Friday, August 8, 2014

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: The Ever-Changing Middle East Political Terrain

The Middle East is notable for its prolonged conflicts, its
enduring rivalries, and the constant change of its political
terrain. This arises not only because of the enmity of most
Arabs and other Muslims there against the state of Israel,
a conflict which has existed for only six decades, but also
because of internal Muslim strife and rivalries which have
existed for centuries and more than a millenium.

No American president can navigate this maze of ruthless
and perpetual violence without some very good knowledge
of the history of the region, considerable patience, good and
well-informed advice, the skill to act decisively with
overwhelming force if and when necessary, and the restraint
to remain out of the region’s perpetual tumult if and when
called for.

The latest Middle East threat is the emergence of I.S.I.S.
or as it calls itself, the “new caliphate.” This group has shown
itself able to perform acts barbaric, even by Middle Eastern
standards, directed at some fellow Muslims, what remains
of the new Iraqi republic and its army, and all Christians
in its path. The immediate threat posed by this group is to the
semi-autonomous Kurdish state (Moslems who are friendly
to the U.S. and Europe) and to those Christians who live in
northern Iraq.

Belatedly, but correctly, President Obama has begun to
intervene with some air strikes directed at I.S.I.S. forces
which pose the most dire threat to the local Iraqi
population, including Kurds and Christians. His problem
is, that having intervened a a late date, he will find it very
difficult to withdraw the United States from the conflict

To be sure, President George W. Bush, following the
defeat of Saddam Hussain and his government, greatly
miscalculated circumstances on the ground. Only when,
after considerable stalemate, he employed “overwhelming
military force” in the "Surge," did most of the overt conflict

When President Obama entered office, it was clear that he
wanted to withdraw an American presence as soon as
possible, even though the new “democratic” Iraqi
government was weak, and the old (and violent) conflicts
remained under the surface.

As always seems to happen, the Middle East terrain changed
dramatically once again with the coming of the so-called
“Arab Spring” that saw the overthrow of old Arab regimes in
Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. The Western hope for stable,
truly democratic replacements to the old regimes, however,
has not been realized. New uprisings in Syria further
complicated the changing terrain, even as Iran played
heavy-handed troublemaker in the region, and hardline
groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood took power and
then lost it in Egypt.

Without an American presence in Iraq, this nation once
again divided into Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions, and
a gestating terrorist group, the I.S.I.S. emerged with
ambitions to take over the entire Middle East.

It is perhaps premature to blame President Obama for the
current situation, although (like President George W. Bush)
he clearly has not understood the complexities of this
region and its peoples, nor has he apparently had much if
any good advice. His attempts to force long-time ally Israel
into untenable agreements and concessions has weakened
the powerful ties between the two democratic nations, and
has forced Israel to make some common cause with the
new government in Egypt and the old government in Saudi
Arabia. In between the warring powers, Jordan and Lebanon
are holding on for dear political life.

In short, it was a mess to begin with, it became a greater mess,
and now it is a colossal mess.

The behavior of Hamas in Gaza has only strengthened U.S.
public opinion in favor of Israel and the U.S-Israeli alliance.
Legislators of both political parties in both houses of Congress
overwhelmingly reflect this view. The determination of
President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry and those advising
the administration to force Israel to act against its own interests
is now clearly. and always was, self-defeating. Israel can only
act in its own interests. Period.

It’s time for the U.S. to act wisely in its interests. Not only Iran
is a threat to the world community, but I.S.I.S. has added itself
to the forces destabilizing the whole region. President Obama has
taken a good first step with his actions against I.S.I.S.

Copyright (c) 2014 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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