Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Arab and Muslim tribalism in Iraq

Earl Clampett:

As a student of history and a movie buff, I couldn't help but think that all of this angst about Iraq could have been avoided if Mr. Bush had simply rented a movie.

I don't know if he likes old movies. This movie is not especially old. It did get the Best Picture Oscar for the year 1962. The era with which it deals is not especially old, either.

About 90 years ago, a British officer named T.E. Lawrence donned Arab garb, learned the language and adapted to the culture of the Arabian-Middle Eastern world as no other Westerner had. He ended up leading a loose coalition of previously competing Arab tribes, forming an "army" to distract the Turkish allies of the German Kaiser in World War I.

The scene that should have been watched by the president occurs at the end of the movie after the fall of the city of Damascus, Syria, into British hands. Lawrence and his ragtag army actually beat the British to the prize of Damascus. The only problem was Lawrence and his multi-tribe Arab followers did not know how to cooperate with each other in victory to try to get the city up and running again. The scene of Lawrence attempting at the city hall to bring to fruition his long promised Pan- Arab democracy in the midst of chaos stayed with me even though I was only 11 years old when I first saw it.

No one knew how to get the phones operating or the electricity back on or the water flowing again, or how to put out fires that were burning down the city. The hall was filled with hundreds of competing yells of insults as to which tribe would lower themselves to be water carriers to form a bucket brigade to put out the fires since there was no pressure for the fire hoses. No one would take the responsibility to crank up the generators. Only blame was exchanged because the victors saw themselves as members of tribes and not as Pan-democratic Arabs.

Recent newspaper headlines showed an embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki presiding over a session of Iraqi legislators who were for the most part missing. Those who were in attendance hurled insults and accusations against one another based on tribal affiliations of Shiite, Sunni and Kurd.

U.S. troops are now attempting to play referee amongst competing tribes just like T.E. Lawrence did. We are in the middle of a civil war based on tribal and religious affiliations. It will not go away because of our idealism.

If Arab tribes rejected 90 years ago Pan-Arab British democracy sponsored by the idealist T.E. Lawrence, even with the backing of the victorious British Empire, what in the name of heaven would lead any rational leader to think he could change 1,300 years of Middle Eastern tribal warfare by introducing American democracy?

The movie is based on a real story about real people. It would have cost the American taxpayer about $1.99 through NetFlix to have the movie delivered to the home theater at the White House.

If it had been viewed by the president before April of 2003, it may have saved the country about 3,100 military deaths, 20,000 injuries and billions of wasted dollars.

As a political and social conservative who supported our efforts in Afghanistan to get bin Laden, I was against the invasion of Iraq from day one because of this movie I remembered seeing as a youngster.

The movie was "Lawrence of Arabia." I encourage all to rent it and fast forward to one of the last scenes, entitled "Chaos in Damascus."

You will shake your head in disbelief that our leaders learned nothing from recent history. It would have cost only a $1.99.

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