Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Middle East Maze

By Alan Caruba

Referring to a 1990 report in The Economist, the editors recently said, “To revisit the Arab world two decades later is to find that in many ways history continues to pass the Arabs by. Freedom? The Arabs are ruled now, as they were then, by a cartel of authoritarian regimes practiced in the arts of oppression.”

The central problem affecting the Middle East and much of northern Africa where Arabs rule is Islam. The Islam of the Middle East is utterly resistant to change. Not all of the world’s billion-plus Muslims practice Islam with the same intensity as many Arabs do (and we should note, as Iran’s Persians have pursued since their revolution in 1979.)

Trying to understand Arabs is like trying to find one’s way out of one of those cornfield mazes where most turns lead to a dead end. In a recent analysis by Herb Keinon in the Jerusalem Post the lament was familiar. It referred to a meeting in Khartoum after the loss of the 1967 war on Israel in which the participants agreed to the “Three No’s”; no to peace with Israel, no to recognition of Israel, and no to negotiations with Israel.

Reflecting the observations of The Economist, Keinon wrote that Syria still regards its loss of the Golan Heights and its demand for its return as “non-negotiable.” Add to that a meeting of Fatah rejected Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s call for a Palestinian recognition of Israel. This reflects the position of Hamas as well. And, finally, at a recent event at the U.S. State Department Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that Israel could forget about any confidence-building measures from that nation.

In starkest terms, the Obama administration efforts to “re-set” its relations with the Middle East have hit the same brick wall that all previous administrations encountered. You cannot negotiate with people who have no intention to negotiate. The Israelis cannot find a partner for negotiations with the Palestinians because Fatah and Hamas would far prefer to kill one another than sit down together.

The Economist’s 14-page report, titled “Waking from its Sleep” correctly noted that there is no unanimity among the various Arab nations and not all Arabs are on the same page in much the same fashion as being “European” means different things to those identified as such. Nor are most of the world’s Muslims Arabs. Indeed, other than Israel, the only thing the Middle East’s Arabs agree upon is the common danger posed by Iran, a Muslim, but Persian nation.

On the political front, the Arab League “does little more than organize bad-tempered summits” and works “to fend off Western criticism of human-rights abuses by its members and (to) denounce Israel.”

It is a curious irony of history that neither the ancient Romans, nor modern American people ever wanted to create an empire, but both ended up in charge of one in an effort to fend off the enemies of peace. In the case of Rome, its allies asked for Roman protection and, in the case of America, following World War II, it emerged as the only superpower capable of fending off the threat of the Soviet Union and capable of interceding to stop conflicts.

America’s protection is understood to be the only reliable one worldwide and accounts for the many bases it maintains on the invitation of its many allies. Following WWII, America determined to stay in Europe to avoid a repeat of WWI and to fend off Soviet aggression. It helped found both the U.N. and NATO.

There is a further irony in the fact that the Arab nations in the Middle East are all fervently praying that Israel destroys the Iranian nuclear facilities in the same way it previously did in Iraq and, more recently, in Syria.

Is change coming to the Middle East? Yes, but it is likely to be very ugly and violent. Most of the nations are the product of British and French colonization following World War I that cobbled together the new “nations” such as Iraq and Jordan out of a desire to extend their own empires of trade.

As for Afghanistan, that ancient “nation” has been little more than warring tribes for millennia. Invaders have never had any success there though the goal of destroying al Qaeda and the Taliban is a sensible, necessary one.

America’s intervention, particularly after 9/11, was the act of an empire seeking to impose some measure of peace in the face of the rise of Al Qaeda and the endless wars by Saddam Hussein on his neighbors, Iran and Kuwait. Peace is the last thing that is likely to break out in the Middle East whose vast reserves of oil require that the West continue to intervene to protect its dependence on it.

“It is not difficult,” noted The Economist, “to paint a bleak picture of Arab failure, based on a broad spectrum of underperformance in investment, productivity, trade, education, social development, and even culture.” Thanks to Islam, it remains rooted in the seventh century sensibilities of marauding bands of Arabian tribes led by Mohammed that spread the “faith.” To this day, hardcore Muslims believe that the entire world must bend to Islam’s dreams of a caliphate, a single religion, and the brutal justice of Sharia law.

Thus, while Americans believe that more democracy is the answer to the problems of the region, what “democracy” that actually exists there is a sham. Despite the presence of parliaments, all real power resides with the monarchies and their governments are rubber stamps for the despots of varying descriptions.

One factor will have a significant role in the Mideast’s future and that is population. “By next year the region’s population will have doubled over 30 years from fewer than 180 million people to some 360 million.” The majority of Arabs are under 25 years old. That is a recipe for revolution and war.

What too many in the West desire is not attainable. The West wants the region to adopt a measure of justice and freedom that took hundreds of years to develop in its own area of the world. As a huge population of young Arabs seeks some measure of real freedom, they will likely turn to revolution and rebellion to achieve it. Or they may unite through sheer numbers to impose Sharia law on the West in a misguided attempt to determine their own fate. This factor is already transforming Europe with its growing Muslim population.

If there is one thing common to the Mideast it is their infinite capacity to blame everyone other than themselves for their own wretched state of oppression and lack of progress.

Meanwhile, the United States is desperately trying to restructure its own financial mess thanks to profligate spending and borrowing. Much of the West and the prosperity of trading partners such as China and Europe depend on this. Failure could plunge the world into chaos.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has chosen to turn power over to the first Marxist President ever elected and to a Congress dominated by a Democrat Party whose socialist inclinations threaten to bankrupt the nation with insane taxation of all energy use and a huge bureaucratic program to nationalize its healthcare system.

None of this bodes well for the future and the likelihood of wars, large and small, in the Middle East, spreading out to engulf the rest of the world remains a nightmare scenario.


kerrjac said...

Nice post, I agree with a lot of your points. I'm not so sure, however, that the problem lies with the practice of Islam so much as it's simply a territorial dispute that has been allowed to fester for generations.

The difficulty most Americans have I think in relating to the situation is that we've become softened by short almost sham or diplomatic wars, ending after the displacement of a single ruler or a small regime. In other nations, or in our own during other times of history, there are such things as real & legit. At the start of WWII, London was bombed almost daily for 2 months straight. The disputes in the Middle East, particularly over Israel, are not of a diplomatic nature; & neither will be their resolution.

Rich Kozlovich said...

It is true that the European powers are responsible deciding who would rule these territorial boundaries, which they created after WWI, but we must not forget that territorial disputes have always been a part of that regions history. Personal feuds, tribal feuds, back stabbing and everything that we see going on today is.....tradition to the Arabs. Slaughtering each other has also been a part of that package….and it still is.

I always find it interesting that the Arabs, who had always been raiders, bandits, rapists and marauders, were to first to embrace Islam; a religion that encouraged them to raid, steal, rape and marauder in the name of Allah...and get redemption for doing it.

There was a reason that Thomas Jefferson took the path he chose after reading the Koran. He realized that there was no dealing with a people whose religion allowed them to disavow any agreement with nonbelievers. Pointing the finger of blame at everyone other than themselves is SOP; Standard Operating Procedure.

That is why there will never be a final agreement, arrangement or any peace within the area or around the world when dealing with Islamists. No matter how many may appear to be modern societies, they are still tribal societies and they have no tradition for any peace that isn't imposed by force. That was how the Ottoman Empire kept them under control for centuries, and if you really want to understand the Middle East it is imperative to understand the history of the Ottoman Empire.