2002 October 20 Sunday
Pollack and Asmus: The New Transatlantic Project

In the October 2002 issue of Policy Review Ronald D. Asmus and Kenneth M. Pollack have written an essay entitled The New Transatlantic Project arguing for a new Atlantic Alliance of the Western powers to reshape the Greater Middle East region that stretches from North Africa to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Asmus and Pollack argue for a sustained common strategy to politically transform that entire region:

What would a common transatlantic strategy to address this threat look like in practice? The starting point would be the recognition that the greatest threats to both sides of the Atlantic today no longer come from within the continent but beyond it and in particular from the Greater Middle East. Those threats are not second-tier risks but very real and potentially existential dangers because they involve the growing likelihood of the use of weapons of mass destruction against our homelands.

We also need to stop looking at the problems and crises in the Greater Middle East as separate or distinct problems that can be addressed in isolation. A common set of driving forces across the region from Northern Africa to Pakistan is contributing to the toxic combination of radical anti-Western ideologies, terrorism, rogue states, failed states, and the drive to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The problems we face in Afghanistan, the Israeli-Arab conflict, Iraq, and Iran are all parts of the same interwoven tapestry and a larger strategic problem. Indeed, to some extent, their impact can be felt in the problems of the Caucasus and Central Asia as well.

Most of the people of the region suffer from underlying problems of economic stagnation, political alienation, maleducation, and an inability to come to terms with modernity. We need to encourage them to address these problems themselves, while we provide them with assistance both resources and expertise. Too often in the past, we have allowed democratization and economic liberalization to slip to the bottom of our list of concerns with our allies in the region. This must stop. The need for transformation must move to the top of both American and European priorities, which must also recognize that this will not be easy for the states of the region.

In Asmus and Pollack's favor is the fact that the security threats the Middle East creates for the West require that we think in grand terms. But I have to ask this question: What exactly could the West do that would transform the Greater Middle East in a way that would increase Western security? One can trot out all sorts of ideas that would cause all sorts of changes. But which changes would be a net benefit to Western Civilization?

To put it another way: Can we transform the failed Middle Eastern states into no-longer-failed states? If so, how? Do we have to invade and overthrow each regime we would transform? It seems extremely likely at this point that we will invade Iraq and I have no doubt that we are going to try something to change Iraq somehow. But will that something change the Iraqi culture in a way that will cause the people to behave in ways that are more supportive of a secular democratic government that is open, respecting of individual rights, and not corrupt? If we can even do that much will the Iraqi people become any less hostile to us as a result?

Can a political transformation of the Middle East be accomplished without transforming Muslims mating practices and family structure? Suppose we try to introduction of democracy into the region. Will intervention make the Middle Eastern regimes worse or better? What I find lacking in most writing about the need to politicaly transform the Middle East is any sign of understanding of why the Middle East is so politically backward in the first place.

Meanwhile, the UK and US are arguing over whether the post-war Iraqi administration should be a UN administration or a US military administration. I'd care more about this if I had a clearer idea of exactly what each administration would do to change Iraq. My guess is that the US military would make more sensible changes than the UN would (sensible not being a word that naturally goes with the UN).

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2002 October 20 08:02 PM  Europe and America


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