Strategic Security in the Middle East
“Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessaryâ€¦” (Reinhold Niebuhr, et al., 2011).
Need for Perspective
The volatile Middle East region has weighed heavily on the minds of American strategic policymakers, diplomats, members of Congress, State Department and Defense Department strategists, occupants of the White House and others for many years and for good reasons. Following the terrorist attacks of 2011, new strategies were launched by the United States designed to fight a so-called “war on terror” but in the American homeland these strategies — considered by some to be invasive of personal liberties — were put in motion to protect citizens from another round of devastating terrorist attacks.
Most recently the Middle Eastern Muslim world has exploded with citizen uprisings and revolution — in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, Oman, and elsewhere. And while the fires of revolt and overthrow continue to burn white-hot in Libya and Egypt — and Syrian troops are killing their own people in the streets to contain the demonstrations — a constant flow of radical Islamic insurgents move daily into Afghanistan and Iraq to create more violence and chaos. It would seem to the objective observer that the billions of dollars spent and the thousands of lives lost by the U.S. In Iraq and Afghanistan have added up to a strategic wasteland. What should the position of the United States government be with reference to the recent Islamic revolts and to the ongoing tensions between the West and Islam? These questions cry out for responses that no knowledgeable person has yet attempted to coherently, objectively answer.
Outside of a few short-term successes — and the maintenance of security for American’s one true friend in the region, Israel — the United States has been on the defensive and seemingly on the wrong side of public opinion in the Middle East. It is the position of this paper that while no model developed in the West can predict or preclude violence or ease the political tensions between the Middle East and the U.S., embracing a more sensitive historical American perspective vis-a-vis the Middle East will go a long way towards more civil future relations between the U.S. And Islamic countries.
Without a more thoughtful perspective on the part of both the U.S. And Middle Eastern nations of Muslim ethnicity, and the implementation of policies that embrace that perspective, more terrorism, tension, and toxic communication can be expected between the West and Middle Eastern Muslim nations. Peace must be pursued through thoughtful acts and holistic perspectives; and leadership is the only means of achieving that long-sought-after peace.
Model-Making Failure and Loss of Fear in the Middle East
The United States had little or no advanced clue as to much of the current uprisings in the Middle East. An article in The New Yorker (Steavenson, 2011, p. 1) reports that American military and intelligence professionals have spent a “â€¦hundred and twenty-five million dollars’ worth of algorithmic computer modeling” over the past three years in search of a reliable forecast for “global political unrest.” Those multi-million dollar model-making schemes obviously failed to do what they were supposed to do. To wit, the computer modeling put the odds of a “copycat revolution in Egypt” (following the massive demonstrations that led to the downfall of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia on January 14, 2011) at twenty percent, and no more.
“All of our models are bad, some are less bad than others,” said Mark Abdollahian, a consultant hired by the U.S. To conduct research on “power transitions” (Steavenson, 1). Indeed the models could not have projected that following the “euphoria” of Egypt and Tunisia’s street-scene revolutions that Muammer Qaddafi’s defiant attacks on his own people would lead eventually to his defeat and disappearance. In short, no amount of money poured into modeling can accurately predict political events in the Middle East. That is now proven to be the case. And it can be safely assumed that no amount of money, materials, and manpower can force a democracy on countries like Iraq — notwithstanding former Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertion that “â€¦we made the right decision” by invading Iraq (CNN.com).
The risks of continuing unrest — repression in response to that unrest — revolution and wildly unstable societies in the Middle East will not disappear any time soon, Steavenson asserts. That is because “â€¦Arabs have lost their fearâ€¦. Not just the fear of violence, imprisonment, and deathâ€¦ they have also lost the fear of the insidious inculcation that they, as Arabsâ€¦ are inherently ill suited to representative government” (Steavenson, p. 2).
The late political philosopher Hannah Arendt, whose seminal studies of the Nazi and Stalinist regimes remain as pivotal works in the literature, suggests that “few things” are more “frightening” than the kinds of computer modeling mentioned by Steavenson (Arendt, 1969, p. 6). She sees this kind of technologic approach flawed because what first appears as a “hypothesisâ€¦ turns immediately, usually after a few paragraphs, into a ‘fact,’ with the result that the purely speculative character of the whole enterprise is forgotten” (7).
Although her book On Violence was published forty-two years ago, even then Arendt was arguing against “scientifically minded brain trusters” that are engaged in “hypothetical constructions of future events” (6). Instead of engaging in what Arendt calls “old-fashioned, un-computerized activity” in terms of projecting what might happen based on what has happened and current dynamics, the bureaucrats and policymakers “imitate the surface features of sciences” — and that approach to strategic theory is fundamentally dangerous, Arendt explains.
The danger she alludes to lies within the belief that “we have an understanding of events and control over their flow which we do not have” (Arendt quoting Richard N. Goodwin, 7). Moreover, these “â€¦pompous pseudo-scientific theories” are dangerous because they are “not only plausible” — they take evidence from current events and trends — but they have “a hypnotic effect” and “put to sleep our common sense” (Arendt, 8).
Jihad and Islam
What is the Islamic philosophy on violence? Is what Americans see on television and read in the newspapers an accurate accounting of Muslims, violence, and war? The concept of “the jihad as a permanent state of war against the non-Muslim world” was the operative attitude for years, but it nearly became obsolete in the modern era “â€¦prior to the emergence of Qaddafi in Libya, Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, and various radical fundamentalist groups,” according to Dougherty, et al. (2000, p. 187). Jihad as a concept was originally promoted by the prophet Muhammad, who explained to the faithful that jihad was “a sacred duty and a guarantee of salvation” after death (Dougherty, 187).
The concept of jihad is somewhat complicated, but according to Dougherty the Muslim world was divided into dar al-Islam (a peaceful abode of the “true believers and those who submitted to their tolerant rule”) and the dar al-harb (the area of war) (187). Those two Muslim aspects were always “theoretically at war with each other because war was the ultimate device for incorporating recalcitrant peoples into the peaceful territory of Islam” (Dougherty, 187). And moreover, in the past, from the perspective of religious leaders, jihad was more of a crusade than a “just war” and it was in reference to the “spiritual struggle for perfection within the heart of individuals” more than any tactic to blow up innocent civilians (in particular, Westerners) (Dougherty, 187). Today, however, militants and terrorists have twisted the meaning of jihad into a campaign to kill as many Americans and other Westerners as possible.
Samuel Huntington — Clash of Civilizations
If Samuel Huntington is to be believed, it won’t take a million-dollar computer model-maker to figure out that there will be violence in the future between Muslim nations and other cultures. On page 256 Huntington of his controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, mentions conflicts between Muslims and “Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Hindu, Chinese, Buddhist [and] Jewish” civilizations — and “most of these relations have been “violent at some pointâ€¦” (Huntington, 1996, 256). The fact is that Muslims have “problems living peaceably with their neighbors,” the author insists, and that includes, in some cases, having problems living peaceably with neighbors that are also Muslim.
The data Huntington presents is damning, but for Americans seeking perspective on the Middle East and on Islam’s future in terms of international relations, and for those hoping for detente between the West and Islam at some point in the future, it is necessary to come to terms with the author’s recounting of violent Muslim realities. For example, Huntington points out that of the fifty “ethnopolitical conflicts in 1993-1994,” Muslims were participants in twenty-six, just over half, of that violence (256). Taking that data to another level, Huntington asserts that within the context of those fifty conflicts, there were “â€¦three times as many intercivilizational conflicts involving Muslims as there were conflicts between all non-Muslim civilizations” (257).
Of the six conflicts (within the fifty mentioned) that resulted in 200,000 or more deaths, three were between Muslims and non-Muslims, two were between Muslim cultures, and just one involved non-Muslims on both sides. The author references a New York Times investigative piece in which fifty-nine ethnic conflicts were reported in forty-eight locations in 1993. In “half these places Muslims were clashing with other Muslims or with non-Muslims”; in thirty-nine of the conflicts groups from different civilizations were engaged, and two-thirds of those were between “Muslims and others” (Huntington, 257).
Keeping in mind this book was published in 1996 — and updated data employing Huntington’s Muslim-violence theme is not immediately available — it is worthy of note that of the twenty-nine wars (that involved 1,000 or more deaths in a year’s time) in 1992, twelve were intercivilizational, and of those dozen, nine were between Muslims and non-Muslims (257). Huntington raised a lot of eyebrows — and encountered a blistering serious of public criticisms — for the following quote he published on page 258 of his book: “Islam’s borders are bloody, and so are its innards.” In a footnote to that quote, Huntington admits that he also used that quote in a Foreign Affairs article he published, and it “attracted more critical comment” than any other passage in his narrative. His response to the outrage by readers and scholars? “Quantitative evidence from every disinterested source conclusively demonstrates [the] validity” of that assertion, he insists (258).
Moreover, Huntington was far from finished with his shellacking of Islam; on page 258 the author claims that Muslim societies had “force ratios” that were “significantly higher” than other countries. The average force ratios and military effort ratios of Muslim countries (in the 1980s) were “â€¦roughly twice those of Christian countries,” Huntington goes on. “There is a connection between Islam and militarism,” (the quote is from James Payne on page 258).
When it comes to international crises, Muslim states have employed violence to resolve 76 crises out of a total of 142 in which Muslims were involved (this is reportedly between the years 1928 and 1979), Huntington continues (258). And when they did resort to violence, Muslim states used “high-intensity violence, resorting to full-scale war in 41% of the cases,” the author writes (258). Another tactic in Huntington uses in his arguments against Muslims is to compare Muslim vs. Christian dynamics. While Muslim societies were using violence in 53.5% of their conflicts (between 1928 and 1979), the United Kingdom only resorted to violence in 11.5 of their crises and the U.S. only resorted to violence in 17.9% of their international crises (Huntington, 258).
Challenging Huntington’s Assumptions and Assertions
Did Huntington go out of his way to paint a picture of Muslims as violence-prone? Is he biased against Islam and digging up out-dated statistics to prove his points? If Muslim societies are as violence-prone and as hateful towards the West as Huntington’s book indicates, the future will be blood-soaked and grim. But political science professor Kunihiko Imai believes first of all that Muslim nations don’t despise and eschew democracy because democracy is related to Christianity. Imai reminds readers in the International Journal On World Peace that Islam and democracy are in some ways not compatible for the following reasons: a) the Islamic concept of the “absolute sovereignty of God” and hence God’s law, the Shari’a, cannot be “altered by elected parliaments”; and b) the very concept of elected officials in parliaments creating laws for Muslims has been seen in many Islamic cultures as “blasphemous” since only Allah (God) can make laws (Imai, 2006, p. 11).
Secondly, Kunihiko believes that the “â€¦empirical data does not render support for Huntington’s apocalyptic view of the violent conflicts between the west and the Islamic-Confucian states” (26). Hence, rather than accept Huntington’s policy recommendations (“maintain military superiorityâ€¦ [and] exploit differences and conflicts among & #8230;Islamic states”) the West would be better off “promoting economic and political liberalization of developing countries” in order to make it a “more cooperative, if not completely peaceful, world” (Kunihiko, 26).
Meanwhile, professors Nanda Shrestha and Kenneth Gray — also writing in the International Journal on World Peace — posit that what Huntington is in fact advancing in his Foreign Affairs article and indeed in his book, is “not a hypothesis to be statistically tested” (Shrestha, et al., 2006, p. 34). Rather, the authors assert, Huntington is advancing “â€¦an agenda, a worldview to be globally implemented by the U.S. against its invented enemies, all in the name of global domination” (34).
Shrestha goes on to insist that Huntington is actually creating a “new geography” in order to serve “overlapping geopolitical and geoeconomic interests of the United States: one world under one nation” (35). Moreover, while Huntington advocates a position that is ideologically “rooted in the Cold War mentality,” his worldview is based on his “selective read of the post-Cold War landscapeâ€¦ which has been dominated by the West, at lease since 1600 C.Eâ€¦.” (Shrestha, 35).
Other Potential Prescriptions for Peace between the West and Islam
Is detente possible between the West and Muslim nations? What will be the motivating factor? How and who will provide the pivotal spark that reduces the anxiety between the two cultures? Author Kenneth Neal Waltz explains that although people’s instincts may be good — and it can be assumed that the great majority of Muslim citizens, and American citizens, have good basic instincts — their tendency to be gullible “may prompt them to follow false leaders” (Waltz, 2001, p. 17). This is of course true in the West and its true in the Middle East. Could it be that good-hearted, God-fearing Muslims followed a leader like the Ayatollah Khomeini — even though in hindsight his hatred for the West caused him to be irrational and make false statements — because they were gullible? When Khomeini ordered the assassination of author Salmon Rushdie (offering a million dollars if a Muslim would kill Rushdie), was that using good judgment? Certainly not.
Professor Waltz goes on to reference iconic thinker Bertrand Russell who believed that when society’s “possessive instincts” are on the decline peace can be achieved (17). Could there ever be a time in the tensions between the West and the Middle East when governments and citizens are less possessive of their ideologies and political / religious / ethical machinations? One has to doubt that time will ever come.
Waltz also references philosopher William James, who posited that war is “rooted in man’s bellicose nature” which cannot be changed; however, James also believed the drive to go to battle “can be diverted” (18). The view of renowned theologian Reinhold Niebuhr — which applies to the Muslim world as well as the West — is also presented in Waltz’s book. Man is a “pigmy who thinks himself a giant,” Waltz writes on page 21, paraphrasing Rev. Niebuhr. Purely out of “self-interest” man creates “economic and political theories and attempts to pass them off as universal systems”; Western man and the Islamic men are born and raised “in insecurity and seek to make [themselves] absolutely secure,” Waltz continues (21). Man is nothing more than a man but “thinks himself a god,” the author asserts, again paraphrasing Niebuhr.
Do those somewhat cynical descriptions help define Americans and Muslims alike? The answer has to be a qualified yes, based on the terrible wastefulness that Americans have visited on other countries: a) Vietnam (defoliating huge portions of the country with Agent Orange, indiscriminately bombing civilian populations ); and b) Iraq (111,937 civilians killed in a war that was supposed to be based on locating “weapons of mass destruction” — weapons that were never found; brutal torturing of prisoners) (Iraq Body Count, 2011). Some Muslims (in this case, fanatical Muslims like those loyal to the terrorist policies of al Queda) believe that they have God on their side by killing Americans and other Westerners (9/11, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, suicide bombers in London subways, etc.). “Men are led not by the precepts of pure reason but by their passions,” Waltz points out, paraphrasing Spinoza.
“Men, led by passion, are drawn into conflict” and rather than being “mutually helpful” to other humans “they behave in a manner that is mutually destructive” (Waltz, 24) (paraphrasing Spinoza). Moreover, Waltz references Spinoza’s belief states that are “natural enemies” (like the West and several Middle Eastern countries) must “constantly be on guard, one against the other” (25). This is not because states are “never honorable and peaceful,” but because states “â€¦may at any moment become dishonorable and belligerent” because passion has a tendency to “obscure the true interests of state as of men” (Waltz, 25).
As was mentioned in the Thesis for this paper, without a more thoughtful perspective from both the U.S. And Middle Eastern nations the international world will continue to be disrupted by wars and acts of terrorism. According to Eric Hoffer, the most “accessible and comprehensive of all unifying agents” is hate. It will take years, decades, maybe centuries before the hatred that many Americans feel for Islam — and that many Muslims feel for the West — can be eradicated. Meantime, American public and private schools should be teaching a more balanced perspective of the world of Islam (its history, it’s philosophy) — and likewise, Muslim schools should be teaching a more balanced perspective of the United States, its history, its constitution and its positive efforts in the context of fighting Nazism and other scourges against ordinary peoples. And moreover, American leaders should back away from the divisive politics of today and find common ground to win the battle for peace in the future.
Arendt, Hannah. (1969). On Violence. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc.
Blitzer, Wolf. (2011). Cheney refuses to admit any mistakes as vice president. CNN.com
Retrieved September 7, 2011, from http://situationroom.blogs.cnn.com.
Dougherty, James E, and Pfaltzgraff, Robert L. (1997). Contending Theories of International
Relations: A Comprehensive Survey. New York: Longman.
Hoffer, Eric. (1951). The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. New York: Perennial Library / Harper & Row.
Huntington, Samuel P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
New York: Simon & Schuster.
Imai, Kunihiko. (2006). Culture, Civilization, or Economy? Test of the Clash of Civilizations
Thesis. International Journal on World Peace, XXIII (3), 3-27.
Iraq Body Count. (2011). Documented Civilian Deaths From Violence. Retrieved September 7,
2011, from http://www.iraqbodycount.org.
Niebuhr, Reinhold, and Dorrien, Gary. (2011). The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of its Traditional Defense. Chicago:
Shrestha, Nanda, and Gray, Kenneth. (2006). Clash of Civilizations or Cartography of U.S.
Global Domination? International Journal on World Peace, XXIII (3), 33-45.
Steavenson, Wendell. (2011). Pessoptimism. The New Yorker. Retrieved September 7, 2011,
Waltz, Kenneth Neal. (2001). Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis. New York:
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