Tag Archives: Graveyard of Empires

Syria: No One Wants to Own It

A previous post “The Graveyard of Empires” pointed to the number of empires throughout history that bogged down after entry into the Middle East. But the Middle East continues to thrust itself onto the world’s stage, like some black pestilence.

Today, it’s the horrendous deaths in Syria apparently caused by a gas attack on civilians. Most nations are condemning the attacks, and especially Bashar al Assad’s rule there, abetted by Russia.

Perhaps things will change, but as of now, no one appears to know what to do to prevent future attacks. No one wants to own the problem.

Recent interventions to “fix” international problems have often made them worse. Unlike World War II, a powerful alliance working together seems nonexistent. Militarily, an immediate fix might tumble Assad, but where’s the will for another Marshall Plan? That effort, after World War II, used billions in aid, not for war, but to build the economies and governments of post war Europe.

The saying is: “If you break it, you fix it.” And no one wants to risk the cost of fixing Syria.

Graveyard of Empires

What’s the best bad way to cope with the Middle East? The next U.S. president had better be prepared.

The Middle East is called “the graveyard of empires.” The small region where Africa, Asia, and Europe connect has bedeviled conquerors for millennia.

An instructor in one of my classes when I worked for the U.S. State Department told us about a cliff or large rock in the country of Lebanon. The rock is inscribed with graffiti of various conquering groups passing that way over centuries, each presence erased by the next. The list might include Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, French, and British.

One of the last of the conquerors, Britain, wanted a friendly Middle East because of the Suez Canal and the desire for safe passage to India, one of their dominions. Untold numbers of British soldiers died in various wars in the region until Britain retreated from most of its possessions.

For one thing, different ethnic and religious communities live side by side throughout the region. Choosing allies from one group makes enemies of other groups.

Example: many of the Kurds, U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, are enemies of the Turks, our NATO ally.

Another example: Iraq used to be governed by a dictator, Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, even though the majority of Iraqis are Shia Muslim. Now, after our war against Saddam, the Shia are the dominant force in the Iraqi government and have problems with the Sunni, who lost power. Some of the Sunni supported the Islamic State, which the Iraqi government is fighting.

The United States became interested in the Middle East when oil became important to our economy and massive supplies were found there. Now we are learning why this area is called a graveyard.