2015 October 17 Saturday
Henry Kissinger On Middle East Policy Failure

After describing how 4 states have collapsed (Syria, Libya, Yemen, Iraq) Henry Kissinger lists some of the (many) non-state actors now operating in some of the failed states.

ISISí claim has given the millennium-old split between the Shiite and Sunni sects of Islam an apocalyptic dimension. The remaining Sunni states feel threatened by both the religious fervor of ISIS as well as by Shiite Iran, potentially the most powerful state in the region. Iran compounds its menace by presenting itself in a dual capacity. On one level, Iran acts as a legitimate Westphalian state conducting traditional diplomacy, even invoking the safeguards of the international system. At the same time, it organizes and guides nonstate actors seeking regional hegemony based on jihadist principles: Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria; Hamas in Gaza; the Houthis in Yemen.

Big Shia threat? The demographic numbers do not add up. Kissinger has listened to too many complaining Sunni princes. Since the Shias in Syria are a minority I do not see how Iran can create a regional hegemony with Syria as one of the pieces. I think Kissinger (and the Sunni Arabs in their own imaginations) exaggerate the size of the strategic threat from Iran. I do not expect the Iranians to try to conquer their neighbors. The US would help their neighbors whip them badly if they tried.

The Middle East is a region where there is much more loyalty to family, extended clan, and sect than to state. So the nation-states are all pretty weak at the national level. We can't hope to fix that. The animosities based on ethnic and religious sect identities require either dictators (better long serving royalty with many generations in the saddle) or nations whose boundaries are drawn to make them ethnically homogeneous.

Since US policy in the Middle East is so unrealistic (e.g. the search for the moderate Syrian opposition, the attempt to build a national Iraqi army, ditto Afghanistan; US support for overthrow of dictatorships and resulting civil wars) we (and all non-Sunni Syrians) are lucky that a much more realistic Vladimir Putin is intervening in Syria.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2015 October 17 06:43 PM 

bob sykes said at October 18, 2015 6:00 AM:

The problem in the Middle East is the multitude of division lines, tribal, ethnic and religious. In addition to the Sunni/Shia divide (and numerous sects within each) there are the tribal lines between Arab, Persian, Turk, Kurd, Baluchi and many others. Most of these tribes live in well-defined areas, and often speak different languages. Some like the Kurds and Baluchi live as minorities in countries in which they do not have a voice.

I think the current threat is that the countries in the Middle East get broken up into smaller units. Both Turkey and Saudi Arabia are candidates for breakup as well as Syria and Iraq. Even Iran and Pakistan could lose their Baluchi regions. Think Balkans and all the violence and chaos that would ensue. If it were not for oil, no one would care.

Jim said at October 18, 2015 7:38 AM:

The "Westphalian" model has little relevance for the Middle East (or much of the rest of the world). This area of the world has always been highly fragmented into innumerable sub-groups. It should be noted though that that doesn't mean that large polities such as the Umayyad Caliphate or the Ottoman Empire cannot emerge. But these kinds of multicultural empires result in only a very superficial unity among many different peoples and they quickly disintegrate upon any weakening of the armed force holding them together. The one exception to this pattern in the Middle East has been the spread of Islam which has produced some real sense of unity between different peoples.

It should also be noted that most of the history of the West has not been so different. The "Westphalian" model is very recent even in the West. Some people seem to take it for granted that the "Westphalian" model is the future but there isn't any rational reason for great confidence in this belief.

Jim said at October 18, 2015 7:59 AM:

Western Europeans are very peculiar people notable for such things as individualism, greater freedom of women, weak kinship ties, nuclear families, late age of marriage, no polygamy, high degree of exogamy, low reproductive rates. The characteristics of Western Europeans are the result of a long process of genetic-cultural co-evolution. Western European populations form a very small portion of humanity.

Seth W. said at October 19, 2015 4:26 PM:

Henry Kissinger is a master at saying nothing of any real value or use. It's now time form him to stay silent and just move on to his next prospect...

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