Pacific News Service
Dec 30 2004

Blair-Bush Plan: Cut Near East Off From Middle East
Commentary, Franz Schurmann,


Editor's Note: British Prime Minister Tony Blair knows America can't
win in Iraq, writes PNS Editor Franz Schurmann. So he and President
George W. Bush are concentrating on bringing peace to
Israel/Palestine and bringing Turkey into the EU. Such "Near Eastern"
nations are historically more European.

As the war in Iraq gets worse and worse, British Prime Minister Tony
Blair, who is President Bush's co-visionary on the Middle East, has
launched a major effort to bring peace to Israel/Palestine. Is his
strategy to show that if the Holy Land antagonists can make peace
with each other, so can those in Iraq?

In fact, the Blair-Bush vision is the opposite. The new strategy is
based on severing the Near East from the Middle East. Blair probably
thinks that with Iraq caught between two revolutions, the Western
Coalition can never win. But it can gain a win if it can bring the
Near Eastern nations onto its side.

A clue of the new Blair-Bush strategy was the recent nine-nation
conference on furthering democracy in the Arab world, held in the
Moroccan capital Rabat. The nine nations included Syria and oil-rich
Sudan, but not Iraq. Colin Powell attended, showing top American
interest. Also attending were North African Egypt and Morocco, which
are not considered part of the Middle East. Both are part of the Near
East.

Both terms are geopolitical, but "Middle East" was coined in World
War II, whereas "Near East" goes back to Napoleonic times. Napoleon
spread French language and culture and the aura of revolution in the
region. Until "Middle East" crowded it out, the only political term
used by Europeans about the region was French: Levant, meaning Near
East. In contemporary terms that covers Israel/Palestine, Lebanon,
Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.

"Middle East" was an Anglo-American military term designating the
territory between the European theater of operation and East Asia.
Originally that extended from Greece to undivided India. But the
connotation of Near East was that, politically and culturally, it was
closer to Europe than the "Far East."

Tony Blair knows full well that the West cannot win in Iraq but he
also sees how fast anti-Islamism, such as the politics of French
politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, is spreading throughout Europe. But if
the Near Eastern region openly accepts the Napoleonic heritage of
liberty, equality and fraternity, as has Continental Europe, Turkey
could end up in the European Union (EU). Significantly, Blair
recently got verbal concessions from both Turkey and the EU that
could pave the way for admission.

With some 20 percent of its territory in Europe, Turkey considers
itself both European and Near Eastern. And it's modern hero, Kemal
Pasha Ataturk, demonstrated his tilt toward Europe by having a postal
stamp made showing himself in a tuxedo holding a martini glass.

But Turkey also cannot shake a bloody past. It contests the
accusation of an "Armenian holocaust." It cannot contest the fact
that for decades it has made war on the Kurds, who have brought about
one insurrection after another. Insurrections are an angry revolt
against oppressors. If they go on for a long time they become
revolutions, forcible transformations of political power and of the
people's culture. It can occur like a single thunderbolt or go on and
on until the transformation is completed.

In the Middle East, two major insurrections are occurring: the
Palestinian and the Iraqi. The first Palestinian Intifada, ("Tremor")
was of medium duration (1987-1993). The second began in early 2000.
Tony Blair and George W. Bush hope to channel the political energy of
the Intifadas to bring about a Napoleonic revolution of liberty,
equality and fraternity. But the Near Eastern peoples could turn to
Islamic revolution instead.

Iraq is now undergoing two different revolutions. One follows the
Sunni Wahabi creed of Osama bin-Laden. The other is the Shia one of
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The recent bloodbaths carried out in the
Shiite holy cities of An-Najaf and Karbala showed this clash of two
creeds.

Some Sunni Kurds are now making common cause with the northern Sunni
Arabs. Earlier this year Northern Arabs and Kurds killed some 100
people who were celebrating Eid-ul-Adha. Since both Arabs and Kurds
in Iraq's north are both Sunni, each takes pride in the great Kurdish
liberator, Salah-ad-Din/Saladin (1137-1193), who finally crushed the
last Crusaders in the Near East.

So American forces in Iraq face both insurrection and revolution, the
worst situation, as Napoleon found out first in guerrilla-ridden
Spain and then in Russia's frozen winter.

All over the Islamic world a sense of revolution is prevailing.
Theirs is likely the last in a chain of revolutions that began with
the American and French ones. Bush and Blair hope that by bringing
the Near East to their side, they can break this chain.

Schurmann is emeritus professor of sociology and history at U.C.
Berkeley and the author of numerous books.