What is the
nature of U.S. support for Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban in
Afghanistan in the context of the Cold War?
Middle East ethnicity and background cannot be generalized.
Mesopotamia (now Iraq) and the Fertile Crescent. This region gives
rise to remarkable inventions and development including the
invention of writing. Persia (now Iran) is a powerful, advanced
empire, a thriving civilization, inventive, has a successful
agriculture, is often progressive.
concept of monotheism originates in Judaism and is shared by
Christianity and Islam. The sense of separatism in Judaism and its
strength of religious beliefs may be factors it its survival after
losing its homeland and being scattered for centuries.
The monotheistic Islamic religion is founded by Mohammad in the 600s
A.D., lasts for 700 years, with Mecca as its base. Factors
contributing to its remarkable spread. The Empire excels in
literature, science, art, music, architecture, while Europe is still
in the Dark Ages.
Turkish Ottoman Empire.
Ataturk and the overthrowing of the Roman Byzantine Empire in the
1400s. It is a religious based society under secular rule. The
recurring theme of modernity and the resistance to it. The Empire
collapses after World War I when it supports the losing side. The
victors, England and France, break up the Middle East into countries
with borders and ethnicity mixes favoring their control for economic
exploitation, with oil as the major prize.
Early 20th Century.
its interest in oil, England installs a royal family under its
control. Resistance to foreign control of its major resource.
Mosadek heads secular government through 1953 when CIA overthrows it
and installs the Pahlavi family with the Shah of Iran as ruler.
Once again the clash of modernity with tradition. Traditional
society in Iran is a rural, peasant society based on the village.
For some, the migration of peasants to the city and the urban
civilization of modernity is a dislocation, a loss of tradition.
For others, especially women, it is a great liberation. The darker
side is the Shah's harsh dictatorial regime. The growing
unpopularity of the U.S. and the Shah. His regime is overthrown in
1979 and Islamic fundamentalists come to power, with enormous
consequences in the area and elsewhere. The ongoing clash between
traditionalists and modernity is resumed. After initial popularity,
the regime becomes regressive, with women losing their gains.
Part of an ancient civilization. Controlled by European powers
after World War I who want to secure oil for themselves. Mounting
resistance and military coups. In the late1950s Saddam Hussein
comes to power and installs a secular leadership. He is a Sunni in
a more orthodox Shia country. This leads to the rise of hatreds and
great violence. During the Cold War era from the 1950s to the 1980s
England, France and the US court Saddam as an anti-communist and
major oil source.
This is a Muslim country. It has a long history of war lords
who control regions of the country although it has a national
The Promised Land, as the Hebrews see it from a biblical world.
Though a small minority they hold on to that faith during the
Diaspora and in face of Christian hostility in Europe. In the 20th
century the idea of Zionism, championed by Theodore Herzl, that
ultimately the place for Jews is Zion, where Palestinian Arabs also
have lived for centuries. The rise of Nazism with the Holocaust as
its terrifying climax and the slaughter of 1/3 of the world's Jewish
population. Jewish suffering continues afterwards in refugee
camps. Hatreds are not dimmed. In 1948 England loses control of
Palestine which they ruled since the end of World War I. The
partitioning of Palestine establishes the State of Israel in 1948.
The Arabs see it as an outpost of the West, especially the
US. Israel wins Arab wars against it. Arab motives are mixed.
Israel, born from the horrors of Europe, is seen by the Arabs as
creating horrors. Today, it is a cauldron of danger and violence.
Hatreds build and increase over the years with the cycle of terror
After 1979 the Islamist fundamentalist government is fiercely
anti-American, yet there are behind-the-scenes intrigues concerning
Latin America. The 1980s devastating war between Iran and Iraq
peters out with no clear victor. Both are Shia countries. It is a
conflict of religious versus secular rulers. Despite its brutal
dictatorship, the US supports Saddam's Iraq.
It has a border with Russia which imposes a secular puppet
government, bringing a degree of modernity to a country which is
still medieval in many ways. Women have the most gain from this.
Resistance by the war lords leads to the the "Russian Vietnam." In
the Cold War context, the US aids the Taliban despite their
religious fundamentalism. The role of Osama Ben Laden in this war.
Russia withdraws and the Taliban come to power imposing a medieval
form of government, with repression of women.
Persian Gulf War.
Tension between Iraq and Kuwait, a small country rich in oil, over
control of its outlet port. How Kuwait's personal insults to
Saddam, and the American Ambassador's neutral comment about Saddam's
intentions influence the start of war. The US intervenes and easily
defeats the Iraqi army. The question of stopping at that point
versus a regime change. Dick Cheney advises against regime change
with the prospect of the quagmire of urban guerilla warfare in
Baghdad, but instead, to allow a weakened Saddam counter the
fundamentalists. The Kurds in the North, long struggling for
independence, are encouraged by the US to rise up. When they do,
the US does not help and they are crushed by Saddam. The
international embargo affects mostly the Iraqi people.
The fundamentalists in the Middle East see Israel as its arch
enemy. The classic anti-Semitism rages in the region.
Second Persian Gulf War.
Bush, the son, and his neo-conservative advisors, have a world view
of American dominance. Further motivation is America's economic
need for oil. Questions about America's motivation for invading
Iraq. The war seen in context of 9/11. Osama Ben Laden and the
Taliban now seen as our arch enemies. The false connection between
Osama, Al Queda, and Saddam is seen as deliberately false. The
Iraqi army again is easily defeated. What next? Dick Cheney's
earlier advice is now disregarded by him and other decision-
makers. The neo-cons believe our forces will be welcomed as
liberators. Instead there is a vicious and ongoing urban guerilla
warfare. The role of US need for oil. The enormous profits of
American companies in this conflict. The issue of resistance to an
occupying army, followed by retaliation.
Present and Future
The Taliban, linked to 9/11, are overthrown. Resistance to an
occupying army by the war lords. American public opinion is also
opposed to continued deployment of US troops in this country.
Now a theocracy. It has a young population who are struggling for a
more secular government. Women have much at stake in a separation
of church and state. Iran's fervent hatred of Israel. It's drive
for nuclear power and the question of war versus diplomacy.
The two-state solution and the issues of borders, economics, and
security. The role of terrorism and violence undercuts a political
solution. For Palestinians the lack of hope and the promise of
Paradise produces suicide bombers. The issue of the economic basis
for despair as a context for this. All sides share responsibility.
is very much in flux, with no apparent solution to a multi-factor