And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East, by Richard Engel ISBN 9781451635119
Five out of five stars
Due to many factors, the Middle East has created a lot of history, generally more than it can consume. That has been true for almost two thousand years, since the rise of Islam. That process has accelerated in the last two decades and Richard Engel has been an eyewitness to many of the events.
His story begins in 1996 when he moved to Cairo, Egypt with $2000 and the dream of being a foreign journalist. He got a break when he heard of a terrorist attack on a tour group at a museum and that was his first exposure to the human carnage that is a way of life in that region. Engel also did one thing that few western journalists ever do, he took the time and made the effort to learn Arabic. He spent a great deal of time in the cafes in poorer sections of Cairo and he points out how open and friendly the people were.
Engel’s main model regarding the dictators that ran the Arab countries of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Iraq is that they were houses that looked ornate and stable from the outside. Yet, they were termite infested, so were very brittle and unstable. When the United States invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein, the tremors from that building falling were enough to shake and collapse the other countries in the list.
Another argument that Engel makes is that the American victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan was too easy. American air power in combination with local opposition forces and a few hundred American CIA and special forces operatives quickly took down the Afghan government. This led to jealousies and a desire by American military commanders to want an opportunity for military glory and advancement, making them eager to fight another war, this time in Iraq. The officials of the Bush administration also drank the self-delusional drink, believing that they were experts in disposing of governments that they did not like. Engel argues that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the trigger for all of the bloodshed and the rise of ISIS as a power in the region.
After assigning what would be the major blame to the Bush administration, Engel does not spare the Obama administration either. He was in Libya while the opposition forces were fighting to overthrow Gadhafi and saw how the country fell apart once he was deposed. Engel is also very critical about statements from the Obama administration regarding the behavior of Bashir Assad in Syria. The fate of Gadhafi sent a lesson to Assad regarding what would happen to him if he were ever captured by the opposition.
What is the most significant change that Engel describes is how the way he was treated as a journalist has evolved over time. At the beginning of his stint, he was able to travel freely and safely to interview the leaders of the violent organizations. They made their dislike of him as a western journalist very clear, yet they treated him with respect because they wanted their story heard in the west. Now, nearly all such attempts would be a suicide mission.
With his vast experience, Engel also comes up with a plausible and most likely solution to the current difficulties in the Middle East. He believes that in each country a new dictator will arise, one that will win via bloodshed and then rule with an iron hand. Engel believes that the people will welcome such an event, as long as that dictator ends the killing after their rise to power. It is not the democracy that the fools in the west thought they could install, but at least the wars will end. Engel also believes that there will be some border adjustments.
A combination of the reporting of the events as well as an explanation of why they are happening, Engel offers a unique perspective on what has happened in the Middle East. That perspective is based on the fact that his boots have been on the ground and his life was put at risk.
This book was made available for free for review purposes.