US Relations with Arab World

In the important survey of the West's relations with Islam which appeared in the New York Review of Books, I was struck by the attempts of Morocco to reach an agreement with Great Britain against the common enemy; Spain.  It should be remembered that, until Simon Bolivar and the wars of liberation, the Spanish Empire was still a formidable entity. and that explains why Morocco was the first country to sign a treaty of friendship with the young US. Now US policy is still to view Morocco as a valued Arab friend.  Libya is a different story. The US Marines distinguished themselves from the halls of Moctezuma to the shores of Tripoli, but I knew nothing about the attack on Tripoli, and I find no references to it in the books I have consulted. I was therefore surprised to turn on  the History Channel this morning, and there was a documentary devoted to the Marines' assault on Tripoli.  It explained the background of the affair, with appropriate maps, but this explanation was overwhelmed by battle scenes showing the final victory of the Marines. These films take about a year to make, so this one must have been made in 2003

The History Channel should be called the American Military History Channel.  It works closely with the Pentagon, which helps it in various ways.  The History Channel runs  recruiting ads, and the films themselves show US troops in action against dastardly foes, chiefly the Nazis.  Why then was there suddenly this program on Tripoli?  Clearly the Pentagon had a contingency plan to attack Libya as it did Iraq,  This film was part of the buildup for  an attack; Qadhafi saw clearly the sword hanging over his head and became amenable to the Marines' stick and the carrot of economic help.

The death of Arafat brings up another phase of US-Arab relations.  The funeral ceremonies in Ramallah showed that he is gaining icon status like Che Guevara.  The great winner in Arafat's death is France. He was treated in a French military hospital, where President Chirac greeted him like a chief of state.  His body was given full French military honors.  France can now pose as the great friend of the Arab world.   Whereas European countries sent their foreign secretaries to the ceremony in Cairo, the US sent only an assistant secretary, which looked like a snub,  The remark of  President Bush, who had refused to meet with him,  "May God have mercy on his soul" was viewed as callous. At the news of Arafat's death, Sharon smirked and Israelis danced in th streets.  That will hardly improve Israeli-Arab relations.  Nor have US relations with the Arabs improved.

Regarding the History Channel program on the Marines' assault on Tripoli, Marine General Michael Sullivan writes:  I think the program on Tripoli was run as a tribute to the Marine Corps because its birthday is on 10 November.  Most news media mention this annual event and congratulate the Marines on their birthday.  The Marines make a big deal out of their birthday, and there is a proclamation from the Commandant, Major General John A Lejeune, back in the 1921, which states that when ever there are two or more Marines present they will celebrate the Marine Corps birthday and founding of the Corps in Tuns Tavern, Philadelphia, Pa, 10 November 1775.  This year it was particularly prominent and newsworthy because the Marines are leading the battle charge into Falluja, which is currently the main news item out of Iraq. 

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: November 24, 2004