Friday, August 22, 2008

The Man who Sold the Insurgency

In his bestseller "From Beirut to Jerusalem," Thomas Friedman reflects on an interview with Mustafa Barzani. Barzani led the Kurdish rebel party in 1960's Iraq .

"Barzani was once asked why the Kurdish national liberation movement, which he led, never got the world attention of some other national liberation movements, like the Palestinians. Barzani said it was simple: 'Because we fought only on our own land and we killed only our own enemies."

I can think of one well-known terrorist group that hasn't followed Barzani's example. Awful as it is to think that Al-Qaeda's attack on the US was just a (successful) PR move, it does answer the perplexing question: "why do they hate us?"

Maybe they don't. Not specifically.

In Naked in Baghdad, her memoir about reporting on the Iraq War, NPR guru Anne Garrels suggests that via September 11, the United States got dragged into an ongoing and ugly conflict between Arab sects. This war started before the US got involved, and it'll keep going after the US pulls out.

Like Israel and the former Soviet Union, the US has been an important but occasional player in the pan-Arabism drama, a play whose main actors are Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, al-Qaeda, Pakistan, Hezbollah, the PLO, the Muslim Brotherhood, Saddam, Iran, the Baath Party, Sunnis, Shiites, Druse. The list goes on. (Israel is, yes, more than an occasional player. But in some ways it's still a player.)

The Bush attitude seems to be the old standby "I didn't start this, but I'm going to finish it," with its tendency to evoke military and parental discipline. It's true, the US didn't start this. But I doubt we can finish it, either.

This post owes its title and (some of) its tone to "The Man Who Sold the War," James Bamford's National Magazine Award winner about the importance of public opinion in armed conflicts.

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