David Miller’s piece posted on CNN’s website about why America “failed” to win in the Middle East is one of the most insightful articles of such shortness on why there are continued great challenges in the Middle East. Miller is a scholar at the prestigious Wilson center at Stanford University.
The clear writing, easily accessible to most readers while it may represent an oversimplification at times, provides us a great window into the implacability of solving so many issues there. However, I am not as pessimistic and certain key points are missed but sill it is a great read.
It also reminds me of what I have been saying if mostly to myself. Almost no matter what the western powers do there, especially Washington, it seems too often action by such players just gets them into more quicksand and even a lack of sustained gratitude.
Thus one can argue whatever Bush or Blair would have done differently regarding Iraq, even more acting like Obama would have still brought unacceptable results, consistent to a degree with the Miller thesis. A perspective that still though indicates the need for more nuance and sophistication about the region by western leadership that could better help limit the damage to the West in it or from it, it would seem to be what he is saying.
Now here is an important part about the simplification. The current state boundaries for the most part of the region are highly artificial. They were put into place mostly by European powers who occupied the region for hundreds of years. These powers often played to some degree favorites of one ethnic or tribal group over another.
Simply speaking, some were more pliable, interested in trading with the West and had histories that were more in keeping with western values and being useful allies. To some degree they also participated in this with a preference for Sunnis given the commercial relationship with Saudi Arabia over oil and the subsequent ouster of the highly pro-western Shah from the Shia hub of Iran by the current theocratic elements there.
The impact of colonialism was to put rivals in the same house or to put groups formerly less rivalrous into a situation where they became competitive for resources which before had not been so intense. It was also to push groups with very different interpretations of Islam or different broader cultural values into much closer proximity than before.
Thus Miller should better identify the colonial and to some degree post colonial imperial structural foundations and their contributions to the current instability in the region. Without that, it is like being historically blind and the Middle East as he indicates has much complicated history that makes it especially dangerous for interlopers irrespective of their kind intentions or not.
Another major point is the arms trade. With a quiescent Europe with some exceptions like Ukraine, the arms industry cannot find boiling points to sell into the West so much. They have to look for valuable profit growth where there is both instability and money.
And the Arab Gulf States being on edge is a recipe for them to profit. Eisenhower called it the military-industrial complex which has been looking now at the Middle East as the last major extensive remaining arc of crisis to make up for the end of the Cold War as well as World War II, looking more historically.
Overall though and considering it is from the largely liberal interventionist CNN, David Miller has added insight or at least reminded us of how intractable so many problems are in the Middle East no matter what the West or Moscow does so often these days.
However, a dedication to real peace by the main leadership partners for the Camp David Accords shows that politics can still be the art of the possible even in that troubled region. The odds are often largely against it but leaders of good will and sensitivity to the real issues should still work at peace and with a better sense of the peoples’ true needs
But again there is only so much then West can do especially in its evermore diminished economic status and with whatever remaining goodwill squandered by exceptionslism doctrine that still reminds one of the arrogance and pretentiousness of pass empires that got kicked out of the region with their tails sometimes behind – with or without a good wag. Let us not forget that while reading that author’s relatively brilliant quick piece.