Don't Panic 

Please explain the history of Western military activity in the Middle East?

When we started this War On Terror way back in '01, we (meaning the White House) went to great pains to point out that it wasn't a war against the people of the Middle East or Islam, but rather a war against evil. Our leaders felt it necessary to make that distinction because, for a few thousand years now, the Western world has, now and then, seen fit to conquer large swaths of the Middle East (and vice versa, I'd like to add).

So just in case you find yourself stuck at a cocktail party with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (don't laugh, it could happen), here's a brief history of Western military action in the Middle East so that you have something to talk about. Oh, and tell him he still owes me $20.

Fourth century B.C. (Before Columnists) -- As if being the son of Philip II of Macedon wasn't gonna be hard enough, Phil and his wife Olympias named their boy Alexander The Great. Talk about pressure. Unhappy with the curriculum at Macedonian public schools, Phil hired Aristotle to home-school him. The education seemingly paid off, for soon after ascending the throne 336 B.C., Alexander unified the Greeks and started kicking some Persian ass. By 324 B.C., Alexander and his homies had vanquished the Persians and managed to roll all the way out to modern-day Afghanistan. Although he pretty much conquered the world, he couldn't conquer a simple fever. He died of one in 323 B.C.

Third and second centuries B.C. -- Rome defeated Carthage in the three Punic Wars. Carthage's superior cavalry forces were neutralized because their soldiers were unable to stop giggling every time someone said the word Punic. With the Mediterranean and North Africa under their control, the Romans headed East, conquered the Middle East, and set the stage for that whole Jesus thing.

1095 A.D -- While vacationing in the South of France, Pope Urban II calls on all Christians to stop what they're doing, grab something sharp, and head East to secure Western access to the Holy Land, which at the time was held by Muslims. Lured by the promise of heaven, sunshine and good old-fashioned slaughter, many Christians obliged the Pope. In 1099, Christians took Jerusalem and for a couple of days did nothing but slaughter Muslims and Jews (hence the big stink last year when President Bush referred to our War on TerrorTM as a crusade; doh!).

1956 -- France said to Britain and Israel, "I hate Egypt because it's agitating against our colonial rule in Algeria." Britain said to France and Israel, "I hate Egypt because they've just nationalized the Suez Canal." Israel said to France and Britain, "We could sit around for a long time talking about why we hate Egypt. Let's just invade them."

And so they did. British, French and Israeli forces captured the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula, clearly a violation of international law. Believe it or not, it was President Eisenhower who told them all to put the camel in reverse and back the hell out of Egypt. Way to go, Ike!

1990 -- Our former ally Saddam Hussein invades Kuwait and threatens Saudi Arabia. Anticipating the boom in SUV sales during the 1990s, President Bush the Elder knew he had to act to save our, I mean their, oil. Using the authority granted to him by U.N. Resolution 10W-30, Bush I assembled an international coalition and pushed Saddam out. We won the war, but at the end, let the bad guy go -- always a sign that they're planning a sequel.


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