Monday, 14 September 2015

The Colonel: "Kill the Bastards!"

Col. Matthew Bogdanos
Marine colonel and antiquities expert Matthew Bogdanos says the West must do more to prevent ISIL from profiting from Middle Eastern treasures (Daniel Wiser, 'The Link Between the Islamic State and the Western Art Trade' Washington Free Beacon September 14, 2015). He has that typical American 'blame the idle furriner' approach:
"officials can still do a much better job of preventing the antiquities trade at the front end, Bogdanos says. He has proposed that Western nations, which sponsor many of the excavations at ancient sites abroad, help train domestic security forces to guard the artifacts. French troops, for example, could help prepare about 500 Iraqi security guards to protect the Lagash archaeological site—initially excavated by the French—in about six months. The problem is a lack of political will, Bogdanos says. Foreign leaders raise concerns about the necessity of a status of forces agreement, the cost of the enterprise, and the danger to their own troops. [....] “If you were to take account of everything that could go wrong, you would never act.” 
500 foreign trained local guards for Lagash? Lagash is not in ISIL hands. So if he thinks a mini-army of 500 permanently-engaged guards is enough to keep armed looters out of a single site, how many would he suggest we employ for each of the 4500 sites in the region?  After all, 2,300,000 armed men would be a pretty hefty chunk of men taken away from Iraq's defence force. Anyway, why "the French"? Do US institutions not have any sites in Iraq or Syria (or Egypt and Libya)? And  we all know how well the US guards petroglyph sites and archaeological sites out in the Utah desert. Poland has sites investigated out in Syria and Iraq, I've just finished editing a report on one of them. Since the excavations have been suspended due to the political situation, there is no budget for even paying me for this work, and I come a good deal cheaper than a squad even of five men, their weapons, upkeep and insurance.  Public funds are limited here in Poland and when it come from dealing with the fallout of America's clandestine war with Assad,  Poland's resources would be better spent on the thousands of refugees we are taking in, their upkeep, housing and social benefits until they can find their own feet. I'd vote against arming men in a foreign land to fight to the death to "save" a few "artefacts" from international buyers with more money than scruples - especially when a less bloodthirsty way of dealing with the problem is shutting off the market for illicit (and 'blood') antiquities. Col. Bogdanos however apparently thinks we should all 'live by the sword'.

Like the dealers, Bogdanos blames the foreign customs men and "guards at the border checkpoints for Middle Eastern countries" who do not check antiquities passing across them by accessing "an online Interpol database that informs them if antiquities have recently been stolen". Well, he does not give the link, but if you check here, maybe Col. Bogdanos would like to tell us how he sees this working in a sandstorm-blasted hut on a fenceline with hundreds of people waiting outside to get through. Click-down menus in English dividing artefacts into categories and by region are not really very user-friendly, which is probably why the "resource" is of no use to man or beast on the frontier.

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