Next year: Facing the test that is to come
In the early months of 2003, we will test whether or not the existing world order – currently held together by the United States and the rest of the industrialized nations -- will continue to exist or will its sophisticated systems be destroyed by suicide bombers strapped with simple dynamite or, as in the case of September 11, 2001, by terrorists using our own technology against us?
Conventional thinking sees Saddam Hussein as the most daunting problem facing western civilization. Yet, in fact, Saddam is merely an about-to-be-eliminated symptom of larger concerns that began in the 19th Century.
Back then, it was fashionable to speak of “the White man’s burden.” This was code for saying that the uneducated peoples of the world (mostly, non-White) needed western civilization if they were to have clean water, adequate food and the other benefits of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. But, as early as 1838, some cracks started to appear in the myth of western invincibility and superiority.
In 1838, the British invaded Afghanistan to thwart a spreading Russian influence in the region. But, between 1838 and 1919 the British got their rear ends kicked three times by Afghan rebels and they had to let Afghanistan become a fully independent state, That the lily-white Britons could be whipped by brown-skinned Afghans did not go unnoticed among non-Christians of color.
Then, in February 1942, the Japanese overran the British in Singapore and the Japanese crushed the French in Indo-China. Another lesson: yellow-skinned, non-Christians can play the fair-skinned Christians like a drum.
Now, let us Jump back to the mid-1930s when British-American oil interests showed the people of the region how to extract oil from beneath the sands and turn it into black gold. Immediately, the Anglo-Americans led by Standard Oil of Ohio realized the continued production of oil depended on the existence of local governments favorable to the extraction of what is, other than sand, the Middle East’s only natural resource.
The Anglo-American-European oil interests set up a collection of Mickey Mouse monarchies peopled with made-up monarchs who were content to trade their nations’ only valuable natural resource for Rolls or Bentleys or Jaguars and the chance to send their sons (forget daughters) to Eton, Harrow, Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale or Princeton.
For example, the British installed King Ibn Saud on the Saudi throne. King Ibn Saud was followed by another King Saud and now by King Feisal. Under western pressure, Feisal is the first Saudi ruler to make any effort at all to share his nation’s oil wealth with those outside the so-called “royal” family. Even so, most Saudis live from hand-to-mouth and on the hope of the eventual Paradise promised by the Wahhabi clerics.
In order to refocus local dissent away from themselves, the ricky-tick rulers of the Middle East have taught generations of their poor that the Jews and the State of Israeli are the cause of their pitiful plight. But, just as the Communications Revolution exposed the fraud of communism and helped bring down the Soviet Union, the Communications Revolution is eating at the edges of the Middle Eastern dictatorships and revolt is in the air.
Incited by the demise of Saddam, the peoples of the region will send their rich rulers packing for the French Riviera and the other posh watering holes of the rich and famous. This will create a power vacuum.
Will that vacuum be filled by fascist Talaban or Wahhabi-type religious zealots or will be it be filled by leaders adhering to the Prophet Mohammed’s benign Meccan vision of a peaceful Islam? Since 9/11, they know we are like Achilles. So, our greatest challenge will be to guide these new and, hopefully, democratic nations in peaceful rather than war-like directions.
Cynics will call it “the White man’s burden.” But realists will see it as a necessary continuation of the great traditions of the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy by William Penn – a novel about a terrorist attack on Colorado’s high country.
©2002. William Hamilton.