Sunday, April 08, 2012


The Nashua Telegraph has written about a fishy sounding graphic novel called "Best of Enemies: A History of US-Middle East relations, part one", that allegedly tells the history of how America led its relations with Arab/Islamic countries over the past centuries, but remains ambiguous of its exact standings, though that doesn't mean you can't figure out there's something wrong with its POV. The column says:
It begins with the fledgling U.S. military dealing with Barbary pirates in the early days of the country (the conflict that put “to the shores of Tripoli” in the Marine anthem) and ends with the CIA orchestrating a coup that put the shah on the throne of Iran in 1953.

Every U.S.-Middle East connection in between is recounted, from American naval officer Alfred Mahan coining the term “Middle East” in 1902 to FDR’s meeting with King Ibn Saud during World War II to cement the oil-for-security relationship we have with Saudi Arabia to this day.
Just a moment now. Isn't that alluding to the problem of the Koran's belief in forcing non-Muslims and dhimmis to pay jizya in exchange for supposedly not antagonizing and terrorizing?

More troubling though, is surely this:
Jean-Pierre Filiu, an expert on the region, takes a strictly “just the facts” approach, which is rendered by graphic novelist David B. in the same clear, cartoony style he used for his award-winning “Epileptic.”

Whatever political or historical lessons the reader derives is entirely up to him or her.

Which is not to say there isn’t plenty of meat here to chew on, even if you aren’t a history buff or political junkie. In fact, our history with the Middle East is one wildly at odds with our self-image, which alone is food for thought. [...]

And yes, it’s pretty clear why Iran considers us the “great Satan” – after you see what we did in 1953, it’s a wonder they don’t hate us even more.
Is it? What they must be talking about is the overthrow of Iran's so-called prime minister Mossadegh that year, and to get a clearer picture than what this MSM propaganda is offering, let's turn to a reply Barry Rubin wrote to the awful Ron Paul over his belief that US policy on Iran at the time made them hate America:
But people know far less about the 1953 case, though it has long been a source of complaint by left-wing critics of U.S. foreign policy. I was the first scholar to see the U.S. government records for the crisis when writing my book, Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran, in 1979. Here is a brief summary of the key points. The nationalist government of Muhammad Mossadegh had nationalized the British oil company. While a well-intentioned democratic-minded modernizer, Mossadegh was also a personally erratic and incompetent prime minister. And the social base for parliamentary democracy in Iran was clearly not strong enough. In the face of a British embargo on Iran selling its oil–the British argued that it was “stolen property”–and many domestic problems, the country was spiraling into chaos. While the British were interested in getting the oil company back, the United States was worried about a Communist takeover. A group of pro-Shah Iranians teamed up with the British to propose a “counter-coup” in which the Shah would break openly with Mossadegh and the monarch’s supporters would overthrow the prime minister.

First, the pressure for the coup came from the British. The Truman Administration, which left in office in January 1953, opposed American involvement. However, the situation worsened and the Eisenhower Administration changed U.S. policy on the issue.

Mossadegh was an extremely unstable person and leader. He was clearly losing control of the country and the Communist Party, which backed him, was gaining power steadily. A close examination of the documents shows that whether it was correct or not U.S. fear of a Communist takeover was based on serious evidence. This was the midst of the Cold War and the USSR was Iran’s northern neighbor. The Soviets had occupied northern Iran from 1941 to 1946, to secure the country’s oil during World War Two, set up puppet regimes inside the country, and only withdrew under intensive U.S. pressure.

On balance, and after long consideration, I think the coup was a proper move for U.S. policy. One can say that it denied Iran a democratic regime but the way things were going, that was about to collapse into anarchy, a coup, or a Communist takeover anyway. What is especially interesting in retrospect is that one of the main supporters of the move were the Iranian Muslim clerics, including Ayatollah Kashani, the man who would be a role model for Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. I saw how he and his colleagues met with U.S. officials and urged a coup, since they also feared a Communist regime. It is ironic for Islamists to complain about a U.S. policy that they actively backed at the time.
When Jimmy Carter was president during the late 1970s, he ruined all the gains that could be had in the coup d'etat when he allowed the Ayatollah to conquer Iran and overthrow the Shah, who, while he may have been a autocrat, was not quite as noxious as Mossadegh and Khomeini were. Now that I think of it, this Nashua Telegraph article ends up suggesting that both the graphic novelists and the columnist himself buy into the same POV that Ron Paul's espousing.

Here's another review of the graphic novel that tells something that may be misleading:
Not until World War II did America reinstate its interest in the Middle East, when it went to Saudi Arabia to satisfy its rising oil needs. As part of the agreement, President Roosevelt, who wanted to allow the European Jews immigration rights to Palestine, agreed that no decisions about Palestine would be made without first consulting with Saudi Arabia.
Sometimes I find quite interesting how some potential leftists will use that delegitimizing alternate name for Israel instead of the real one. And I'm not sure FDR really wanted to help Jews immigrate to Israel to begin with, when, according to this info, he was against repealing the anti-Vichy laws against Jews. So at least one thing's right: he wouldn't do anything without the House of Saud's approval, which you can be sure they wouldn't have given. The second review of this graphic novel also says:
War, money, oil, politics…. Best of Enemies makes quite plain what specific goals and events have shaped the history of the Middle East and its relationship with the western countries. The situation there is far more complicated than can be explained here, to be honest, though Jean-Pierre Filiu does a good job. I’ve been reading a book by former President Jimmy Carter called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and that’s helped a bit with my understanding. It’s sort of unfathomable that America, in its youth, spent so much time warring with nations across the ocean, when so much of its own land was unexplored and unconquered (by America, anyway, since it was all still “conquered” by France and Spain). They kept throwing money at a problem that didn’t seem to have a cause or a definitive solution (and since we’re still screwing around over there, over 200 years later, there still isn’t one).
Boy, now I know something's rotten in old Denmark. When that kind of leftist crap that Israel is allegedly apartheid is cited, you know this isn't a reputable source to rely on, ditto when they act as though there's no actual reason why jihad is spawned from many Islamic countries. Surprisingly, the reviewer actually does acknowledge something factual about the middle east, though not quite:
American vessels were being attacked by pirates, so they fought back for the return of their people and to secure safe passage in the future.
Yes, but is it stated that the Barbary pirates who committed the crimes were Muslims going by the indoctrine of jihad? I'm guessing not. Nor would I be surprised if they don't clearly cite how Thomas Jefferson himself led the war against the Muslims because of what their religion taught and because appeasement was not helping. Speaking of which, here's an even more troubling review of the graphic novel from a site called Big Think:
“And so America was no sooner born than it found itself at war with countries thousands of miles away,” Filiu writes, drawing immediately to mind more recent parallels such as Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Not much later, President Thomas Jefferson approves an American-engineered overthrow of a Middle Eastern government, starting the sad precedent repeated far too often. The war on water quickly transitions to the war for oil that we know so well today. The final chapter focuses on Jefferson’s legacy of the coup d’etat as it played out in 20th century Iran when America forced the Shah on the Iranian people. [...]

I came away from Best of Enemies with a feeling of loss paired to the feeling of understanding gained. I knew America’s involvement in the Middle East was a long, dark one, but seeing personal heroes such as Jefferson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt with blood on their hands opened my eyes to the immensity and pervasiveness of the problem.
What about when Jimmy Carter's administration forced the Ayatollah on them; a much worse autocrat? And what's said about Jefferson and FDR is really disgusting because it trivializes the harm and damage the jihadists were doing, even though FDR himself wasn't exactly what most people wish he were. The whole implication that America just fights to control oil deposits is also galling.

Sometimes, a leftist review can give some insight into just how dishonest the whole book can be, and that's why I wouldn't trust Filiu's angle for a minute. For all we know, this could be quite a work of leftist propaganda. "Expert on the region"? Yeah, I'll bet.


Kris said...

Yeowch. Let me be clear. I'm the author of that second review. The language I used is the exact language used in the graphic novel. The events I reference are the events in the graphic novel. My personal understanding of the history of that region is not the best. It's not an area I've dug around in much because my personal interests lie elsewhere. The Jimmy Carter book I mentioned I have been reading to try and get an understanding, though to be perfectly honest, even just a short way through the book I find myself a little sickened by some of its language.

I thought I had at least made it plain that the US involvement was purely self-interest economic and that they really care little for the economics of the Middle East, except with regards to how it affects US economics. You did neglect to mention the part where I said "Throughout these pages, country after country interferes with Middle Eastern politics, trying to guide the political climate to best suit their own needs, with little regard for the needs of those living there. It’s kind of sick, really...."

At any rate, my review wasn't a commentary on the situation, but a REVIEW of the graphic novel. And was therefore guided by what the graphic novel presented on its pages. ComicAttack isn't a political site, but a comic review site. So while I do try to keep on top of politics myself, I'm not engrossed in them. And it's not my job to research things like that FDR quote. That's a job for the person who wrote the book. Should I have checked its accuracy myself? Maybe, if that's the angle I was going for with my review. It wasn't.

Avi Green said...

Well thanks for replying. Let me note that I find it very bothersome when most critics don't give a clear picture of what a book's politics are like, and if they did, they could at least let people know that they're not trying to hide anything. If you could do this, it could help a lot more.

If you're looking for some good non-fiction books to read, I'd highly recommend the works of Barry Rubin and Melanie Phillips, who have plenty of interesting research like the Israel-Arab Reader and Londonistan to check out. Believe me, they're much better and more informative than anything Carter could tell.