The term cul-de-sac or “dead end” is French and Catalan in
origin, but was first used by English aristocrats after the Norman
Conquest when French was commonly spoken by the elites
in England. The French themselves prefer the term huit clos
or “no exit.” The phenomenon itself, that is, a street or road
which has no way forward, originated in Egypt about 1885 B.C.,
and is believed to have been defensive in its intention as a way
to frustrate an advancing enemy. (Modern architects and planners
now employ culs-de-sac as a design technique to control and limit
traffic, especially in residential neighborhoods.)
Whatever the modern adaption of a cul-de-sac, I suggest that
we are observing a reversion to its original intent in Middle
East politics and diplomacy, especially in the foreign policy of
the United States and Europe in their relations with the Islamic
nations of the Middle East. In this sense of the term, I also
suggest, the principal nations of this region which are hostile to
the Western nations, while at a military and economic
disadvantage to their “enemies,” are successfully frustrating
international diplomacy, especially the diplomacy of the United
This was not as clear just after September 11, 2001 when Western
allies, led by the U.S., embarked on retaliation of the attacks on
the U.S. in Afghanistan, and expanded this campaign to Iraq.
Today, as events in Syria, Egypt and Libya continue to unfold
with a mixture of widespread protests and uprisings from the
“Arab street” against totalitarian governments there, it is
becoming more and more obvious that the interests of the U.S.
and its allies, including Europe, face culs-de-sac everywhere as
they attempt to intervene in the Middle East in both their own
interests and any “humanitarian” concerns. The key reality is
that all local sides in the current Middle East turmoil seem hostile
to the U.S., Israel and the Judeo-Christian West.
It is perhaps ironic that where the cul-de-sac originated, ancient
Egypt, sees the revival of its original purpose in contemporary
Egypt. The contemporary West seeks diplomatic “traffic control”
through its intervention, but Islamic nationalists seek to keep
the West out.
The diplomatic strategy of the U.S. is not working. Its temporary
“victory” in Iraq threatens to be soon undone, and its last outposts
of cooperation, in Jordan and Egypt, seem to be rapidly dissolving.
Four thousand years later, the cul-de-sac is operational no matter
what term is used.
Copyright (c) 2013 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.