Most of us are unaware of the distinctions that divide the various nations in the Middle East into tribal and clan sub groups which call upon the loyalties of their members.  Pakistan and Afghanistan, for instance, are each constituted with five tribal groups, but only one of these — the largest in each country, the Pashtuns — is shared by both countries.  The radicals in both countries tend to be Pashtuns and, thus, there in a natural link for them across their borders — where Osama bin Laden is thought to hang out. General/President Pervez Musharraf is a member of none of the above, but rather of a sixth group based in India where he was born.  Thus, he has no natural tribal base in Pakistan.

Given the sharp tribal dividing lines in most of the Middle Eastern nations, one would not expect an easy transition to a Western type democracy and Iraq is no exception to this general rule. The first call on loyalties when the pressures are on will be to one’s own.  The Sunni/Shiite divide there is only the beginning of things with further subdivisions that have emerged with the removal of that great enforcer from on high, Saddam Hussein.

Having watched two days of the Congressional and Senate hearings with our own General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, it would seem apparent that neither really expects the Iraqis to get it together with a functioning national government, so the Bush administration has anointed our good general to be our benevolent dictator over as much of Iraq as he can pacify and secure with whatever troops are made available to him.  As any good dictator, he has undertaken to divide his opposition — Sunni areas played off against Shiite, Anbar against the dysfunctional central Baghdad government of Maliki (for the time being and likely, himself, to be replaced).  It is clear to the Sunnis that they will need American military support to fend off retaliation from a majority Shiite government and to the officers of that government in name only that they need American military protection in the Green Zone to keep themselves alive.

It is also apparent that no deviation from American dominance is contemplated by the Bush administration — our troops will be maintained in Iraq as long as Bush remains in office. We are currently building a massive new embassy complex in Baghdad.  Our troops, themselves, will be held hostage for Congressional funding to protect them from the deadly attacks by those occupied.  Al Qaeda constitutes a small percentage of the mainly foreign imports who have increasingly won the resentment of the Iraqis whom they have been blowing to paradise.  Iraq is no longer a refuge for them.

However, and this is a big however, getting rid of the occupation of Middle Eastern nations, all too reminiscent of the colonial era, is precisely bin Laden’s prime target and rallying cry.  So it should not be too much of a surprise to learn that his approval ratings are generally high in the Muslim world, while Bush’s have sunk to a single digit.  Some Iraqis may see our troops as a temporary necessary evil, but one should not count on long term support — even for the 15 months or so remaining of the Bush reign.

The resentment against Bush is bound to rub off on his allies — Musharraf in Pakistan, Karsai in Afghanistan, and Maliki or a Bush replacement in Iraq.  Increasing numbers of Muslims want to reclaim their heritage — and lest we forget there is a proud Muslim heritage.  While Christians were submerged in the Dark Ages, Muslim scholarship thrived.  Muslims were much more hospitable to resident Jews and Christians than Christians were to Muslims against which they launched ‘crusades’ and Jews whom they slaughtered periodically in mass pogroms or as individuals.

For those unfamiliar with the Muslim heritage, I recommend an excellent collection of essays that came my way about 9/11, but written by British and American scholars prior to that dread event:

Islamic Thought in the Twentieth Century, edited by Suha Taji-Farouki and Basheer Nafi:

Needless to say it is not only the Muslim world that is tribal.  Americans bent on expelling Latin American workers (undocumented aliens) manifest the same traits as do the 4 tribes of Britain: English, Scots, Welsh, Irish.  The Brits had their troubles getting it together, too.  And our Klu Klux Klan derives its name from the Scottish clans — whose descendants some say fueled our Southern racism.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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