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Rundle: Advance of militants in Iraq means the end of the West as we know it

The recent arrival in Iraq of the ultra-Islamist group ISIS marks the end of the hegemonic West.

What fun it is stitching nations together, wrote Gertrude Bell in the 1920s, as she wove together the fabric of what would become the modern nation of Iraq (named for the city of Uruk, the oldest of the ancient city-states excavated in Mesopotamia).

Bell, born as a decent English lass and disappointed in love, had studied Arabic and then Persian in England. By the time she added Turkish to her accomplishments, she was one of the most significant linguists in Edwardian England. That wasn’t enough for her, and she added archaeology to her skills, and then set off on expeditions to explore the empty quarter of the Arabian peninsula. The first westerner to do so, Sheikhs treated her with courtesy for the simple reason that she was so far out of their experience and understanding that they could not summon hostility against her. More pertinently, she was less full of western supremacist bullshit than the men they encountered, listened to what they said and established real relationships with them.

Like everyone in the Middle East at the end of World War I, she was pressed into service in trying to carve out a system for the region after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. The Brits and the French  had promised the Arabs nationhood in return  for rising up against the Turks (as our brave boys died at Gallipoli to keep Turkey out of the South Pacific) and promised the Zionists a homeland, partly to keep bank credit flowing for the war effort. Behind that they had drafted the Sykes-Picot agreement,  detailing how the French and British would carve up Arabia along the current Syria-Iraq border. But in 1919, after the British had spent 18 months trying to destroy the Russian Bolshevik government, the British embassy in Moscow was invaded and a draft document of Sykes-Picot was found and published to the world. The modern pan-Arabist movement began from there, and that would yield Baathism, Nasser, Suez, the Palestinian resistance — and its opposition, embodied in Sayyad Qutb and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah.

History records that Bell — who also founded the National Museum of Iraq, the repository of the West’s heritage, which the Bush administration allowed to be destroyed — created Iraq by combining the Ottoman provinces of Basra (Shia), Baghdad (Sunni) and Mosul (Kurd), with the late thought that it might be easier if Mosul was just given to the new Turkish Republic. But it was more than that — through years of meetings, she signed up  hundreds of sheikhs and clans to the new project, promised them an evolving independence and created a nation-state out of clan affiliations. She was eventually seen as too pro-Arab and was bumped off by a cabal of friends and enemies, not least among them St John Philby, father of Kim. Bumped off literally. She was “erratic” — read, manic depressive — and Britain’s post World War I Arab role was shaped by her wild over-enthusiasm and optimism. Squeezed out, she took an overdose.

The recent arrival in Mosul of the ultra-Islamist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), marks the final collapse of that dream. It is impossible to overstate its significance — it marks not merely the end of the Iraq War, but of World War I. It is as much a death-knell for the pious hopes of Marxist pan-Arabism, as it is for the naïve triumphalism of the neocons.

At the heart of a region, with Turkey, Iran and Russia in easy ambit, there has been the triumph of a group whose beliefs are as incommensurable and uncompromising as the movements of the 20th century, Bolshevism, Fascism, Maoism and Western neoconservatism. They have hollowed out Iraq, which now does not functionally exist. They could march on to the boutique statelet of northern Iraq, run by the Kurds for the US. That puts them in direct contact with Turkish troops, representatives of a state run by a party that wants to restore Ottoman era regional dominance.

Russia cannot now be indifferent to their progress; nor can Shia Iran, since ISIS detach from Al-Qaeda — the moderates! — by their determination to bring violence to the Shia, whom they see as the ultimate apostates. Syria no longer exists, really; Afghanistan is the hinterland of Kabul and little more. Pakistan is bankrupt, corrupt, and its state apparatuses both fight and aid the Taliban. The whole region has been de-stated, and the US has decidedly renounced any intention of playing its usual role of re-stating it. That’s over, the projection of British power is over, and the Right of both states is so riven by pro- and anti- “intervention” factions that they are unable to mount a coherent line. Western publics are with the Obama line, no matter how dithery it seems: under no circumstances contribute troops to the debacle.

Small beer, but this is the final and utter discrediting of the neocon project. From Wolfowitz to  Dubya to John Howard to Greg Sheridan and lower orders of tame flunkies (and no I do not include assistance to the Libyan revolution in this ambit), it is clear now that their role was to speed up western loss of unipolar power by a decade or more, and kill half a million or so into the bargain. That’s what they did with their lives.

This is a day as significant as 9/11 in its way. We are faced with a force inimical to all modern values, but whose legitimacy has been created by the chaos we brought to their region. Now the threads have been pulled apart, and it is all to do again, but not in the same way. Today, you lived through the end of World War I, the Iraq War and the hegemonic west. It will be something to tell your grandkids, whatever country they find themselves citizens of. Ask not for whom the Bell tolls…

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  • 1
    Simon Mansfield
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    Mostly agree. Though I suspect there will be a significant airpower based intervention in next few days. There is no other option at this point. Iran could well be a partner in any intervention at this point as well. Would be ironic if Obama cancels his Abbott meeting due to real world issues. A surf board in the oval office is not the kinda look they need to be projecting at this time.

  • 2
    Humphrey Bower
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I had similar thoughts when I read the news today (oh boy!) Deterritorialization is the (dis)order of the day. The frontline is now between the past and the future, tradition and modernity, identity politics and global capital. We of goodwill must paddle as we can to negotiate the rapids betwixt and between, practically, politically and morally. Welcome to the inter-zone.

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    The Coalition of the Shilling dug the hole the country is falling into.

  • 4
    Brian Williams
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Guy - while the US invasion of Iraq certainly unleashed another chapter in the Sunni/Shia 1500 years war, it was surely just another in a long line of conflicts between peoples who all seem to believe that firing an RPG while shouting Allahu Akhbar on every occasion, will eventually provide some basis for a system of government.

    As you correctly insinuated, the attempt to create functioning countries out of peoples whose first loyalties were always going to be towards their own tribes, and therefore their own version of Islam, was doomed to fail from the beginning. At the base level, these people are killing each other because they can’t agree whether Mohammeds father-in-law, or his cousin should have succeeded him 1500 years ago.

    Give me atheism eany day. Religion - the cause of more misery than any other humam invention.

  • 5
    Mayan
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    … promised the Zionists a homeland, partly to keep bank credit flowing for the war effort”

    I thought it was ‘Crikey’ not ‘Der Sturmer’. Perhaps it’s time to give the base stereotypes and baseless conspiracy theories a rest.

  • 6
    Mendoza
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    ever get the feeling the world is moving at a glacial speed towards something very dangerous?

  • 7
    AR
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    This latest example of the US disease of blowback ought to be salutatory to even the dimmest Drill dills - for the last 3 years the US has allowed Saudi & Qatar to fund & arm Sunni jihadists in Syria. This export of fundi nutters is essential to keep the lid of the garbage can that is the Saudi gerontocracy.
    Now that they’ve had their arses kicked, they are taking on the softer target of Iraq - just another shia abomination - and suddenly everyone acts surprised.

  • 8
    StefanL
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    A great pity that the European powers didn’t create a strong and viable Kurdistan at the end of World War I.

  • 9
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    Good one GUY: BRIAN WILLIAMS: I tend to agree with you.

    There is something in the religion of Islam which seems to prevent its followers from being part of the 21st century. We in the west probably got rid of the worst of religious zealotry in the late middle ages. Islam, or the people who follow it, has remained stuck in the one spot. And, as Brian said, it is a curiously ‘tribal’ form of religion and living. The concept of complete loyalty to one’s tribe/family, extended or otherwise, far exceeds any loyalty to one’s country.

  • 10
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    The events in Iraq just once again emphasise prove as did Vietnam and soon Afghanistan that American style hamburger and Coca-Cola democracy is not accepted.

  • 11
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Oh I forgot, the terrible outcome of this all is the denial of cheap oil to the motherf*ckers as oil refineries and installations are being destroyed. They spent a trillion to gain the advantage to just see it all taken away from them and so quickly.

  • 12
    Guy Rundle
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    mayan -i said partly. there
    s no real doubt that the decision to issue the balfour declaration was bound up with the uk wanting to maintain good relations with the Rothschilds -who had funded much of the jewish emigration of the first zionist wave. nothing nazi about analysing in politics in terms of interests and alliances…. g

  • 13
    Hunted Snark
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Not so sure about the ‘glacial’ part, Mendoza, but yes. And not just on this front.

  • 14
    Shakira Hussein
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    I know that this is not the main point of the article, but I think that you take Gertrude Bell according to her own generous self-assessment in saying that she was “less full of western imperialist bullshit that the men they encountered”. Like other imperial women, Bell justified her participation in the enterprise by claiming to have a deeper and more intimate relationship with the locals than her male colleagues had been able to achieve, but she was as full of imperialist bullshit as any one of them.

  • 15
    Andybob
    Posted Thursday, 12 June 2014 at 11:16 pm | Permalink

    Will the West now seek to prop up Assad against ISIS ? Après him, la deluge.

  • 16
    Sprague Brett
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Guy Rundel’s piece is positively breathless. He might need to take a bex and lie down. If Guy really believed his hype he would be developing skills beyond pseudo-wisdom writing, or maybe performing a spot of hari kari.
    Yes Guy, others noticed too the events in Iraq. Forces using Humvees were reducing ‘democratic’ elements in Iraq. The US Iraq project is in serious disarray. Did it ever really have a chance? Plenty never thought so. Was Australia still compelled to join the US alliance for National interests? Yes. Are Australian forces in far better shape because of Iraq and Afghanistan? - unquestionably. Will Afghanistan likely follow a similar path? Yes. Has Australia sacrificed considerable treasure, but more importantly have Australian soldiers made significant personal sacrifice for Western ideals? Yes. Vigilance doesn’t come free, Australian forces are better prepared than they have been since WWII, and therefore Australia is incredibly well placed in an uncertain world. Those who have spent over a decade in martial pursuits don’t have a lot of time for Chicken Little, show a little more perception or seek some help.

  • 17
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Trouble with Guy is that half the time he is half right.

    Echos of Vietnam when Nixon Vietnamized the war effort and secretly promised to send in the B52’s if the North turned up in force.

    Well the North turned up in large numbers with lots of Russian gear and Nixon was gone. It was all over in a few weeks in 1975, after 10 years of a horrible war.

    There were some on the Right with a modicum of intelligence recognizing Dubya’s Iraq adventure as the folly of a F**kwitted fratboy in charge of the biggest military toy shop in history. The Powells and Blairs bear also heavy responsibility for the flaky intelligence and flimsy pretext for the Iraq attack and 10 years of chaos ensuing.

    The American people must bear the responsibility for electing Dubya; the man never held a passport until Governor of Texas, despite his father being President!!

    While FDR was cycling down the Rhine in his youth, Dubya was getting drunk and getting Jesus.

    Anyway brutal bastards like Saddam and Assad are not looking too bad when compared with the dark age crazies now marching on Baghdad.

    10 years of blood and treasure spent in Iraq and the Iraqi Army is melting away before a bunch of terrorists who are worse than mainstream Al-Qaeda?

    Wasn’t that Dubya’s line about Saddam Hussein and his terrorist links - Iraq as a hotbed of WMA terrorists?

    Will Obama do a Gerald Ford - that is the big question.

    If Obama fiddles, perhaps Dubya could roust out some Texas National guard riflemen with all those guns available in the US and lead the charge of good ol boys against those terrists….up Tikrit hill…

  • 18
    Abdullahi Williams
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    Mayan:
    “… promised the Zionists a homeland, partly to keep bank credit flowing for the war effort”

    I thought it was ‘Crikey’ not ‘Der Sturmer’. Perhaps it’s time to give the base stereotypes and baseless conspiracy theories a rest.”

    So why exactly was Baron Rothschild given the Balfour Declaration in 1917? Or is that an anti-Semitic question?

  • 19
    Liamj
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Assuming that the western-backed dictators in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Yemen & Libya follow the imminent fate of our Iraqi puppet, then we’ll soon need to be negotiating with ISIL or similar for oil exports. We should put our local war criminals Howard & Downer under house arrest now, so we have them handy for bargaining chips.

    Footnote: death toll from invasion & occupation of Iraq is well over a million by now, majority due to ‘coalition of the willing’ http://www.projectcensored.org/1-over-one-million-iraqi-deaths-caused-by-us-occupation/

  • 20
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    Yes let’s not forget Howard’s complicity in that “Coalition of the Shilling” - for a FTA?
    Nor Murdoch’s Brass Band?

  • 21
    Dogs breakfast
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Some wonderful comments to an insightful analysis from GR.

    But this from Sprague Brett????

    Was Australia still compelled to join the US alliance for National interests? Yes.”

    Only if one accepts Kubrick’s thesis that all powerful nations are gangsters, and all small nations whores. Isn’t there the faintest chance that advising USA that they were barking mad and we wouldn’t land troops with them ‘in our national interest’. The assumption here is that if it is in USA’s interest it must therefore be in ours, a whores argument if ever I heard one.

    Are Australian forces in far better shape because of Iraq and Afghanistan? - unquestionably.” On what basis, is it because we now have battle hardened (and broken) troops? Hardly beyond argument in my mind.

    Has Australia sacrificed considerable treasure, but more importantly have Australian soldiers made significant personal sacrifice for Western ideals? Yes.” Can you enlighten as to what western ideals are, because all I saw was a corrupt war on the back of a personal vendetta. Surely that is bizarrely naive - ‘western ideals’ harrupmh.

    Vigilance doesn’t come free, Australian forces are better prepared than they have been since WWII, and therefore Australia is incredibly well placed in an uncertain world”

    I’m not sure if holding a paddle is of much use in a barbed wire canoe.

    Where are we going, and why are we in a handbasket? Incredibly well placed? For what exactly!

    Could I disagree more? Unlikely.

  • 22
    Brian Williams
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Ken Lambert - it’s an irony but far from a delicious one. Dubya partly justifies the invasion of Iraq by claiming that Saddam is in bed with Al Quaeda, when the truth was that Bin Laden loathed Hussein, and there wasn’t a smidgen of Al Quaeda in Iraq at that time.

    Eleven years later we have Sunni extremists even worse than Al Quaeda controlling vast tracts of the country now that the despot Hussein is long gone. Sometimes it’s better the devil you know…

  • 23
    John Crowe
    Posted Friday, 13 June 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    WOW! Mr Rundle your analysis knocks my socks! I love reading this stuff. Regards, jC

  • 24
    klewso
    Posted Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    How much has “Howard’s Folly” cost us?

  • 25
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Saturday, 14 June 2014 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Brian Williams

    There is no excuse on the part of the Powells and Blairs and Howards (with even Australia’s limited intelligence resources) for not seeing Saddam for what he was - a warlord dictator of the broadly secular kind who though paying lip service to Sunni Islam, was as threatened by Islamic crazies as much as the West.

    Did they forget the brutal Iran-Iraq war where Saddam fought a devasting war of attrition against Iran’s Shia mad mullahs. He was the enemy of both Sunni and Shia crazies.

    His containment after first Gulf War was a running sore, but not as diabolical as what we are facing now.

    We face the prospect of allying with Shia Iran and propping up Assad.

    The Iranians are already claiming victory for Assad….quote “Terrorism perpetrated by al-Qaida-linked jihadist groups and individuals armed and funded by Sunni Muslim Arab countries was now the main threat facing the Syrian people, Borujerdi said. Many foreign fighters who had travelled to Syria from Britain and other European countries” endquote….that includes Australia where a Roman Catholic schoolboy has morphed into a 29 year old longbeard jihad leader - a darling of Facebooked crazies worldwide looking for a lethal fight to heaven.

    The West’s choices are all bad - propping up Assad in Syria in alliance with Iran to save Iraq’s weak Shia dominated Government from Sunni Islamic crazies worse than al Qaeda.

    And throw in the Kurds to complicate the case.

    And Dubya has taken up painting.

  • 26
    Reechard
    Posted Monday, 16 June 2014 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    The big question of course is who/what fills the vacuum?
    Greater Israel? Or will the chaos that ensues be even too much for the Zionist masters of deception, deceit and death, to take advantage of? Is this the end of the Zionist nightmare too?

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