9/11 Review: BEST OF ENEMIES

As we mark another anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11, there is a new book out that helps to provide perspective on relations between the U.S. and the Middle East. It is a graphic novel that goes a long way in helping to explain how the pieces fit in the puzzle of geopolitics.

“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli…” The words to the United States Marine Corps hymn may sound obscure until you dig deeper. For our purposes, let’s consider the shores of Tripoli. This refers to the United States at war with the Barbary pirates. This is also the point of departure to an engaging and informative book on the relationship between America and the Middle East, the graphic novel, “Best of Enemies: A History of U.S. and Middle East Relations.” Take a look at the curious cover: FDR and the king of Saudi Arabia, Abdul-Aziz Ibn Saud, perched amid a tangle of oil pipeline. The ironic and determined tone is set and maintained throughout by two masters: historian Jean-Pierre Filiu and cartoonist David B. Many readers will be surprised, even shocked, by what they find here.

But before our history lesson on the pirates, we are treated to the mystical tale of Gilgamesh and his war with the gods. This dovetails into a big leap forward of 4,600 years with a quote from Donald Rumsfeld, circa 2003, straight out of a fairy tale but sadly part of the war in Iraq: “During a war, the kind of ‘evidence’ people are looking for usually doesn’t exist.”

With that in mind, we proceed to the first fumbling steps into another eerily similar war. A newly formed United States of America must confront the terrorists of its day. This would lead to America’s first military encounter on Muslim soil. It would take the new country on a wild ride, from paying tribute to full-on military engagement. The die had been cast. Way before there were any neo-cons, the idea was already alive that the power that ruled in the Middle East, would rule the world. It was in 1902 that American officer Alfred Mahan, a theorist of the projection of power, coined the term, “Middle East” and fostered the mindset that would come back to haunt us all.

It would not be until World War II that the ties that bind would become so apparent: oil. It would be a match made in heaven, so to speak, when the leader of the free world, President Franklin Roosevelt, no stranger to riches and splendor, was able to win over the Saudi family and its oil drenched country. Unfortunately, the thirst for oil is insatiable and not even the Saudis could satisfy it alone.

One of the big hits at the San Diego Comic-Con this year was an interactive digital graphic novel based on Operation Ajax, the covert operations conducted by the U.S. and the U.K. to topple the leader of Iran in 1953, all for the sake of oil. While this is not top secret news today, it can still shock. In this book, the coup of Mohammed Mossadegh, the legitimate leader of Iran, simply to secure oil rights, is handled thoroughly as part of a bigger picture. The machinations of intalling a most unlikely leader, the Shah of Iran, are fascinating. Here is someone Peter Sellars would have had a field day with portraying all his cowardice and ineptitude. But even stranger is the fact that FDR’s cousin, Kermit Roosevelt, is Ajax’s Operations Chief, and proves to be a most diabolical villain. Peter Sellars could have handled him quite nicely too.

The approach of the book is refreshing in how the U.S. is placed among all the other players of geopolitics. There is no shining beacon on a hill, per se, and that goes for everyone. There aren’t any real heroes here, except for Gilgamesh and Mossadegh. David B.’s drawings flow with the narrative, literally bending and twisting as needed. This style owes something to 18th and 19th century cartoonists, with their ornate and fluid line and word balloons that floated along like clouds of custard. David B. takes that style and makes it his own giving characters bendy knees, necks and torsos along with all manner of uninhibited ways to fill the panels. It’s a wonderful mix of political cartoonist sensibilities and fine artist sensibilities.

“Best of Enemies” is a two-volume work so we have even more sensitive material up ahead. What we seem to always forget is that misguided policies have very real consequences. Countries can misguide themselves and they can then misguide the public. One bit of misinformation breeds another and so on. We hopefully still have a chance if we’re armed with the facts.

“Best of Enemies” is part of Abrams ComicArts, a Self Made Hero imprint. This 120-page hardcover  is 24.95 U.S. Visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under 9/11, Abrams ComicArts, Book Reviews, Books, David B., graphic novels, History

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