My notes from the book by NBC reporter Richard Engel
“And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East”
Simon & Shuster
Copyright 2016 by Engel Productions Inc.
Borders of modern Middle East were drawn by Europeans after World War I.
Lines that separate Jordan, Syria, and Iraq were decided by France and England.
The first thousand years after the birth of Islam, the Middle East was divided by the Christian West and Muslim East. Religious hostilities divided for centuries with the West mostly caring only about the Holy Land and where Jesus lived and not much about the surrounding areas.
Early Christians regarded Mohammed as a false prophet and some medieval Christians considered him some sort of pope or fallen angel.
Early Muslims thought little of Christians as too stubborn or stupid to understand the Allah of Mohammed and the Koran.
The Ottoman Empire sealed its decline when it chose the losing side in World War I, the Germans.
England and France did all the carving and map-making after the war ended.
Lebanon was special to France because of all the pilgrims and travelers who went to the Holy Land through the Lebanese cities of Tyre and Sidon. Syria also went to France.
England took Jordan and Egypt. Saudi Arabia was taken with British arms by Sunni Muslim Wahhabi fanatics who aligned with warrior chief Ibn Saud.
Iraq was a jigsaw puzzle forced to combine in three incompatible sections of Kurds in the north, Sunni Arabs in the center, and Shiites in the south. The British were busy suppressing revolts from the start in their messed-up map that was Iraq.
The Gulf States of Kuwait, Bahrain, Quatar and the United Arab Emirates were seen as important only as convenient ports for the British to get to India. These little kingdoms were left to local emirates who would become the wealthiest men in the world when oil was discovered.
The biggest problem for England was Palestine, an area promised to the Jews without telling the Palestinians that their farms and homes were part of the deal.
France and England had no money and no desire to continue battling in the Middle East after World War II and the new world power, the United States, became the new godfather.
The Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957 promised the Middle East money and military help in times of crisis.
Jimmy Carter specifically vowed to protect the Persian Gulf.
All of this became part of the U.S. battle for power against Russia in the Cold War, including the fight for oil and protection of Israel.
Arab states lost 1948 and 1967 battles against Israel. Only the worst despots survived and they were corrupt and brutal against their own people.
Islam has never accepted a division between church and state. Islam is perfect so why wouldn’t government follow this model is the teaching of fundamentalists.
Obama encouraged rebels and did not support Mubarek in Egypt; he used force to help rebels in Libya; and then he did nothing to support the rebels in Syria.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s logo in Egypt was two crossed swords with a Koran floating between the blades.
The Wahhabi movement began in Saudi Arabia as a reaction to the Ottoman Empire. For one thing, the Ottomans were diverse and not Arab. Ottomans also weren’t strict about Islam, drinking, smoking, even writing music and loving art.
Ottomans traveled to Mecca and Medina, often in great displays of wealth, which annoyed the Wahhabis.
The Wahhabis embraced Mohammed’s simple, nomadic life and especially that he was an Arab who spoke Arabic.
In the first years of the 1800s, the Wahhabis led uprisings against the Ottoman Empire, attacking Shiites, destroying their shrines, and eradicated antiquities.
The Wahhabis rose to power in the 1900s under Ibn Saud (son of Saud), the modern founder of Saudi Arabia. The Wahhabis took control of Medina and Mecca, dominating the physical center of the faith.
Then in the 20th century, Saudi Arabia struck it rich with oil, proof of Allah and Mohammed’s blessings.
The Wahhabis don’t like to be called by that name. They consider themselves Muslims, pure practicers of Islam.
Muslims insist that Christians, Jews and they all worship the same God. In essence, Muslims are saying Jews had an old version, updated by Jesus and the Christians who threw off their old ways, and perfected by Mohammad and the Koran as the full and complete religion of Allah.
Under the Arab caliphate and Ottoman Empire, Jews and Christians were tolerated as second-class citizens who had to pay higher taxes and tributes and were forbidden from high-level jobs.
Muslims in medieval Europe were treated far worse, as heathens and infidels, enemies and deniers of Christ.
In just three months after 9/11, at a cost of $1 billion and one American life, U.S. airstrikes, 110 CIA operatives, and 300 special op forces had scored a decisive victory in Afghanistan. The Taliban was toppled and al-Qaeda, which only had several hundred fighters, had retreated.
Bin-Laden most likely would have been captured immediately after the battle in Tora Bora in December 2001, but the Defense Department rejected the request for 800 additional soldiers to chase the retreating al-Qaeda.
Catching bin-Laden would have most likely ended the war and the retaliation for 9/11.
Military leaders wanted action, pressured for the Iraq invasion, and generals became well-known and moved into well-paying defense contractor jobs, became high-paid consultants are more, Engel wrote.
Two million American troops were rotated through the war zones, seven thousand were killed, 52,000 wounded, 1 million veterans filed disability claims, 200,000 Muslims were killed, and American taxpayers paid a few trillion dollars.
In the early years, journalists covering the Middle East were needed, even if considered a necessary evil, to get the message out to the world of rebels or others.
By 2006, social media and the internet allowed rebels and terrorists to share their unfiltered videos, beheadings and propaganda without any need for pesky reporters.
The hazards, kidnappings and death toll for reporters skyrocketed.
Journalists were worthless as megaphones, but valuable when stolen, bought, sold or transferred for political prisoners, Engel wrote.
In a way, this page is my third book, a virtual and public account of the next chapter of my life. My story is not over.