By Christopher B. Daly
With the United States government poised on the brink of intervening militarily in the Mideast, this would be a good time (if it’s not too late) to study the history of the region. Too often, we go wading ashore or dropping bombs on countries that we know nothing about. We expect the people in those countries to be just like us, or else they better get ready to become just like us. Of course, they are not just like us, and they have no intention of changing.
One place to start is today’s op-ed by David Brooks, who (heaven help him) at least tries to do some homework before sounding off.
A much better place to go is the history of the region written by David Fromkin (a BU colleague). His 1989 history, A Peace to End All Peace, tells the sad tale of how the Great Powers carved up the Mideast at the end of World War I. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, European diplomats and bureaucrats drew lines in the sand ( actually, they drew lines on maps) and declared the results to be “nations,” even if the people drawing the lines had never been to those places. Ever since, those “nations” have been beset by internal conflicts, such as the one playing out in Syria, because they are made up of unnatural groupings of different peoples, many of whom have ancient hatreds and resentments of people who are supposed to be their countrymen.
If only a single high-ranking member of the George W. Bush administration had read Fromkin’s book, we might never have invaded Iraq. Now, we better hope that someone in the Obama administration has read the history.