Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Unravelling a Middle Eastern Riddle

When many people assess the current political state of the Middle East, many people can't help but wonder how it is that a stable, legitimate democracy can't seem to take root in the Middle East -- at least without substantial intervention by Western powers.

The west's closest Arab allies in the Middle East -- Saudi Arabia and Kuwait -- in no way resemble a western liberal democracy. Even Israel's democratic institutions are constantly bound within the constraints of vigilance.

Syriana offers one opinion on the matter: in the Middle East, the real enemy is the Machiavellian machinations of the West itself.

Bob Barnes (George Clooney) is a CIA agent assigned to curtail arms dealing in the Middle East. While executing the assassination of two Iranian arms dealers, Barnes unwittingly uncovers a plot to assassinate Prince Nasir Al-Subaai (Alexander Siddig), the elder prince and Emir-in-waiting of a vaguely unidentified Middle Eastern oil-producing state.

In a well-intentioned act of political defiance, Nasir has recently accepted a Chinese bid (the highest bid) for natural gas drilling. This, along with a significant degree of paranoia, leads Barnes' CIA superiors to brand Nasir as a "bad guy" and a potential terrorist.

Nasir is described as having his money "in a lot of dark corners", allegedly complicit in some rather nefarious deeds.

The truth -- which may or may not actually be known to the CIA -- is actually rather different.

Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon) is an economist who, through the misfortune of his son being electrocuted to death at the Emir's vacation compound in Spain, has been hired as Nasir's personal economic advisor.

From within Nasir's inner circle, Woodman recognizes precisely what Nasir is attempting to do -- maximize his country's oil profit margins so that he can modernize his country by improving its infrastructure and modernizing its political structure.

Syriana seems to imply that the Western World invents many so-called terrorist leaders through its political interventions in places such as the Middle East, making western interests so central to the affairs of many oil-producing states that anyone who attempts to deviate from serving those interests -- even when doing so may be in the best interests of their country -- is effectively pushed out to the political margins of their country, out into the "dark corners" where terrorists, revolutionaries and Islamic reactionaries so often dwell.

In Syriana, the individual being banished to these margins -- eventually through the machinations of Dean Whiting (Christopher Plummer), an oil industry executive attempting to ram a controversial merger through regulatory agencies, Nasir is supplanted as next Emir by Prince Meshal Al-Subaai (Akbar Kurtha) -- is precisely the kind of individual whom the Western World should want to become the country's next Emir: a democrat.

Woodman describes Nasir as the country's Ataturk. Like Ataturk, Nasir suffers the ignominious fate of an assassination at least partially because of this.

As the fallout of Iran's controversial presidential election continues, it probably isn't at all unfair to wonder how many potential Iranian reformers have been derailed by the clandestine acts of western agencies -- both governmental and business -- in Iran.

It probably isn't at all unfair to wonder how many potential reformers have been derailed by such acts throughout the Middle East.

Although a great many individuals would certainly prefer not to ask these questions, such questions simply must be asked -- especially at a time when Iran seems to continue teetering on the precipice of a revolution.

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