Give War a Chance: Turkish Leader Finesses Political Defeat

Turks are hungry for fairy tales. Any feel-good news propaganda—including Erdoğan’s “The West, including the Germans, are jealous of us!” tirade—finds millions of receptive listeners in Turkey’s postmodern marketplace of absurdity.

The article “Give War a Chance: Arab Leaders Finesse Military Defeat,” by Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, and published in the Summer 2021 edition of Middle East Quarterly, is a fascinating historical account of the way disaster on Middle Eastern battlefields can be politically useful—not just against Israel or the US, but also in intra-Arab conflicts and in clashes with Iranians, Africans, and Europeans.

Pipes notes that when Saddam Hussein’s spokesman Tariq Aziz met with US Secretary of State James Baker on the eve of the First Gulf War in January 1991, Aziz said something remarkable: “Never has [an Arab] political regime entered into a war with Israel or the United States and lost politically.”

Pipes also quotes Elie Salem, Lebanon’s FM during most of the 1980s and a noted professor of politics, as concurring: “The logic of victory and defeat does not fully apply in the Arab-Israeli context. In the wars with Israel, Arabs celebrated their defeats as if they were victories, and presidents and generals were better known for the cities and regions they had lost than for the ones they had liberated.”

Pipes writes that “in the sixty-five years since 1956, military losses have hardly ever scathed Arabic-speaking rulers and sometimes benefited them.” He offers an analysis that establishes this pattern through 21 examples—19 brief discussions and two longer analyses.

His “Examples 1956-2014” are the Suez Crisis (1956); Egypt’s war in Yemen (1962-67); the clash between Syria and Israel (April 1967); the Six-Day War (June 1967); the Battle of Karama (1968); the Yom Kippur War (1973);  Algeria’s war in Western Sahara (1975-91); Syria’s occupation of Lebanon (1976-2005); the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88); Israel vs. Syria (1982); Israel vs. the PLO in Beirut (1982); the PLO withdrawal from Tripoli (1983); the US bombing of Libya (1986); Chadian militias vs. Libya (1987); Iraq vs. Kuwait (1990); Hezbollah vs. Israel (2006); Hamas vs. Israel (2008-09); Hamas vs. Israel (2012); and Hamas vs. Israel (2014). Pipes’s Case Studies I and II are the Kuwait War (1991) and Hamas vs. Israel (2021).

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