeover.” (Six Myths about the Coup against Iran’s Mossadegh)
He was right, only Iran hadn’t been taken over by communists but by Islamic fundamentalists yet I cannot stop wondering if Eisenhower, and those who urged him to proceed, were aware of what had happened 30 years before in ‘Arabia’.
In 1979, almost another 30 years later, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. I don’t think this move had directly caused the fall of the Soviet Empire, but it certainly helped. The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1879 – 1989. As you all know the whole affair is still a festering wound.
In 1980 another war provided a scene where bad decisions could have been made. And were readily made: (Iran-Iraq War (1980-7988))
“Gradual Superpower Involvement (as if they weren’t already involved in that region, up to the hilt)
Iranian military gains inside Iraq after 1984 were a major reason for increased superpower involvement in the war. In February 1986, Iranian units captured the port of Al Faw, which had oil facilities and was one of Iraq’s major oil-exporting ports before the war.In early 1987, both superpowers indicated their interest in the security of the region. Soviet deputy foreign minister Vladimir Petrovsky made a Middle East tour expressing his country’s concern over the effects of the Iran-Iraq War. In May 1987, United States assistant secretary of state Richard Murphy also toured the Gulf emphasizing to friendly Arab states the United States commitment in the region, a commitment which had become suspect as a result of Washington’s transfer of arms to the Iranians, officially as an incentive for them to assist in freeing American hostages held in Lebanon. In another diplomatic effort, both superpowers supported the UN Security Council resolutions seeking an end to the war.
The war appeared to be entering a new phase in which the superpowers were becoming more involved. For instance, the Soviet Union, which had ended military supplies to both Iran and Iraq in 1980, resumed large-scale arms shipments to Iraq in 1982 after Iran banned the Tudeh and tried and executed most of its leaders. Subsequently, despite its professed neutrality, the Soviet Union became the major supplier of sophisticated arms to Iraq. In 1985 the United States began clandestine direct and indirect negotiations with Iranian officials that resulted in several arms shipments to Iran.
By late spring of 1987, the superpowers became more directly involved because they feared that the fall of Basra might lead to a pro-Iranian Islamic republic in largely Shia-populated southern Iraq. They were also concerned about the intensified tanker war.”
After the table was thus set there is ‘small wonder’ about what happened next: Iraq invaded Kuwait, the first Gulf War, 9/11, the second Gulf War, the intervention against the Taliban, what’s going on in the Horn of Africa…
Here is what Abdi Ismail Sanatar, a Somali, Professor of Geography at the University of Minnesota, was writing in the wake of the Nairobi Massacre 2013 (The Nairobi Massacre and the genealogy of the tragedy):”Given this, what must then be done to turn this tragedy into a victory for Somalis and Kenyans?
First, all of us must tend to the injured and those families who lost their loved ones.
Second, since al-Shabab’s main operations base is in Somalia, and since it has inflicted the greatest damage to ordinary Somalis, the international community should understand that the terror group must be defeated in that country. To do so, the EU and the US who support AMISOM must appreciate that only a professional and well-resourced Somali security force will drive al-Shabab into the sea. Consequently, they can divert half of AMISOM’s budget to this endeavor.
Third, Kenyan President Kenyatta and his government must heed legitimate Somali grievances against the occupation and urgently work with the Somali government and withdraw its troops from southern Somalia. Finally, the Somali government and particularly its top leadership should wake up to the fact that they have failed to inspire the Somali people and move them into massive civic mobilisation that will be the most effective defense against al-Shabab.
Such an engagement of the citizens will also be a fantastic boon for the Somalia’s reconstruction. If the international community and leadership in the region go back to business as usual then the victims of al-Shabab’s terror will endure a second death.”
Now, in 2015, his words have become tragically prophetic. “The victims of al-Shabab’s terror” were indeed murdered a second time, at Garissa University in Kenya.
And how does William Ruto, Kenya’s deputy president, plan to solve the situation? Simple (World’s largest refugee camp scapegoated in wake of Garissa attack):
“He told the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to shut down Dadaab refugee camp near the border with Somalia within three months, or else Kenya would shut it down itself.
Officials have claimed that Dadaab is where al-Shabaab plans its acts of terror, such as Garissa and the 2013 Westgate Mall attack, and must be shut down.
“We have asked the UNHCR to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” said Ruto. “The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa… We must secure this country at whatever cost.”
Fighting talk, but talk was as far as it got. The UN has so far simply ignored the public demands for Dadaab’s closure, only commenting to praise Kenya’s commitment to refugees.
The UN has yet to receive any official communication on the subject. Although Kenya is eager to prove itself in the fight against terrorism while the country is still mourning the the victims of the attack, the government also needs to find someone to blame, other than its own poor national security system.
For now, Dadaab’s refugee population – voiceless in Kenyan society, and unable to defend itself – makes for 350,000 convenient scapegoats.”
I almost feel that some of you will oblige and remind me that hindsight is always 20/20 and that none of those who made the decisions that have led to those horrific outcomes could have known what was going to happen. Or that they even cared I might add.
True enough. Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a vey interesting idea on this subject. ‘Skin in the game‘ he calls it. His tenet being ‘if those who make the decisions do not directly experience the outcomes then the decision making process will be less diligent than if their own skin were in the game’.
The sad reality is that those who tend to use the ‘the full outcome could not have been predicted’ argument prove more than Taleb’s words. They are living proof to the fact that he who doesn’t read about it is doomed to repeat it.
Fortunately now there is a easier way out. The lazy ones can watch the movie if there’s too much for them to actually read Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.