On February 25th, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, ordered an airstrike on a militia group in Syria.
The airstrike was ordered in retaliation to multiple rocket strikes by the militia in Iraq, including a deadly-strike that hit a U.S. coalition base in Irbil, a town in Northern Iraq.
The U.S. dropped seven precision guided munitions totally destroying nine structures and partially destroying two. Current reports say there were 22 casualties, these numbers have yet to confirm exactly what type of casualties these were, however the Pentagon is confident their strike was effective in eliminating their target.
The Pentagon and President Biden himself justified the bombings as “defensive retaliation” as protected by Article II of the U.S. Constitution, the president having power as commander and chief to order the strike as a protective measure for service men and women, and article 51 of the U.N. Charter which provides countries the right of “self-defense” in response to an attack.
The attacks against the U.S. coalition base came shortly after Biden’s initiative to revive the 2015 Iran Nuclear Agreement.
All of these efforts are said to protect the world from violent attacks against peaceful people. That’s debatable, and I would say that if you take a bird’s eye view of what is going on it’s reminiscent of ancient Rome. The western world, and particularly the United States, want to keep their collective thumb on the middle east, and the middle east is tired of it.
So let’s explore this comparison.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
- ROME AND THE MIDDLE EAST
- WHY THE MIDDLE EAST?
- THE HISTORY OF THE U.S. IN THE MIDDLE EAST
THE HUMBLE BEGINNINGS OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE
Little is known about the early days of the Roman Empire, but I think the history of how the Romans became the unbeatable force they were known for by the time of the 2nd Century helps us to understand the perspective I’m going to present in this blog.
Nine miles north of Rome in the year 483 B.C.E. was a city of similar stature and just as, if not more successful, as Rome herself. This was the city of Veii which was inhabited by the Etruscan’s. Rome and Veii began warring against each other annually in order to seize each others lands and grow in power and stature.
In 406 B.C.E. Rome began a ten year siege against the city of Veii and in 396 B.C.E. whilst being besieged Romans tunneled underneath the city walls and overtook it. After defeating the Etruscan’s at Veii Rome immediately doubled in size, stature, and resources.
As time went on Rome spread its wings over the west encompassing current day Italy, France, Spain, Great Britain, Poland, Romania, Greece, reaching down into Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Israel, and northern parts of Africa.
As Rome expanded its territories its riches grew as well. Many of the nations it conquered were ports or areas of heavy trade, or these areas were rich in resources, and also expanded the collection of taxes.
During the expansion the military leader Gaius Julius Caesar became a well known public figure and rose to power before his assassination in 44 B.C.E. Though never officially gaining the title of Emperor, his successor Gaius Octavius Thurinus, later known as Caesar Augustus, became the first emperor of Rome.
ROME AND THE MIDDLE EAST
As a Christian, a great example of Roman occupation is that of the land of Israel, also known as Judea or Palestine. (I will use them interchangeably)
The history of Israel is a complex power struggle. The land was given to them after the Exodus, but suffered hundreds of years of invasion and struggle from surrounding nations. Then they install a system of monarchy.
After this the country fell into civil war around 930 B.C.E. and split into the North Kingdom of Israel with it’s capital being Samaria, and the Southern Kingdom with it’s capital being Jerusalem.
In 721 B.C.E. the Assyrian Empire had captured the Northern Kingdom of Israel and took captive its inhabitants sweeping them away into Assyria. Then in 597 B.C.E. Babylon swept through the Southern Kingdom of Judah, destroying the city and the temple and carrying off the rest of the Jewish people into exile.
The people of Judah, under the authority of Persian King Cyrus, were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city in 538 B.C.E. 50,000 Jews returned to the promised land under Persian rule.
Between 334-331 B.C.E. Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and takes over control of Persian territories, and began the Hellenization of the middle east. Until Alexander’s death in 323 B.C.E. and the Greek empire was split into four segments Ptolemy ruled Egypt and Palestine (Israel).
During the time period after Alexander’s death the Greeks set up a system of cities where Greek settlers and soldiers could live. These cities included Abila, Dion, Gerasa, Gadara, Hippos, Pella, Philadelphia, Raphana, and Scythopolis.
The Ptolemies lost control of Palestine (Israel) to the Seleucids who controlled the regions of Syria and Babylonia.
At this time the entire Middle East is under the control of the Greek Seleucids who wanted to Hellenize the known world. In Jerusalem the Jews were able to govern themselves under the authority of the High Priest of the Temple, however the Seleucid paid off the high priest at the time, Antiochus Epiphanes, and placed their own Hellenistic high priest named Jason.
The office of high priest becomes a pay to play position, and changes hands to the highest bidder, but soon the Temple in Jerusalem becomes a temple to Zeus and in 167 B.C.E. a pig is slaughtered on the altar and this begins to Maccabean revolt.
In 142 B.C.E. the Jewish people win full autonomy and control of Palestine and become relatively free within the Seleucid Kingdom.
Another Civil War erupted in Israel during the seventy years of independence (known as the Hasmonaean Dynasty) the Jewish people had gained. They governed themselves under a High Preisthood system, meaning the High Priest acted also as the governor of the region. This flew in the face of orthodoxy as the Torah states that the Kingship and the Priesthood were to remain separate.
Then in 65 B.C.E. two brothers, Hyrcanus II, who was supported by the Pharisees and Aristobolus II, who was supported by the Sadducees fought over the right to rule Israel and caused so much destruction that Rome was called in as a third party arbiter to settle the conflict.
During this time Pompey was riding through the Middle East conquering territories, including Syria. After conquering Syria the city of Damascus was added to the Greek system of cities for their settlers and the system became known as the Decapolis.
In 64 B.C.E. Pompey rode into Jerusalem and placed Judea under the control of Rome. In 37 B.C.E. Herod the Great was appointed as the King of Judea by Rome.
Rome would allow a province to self-govern, keeping their customs, religions, currency, and way of life, however the province would have to be subordinate to Rome . They weren’t to make war with any other nations without permission from Rome, they weren’t allowed to hold alliances without the direct permission from Rome, and they were to pay taxes and tributes to the Empire of Rome. Most areas were slowly assimilated and the peoples given Roman citizenship.
Roman soldiers were stationed in every city of the Roman Empire, including Israel and the rest of the Middle East in order to maintain the Pax Romana (Roman Peace). If an insurrection or riot popped up Roman soldiers would squash it immediately.
The Roman soldiers did not respect the Jewish people nor their customs and religion. During the Hellenization period, gymnasiums, bath houses, and Greek temples were built all across the Middle East and even in Judea. These structures were places where Greek and later Roman customs flourished. In the gymnasiums Greek and Roman men would play sports naked, and bath houses were places where they would bath together. These customs flew in the face of the Semitic people all over the region.
At the death of Herod the Great, Judea came under the direct control of Rome administration even though Herod passed his throne to his descendants. During Roman occupation and relative peace Herod began to refurbish the walls of Jerusalem and the Temple. In 66 A.D. after nearly 100 years of living under the rule of Rome Titus sieged the city and in 70 A.D. the second temple was destroyed, the nation of Israel was utterly annihilated.
In reading all of this history a question always rises in my head. Why Israel? Why the Middle East?
WHY THE MIDDLE EAST?
If one paid attention in any Western Civilization class it always starts with the Fertile Crescent also known as the Cradle of Civilization. This area has three rivers, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Nile all feeding the land life and stability. This is the place known for the beginnings of agriculture, technology, science, mathematics, astronomy, the wheel, and most important to ancient culture, trade.
This region was home to so much trade, not just by water ways, but also land. Not only trade but this area is steeped in history and tradition and is a frequent place to travel for pilgrimages and festivals. Millions of people would descend on these areas in the ancient world, and more people means more money, and more money means more taxes.
What about now? What resource, outside of history and tradition, does the Middle East hold for the rest of the world?
According visualcapitalist.com, 41.3% of global crude oil is exported from the Middle East.
While this map is fresh in your mind let me show another map.
This begs the question. Why is America in the Middle East?
THE HISTORY OF THE U.S. IN THE MIDDLE EAST
During World War II American troops were station in Iran in order to transfer military supplies to Russia and also to protect Iranian oil. Upon withdrawing in 1947 the U.N. granted a partition plan of Palestine giving 57% of Palestine to Israel. Eleven minutes after this land was given to Israel, Truman recognized the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
In 1953 Eisenhower order the CIA to stage a coup against the Iranian leader Mohammad Mossadegh, who was opposed to British and American influence in Iran.
In 1958 Civil War broke out in Lebanon against its Christian leader, and Eisenhower ordered a landing on the city of Beirut. In his memoirs Eisenhower wrote, “we feared the worst…the complete elimination of Western influence in the Middle East.”
Throughout the 1980’s the Reagan administration provided support not only to Israel’s expansion in Palestine, but also provided intelligence information and arms to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War, believing that Saddam was going to destabilize Iran and end the Islamic Revolution.
During the Presidency of George H.W. Bush he expanded our military presence in the Middle East to contain Saddam Hussein.
After the terrorist attack on the U.S. on 9/11 George W. Bush continued building forces in the Middle East in order to spread democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan while at the same time supporting undemocratic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and other North African nations.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism from January 2002 to January 2019 there have been a minimum of 14,040 confirmed airstrikes.
The number of strikes seems to rise with successive presidents following W. Bush.
This seems to be the tactic of America. Eisenhower revealed it in his memoirs. We have to maintain a Western influence on the Middle East. Our worst fear is losing it. That’s why, just like Alexander the Great spread his forces through the Middle East to Hellenize the world, W. Bush spread out our forces into the Middle East to Democratize it.
Bush dropped his bombs to maintain order, so did Obama after him, Trump after him, and now Biden.
My question comes to this, what business do we have in the Middle East? What would we do if another country had military bases around our country and patrolled our streets?
Think about the American Revolution for a moment. British soldiers patrolling the docks of the American colonies and those who live in these colonies rebel against them, killing British soldiers because they no longer want to be under their thumb. They attack them, blow them up, destroy buildings that house them. Yet we celebrate our own independence while maintaining that the Middle East can’t have theirs. We have to patrol them, and we have to monitor, and we have to maintain that the world can use up their resources.
We have to keep the Pax Americana around the known world.