There is a long history of Western powers believing that they could manipulate or work with radical Arabic-speaking states or movements to redo the regional order. All have ended badly.
– During the 1880s and 1890s, Germany became convinced that it could turn the forces of jihad against British, French, and Russian rivals. The kaiser presented himself as the Muslim world’s friend, and German propaganda even hinted that their ruler had converted to Islam.
– In World War One, the Germans launched a jihad, complete with the Ottoman caliph’s proclamation. Wiser heads warned that the Ottoman ruler didn’t have real authority to do so, or that the raising of the jihad spirit could cause massacres of Christians in the empire. They were ignored.
As a result, few responded to this jihad; Armenians were massacred, at times with at least the passive complicity of the German government.
– Nevertheless, Adolf Hitler, whose close comrades included many veterans of the earlier jihad strategy, tried the same approach in World War Two. This time, the Jews in the Middle East were to be the massacred scapegoats. Yet despite close collaboration by the leader of the Palestine Arabs Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others, the defeat of the German armies along with other factors (incompetence, unkept Arab promises, and German priorities) prevented this alliance from succeeding.
By the way: the Nazi collaborators were the same Muslim Brotherhood to which the United States is allied today. There are huge amounts of archival evidence, including documents showing not only Nazi payments to the Brotherhood but also that the Nazis provided them with arms for a rebellion to kill Christians and Jews in Egypt.
There is no evidence that the Brotherhood has changed its positions. The story above is told in a new book I wrote with the brilliant scholar Wolfgang G. Schwanitz — Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East – which will be published by Yale University Press in January 2014. It will be an explosive rethinking of Middle Eastern history which could not be more timely.
Incidentally, might one think that the Western mass media should mention that the chief U.S. ally in the Arab world — one of whose branches is now receiving American weapons — were Nazi collaborators who have never abandoned their anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Jewish views? How much has the Brotherhood visibly reconsidered its ideology since the man who is still its leader, Muhammad al-Badi, explained in October 2010 that the Egyptian regime would be overthrown and then the Brotherhood would wage jihad on a weak and retreating America?
– In 1939 the British offered to sell out the Balfour Declaration and the promise of a Jewish homeland in order to gain Arab support in the coming war. The Islamist-radical nationalist faction rejected these offers, though moderate Arabs wanted to accept them. After World War Two, the British decided to try to secure their interests in the region. Most students are probably being taught today that this was through Israel’s creation. In fact, of course, the British were opposed to this outcome. They believed, understandably, that it would be better to court the Arabs. The result was the creation of the Arab League, a body that the British thought they could control. Of course, the Arab League would become a vehicle for anti-Western radicalism.
– During the early 1950s, the United States thought that it could do something both good and in its interests. It would support the takeover by moderate elements who would modernize their countries. No more would America be held responsible for corrupt dictators but would receive gratitude from liberated people living in prosperity.
The first case was encouragement for the Egyptian coup of 1952, the one which brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power ultimately.
The result of the British and American efforts to harness radical Arab nationalism — which led to decades of violence and war in the region — is told by me in The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, which you can read online or download for free. A variation of this U.S. strategy took place in Iran, which you can read online or download for free in my Paved with Good Intentions: The American Experience and Iran.
– Next, the Soviets tried and poured in a lot of money and weapons, believing that perhaps the radicalism of its allies would mean a long-term, beneficial partnership. That effort failed, too. Remember: it was not so long ago that Egypt, Syria, and Iraq were Soviet allies. Now all that Russian investment is gone.
One of the forces the Soviets backed to gain influence was the PLO. While well-intentioned people initiated the “peace process” of the 1990s, arguing that power would moderate radicals and stabilize the region, that didn’t work out really well, either.