on 28 September 2008
This is an extremely curious book. On the one hand, it's written in an unserious, almost frivolous style, with the author constantly trying to provoke his intended readership of "idealist liberals" and "PC Neo-Conservatives" (you heard me). Sometimes, the book sounds like a parody on Mideast foreign policy ghost-written by Michael Moore. And the cover shows a happy, smiling camel on it's way to Cairo! Often, I found myself wondering whether Martin Sieff really is a former foreign correspondent, or some kind of fraud?
But no, he isn't. I think the guy really means it!
What makes "The PIG guide to the Middle East" so interesting, is that Sieff takes an (almost) unabashed, Machiavellian line on the region. He says openly what the American establishment only says behind closed doors. Or used to say, since Shieff believes that Kissinger and Reagan had a better foreign policy than Clinton and Bush Junior. I guess it takes a cynical, worldly-wise foreign correspondent to tell the truth: Machiavelli "R" Us. And he likes every minute of it! Personally, I don't. I'm one of the idealist liberals, I suppose. Still, reading a book by a cynical truth-teller is better than reading the propaganda. I mean, David Horowitz? Please come on...
Sieff believes that democracy can't work in the Middle East. The Arabs are a bunch of primitive, tribalist barbarians. Always have, always will be. They are religious fanatics too. The Iranians are somewhat better, but not much. Democracy in the Middle East means extremists in power, usually anti-American ones. The solution? "Bring back the Ottoman Empire". When the Turks were in charge, the Arabs were kept in check. They were poor, barefoot but not too pregnant. Population figures were low, modern development non-existent, law and order upheld. That's the only way the Middle East can be controlled: by an iron fist, imposed from above. And the iron fist must be Muslim, since Muslims wont accept "infidel" masters. Then the stupid, idealistic Young Turks took power, and they blew it...
It's not entirely clear whether Shieff really believes the story so far, or simply relishes in shocking the PC audience he hopes will pick up his book. But yes, he does say all of this.
The rest of the book is Realpolitik brought up-to-date. The author argues at length that Saudi Arabia is the best US ally in the region, apart from Israel. He further argues that Saddam Hussein, although a crazy butcher, was nevertheless better than Khomeini's Iran, and that Syria have always been better than Iraq, since the Syrians, although anti-American and anti-Israeli, aren't as crazy as Saddam, and better understand the rules of the Machiavellian game. The policy is really a simple one: support Israel to the hilt, strike an alliance with conservative Muslims who hate revolution, and play the others.
The book further argues that Islam isn't really that bad, a humorous contrast to other books in this series, which tend to be anti-Muslim and pro-crusader. For centuries, the author argues, Islam was a politically passive, quietist and conservative religion, Shia Islam in particular. Muslim fundamentalism is a recent, cultish phenomenon, probably inspired by Communism.
In the most controversial part of this "PIG guide", the writer takes on the Iraqi war. He regards the war as a total failure and a deviation from true Realpolitik. For starters, the troops were too few. Perhaps an additional 100,000 might do the trick? More fundamentally, Bush and the Neo-Cons actually think they can create democracy in Iraq. By organizing free elections, dissolving the Baathist security forces, and recruiting Iraqi collaborators, the US have simply fanned the flames of sectarian conflict, emboldened the extremists, and plunged the entire Iraqi nation into bloody civil war. It's not entirely clear, however, what Shieff wants the US to do instead. Withdraw? Call the New York City police? (At one point, he exclaims that "police action" is the best way to deal with insurgents. Since when?)
Of course, our author isn't entirely Machiavellian. He supports Israel 110%, which from a Machiavellian standpoint makes little sense. Indeed, the reason why Sieff wants the US to intervene in the region is the oil. But there is no oil in Israel, and he freely admits that Israel can't police the region. Saudi Arabia can, or so Shieff believes, and they have oil. They also have the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. So why doesn't he simply back the Saudis? Nor does Shieff mention the Iran-Contra Affair. Too Machiavellian, perhaps? Or perhaps he simply doesn't like loosers like Oliver North?
Finally, let's note the irony of having this book published in the PIG Guide series. First, it seems to be the only guide that comes close to criticizing the Iraqi war. Second, it's the only guide that takes "pro-Muslim" positions. It's obvious from some of the other customer reviews that many of the conservative reviewers just don't get it. "Grunt, did he say Saudi Arabia? Grunt, grunt". Yes, he did say that. You've been Conned again. And Regnery Publishing is laughing at you, LOL.
PS. I'm using the term "Machiavellian" in it's "princely" sense. The real Machiavelli was very different. See my review of "The Discourses".