(COMMON DREAMS) Peter Frankopan — Scholars working on the contemporary Middle East are living through something of a golden age where evidence is uniquely plentiful for three reasons.
First, the disastrous failures of US policy in Afghanistan and Iraq have led to an unprecedented programme of declassification of documents (some with significant redactions) as part of the cathartic process of trying to understand how so many mistakes were made before and after 9/11.
Second, the cache of cables dumped by WikiLeaks, coupled with further revelations from material leaked by Edward Snowden, has provided an exceptional level of insight into the workings of the intelligence agencies over the past three decades, together with priceless new information about the decision-making processes and about operational activities.
And third, there has been a cache of materials found locally following the military interventions of the past 12 years – such as audio tapes recovered from the presidential palace in Baghdad in 2003 that recorded thousands of hours of meetings, discussions and even phone calls made by Saddam Hussein and his inner circle, or boxes of cassettes that belonged to Osama bin Laden that were retrieved from a compound in Kandahar two year earlier.
This treasure trove allows us to understand the failures, incompetence and poor planning that accompanied the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq in astonishing detail, but also to frame these within the context of a wider region – and a wider period. These two countries form part of a belt that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas, linking East and West, and that for millennia has served as the world’s central nervous system. Trade, commodities, people, even disease, spread through the webs of networks that connect these locations to each other and ultimately connect the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North Africa to the Pacific coast of China and South-east Asia.