The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

A Very Complex Part of the World

The Middle East endured an increasingly violent 20th Century.  The first decade of the 21st Century does not bode well for a significant change to the pattern.
In the western part of the region Israel is still embroiled in the occupied territories while at the same time enmeshed in a struggle with Hezbollah to the north.
Lebanon continues to spin into deeper and deeper political disfunctionality –aided by the flight of its most productive citizens, the meddling of Syria and the influence of Hezbollah.
Syria continues to provoke instability east and west into Iraq and Lebanon, while pursuing a long term strategy whose end is the destruction of Israel, through a variety of means (mostly proxy allies such as Hamas and Hezbollah), and including among its ways nuclear weapons.
Speaking of nuclear weapons.  This has become the obvious strategic goal of Iran.  It does not appear that the international community and the United States have any realistic way of stopping (maybe slowing down but not stopping) them from achieving that goal.  What will be the impact of a nuclear armed Iran?  The obvious target is Israel, but are the Arab nations of the Persian Gulf potential targets (of at least nuclear blackmail) as well?  A nuclear armed Iran is almost as much of a strategic challenge to Iraq and Saudi Arabia as they are to Israel.
In Iraq a new democratic government is attempting to establish itself?  But what really are its chances of survival given the historic track record of parliamentary style government in the region?  The question is how much direct U.S. intervention is necessary and for how long to over-come the challenges of ethic competition, religious animosity, corruption, and terrorism.
With traditional uncertainty and animosity still dominating much of the regional politics, the major power that seems to continue to remain generally aloft from the vagaries of region is Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia, because of its apparent stability, could be the solid foundation for political progress forward.  However, some argue that Saudi Arabia’s stability is imagined.  This argument maintains that SA’s religious conservatism make it the most vulnerable to extremist ideologies such as Al Qaida.  The question will be, can Saudi Arabia remain an island of stability in the region as it has been for almost a century?
The other major leader in the Arab world, Egypt, also appears to be a reliable ally of the U.S., at peace with Israel, and able to contribute to political progress in the region.  However, the Muslim Brotherhood, staunch supporters of Hamas in Gaza, is a strong social and political force in Egypt.  So, as one looks out into future decades, Egypt too has the challenges of carefully balancing its domestic political, religious, and social policies in favor of stable government.  Any domestic political mistakes or miscalculations can result in turmoil which would quickly effect the entire volatile  regional political balance.
In the arena of balancing domestic politics, a challenge for all countries in the region, one of the most carefully balanced is the Kingdom of Jordan.  King Abdullah must continue to balance monarchy, Islam, modernity, the peace treaty he has with Israel, and the influence of various outside factors on his domestic politics.
The last, and possibly the most important, player in the region is Israel.  Arguably, Israel has never been more challenged and less predictable than it is right now.  Israel perceives significant military threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria.  It also has publically identified a nuclear armed Iran as the major threat to the survival of Israel.  The traditional alliance between the U.S. and Israel may be at its weakest point in recent history and the current Israeli government, led by the Lekud party, may be one of the most aggressive in recent history. 
Israel, for at least the last 75 years, has been the pivotal nation in the region around which all other political issues revolve.  Does it still play that role or are Arab or Persian players more important?  How important is the role of the Al Qaida in the region?  Are they, or other non-nation state organizations more important than the existing traditional governments?









May 30, 2009 - Posted by | A652 | , , , , , , ,


  1. The future of the Middle East is not likely to be bright! I do not believe the Middle East will ever see total peace in the next 50 years unless major changes are made by various political groups in the region. History will continue to repeat itself. In understanding the present we must study the past. There is just too much regional hatred and religious extremism in the region in order for one to have a more optimistic outlook. The Islamic religious extremism in the region is being fueled by the influx of petro dollars to Saudi Arabia and Iran who in turn funnel money to the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan, southern Lebanon and other countries in the region who educate and incrementally develop future terrorists. The US approach should be one of less reliance on Arab oil, promotion of dialog between Jews and Arabs, and an information based operations campaign to present Western viewpoints. The US should not always intervene in regionalized conflicts unless they are a direct threat to US interests or citizens.

    Comment by MAJ Holben | April 28, 2009

  2. The middle east has been defined by violence for years and continues to demonstrate a definite lack of respect for human life.
    But developing a culture takes time, money, and perserverence. But what good does that even afford if you cant even determine an adequate end state for a struggling nation such as Palestine? Until all the Arab nations are ready to step up and determine that peace is the most valuable end state, countries will continue to meddle in the Pakistani-Israeli conflict for years to come.
    There has to be a paradigm shift of cultural ideal that human life needs to be cherished and respected. And that needless deaths can be avoided and overcome by rededicating resources to infrastructure devlopment, education, and peace.

    Comment by Daniel Meyerhuber | April 29, 2009

  3. As long as there is extreme poverty and lack of opportunity for a large segment of the population in the Middle East, a more peaceful situation in the region is unlikely to emerge. The economic and social problems brought about by this provide a fertile breeding ground for extremists to recruit and spread their ideology. I think that for the most part, the political leadership in most Middle Eastern countries is pragmatic. They understand the challenges they face, and they must deal with the rest of the world while they deal with their struggling constituencies. The process of modernizing a country, developing meaningful political alliances and dialogue, and developing a diverse economy takes an extremely long time. Unfortunately, the general public in these countries, just like the general public in America, expects results quickly. Since change can take years, if not decades, a dissatisfied public can drive the political process and public policy in a direction that is counterproductive to real peace and growth in the region in order to satisfy the immediate needs or perceived needs of the people. When governments in the Middle East face revolution, riots, or threats from extremism, it is difficult to embark on a path toward progress and political reconciliation that can and will be twisted into propaganda by the opposition. It is sad to watch the innocent people of the Middle East be used as pawns in a game that a lot of people don’t even realize is being played.

    Comment by Wayne Wilson | April 29, 2009

  4. The Middle East is faced with a number of challenges within the region which includes: the Israeli-Hezbollah and Hamas struggles, Al Qaeda, and Islamic extremism. Israel still plays an important role in the Middle East. Relatively recent actions against Hezbollah have demonstrated that Israel is still important in the military and political affairs of the Middle East. Additionally, Al Qaeda is an international terrorist organization and a significant non-state actor within the Middle East. Al Qaeda has contributed to increased violence within the World, especially the Middle East and has caused fierce fighting against Coalition Forces within Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. Finally, the non-state actors currently within the Middle East have gained, in my opinion, equal prominence within World affairs as organizations such as Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas have become common household names. They serve to further cause strife and instability within the Middle East and serve to threaten the legitimate governments of the countries whose borders they operate within.

    Comment by MAJ Brady Gallagher | April 30, 2009

  5. Saudi Arabia played a key role in the Middle East on the basis of their quest for peace in the region, based on justice, equality and taking into account the interests of all parties, and is seen from the initiative Saudi king for peace with Israel at the Arab summit in Beirut in 2002 and adopt the dialogue of religions and civilizations. Saudi Arabia realize that this role in the region would not be successful unless it working for its internal stability. It established the system of the dialogue between the citizens and government, justice and the smooth transfer of power between the rulers to ensure the security of its citizens and their continued development.

    If we are looking for a solution to the Palestinian issue and peace in the middle east, Israel which was and still the obstacle must abandon the idea of “living among the Arab States who are waiting for the right opportunity to attack” to achieve the global support and a reason to strengthen its military arsenal, which have no justification, but the scheme of Zionism of Greater Israel.

    Comment by Ltc Algahtani Jamal | April 30, 2009

  6. In the Middle East, the problem is the Palestinian-Israel conflict. When Hamas won the election, many countries did not recognize or cooperate with this government, despite that, this government elected by the Palestinian people. For Israel, it did not give sufficient opportunity for Palestinian to live in peace, as well as the main problem is the differences between governments in the Middle East. The United States of America is the main key player and the most effective player between Israel and Palestine in order to find a compromise satisfactory to both parties, in collaboration with influential Arab countries in the region like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
    Iran to obtain nuclear weapons poses a threat to surrounding countries, especially the Gulf States and leads to instability of the area and there are other reasons can also constitute a great danger: first Iran does not have sufficient experience in the containment of any possible nuclear threat that is happening at their facilities. Secondly, from my perspective Iran is trying to impose its control over all the surrounding countries for the Persian Empire as it was in its past. Moreover, that Iran is a key ally of Russia.

    Comment by LTC. Alshatti Khalil | May 1, 2009

  7. The situation in the Middle East, from my point of view as one of the people of this region of the world will not see any development in the next few years. Reason is the lack of a clear vision for the U.S. administration to resolve the main and crise which leads to all the crises, i mean the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.The United States of America to exercise greater role in resolving the issue of the Middle East, and that it acted as a fair and just Mediator for the peace process.

    Comment by Maj Ambusaidi,Ahmed | May 2, 2009

  8. A comment on a question posed above: “Israel, for at least the last 75 years, has been the pivotal nation in the region around which all other political issues revolve. Does it still play that role or are Arab or Persian players more important?” I think Israel does still play a pivotal role in the region. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been ongoing for centuries. The Jews in Medina broke their alliance with the Prophet Muhammad in 625 AD during the Battle of Ohad. The attempts at division or annexation of land did not achieve enduring success and only led to further animosity. The comments from our Middle Eastern classmates all reference the issues between Israel, Palestine and the Arab World. There will be no simple solution to such a complex problem with political, economic, social and religious roots. And that conflict seems to be at the heart of all other problems in the region, so it is not one that will simply fade away. Concerns about Iran’s nuclear weapon capability are tied to their stated goal to destroy Israel. Al Qaeda (with its Wahhabi fundamental base) groups both Westerners (Christians) and Jews together as followers of the Book and has declared them enemies worthy of jihadist targeting.
    Ultimately any non-state actor in the region poses a danger because of the ability to act outside the established rules of government or policy. Most often they make their own rules and try to bend the words of the Qur’an to provide justification for their actions… just one more factor contributing to the continuing volatility in the region.

    Comment by MAJ Patty McPhillips | May 3, 2009

  9. The balance of power in the Middle East is at a troubling crossroads. The rise of Iran and the seeming inevitable proliferation of nuclear capability in the region is a serious concern. While Arab and Persian alike are in agreement against the Jewish State of Israel, their personal differences prevent any unified effort. Add to this the fact that Arab states are equally incapable or unwilling to establish a unified and effective policy to persuade Israel to conduct any lasting peace negotiations.
    This lack of unity throughout the region has only strengthened the Israeli position and prevented any real progress on the Palestinian issue. That is if any of the key players really want a resolution? Regardless, the inability to make Israel accountable for their actions has emboldened their right wing and military. Their most recent conflicts in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip have been a tactical success, but arguably the beginning to a significant strategic failure.
    The Israeli government is facing a sub-state insurgency where the Palestinians want independent rule. As long as their approach to defeat that insurgency is the Military, the problem will never be resolved. The French in Algeria provide an excellent example of this. They won all of the battles but in the end had to concede independence. While no one will argue that Israel will cease to exist, but rather they will inevitably be force to make conditions and probably on less favorable terms.
    As long as Israel continues to employ these tactics, no matter how effective currently, they will inevitably fail. They will fail because the sheer numbers are against them. The Palestinian’s population continues to grow at a greater rate than the Israelis. Also, the number of uneducated, unemployed, and under the age of 25 are all at levels that can and will fuel violent insurgent activities for the foreseeable future.
    The Israeli policy fails to take these factors into account, and the Arab Nations have either been unwilling or incapable to force them to make concessions with the Palestinians. If anything, they have allowed Israel to become bolder since the American invasion of Iraq and weakened their own positions. This perceived Israeli aggressiveness, for just reason or not, has provided the Iranians another justification for their nuclear weapons program. Once they have Nuclear weapons the Arab states of Egypt and Saudi Arabia will demand the same. The end game will have escalated and the region will inevitably be less safe. We will now have the proliferation of nuclear weapons in a region that is economically divided, contains a significant population of religious zealots, and the world’s largest reserves of oil. A set of conditions that does not make Israel, the moderate Arab states, or the United States any safer.

    Comment by William Prayner | May 4, 2009

  10. I have comments on two of the topics listed above. I believe that these two issues will prove to be most divisive for years to come, with no end in sight and will most affect U.S. international relations. The issues are the existence of Israel as a state and the fact that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons.

    First, as long as the U.S. blindly supports Israel, relations will be strained between the U.S. and Muslim nations throughout the world. As a matter of fact, I believe that if the U.S. did not support Israel, the relationships between the U.S. and Muslim nations, especially in the Middle East, would be vastly improved. However, to completely dissolve support of Israel is not the right thing to do. I believe that Israel legitimately obtained their sovereignty and have a right to defend it. I also believe that the Palestinians have a right to fight for a Palestinian state. After all, Israel obtained their sovereignty by claiming and fighting for the land they now occupy, of which the Palestinians were the majority of indigenous people prior to the mass immigration of Jews. The fact that the Palestinians use a means of force labeled as “terror attacks,” to attack Israel is used to question the legitimacy of their cause. Of course they use terror attacks; they don’t have the means to attack Israel conventionally. Of course they are compelled to attack Israel; the majority of their population lives in poverty in refugee camps. Due to the complexity of the situation, there may be no solution, but the U.S. must shift its foreign policy to a more even handed approach between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

    Second, Iran will have nuclear weapons in the not too distant future. The U.S. must recognize this fact and figure out a way to deal with it. Taking the approach that we cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weapons is futile. The unrealistic policy towards Iran will weaken the perception of U.S. power when Iran completes its nuclear weapons program. Instead, we need to continue to develop defensive measures. This may include continuing a presence in the region (i.e. we won’t leave Iraq).

    Comment by stevenjherman | May 8, 2009

  11. I agree w/ the above statememnt but I also believe that the Middle East is being pulled apart at its Axis by its main influencers (Iran to the East, Saudi Arabia to the South, Isreal to the West, Western Influences to the North, and extreamism internally). With these 5 forces working in concert as in some cases or in polar opposite directions as is most of the cases the region will never be able to take a collective breath and enjoy wholistic propsarity.
    Idea the of a Nuc. Armed and noise making Iran sends shock waves not only through the middle east and Isreal but the world. The current problems in the middle east would become small in comparison to a Nuc. capable Iran.

    Comment by MAJ Brady Sexton | June 1, 2009

  12. The Iranian nuclear question is interesting. Not only does it provide a counter-balance to the Israeli nuclear program, but it also cements the Iranian regime as the protector of the Shi’a population throughout Islamic lands. The radical Sunni, such as Al Qaeda, view the Shi’a as being heretics, and if they end up with nuclear weapons, it is an affront to these radical Sunnis. If the Israelis attack Iran while we are still occupying Iraq, it will lead to a wave of anti-American sentement unlike any we have seen to this point.

    The Saudi regime is safe as long as there is global demand for crude oil and natural gas. The developed world would not stand for a Wahabbist regime in Saudi Arabia, and even if they managed a coup d’etat, it would be met with a huge invasion and occupying force. While there is an active resistance against the Saudi regime, it is under control and the Saudis have been actively promoting Iraq as the battleground against the Shi’a.

    Israel is going to continue to decline. While they are second to none from a conventional warfighting perspective, they have been experiencing major moral dilemmas since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. It has grown worse with the continued support of settlements, the assassination of Rabin, and the botched campaign against Hizbollah in 2006. The internal conflicts between Israel Jews and Israeli Arabs will continue. The trigger for additional chaos is an attack on Iran by the Israel Air Force. This is the true tipping point for the Middle East, the one action with the potential to set off a war from the Mediterranian to the Hindu Kush, if not further.

    Comment by Ski | June 1, 2009

  13. The issues surrounding the future of the Middle east are extremely complex and the prospects are not likely to improve. There are two questions that need to be asked stemming from the background information: (1) What are the real risks, both to the U.S. and globally, and (3) What should the U.S. do.

    For risks, they should be prioritized by those threats with the most catastrophic and irreversible impacts. With that as the criteria, Iran gaining a nuclear capability would sort out at the top. This, too, is a complex issue. Iran has an overt and covertly aggressive agenda in the region and has had an overall destabilizing effect on the Middle East. Harkening back to the days of Teddy Roosevelt, he might say they have shown themselves to be irresponsible and not capable of acting appropriately with a nuclear capability – it would be the responsibility of great powers to stop this development until Iran shows that they can be responsible. Counter to that view sits Pakistan, which despite its internal frictions has safeguarded its nuclear weapons effectively for years… and why should the U.S. be allowed to say who can develop nuclear weapons and who can’t? Maybe the answer should lie in an honest determination of the probability they would actually be used or used to push a state’s destabilizing agenda. For actions, the U.S. needs to think hard about what Iran could or would do with the capability, because once they have the technology, there is no going back.

    Other issues fall secondary, but no less important. Instability is rampant in the area and the stable sates look nothing like what the U.S. has been saying we would like to see. Saudi Arabia is a virtual dictatorship, but our stable ally and friend. Israel is democratic, but its very existence was predicated on a politically shaky ground backed up by pure hard power; it is unrepentant and aggressive as well. Everyone else lies somewhere in between. What should the U.S. do – continue to support or engage… or find ways to subtly disengage; i.e. make the region less important to us. As Ski pointed out, the Saudis have influence because of oil. The U.S. would be wise to redouble our efforts at energy self-sufficiency; our seemingly contradictory foreign policy, choice of allies, and constrained parameters has a lot to do with our dependance on the region. If we were less dependent, we could use our influence in a more concerted fashion to push for real, stable change in the region.

    Bottom line for me is the Middle east is inherently unstable. The U.S. must work from the viewpoint that we have little ability to help the region seek peace; our choices should be based on threat consequences and rational, coherent domestic and foreign policy rather than seeking influence. We can do more good by just making plain good national decisions that letting disjointed country-specific foreign policy agendas dictate our decisions.

    Comment by Maj A. P. Albano | June 2, 2009

  14. Israel plays the role of pivotal nation in the Middle East region around which all other political issues revolve due to the history of the state. Many Muslims view the creation of Israel as land stolen from Muslim people (Palestinians) by combination of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917). Furthermore, United Nations Resolution 181 (15 May 1948) gave international legitimacy toward the establishment of Israel. However, many Muslims in the Middle East and abroad view Israel as foreign occupiers on what they consider Holy Land within the Caliph. Muhammad wrote in the Qur’an, “Fight for Allah’s cause against those who fight you….Kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out of whatever place from which they have driven you out for persecution is worse than murder.” Therefore, Israel inflames the passion of Muslims’ public will throughout the Middle East. Governments of Muslim countries within the Middle East use this passion to strengthen their countries domestic and foreign policies. For instance, Iran’s domestic economy struggles in job growth and inflation. So the Iranian government inflames the passions of their people away from their economy toward the nuclear capabilities of Israel. Muslim countries in the Middle East also use Israel’s treatment toward the Palestinians as leverage to gain foreign policy cooperation from the international community. For example, Israel continues building new settlements on what Palestinians consider Palestinian land, and Israel refuses to recognize the establishment of a Palestinian State. As a result, President Obama meets with the leader of Saudi Arabia one day and apologizes to Muslim people in Egypt on the next day. President Obama flies over Israel from Saudi Arabia to Egypt without making a stop. This fly over may symbolize future foreign policy between the United States and Israel. These represent a few of the reasons why Israel plays a pivotal role as a nation in Middle East politics.

    Comment by CH (MAJ) Barton T. Herndon | June 2, 2009

  15. I found it interesting that the author mentioned only Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt as the stable powers in the Middle East. Iran was mentioned only as a threat. It too has proven to be a very stable power (if unfriendly toward the US) since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. Furthermore Iran has historically not been an agressor toward any of its neighbors despite the agressive rhetoric. The question that is often overlooked when considering Iran’s nuclear ambitions is what is their intent. We assume, based on our own US perspective, that they have aggressive interests. What does it look like from Iran’s perspective? US forces on two sides, a nuclear armed (probably) Israel, and somewhat less than friendly Arab neighbors who are allying themselves with the US. Should we be surprised that they are arming themselves? Does Iran really have an interest in destabilizing the region? If so what do they have to gain? perhaps they are just interested in defeating their perceived enemies through proxies. (al la US strategy during the Cold War>)

    Comment by Major Greg Cromwell | June 4, 2009

  16. I find it disheartening how little interest and effort was placed into the discussion on Iraq. We as a coalition of western nations have been directly involved in that country for the last 18 years. Whether it has been through direct combat, or strategically influencing the nation through trade sanctions. I would propose that Iraq is being set up to be the newest, bestest western partner in the region.
    The boarders that Iraq physically shares place it ideally to be a friction point or possibly a guiding force. Physically Iraq shares a boarder with all but two of the nations listed in the article (Israel and Egypt). Looking at the region from a military perspective this would identify this nation as key terrain for the region. The relationships that Iraq has shared with Syria and Egypt are also glossed over in the article. Though it has been decades since these relationships have been exercised, in the developing environment these relationships can easily be rekindled.
    The article does touch on Saudi Arabia being the lynch pin of the region, however addresses the religious environment being very conservative and not friendly to “Moderates.” Religion is going to be a key factor as our relationship continues to develop in the region. We as westerners have lost touch with our faith, in the eyes of the average Muslim. For the conservative Muslim who looks to faith as a perpetually guiding factor, we have committed blasphemy. Until a median ground based on understanding and tolerance can be introduced and maintained the region is destined to continue down the road of continuous conflict.
    I propose three questions to ponder for the region:
    1. What nation of the Middle East will step forward and provide leadership through the 21st Century?
    2. Is the western relationship with Israel an asset or a liability?
    3. What will be the role of religious moderates/conservatives in developing relationships?

    Comment by John Busa | June 4, 2009

  17. This is a nice analysis of the major problems facing the Middle East in the near term. One of the fundamental challenges in trying to understand the Middle East is religion. The West has become increasingly secular, and this creates an obstacle for understanding and cooperation between the Middle East and the West. Western societies now marginalize religion and do not give value and credence to religious beliefs and views. This is not the case in the Middle East. Although many Middle Easterners and some of their governments are secular, religion and religious views are much more accepted and valued there than they are in the West. We tend to use the term “ideologies,” and then gloss over what those values mean to the people and governments that follow those ideologies.
    But those beliefs are very powerful, and they affect the course of events we are trying to understand. It motivates the Israeli who believes that God is on his side, that the Messiah is coming, and that the temple must (and will) be rebuilt, to help carry six ton marble cornerstones to the temple mount every year, knowing that he will be turned away by police. It may color the decisions of a leader who believes that Armageddon is inevitable, and make him or her less likely to stay at the negotiating table during peace talks. In my own studies, I was surprised to find that both Islam and Christianity expect that there will be a great battle in Jerusalem towards the end of the world and that Jesus will descend and bring peace to the earth. The Jews also expect the Messiah to come to bring peace to the world. It is interesting that they all expect the same outcome (and probably the only way lasting peace could come to the Middle East), and only differ on who they believe the chosen people are who will be there at the end. From a secular viewpoint, it is easy to discount these views, but it may be more profitable to try to understand what it is that they believe. Why is it that so many people believe so powerfully and have such similar beliefs. More importantly, how do these beliefs affect how they act, what position will they take, and how do these impact the future of the region and the world.
    It is impossible to predict the factors that will dominate the Middle East in the coming years. The scenario there often changes 180 degrees over night. However, if we are trying to understand and follow the events as they unfold, we must try to understand the religious beliefs and world views of the people and leaders who are the stakeholders in the future of the region.

    Comment by MAJ Daniel Leach | June 4, 2009

  18. Complex may be too unassuming and not adequately descriptive to illustrate the situation in the Middle East (known before 1850 as the Far East). In addition to its very long, rich past, I cannot think of any region that also bears such a bloody, subjective present. Conflict defines this barren, nomadic land and its peoples. From tribal to national levels, long standing feuds (sometimes extending beyond several millennia) never seem to find a permanent, mutual resolution. The Arab world is history’s original drama queen and has never played well with others (especially amongst themselves). Let’s call the region what it truly is: chaotic and toxic. Once we realize that true stability and harmony, as we currently define them, have never existed, we can better answer the poignant and accurate questions that A. P. poses above: 1) what are the real risks the region poses to us; and 2) what should we do about it? I would like to throw out one more question: are we the right world leader in trying to find an ever elusive solution? Do we really want to be?

    Whether we are addressing these questions in the context of the greater Israeli/Palestinian conflict, an emerging nuclear Iran, the violent face of Islamic fundamentalism, or our current involvement in remaking Iraq, we must assess which poses the most immediate threat to U.S. interests and how our current policy is helping or exacerbating the situation. 9/11 was a wakeup call on just how much animosity exists between the Arab world and the west (the U.S. in particular). True, this might be an over generalization, but the fact remains, anyone who has traveled to this region can read the anti-American graffiti and sense the underlying hostility that exists (at least at the political level). Before we can look at solving any of the aforementioned issues, we must candidly ask ourselves: “where does this hostility originate?” The U.S. was the first country to recognize Israel, only minutes after it was officially created in 1948, consistent with the 1922 Congressional resolution backing the League of Nations mandate for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Before 1948, most people in the U.S. probably couldn’t identify “the Middle East” on a map, and I would venture to say that the Arab world probably knew very little about Americans. Over the past 60 years, we have become intimately acquainted through multiple myopic and misleading media sources on both sides. Bottom line: the cause for this enmity has been our alliance and favoritism with Israel.

    So every issue (in the Arab mind) boils down to this question: is the U.S willing to change their policy vis-à-vis Israel? Thus, for us to be involved in any real solution, we must ask ourselves this same question. If we are not, then our involvement and proposed solution (through sanctions or military strikes) to deal with a nuclear Iran, Islamic fundamentalism or the Palestinian issue will only fall on deaf ears and most likely further agitate the animosity that already divides us. So to answer A.P.’s second question of what we should do, the answer is actually quite simple. There are only two possible solutions: 1) maintain our current policy towards Israel, or 2) change course and be prepared to use sanctions or military force against Israel to impose an equitable division of Palestine. The second solution would change and potentially ameliorate how we deal with Iran, Islamic fundamentalists and potentially resolve the half century conflict in Palestine. Staying the course in courting Israel and engendering the ire of their neighbors will only lead to greater threats towards the U.S. (terrorist acts as well as economic threats through the regions oil supplies) and will continue violence and instability in the region. I realize that proposing a change in our long-standing foreign policy towards Israel would be very unpopular and would have its own Pandora’s box of issues (these would be hard to deal with in three paragraphs). At least it is something new and untried. We have seen how well our current policy has worked over the past 60 years.

    Comment by MAJ Drew Jones | June 4, 2009

  19. Israel is pivotal to the regional and increasingly polarizing against the increasing tensions brought to bear by Iran. The other regional players (state actors) have limited influences due to the ongoing internal instability of conflicting and shifting balance of powers.

    Iran is unified behind a unique sense of nationalism that is grounded in the Persian majority and cultural and religious commonality that enables it to project influence (primarily through proxies at present) regionally rather than focusing on internal stability (although internal stability is a legitimate concern due to unrest among ethnic groups such as the Arabs/Azeris/Kurds as well as the seductive influence of Western culture among the youth).

    In addition to the obvious security issues associated with a nuclear capable Iran is the less discussed impact on Iran’s economic stability. Currently, in spite of its vast gas/oil resources, Iran’s energy consumption outpaces its production, basically capping its ability to project economic power. Nuclear energy production would largely offset that handicap and further launch Iran as a viable global economic power…a boast, which Israel cannot make.

    Comment by MAJ Alexander | June 5, 2009

  20. I believe that a nuclear armed Iran does not necessarily pose as much of a problem for Israel as the situation might at first appear. Assuming that Israel has nuclear weapons (which is a pretty safe assumption) the old mutually assured destruction argument might be applicable, if on a much smaller scale than took place during the Cold War. The greater danger in my opinion with a nuclear armed Iran is the threat of nuclear proliferation, and the other parties, especially non-state actors, who might be able to get their hands on a nuclear weapon thanks to Iran.

    Regarding any possible military action that Israel might take against Iran to prevent nuclear development, the backlash from such an event is more unclear. The United States has supposedly intervened with Israel to prevent an attack from happening, so Israel runs the chance of further damaging that relationship. If the attack fails Israel then loses a great amount of prestige, especially coming on the heels of the failed offensive in Lebanon. Finally, success in such a mission might remove one threat, but would in turn create many others. However, considering Israel’s ability to weather the storm following the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear capacity in the 80s Israel would probably be able to deal with the consequences. There are not a great many countries in the world who want to see a nuclear armed Iran.

    Comment by MAJ Todd Grissom | June 5, 2009

  21. The West has traditionally set peace in the Middle East and the spread of democracy in the region near the top of its political agenda. However, our vision of peace and our version of democracy will be a ‘bridge too far’ for that region in our time. That’s not to say we should not pursue both, but we must not set expectations so high as to drive an unrealistic policy toward the region which may only destabilize it further or otherwise run contrary to our national interests. We should take an iterative, pragmatic approach, develop and continuously refine our understanding of the region and the relationships between the players, and build our access so we can internally leverage regional power and information brokers to subtly affect system relationships and attitudes over time. We should not try to solve the problem in one step—there is no silver bullet. We should, however, seek to modify the system over time, trending it towards peace, and dampening any dangerous aberrations from the tenuous stability that exists at any given time.

    The Middle East is, indeed, a complex adaptive system with myriad players and incompatible political agendas. Unlike other regions of the world, where power brokers tend to seek system stability, the Middle East is rife with those that seek to destabilize the environment in pursuit of unlimited agendas. These are not simply disempowered, radical, fringe elements, either. Some hold significant sway over regional governments (like the Wahabis , Hezbollah, the and Muslim Brotherhood) and some are national leaders (like Assad and Ahmadinejad). Exacerbating the danger of the situation are violent non-state actors who are hard to access and able to generate asymmetric approaches equally difficult to defeat. The most tenuous lines of all must be walked by national leaders who wish to move their nation forward and westward, but cannot be seen as too accommodating in engagement with the West in fear of inciting conflict with super-empowered non-state actors operating with significant popular support within their borders. Such will always be the case with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt, and others. Even Jordan’s King Hussein, one of our closest and most important allies in the region must not be seen as too pro-Western lest he incite the anger of radical clerics and actors operating within his own country. The bottom line is that they need us and we need them, and we must and will continue to develop relationships with friendly governments. We must do it quietly, though, and not get upset when someone like Zardari adamantly and publicly condemns ‘unauthorized’ Predator strikes on his soil—because behind the scenes, he’s letting us fly them from his airfields! That’s just the kind of balance he must maintain to retain power.

    Nor should we seek an agenda of converting all the nations in the region to Jeffersonian democracies. While a lofty goal, it’s often simply incompatible with cultural norms and sensibilities of Middle Eastern power brokers, information brokers, and populations at large. Some of the most stable friends in the region are not democracies. Some don’t even have a particularly glowing record when it comes to human rights. But at least they’re friends—and at least they give us psychological and physical access into the region and its affairs. Again, it’s a fine line to walk.

    As far as Israel goes, it will always polarize the region because its presence inspires so much psychological reaction to many people in the area. Oddly enough, the organizations whose stated purpose is the destruction of Israel, absolutely depend on Israel to retain power, funding, and legitimacy. It’s the bonfire around which they rally support for their other, more direct causes. While a two-state solution is a fundamental requirement for long-term balance in the region, it will not result in immediate peace. We have to understand that there will always be elements in violent opposition to any non-Muslim state in the traditional lands of Islam, and we must be prepared to continually marginalize them over time.

    Finally, Iran. Iran clearly wants to be the key power broker in the region. It feels threatened by US presence to the east and west, yet empowered by the fall of its traditional power check, Iraq. We are Iran’s greatest fear. They fear that we will, at a minimum, strong-arm or manipulate them, and at most take down their government. In trying to find a counter to US power and influence, Iran watches and takes cues from, among others, North Korea. From North Korea’s example, it has learned that once you get them, nuclear weapons can keep coercive US policy at arms length and inspire concessions from the region and the West. It’s not about destroying Israel so much as securing power. However, with Iran, we have opportunity. The people of Iran represent potential in their secular and progressive thought. Patient, savvy engagement and empowerment of the Iranian people could someday lead to change from within. The desire is there; it’s merely kept in check by a repressive government and religious authority who hold an enormous amount of psychological power over the people. Creating an environment that chips away at that power while empowering the progressive, more Western thinkers of that society could someday yield the change we need in Iran.

    In summation, we must look realistically and holistically towards the Middle East conundrum. It is a complex adaptive system that must be affected iteratively and deliberately with an eye to understanding the system, its internal and external dynamics and tensions, and the temporal shifts in relationships. We must ponder the higher-order affects and repercussions of accessing and affecting the system. We must continue to engage the traditional power brokers and friends such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt while engaging and empowering the people of Iran to help check their own government. We must check our own ambitions of quick peace and rapid spread of democracy in the Middle East and be happy with a downward trend in violence, an upward trend in stability, and any semblance of détente we can reach on our way to an enduring peace some centuries from now.

    Comment by Stick Slaughter | June 5, 2009

  22. Very interesting summary of the issues facing the countries in the Middle East and the rest of the world. I agree that we can only hope to slow Iranian progress towards joining the Nuclear club and not stop it. It would seem that the next to slowing Irans progress towards nuclear weapons it is also necessary to find some way to get iran to the table for diplomatic relations. The Iraqi government will be fragil and unstable for years. Partialy because it is a new government and partialy because the record of parlimantry govenments in the region has more to do with the tribal nature of the populace and the significance of Islam in the politics of the region. Until Islam can find a way to seperate itself from the government things will never change. Israel and Persian players in the region are equaly important to future stability. Israel will not give up its territority or its existance and neither will the Palastinians quit seaking a home land of their own. So both sides must eventualy accept the futility of continuied fighting and find a common ground. Israel has, in the past, been willing to make almost every concession to this goal. Until the Palistinians become more reasonable and make a few conseccisons of their own they are doming themselvs to countiual conflict.

    Comment by MAJ Scott Cockrell | June 5, 2009

  23. Superb comments by all. The complexity of the region drives the variety of views and opinions as expressed in the above comments. If the analysis of and answers to the issues of the region were simple, stability and peace would have been achieved long ago. As things stand, general peace is probably illusive in the short term, and policy should aim at short and long term stability, one issue and one country at a time.

    Comment by dimarcola | June 15, 2009

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