Saturday, February 03, 2007

Whither the Middle East?

The LA Times reports 16 dead in one day from internecine fighting in the Gaza strip. Meanwhile, CNN reports a one ton truck bomb in a Baghdad market has killed 120 people in a mixed neighborhood of Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds. Is it possible that much of the violence in the Middle East is really a result of politics by terrorism, which has gained currency and even glamor in Western circles since the French were driven from Algeria? One of the forgotten (and when remembered, reviled) premises of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the idea that the world would never be safe for as long as religion and politics by terrorism was not replaced by democracy and civil society. It may be still be pertinent to ask whether:

  • anyone can ever be safe for as long as the region remains in its present turbulent condition with Iran and possibly the Sunni nations pursuing its nuclear weapons programs.
  • the world can rely upon the region for its energy needs;
  • the answer to fixing problems in the Middle East lies in "engagement" with the governments in the region, including the Palestinian Authority;
  • there is any prospect to encouraging civil society through the use of direct intervention or force.

26 Comments:

Blogger charlotte said...

No, no, no, and a discouraging maybe in answer to your questions. And, of course, a profane but all too human exhortation of "Jesus!" over the sad and frustrating loss of potential and lack of progress for those who need it most- the irrational Islamic culture over there and the leftist swamplands over here.

2/03/2007 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger wkgdyw said...

> "engagement" with the government in the region, including the Palestinian Authority;"

MAY be pertinent? :)

I remember when apologists for Arafat would patiently explain that the PLO was an 'umbrella' organization, composed of moderate to extreme factions, and Arafat -had- to 'allow' the extremists to throw a few bombs, since they were going to do it anyway, and better to keep them under the umbrella (better for who?). That was 30 years ago. Now, look at Hamas / Fatah clashes. Have we come any distance at all?

(("Only a fool fights in a burning house" - Klingon folk wisdom))

How - or better, Why - do we talk to 'leaders' who have no power or authority to make a deal?

Arabs are the oldest traders on Earth, and I remain convinced that they have the capacity for democracy in their bones. But in the absence of civil government able to integrate disparate voices into a respectable, observable (if multi-faceted) whole, negotiation isn't going to do much good.

2/03/2007 12:43:00 PM  
Blogger 3Case said...

At all times OUR SAFETY is (should be) the prime value...the rest of those values are "nice to have".

2/03/2007 01:11:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Here at last we are looking at the downside of "asymmetrical warfare". Unleashing a networked killing movement may also imply there is no easy way to shut it down. The intifada eventually becomes a circular firing squad. The Washington Post reports what life is like in Gaza. Without the Israelis in evidence, the question becomes, who is the occupier?



Bursts of gunfire alternated with periods of calm, and in areas of Gaza City not affected by the fighting, people tried to go about their lives. Boys played soccer in the streets, horse-drawn carts maneuvered through alleys and shoppers stocked up on supplies for the next round of battle.

Nasser Mushtaha, who owns a high-rise near President Mahmoud Abbas' compound, said members of Abbas' Presidential Guard were posted on his roof and at the entrance to the building. He said he received phone calls from Hamas members, who warned they would blow up the building unless the troops left. Some of the guardsmen refused.

Mushtaha complained about his building being used as an outpost. "Who will protect us? What is our fault? We are neither Fatah nor Hamas," he said, adding that dozens of windows had already been shattered by bullets.


Every society in the world which has invested in creating these networked killing movements (is the Jihad one of these?) has fouled its own nest. Now why should anyone care? Two reasons. The first is that the system may be transplanted to a Western society near you; and second, the spillover from this violence can manifest itself in things like say, 9/11.

2/03/2007 01:13:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

Little Green Footballs links to a BBC story describing how a secondary school teacher was sacked for saying that most suicide bombers were Muslim. Now up to a few years ago that would have been false. The Tamil Tigers were the world's greatest exponent of suicide bombings. But they may have been overtaken by now.

But the BBC story suggests how the taboos have all been moved in the night. Any discussion of the problems we normally debate on this blog are verboten in certain educational settings. But the real reason for the ban isn't high-mindedness but the fear of striking a match when you suspect you are in a powder magazine. You want a light to look but can't. So you just stumble forward, over kegs, loose grains and the terrible odor that reminds you that destruction is very near.

2/03/2007 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

Is it possible that much of the violence in the Middle East is really a result of politics by terrorism, which has gained currency and even glamor in Western circles since the French were driven from Algeria?

No. It's bedouin night raids for goats and girls with scimitar in hand that have now been 'upgraded' to 21st weaponry.

Minds, such as they are, still left behind, though.

Cheer up, the worst has yet to come.

ADE

2/03/2007 01:54:00 PM  
Blogger hdgreene said...

Much of Poland now occupies land that was traditionally German. Isn't it time the Germans got it back? As George Soros points out, they've been good for over 60 years now.

After Arafat launched his terror war in the year 2,000, I told friends on the left, "Terrorism is like McDonald's--if it is successful you'll soon have it at every major intersection."

2/03/2007 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Buzz said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/03/2007 02:56:00 PM  
Blogger Joe Buzz said...

Democracy and any other form of self government will function little where there is little love of life.

2/03/2007 03:01:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

At what point do we say, "we gave it our best shot," and just nuke the whole bunch of them into oblivion so we don't have to worry about them any more? Is it still genocide when it's done in the name of self-defense?

2/03/2007 03:10:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Viewed from a more mechanistic perspective, the present situation(s) in the region can be traced to various "peace" processes, containment policies, police actions, aid programs, and highly constrained military operations.

If one thing doesn't work, it is normal to try the exact opposite and see how that does.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is an example of Give War A Chance.
It can't do much worse than the opposite approach.

2/03/2007 03:19:00 PM  
Blogger Tony said...

Wretchard writes: Now why should anyone care? Two reasons. The first is that the system may be transplanted to a Western society near you; and second, the spillover from this violence can manifest itself in things like say, 9/11.

Point 1: When we have had rebels rise up against the union, things have gone very distinctly AGAINST the rebels in the USA.

Point 2: Things like 9/11 have not happened, and I don't want to jinx us, but since you brought it up - why is that? Could it be for the same sort of general policy reasons that the Japanese never pulled off another Pearl Harbor after December 7, 1941?

Aggressive war really works, history books are written by the war winners.

2/03/2007 05:21:00 PM  
Blogger al fin said...

If a nation's population has an average IQ less than 90, that country cannot sustain a modern technological infrastructure.
The average IQ of arabs is less than 90. Only by importing the engineers, technologists, physicians, teachers, etc. can Saudi Arabia pretend to be a modern nation.

No matter how long people try to force themselves to maintain their politically correct pretense of universal egalitarianism, the genuine and meaningful differences between cultures and groups will always rear their ugly heads.

Palestine without Israeli help is a total loss. The Hamas and Fatah wars are the best one can expect from Palestine. Sadly, the Shia vs. Sunni wars may be the best one can expect from Iraq.

2/03/2007 05:52:00 PM  
Blogger Ari Tai said...

The pollsters should start including a (very non-PC) question to gauge the public sentiment:

"Do you favor the Carthaginian option? i.e. “When, if ever, should we decide to destroy and salt the earth?” – “i.e. sterilize using horrific (but trivially inexpensive relative to policing and traditional) weapons - any area terminally diseased by Terrorism?” “Should this death sentence include killing a population unwilling to sacrifice itself to end the use of Terrorism as a means to oppress the majority in a system that otherwise claims respect for the rights of the minority, including race, sex, and religion?" Dictatorships allowing Terrorism will be more narrowly targeted, but a population who permits same will be judged nearly as culpable as others.

Note that only 1st world countries have the technology to harvest the natural resources while waiting the decade or so for radioactivity to decline - where to salve our guilty conscience, we might bank a royalty for the eventual resettlement of the sterilized area. And we will have sadly entered the calculus of, say, the Israelis, where we loudly announce that the life of one of our own citizens and our own comfortable life and peace of mind as more valuable than many thousands, even millions, of others.

I wager we’d be shocked by the poll and its trend line, especially if collected in a secret ballot. Americans (and other 1st world countries) have not become pacifists.

2/03/2007 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger NahnCee said...

Poll, hell - I say put it to a vote as part of the next Presidential election. Let the Muslims *see* exactly what they would be dealing with unless they immediately turn their camels in a 180 degree direction AWAY from jihad.

2/03/2007 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger Reocon said...

there is any prospect to encouraging civil society through the use of direct intervention or force.

I wonder to what extent the widespread availability of modern high explosives has made direct intervention impossible for forces viewed as imperialist. Besides that, the nation-building bureaucracies that were so successful during WWII grew out of New Deal liberalism and its expansio of state power. We no longer have that capacity as Vietnam and Iraq have shown us. We rebuild hospitals for SCIRI, Dawa or Sadr, but we don't change their cultures.

2/03/2007 09:01:00 PM  
Blogger Reocon said...

From a Neocon apostate:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2002439,00.html

American military doctrine has emphasised the use of overwhelming force, applied suddenly and decisively, to defeat the enemy. But in a world where insurgents and militias deploy invisibly among civilian populations, overwhelming force is almost always counterproductive: it alienates precisely those people who have to make a break with the hardcore fighters and deny them the ability to operate freely. The kind of counterinsurgency campaign needed to defeat transnational militias and terrorists puts political goals ahead of military ones, and emphasises hearts and minds over shock and awe.
A second lesson that should have been drawn from the past five years is that preventive war cannot be the basis of a long-term US nonproliferation strategy. The Bush doctrine sought to use preventive war against Iraq as a means of raising the perceived cost to would-be proliferators of approaching the nuclear threshold. Unfortunately, the cost to the US itself was so high that it taught exactly the opposite lesson: the deterrent effect of American conventional power is low, and the likelihood of preventive war actually decreases if a country manages to cross that threshold.
A final lesson that should have been drawn from the Iraq war is that the current US government has demonstrated great incompetence in its day-to-day management of policy. One of the striking things about the performance of the Bush administration is how poorly it has followed through in accomplishing the ambitious objectives it set for itself. In Iraq, the administration has acted like a patient with attention-deficit disorder. The US succeeded in organising efficiently for key events such as the handover of sovereignty on June 30 2004, or the elections of January 30 2005. But it failed to train Iraqi forces, failed to appoint ambassadors, failed to perform due diligence on contractors and, above all, failed to hold accountable those officials most responsible for these and other multiple failures.

2/03/2007 09:15:00 PM  
Blogger Utopia Parkway said...

overwhelming force is almost always counterproductive: it alienates precisely those people...

Or, we just didn't hit them hard enough. Did we really use overwhelming force? Why is al-Sadr still there if that's the case? Better to be feared than loved, you know.

A second lesson that should have been drawn from the past five years is that preventive war cannot be the basis of a long-term US nonproliferation strategy.

Sort of. Next time we give them the Lebanon treatment. Bomb all the infrastructure from 30,000 feet. See millions of people leaving their homes never to return. No American boots on the ground. It'll cost a lot less. Or maybe the Japan treatement.

A final lesson that should have been drawn from the Iraq war is that the current US government has demonstrated great incompetence in its day-to-day management of policy.

No argument there.

Oh, and some Pals have just decided that killing each other is not as good from a PR standpoint as killing Israelis: Palestinian W. Bank residents: 'We don't deserve a state'

2/03/2007 10:51:00 PM  
Blogger AST said...

We've already made huge strides just by breaking the Sunni subjugation of Iraq's Shiites, but we seem to be determined to throw it all away because of the myth of Vietnam.

I fault Bush for waiting until he was forced to revamp his strategy, but to drop the ball at this stage just seems like madness. We're suddenly afraid of our own shadow.

The one thing needed more than anything else is leadership, and our media have talked us into relying on the U.N. for that. Kerry may have won in the end, which is a seriously perverse and idiotic result. We're acting like Athens during the Peloponnesian Wars. The end will probably not be any better for us or the rest of the world. This is the Götterdämmerung.

2/03/2007 11:13:00 PM  
Blogger Anointiata Delenda Est said...

ari tai said...

a lot.

If I may be permitted to summarise your poll question:

"Who do you say we are"?

ADE

2/04/2007 02:20:00 AM  
Blogger Cedarford said...

W - One of the forgotten (and when remembered, reviled) premises of Operation Iraqi Freedom was the idea that the world would never be safe for as long as religion and politics by terrorism was not replaced by democracy and civil society.

America confuses popular elections with democracy. Democracy as we know it depends on rule of law, a certain socioeconomic equity, and non-tribalism. Tear down the pillars and you just have a faux democracy or a popularly elected demogogue. Or the miserable chaos of Iraq.

It may be still be pertinent to ask whether:

W - anyone can ever be safe for as long as the region remains in its present turbulent condition with Iran and possibly the Sunni nations pursuing its nuclear weapons programs.

No. But we cannot blame any nation for seeking parity with a regional power with a vast, secret nuclear weapons stockpile. If we wish to stop them, simply saying NO! or threatening to do "surgical strikes" is not enough. You either have to create a comprehesive peace or you have to destroy Iran and the Sunnis as modern societies. No electricity=no nukes.

W- the world can rely upon the region for its energy needs;

Have to. 60% of global oil, 50% of natural gas is there. Ethanol and wind power are pipe dreams, according to Scientific American. Switching costs to nuclear or carbon-sequestered coal or fusion if it pans out - and attendent hydrogen creation - are capital intensive and will cost a trillion for just the USA.
W - the answer to fixing problems in the Middle East lies in "engagement" with the governments in the region, including the Palestinian Authority

Engagement is the wrong word. Final Borders may have to be imposed. Not just on Palestine but also Kashmir, Lebanon, the matter of the Kurds. With security guarantees by the USA, China, EU, maybe Russia.

W- there is any prospect to encouraging civil society through the use of direct intervention or force.

Part of the equation is that we have to reconsider Geneva and International Law as binding on one side when the other side doesn't use it. To save ourselves, all the fine and noble human rights laws may have to be abandoned if the enemy doesn't believe in any of them or follow them.
Another part of the equation is realization that civil society is created through forceful ethnic cleansing when peaceful measures fail or when a demographically powerful new community threatens to destroy the host culture it entered and supplant it with their culture.
And in America, part of it is realizing that many parts of our Constitution are obsolete and no longer work. We are now a corrupt 2-party country with widening socioeconomic inequities that is no longer globally competitive in most industries and services. From waging war to simply building a road extension - we are now in semi-paralysis in the grip of a ruiniously expensive overclass of lawyers.

2/04/2007 07:41:00 AM  
Blogger Graytooth said...

cedarford said: America confuses popular elections with democracy. Democracy as we know it depends on rule of law, a certain socioeconomic equity, and non-tribalism. Tear down the pillars and you just have a faux democracy or a popularly elected demogogue. Or the miserable chaos of Iraq.

tom jefferson said: "One hundred and seventy-three despots would surely be as oppressive as one." --Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XIII, 1782. ME 2:162
**
“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.”


I say, Cedarford and Jefferson are right on here.

look at the election of Hamas and the Shia in Iraq.

The Iraq elections have been misreported as involving those brave purple-thumbed freedom loving iraqis, when all the purple thumbs were shia purple thumbs and they were brave in so far as they braved sunni and al queda terrorist threats to get to the polls.

our type of REPUBLIC is not easy to come by.

plus, i don't think anyone with two or more brain cells really believed we went into iraq to make it safe for democracy. iraq was about getting saddam...and in that respect, MISSION Accomplished!

so why are we still there?

"Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition."
Thomas Jefferson

"How much have cost us the evils that never happened!"
Thomas Jefferson

2/04/2007 09:33:00 AM  
Blogger Soldier's Dad said...

Unless one if prepared to think in terms of Generations, the only answer for the Middle East is to "Nuke'm All".

The endlessly warring Europeans and the barbaric Japanese didn't become the somewhat prosperous, pacifist whining sissies that they are overnight.

The mothers adage of "violence never solved anything" becomes real when their is no living memory of "violence solving anything".

As much as we all like to herald Ronald Reagans great cold war victory. The living memory of WII within the Soviet leadership had died.

Until such time as the living memory of the Iran-Iraq war dies, the region will require a strong guarantor of the peace.

If the US or UN isn't prepared to play that role, then we should be prepared to watch the region burn and live with the consequences.

2/04/2007 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Graytooth said...

Unless one if prepared to think in terms of Generations, the only answer for the Middle East is to "Nuke'm All".

I keep seeing this 'kill em all' kind of thinking on belmont.

steven den beste once did a piece on what would really happen if we did nuke em all.

basically he said that our country would collapse from internal political fallout of having allowed ourselves to committ a worse holocaust than Hitler.

not to mention the FACT that if we did such a nuclear genocide we would surely be attacked by other nuclear powers in retaliation...a sort of MAD kind of thing.

"nuke em all" kind of thinking is also not a very productive or intellegent solution to any problem.

if we did nuke em all. and got a way with it. would that end anti-american militant hate?

would that really solve the problem. or would the problem resurface in another form?

i think "outsmart em all" is a better less self-destructive approach.

we are not inclined, it looks,
to do either, at the present.

graytooth

2/05/2007 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger BurtB said...

There are so many people who say they support the War in Iraq as an important front on the Great war on Terror (GWOT). Sadly, It seems to me that these folks are running out of steam. The lastest example is the Pledge

http://www.thenrscpledge.com/

that asks the GOP in general and the NRSC in particular to take the war effort seriously and not throw in the towel before General Petraeus has had a chance.

after a good start, that looked like they would hit 50k signatures in a week and perhpas 70k after 3 weeks, it seems to have topped out around 32k.

Here it is Feb 5, 9:36am and only
32,450 people have signed The Pledge thus far.

32,466 02/5/2007 1:05 PM PST
32,481 02/5/2007 4:45 PM PST

2/05/2007 04:51:00 PM  
Blogger USpace said...

Of course it is all America's fault, Iran just wants to peacefully destroy Israel and America. Let's just declare Islam a non-religion and ban it. Have huge 'Quran Burnings' all over the country. Of course, I am kidding, Islam is a religion of peace, Bush said so.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
push your enemy too far
.

2/12/2007 10:43:00 PM  

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