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Book Review November 13, 2003
Logic for Locusts
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 2 of 3
It's always risky ending one's arguments with a question, rhetorical or otherwise, and the one with which Baer fades to black after this jump-cut from horror to horror actually deserves a serious answer. "Why should Saudi Arabia escape this fate?" Oh, for about a dozen reasons, several of which would require books far longer and more rigorous than Baer's to explicate.

First, Baer needs to explain what "this fate" means. There is no common denominator in his list of nations fallen into "chaos." What does Vietnam have in common with Sierra Leone, other than the fact that a lot of people were killed in both countries in the last few decades? Vietnam is about as chaotic as a North Korean gym class -- the apotheosis of the cohesive, disciplined nation-state. It "succumbed to chaos" because the US spent several trillion dollars sustaining that chaos; once that CIA-planned chaos lost its funding, Vietnam snapped into place as the Prussia of SE Asia and never bothered anyone again. Cambodia, a sleepy farm country, "slipped into chaos" because we wanted to supplement the chaos we'd brought to Vietnam. What do these countries have to do with an inchoate chunk of bush like Sierra Leone, or the non-stop clan feud in which Somalis like to spend their time?

It would be utopian to expect a CIA swine to feel even a little twinge of conscience at his agency's guilt in these bloodbaths, but a hint, just a hint, of intellectual rigor would be nice.

Let's push Baer's question a little harder: can Baer, or the CIA, identify a set of conditions which means a country is about to "succumb to chaos"?

No way. Consider the late Shah of Iran. In the 1970s, he was America's best friend and strongest ally in the Middle East. He, unlike the Saudi elite, funneled most of his country's oil revenue into development; Iran had the best road system, health care, and education in the region. Literacy was climbing to first-world levels; the status of women, particularly in the cities, was changing at a dizzying rate; villages were being transformed by a car-driving, secular, entrepreneurial New Class. The military was professional, competent, and well-funded. Borders were strictly policed, and none of Iran's neighbors would have dreamed of attacking the Shah's lucky, progressive land.

Then, with hardly a flutter of resistance, the Shah's Iran vanished. No one predicted that, least of all the CIA, whose cretinous operatives actually had to ask Iranian employees at the US Embassy what the chants of "Marg bar Amrika" ["Death to America!"] meant.

Consider another spectacular failure to predict collapse: the disappearance of the USSR. Only Andrei Amalrik predicted it, and he did it on his own, without Langley's vast resources, which were puffing up the Evil Empire even when it was obviously kaput.

And just as strong states often fall for reasons no one can predict or understand even after the fact, feeble, moribund states hang on far longer than they should. Byzantium was doomed after the Seljuk victory at Manzikert, but the city held on for almost 400 years longer. Then the Seljuk/Ottoman state slid into the sort of "chaos" Baer describes -- but again, the "sick man of Europe" was one Hell of a long time dying. It took a world war to push the Ottomans offstage, a century after all the smart money had written them off.

Predictions like Baer's reveal one thing only: the interests of those making the predictions. The CIA failed to see the impending collapse of the USSR because without an enemy, its funding might have shrunk, along with the poll numbers of its Reaganite bosses.

With its specious "devil's logic" swept away, Baer's book just stands there and stinks, like a shopping cart on a mudflat at low tide. He has lots of dirty stories about the whoring and drinking those Arabs get up to, and you can slobber over the details secure in the belief that you're only reading the dirt because of its geopolitical implications.

If Baer's book were nothing more than Harem-porn with pretensions, it would be a pleasant hand-job. Unfortunately, Baer has a purpose evil enough to have been hatched by the CIA itself. He argues that America should jump in, seize the oilfields by force, and effectively annex them until the petro-reserves are used up, at which time I suppose we'll generously hand them back to the natives.

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