Daily Archives: 11 August 2006

The Head Heeb on the UN Peace Plan for Lebanon

The resolutely level-headed Head Heeb offers a positive take on the latest Franco-American UNSC resolution on Lebanon.

The compromise reportedly has the backing of all five permanent Security Council measures, which if true will make it virtually certain to pass. The Israeli and Lebanese governments have both been consulted, and although the IDF brass may be reluctant to give up on the planned push to the Litani and Lebanon is wary of an expanded French role, it would be politically unfeasible for either country to reject the United Nations’ terms. The real question mark is Hizbullah, which would have to accept three conditions that it had vehemently rejected up to today: a ceasefire with IDF troops still on Lebanese soil, an augmented international force south of the Litani, and the loss of its military presence in the border region.

The decisive vote in this respect may be neither the United States nor France but Qatar. Qatar is the sole Arab country currently sitting in the UNSC, and as such has spoken for the Arab world and been the focus of the Arab League’s crisis diplomacy. If the Qatari delegate votes in favor rather than abstaining or dissenting, then Hizbullah could only say no at the price of bucking the United Nations, its own national government and the Arab world. It might be willing to chance the first two, but probably not all three.

If all these hurdles are overcome, then the Israel-Hizbullah war will end on terms that allow everyone to gain something. Israel will have weakened Hizbullah and will get a stable northern border for the first time in more than 30 years, Hizbullah will be able to claim that it fought the IDF to the end, and the Lebanese government will obtain sovereignty over the entire country as well as a chance to resolve its outstanding disputes with Israel. France, as Lebanon’s once and future patron, will increase its regional influence, and even the United States will (against all odds) have played a critical role in brokering the settlement.

This means that the proposed resolution is, at this point, about the best possible end that can be imagined for the whole sorry mess. A war in which all parties can claim achievements is one that is less likely to fester and more likely to provide a foundation upon which the underlying issues can be settled. As Israel has learned from bitter experience, a draw that leads to a resolution of the root conflict is preferable to a victory that doesn’t – the Yom Kippur War ultimately resulted in peace with Egypt while the Six Day War led to nothing but an endless nightmare of occupation. If this war, like the war of 1973, leaves all parties proud but chastened, the not-defeat may have better results in the long term than an unequivocal battlefield victory.

UPDATE: The half-life of hope about anything that involves the combination of the Middle East and UN resolutions is about equal to that of ununoctium.

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Young Turks and "Deutschland über Allah" in the 1910s

The spirit of universal Ottoman brotherhood soon melted away, revealing a harder, more exclusive ideology. The Young Turks [who seized power in 1908] embraced something called “pan-Turanianism”—the notion that all Turks from the Russian steppes to Anatolia came from a single ancestral land called “Turan.” In this view, the entire historical orientation of the Ottoman Empire toward Europe and the Middle East had been misplaced. Instead, the empire should be focused on reuniting the Turanic peoples in Russia and Central Asia. In his book Allah Is Great, Lev [Nussimbaum aka Kurban Said] compared the Turanian obsession to “blood and soil” ideas in Germany. In a kind of Turkish parallel to the German idea of lebensraum, the future was to be found in the East—in an invasion of Russia to reclaim ancestral lands from the thirteenth century and earlier, not only those of the Ottomans but of the other great Turanians, the Mongols and the Huns.* (*Since at least the eighteenth century, Russian ministers and theorists had referred to the Ottoman capital not as Constantinople but as Czargrad, in anticipation of absorbing it into the new world-dominating Super Russian Empire. The counter-theory of the pan-Turanian principle meant that if the Russians wanted to reconquer Constantinople, the Turks would do them one better, reconquering half of Russia.)

What clinched the Turkish-German axis in the First World War was really the personality of Enver Pasha. A dark fireplug of a man who had served as the Ottoman military attaché in Berlin, Enver had embraced all the pointed helmets and polished boots and talk of Wagnerian Götterdämmerung-cum-Jihad. (Kaiser Wilhelm did his part by spreading the rumor that he had converted to Islam.) When Enver led the Young Turks to power in 1908, as war minister, he was sporting a Kaiser Wilhelm mustache, which should have been a clue as to which way things would go. What ensued may have amounted to the most dramatic “self-colonization” in history: in the name of achieving instant modernization and international power, the Young Turk junta turned the Ottoman Empire into a virtual military colony of the German Reich. “Deutschland über Allah,” said some diplomatic wags. But it was a dead serious maneuver, and it happened with lightning speed. Enver turned over the entire Ottoman officer corps to the Germans; more than twenty-five thousand German officers and NCOs assumed positions of direct command. A Prussian officer founded the Turkish Air Force, and two German battleships arrived in the Golden Horn. The German crew brazenly donned fezzes and sang “Deutschland über Alles” beneath the seaside villa of the Russian ambassador.

The Young Turks had launched the Ottoman Empire off a cliff. It is hardly remembered now what a large role Turkey played in the First World War, except for the storied Gallipoli landing, where the defending Turks slaughtered British, Australian, and New Zealander expeditionary forces. Almost everywhere else, it was the Turkish soldiers who were slaughtered. More than three hundred thousand Turkish soldiers died fighting the Russians in the Caucasus alone, as a result of Enver’s plan to begin a great reconquest of the ancient Turkish heartland. The plan was to take Baku so as to launch Turkish armies across the Caspian in oil tankers, landing at Kizel-Su and crossing Turkestan, conquering Bukhara, Samarkand, and eventually, even Mongolia. On the eve of the revolution, the czar’s forces poised for a final attack on Constantinople. Had Russia stayed in the war and the Bolsheviks not prevailed, Istanbul might today be called Czargrad and the Middle East might be an imperial Russian federation. The Turkish rout was the fault of poor planning and bluster—Enver sent Turkish troops to fight in the Caucasus in winter with no overcoats and without even boots—but the increasingly fanatical Young Turk junta looked for someone else to blame for the failure of the Turanian dream. Thus, the infamous Armenian massacres of 1915 were set in motion.

SOURCE: The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life, by Tom Reiss (Random House, 2005), pp. 106-108

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