Saturday, December 10, 2005

Syriana=Iraq: Policy Failure in the Middle East

America(n) in the Middle East: Nowhere to Go
I saw Stephan Gaghan's Syriana today, starring George Clooney plus an extra thirty pounds (above in what is supposed to be Tehran) as Bob Barnes, a CIA Middle East operative who is betrayed by his bosses in Langley, who in turn are the puppets of their Masters, the members of what I describe in my new book Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (see link) as the "petro-military complex: The political-business nexus of U.S. government officials, oil executives and the oligarchs ruling the Arab oil states (add to these the autocrats in charge of the newely independent oil producing states in Central Asia). The very talented Gaghan who had also written the script for Traffic, the cynical and depressing film about America's "war on drugs," did a marvelous job in the equally cynical and depressing Syriana. "Syriana" is a fictious oil emirate in the Persian Gulf and the character of Clooney/Barnes and the entire story was inspired by former CIA operative Robert Baer and him memoir, See No Evil on his personal and professional experiences in pre-9/11 Middle East. Now... this is a thriller and I don't want to ruin your enjoyment by giving away the plot. But, hey, the narrative will sound very familiar to anyone who hasn't been under coma since 9/11: Lying and deceiving U.S. officials, operating under the influence of a sleazy Texas-based oil company (the fictious "Connex"), who are forcing the United States into a costly and bloody intervention in a Arab oil-producing state in the Persian Gulf, involving an actual "regime change" that is promoted by a bunch of conniving local figures. The same guys -- there are Christopher Plummer as a powerful Washington lawyer, Jeffrey Wright (an excellent black actor who played a nurse in Angeles in America) as an ambitious Washington lobbyist, Chris Cooper as an Texax oil executive, among a cast of other good actors -- are also planning the coming "liberation" of Iran... (see links for my articles, Target: Iran and Operation Iran Freedom on what's happening in the real world which looks not very different from the one projected in the movie). Clooney and Matt Damon as a young energy analyst named Bryan Woodman and working in Switzerland are supposed to be the "good guys" in the movie in a sense that they seem to be motivated by good intentions. But as the movie demonstrates, when it comes to the Middle East, the road to hell is paved with, indeed, good intentions, and the two, together with a "good" Arab prince, a reformer of sorts, are betrayed together with the rest of the American people by their leaders in Washington. And there are also a group of Pakistanis working in the oil fields in Syriana and who are recruited by an Al-Quaeda-like group and end up committing a 9/11-like terrorist act. In a way, what the movie demonstrates is what I try to propose in Sandstorm, that you didn't need CIA-type "intelligence" to figure out that American intervention in the Middle East was bound to produce major costs, including anti-American terrorism, for the United States and the American people. All you needed was to figure out that when you sleep with dogs, you end up waking up with fleas, is intelligence=common sense. In a way, the "price" the access Americans get to Middle Eastern oil is much, much higher than the gas you are paying in the pump. See the movie!


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