Random posts on all sorts of things designed to inform and provoke.
A few days ago, I wrote a post recommending the United States use its ever decreasing influence in the Middle East to develop a coalition of regional powers to counter Al-Qaida’s (AQ) growing influence in the region in general and Iraq in particular.
Focusing on the AQ’s growth – or resurgence – in the Middle East, journalists Ben Hubbard, Robert Worth and Michael Gordon in their New York Times piece “Power Vacuum in Middle East Lifts Militants” posit this violence is due to “the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region’s sectarian hatreds.”
Echoing a long-standing regional belief, they quote Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury stating “the West is not there, and we are in the hands of two regional powers, the Saudis and Iranians, each of which is fanatical in its own way. I don’t see how they can reach any entente, any rational solution.”
This belief, however, is countered by the – in my opinion correct – statement that “foreign powers’ imposing agendas on the region, and the police-state tactics of Arab despots, had never allowed communities to work out their long-simmering enmities.”
While I agree with this theory, I disagree that the Middle East needs western powers to manage the disparate national agendas because this dependence leaves the region in a state of perpetual adolescence with no hope, or opportunity, of growth or maturity.
Convincing these powers to leave the Middle East to its devices is a fool’s errand because of the region’s massive natural resources and geographic advantages.
Unfortunately, there is ample evidence that even without any external partners, local despots will not accurately represent their people. Indeed, one need only look at the recent developments in Egypt as an example of how far a governing authority can and will go to preserve its power.
Furthermore, these rulers are happy to use any foreign support to supplant representative governments and continue their reign over and control of their people.
The problem is this combination is a powder keg; one which is getting ready to explode as shown with the increasingly violent uprisings (most recently in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon).
Any hope that regional powers alone will help resolve these conflicts is an unrealistic wish. Saudi Arabia is funding sectarian groups in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria while Iran is doing the same, albeit on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum.
Therefore, it’s obvious that there is a need for a moderating influence and that is the presumptive reason for a return of western powers. The problem, though, is the absence of a moderating influence on this moderating influence because the treasures of the Middle East can soil even with the most honest of partners.
Clearly, this will have a snowball effect and one cannot develop foreign policy on the hope of a consistent winter.
The US’ intention to include Iran in negotiations over Syria shows Washington’s desire to involve all relevant and appropriate partners – and that is a positive sign. On the other hand, Iran’s negotiations with Iraq to support Baghdad’s fight against AQ is less so because it does not, and without US involvement, will not, involve the other important partner, Saudi Arabia.
That is one reason why these coalitions need to involve all regional partners with an honest overseer with a very limited mandate: militarily defeating AQ in Iraq without expanding into nation building is one such perfect example.