One night when I was in my teens, I found myself at a production of Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. I had never heard of the playwright or the play, nor had I seen a play performed in the round. The actors were dramatically entering and exiting in the aisles when, suddenly, a man stood up in the audience, proclaimed himself a seventh character in search of an author, and demanded the same attention as the other six. At the time, I assumed the unruly “seventh character” was just part of the play, even after he was summarily ejected from the theater.
Now, bear with me a moment here. Back in 2002-2003, officials in the Bush administration, their neocon supporters, and allied media pundits, basking in all their Global War on Terror glory, were eager to talk about the region extending from North Africa through the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan right up to the Chinese border as an “arc of instability.” That arc coincided with the energy heartlands of the planet and what was needed to “stabilize” it, to keep those energy supplies flowing freely (and in the right directions), was clear enough to them. The “last superpower,” the greatest military force in history, would simply have to put its foot down and so bring to heel the “rogue” powers of the region. The geopolitical nerve would have to be mustered to stamp a massive “footprint”–to use a Pentagon term of the time–in the middle of that vast, valuable region. Also needed was the nerve not just to lob a few cruise missiles in the direction of Baghdad, but to offer such an imposing demonstration of American shock-and-awe power that those “rogues”–Iraq, Syria, Iran (Hezbollah, Hamas)–would be cowed into submission, along with uppity U.S. allies like oil-rich Saudi Arabia.
It would, in fact, be necessary–in another of those bluntly descriptive words of the era–to “decapitate” resistant regimes. This would be the first order of business for the planet’s lone “hyperpower,” now that it had been psychologically mobilized by the attacks of September 11, 2001. After all, what other power on Earth was capable of keeping the uncivilized parts of the planet from descending into failed-state, all-against-all warfare and dragging us (and our energy supplies) down with them?
Mind you, on September 11, 2001, as those towers went down, that arc of instability wasn’t exactly a paragon of… well, instability. Yes, on one end was Somalia, a failed state, and on the other, impoverished, rubble-strewn Afghanistan, largely Taliban-ruled (and al-Qaeda encamped); while in-between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was a severely weakened nation with a suffering populace, but the “arc” was wracked by no great wars, no huge surges of refugees, no striking levels of destruction. Not particularly pleasant autocracies, some of a fundamentalist religious nature, were the rule of the day. Oil flowed (at about $23 a barrel); the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simmered uncomfortably; and, all in all, it wasn’t a pretty picture, nor a particularly democratic one, nor one in which, if you were an inhabitant of most of these lands, you could expect a fair share of justice or a stunningly good life.