Wednesday, July 6, 2016

An Economist article whose conclusions I agree with despite disagreeing with most of the subordinate arguments

Here is an article by the Economist on the myriad problems affecting the Middle East.  Despite its subtitle laying blame squarely on Middle Easterners for their ills, it is really mainly about what countries outside the Middle East can and can't do to improve the situation.  These are the conclusions I agree with--the author warns against simple solutions, especially the delusion that redrawing national borders can easily salve the wounds of the region, and (s)he says that Europe and the US should aim to cajole and contain within the current situation as opposed to striving for wholesale change in the different societies and government of the Middle East.

The argument I really can't get on board with is how the author backhandedly admits the role of mistaken US and European policies in the region's past, but then dismisses their importance today, jumping at the opportunity to blame Middle Easterners themselves for their woes.  First off, this is similar to saying that the US wasn't a prime driver in the Central American conflicts of the 1980s (or today's crisis of violence there that directly derives from those conflicts) because we did not directly engage troops there.  The tacit or sometimes aggressive support of the West for certain leaders in the region for the past decades created situations that directly gave rise to today's mayhem.

Obviously the people of a country or a region are ultimately responsible for what they do or don't do, both good and bad.  This is so obvious that I hope it wasn't the author's main point.  But to solve a problem, you need to fully understand its origin, and stopping at the observation that it's mainly Syrians shooting Syrians in Syria, or an autocratic Egyptian state structure oppressing Egyptians in Egypt, does not shed any light on the subject.   We all (Middle Easterners and outsiders) need to understand the role of Europe and the US in the Middle East's recent and not-so-recent past in order to arrive at any feasible solution.  The US supported Saddam Hussein for a long time before then turning on him and invading his country on the pretext that he still had weapons we might have helped him to develop.  This destabilizing invasion, our sacking of the Hussein government and military personnel, the arming of Sunni militias, and of course our support for Al-Qaeda's (and thus the Islamic State's) predecessors during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, are the major factors in the current conflict in Iraq and Syria.  Yeah, right now the US is playing it at arm's distance, but how can anybody reasonably argue that we aren't a major driver of the current situation because it's been a whole 13 years since we threw Iraq into chaos?

If you think 13 years is too long of a time horizon to think about in assigning blame and causality, then it will seem really outrageous when I link the British-US overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran in the 1950s, our absurdly faithful support of the Shah's state terror apparatus for 25 years, and the resulting Iranian Revolution almost 40 years ago, to current turmoil in the Middle East.  But the Economist article itself points to Iran's destabilizing influence in the region, and this is due to a regime that was created as a response to our perversely cruel, inhuman, and very active involvement in Iran lo those many years ago.  I could dig back even deeper and give a similar story about British betrayal of Arabian aspirations, before they then did bequeath nationhood on the fiefs of a few backwards desert despots.

I know none of what I'm saying is new or particularly insightful, and I'm certainly no expert on it.  In fact, just reading myself makes me cringe, since this is all so 200-level that I sound like a silly college kid.  But I guess it's not that obvious, since the Economist, one of the world's publications of record, doesn't even give it a second thought.

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