Jumping into Mideast Quicksand

Three regional powers are maneuvering aggressively to gain as much influence as they can, at each others’ expense, in a Mideast political system established after WWI that has now collapsed. To those trapped inside, it is a life-and-death situation; those on the outside would be wise to think more carefully before voluntarily entrapping themselves and at the very least should act to retain their independence. Global powers that place themselves at the beck and call of regional powers are committing the most foolish kind of self-entrapment and self-delusion.

Ankara, Riyadh, and Tehran are playing an increasingly bitter game likely to hurt all three. It seems a bit old-fashioned to dream of Ottoman, Arab, or Persian empires, yet it is of course hard to “opt out” when being challenged by one’s neighbors.via a complex stew of air wars, proxy militias, and externally funded civil wars. When the superpowers were in charge, they made a mess of it; now that Moscow and Washington look rather less “super,” the regional triad–trying to take over–is making the same mistakes. This is no wonder, since it is using the same playbook: pay off clients, violate borders, change regimes, and manipulate every minority in sight either by empowering them to cause trouble or marginalizing them and thus provoking hostility.

Over the short term, the Mideast political mess is effectively out of control.* Even if all the key troublemakers had a change of heart at the strike of midnight, so many minor troublemakers are now empowered that it is not clear much improvement would occur. The place is wrecked; putting it back together will be much harder than the wrecking was. The guilt is so widespread as to be almost irrelevant, except for the obvious conclusion that when rich societies bomb poor societies, progress is not the result. Those in rich societies who still advocate macho militarism** as the answer, and there are amazingly many, can fairly be suspected of having their own very unpatriotic private agendas.

The complexity is at the core of the issue: no center of power, no structure, many power centers interacting and evolving in ways that end up being unpredictable and unintended, new processes of self-organization popping up without warning to stimulate further unplanned evolutionary shock waves. Hence, major actors help their enemies, harm their friends, and indeed cannot tell one from the other.

Washington seems unable to learn. “Change,” promised articulately eight years ago, really never happened. Aside from the great contribution to mankind of avoiding a mad war with Iran that could have turned into a great power nuclear attack on a regional non-nuclear state, Obama was sucked back into the old ways. Palestine continues as a monument to incompetence and injustice; the social collapse of Libya,  Syria, and Yemen look like nothing so much as the earlier ones of Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. But the lessons paid for so dearly have not been learned. One senses the blood pounding in the veins of self-styled Potomac “big men” lusting for another go: some, safely far from the battlefield, do, after all, benefit. Officials who were part of the problem stand first in line to be handed decision-making power once again, duct tape over a blown-out tire. Sanders, who offered the only serious vision of change with a practical shot at victory, paid little attention to Mideast policy.  The system marginalized Stein. The two final candidates offer nothing but quips whose logic is hardly less confusing than the Mideast reality.

If all the Mideast confusion is confusing even to the locals with insider knowledge, how can global elephants possibly walk in with the requisite delicacy? Yet, decade upon decade, outside leaders repeat their predecessors’ disastrous mistakes, freely dispensing vast treasure and blood to empower some regional faction not only harmful to the region but hostile to the patron.

The better part of wisdom would be to avoid further poisoning the patient by doing nothing unless very sure of what one is about to do and, above all, to avoid being manipulated by a fawning regional client with a well hidden insider’s private agenda.



E.g., in Syria:

the trouble with war is that it is rarely goes according to plan.

Indeed, the Syrian conflict grows more complicated by the day. Syria and Russia are battling ISIS, Al Nusra, and other Islamist groups while the U.S. is battling ISIS as well while indirectly aiding Al Nusra by channeling arms to allied Islamist groups with which it shares weaponry and coordinates battlefield tactics. The U.S. has so far steered clear of conflict with Assad, although Hasakah may signal a change of heart.

Turkey’s megalomaniacal President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, opposes ISIS but supports Al Nusra outright – “it should not be considered as a terrorist organization” since it opposes Islamic State, he declared in a recent interview – but reserves his real enmity for the America’s Kurdish allies. [Daniel Lazare on Consortium News.]


E.g., in Yemen:

advocates for the Israeli/Saudi compact against Iran have not only tried to ascribe intention to an attack on a USN ship (it is doubtful that the Houthi/Salihi spotters can pick out the pennant number or ensign of a USN ship at range from a bobbing skiff) but they have designated the perpetrators to be IRI-backed Houthis and attributed the supply of missiles to the IRI. This, they probably hope, will constitute a casus belli, or at least soften US public’s opinion against getting involved in another Middle Eastern war on behalf of another regional client with hegemonic ambitions.

Should that not work, they propose that “The United States and other countries need to show the Houthis in no uncertain terms that they cannot attack U.S. or allied interests with impunity.” [Emphasis added.] That policy risks handing a blank check to the Saudis to provoke an incident and ensnare the US in conflict. They would not be the first to do so: there have been other instances of US “allies” trying to draw the US into a conflict by provocative actions. [James Spencer on Lobelog.]


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