At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait links to an essay that summarizes some of the confusing and contradictory motives and actions that have roiled the Middle East for the last few years:
I haven’t much to say about all this, but one thought does occur to me, which is that it seems rather wrong for Americans to blame other Americans for this bloody shambles. (Haivry himself does not blame America.) The next silliest thing to believing that your country is an unchallengeably magnificent superpower that never ever errs is to believe that your country’s mistakes and crimes are overwhelmingly more important and blameworthy than those of any other country, these two attitudes being far more similar than those who indulge in the latter one typically realise. The Middle East would surely now be a bloody shambles whatever the Americans had recently tried to do about it.
If there are imperialist villains to be blaming, how about Britain and France? But one suspects that, again, even if those notorious “lines in the sand” had never been drawn around a century ago, what would be happening on top of this sand would still now be a bloody shambles.
The only rays of light that Haivry discerns are in the form of the various little non-Islamic and anti-Islamist statelets that are starting to form, such as the newly emerging Kurdistan. The Kurds aren’t the only ones doing this, apparently. Good to hear.
Here’s the link to the Ofir Haivry essay.
In 2007, in a seminar room in Jerusalem, a day-long session was devoted to Israeli regional strategic perspectives. I was among the participants together with several other scholars, a former Israeli interior minister, a future Israeli defense minister, and two future Israeli ambassadors to the U.S. At a certain point, the talk turned to various scenarios for the regional future and the opportunities or dangers each of these entailed for Israel. When the possible breakup and partition of Arab states like Iraq or Syria was raised, the near-unanimous response was that this was simply too fantastic a scenario to contemplate.
Now we live that scenario. The great Sunni Arab implosion that began with the 2011 “Arab Spring” was unforeseen in its suddenness, violence, and extent. But some, both inside and outside the Arab world, had long suspected that, sooner or later, a day of reckoning would indeed arrive. (Among Westerners, the names of Bernard Lewis and David Pryce-Jones come most readily to mind.) Today, those in the West who acknowledge this great collapse for what it is will be better able to face the emerging realities. But the first and most important step is to recognize that there is no going back.
And what would all this entail for Western interests and for the regional policy of the U.S. (should it wish to have an active one)? There is no point in dreaming any longer of a grand deal with Iran, or of rebooting the good old days with Turkey, let alone resuscitating an Arab hegemony led by Egypt and the Saudis. As with the huge, decades-long effort by Great Britain to prop up the Ottoman empire, finally blasted in World War I, so with the increasingly forlorn effort by the U.S. to save the Sunni Arab regional order from collapsing, now finally revealed as a road to nowhere. One might as well attempt to restore the Balkans to the Habsburg empire or the Ottoman fold, or to resuscitate Yugoslavia.
With artificial regimes and borders gone, people in the region seek protection and solidarity in the old identities that have survived the Arab reverie: their nation, their religion, their tribe. These are the only building blocks upon which a new and stable system can be founded. The process will be long, complex, and fraught with difficulty, but it offers a prospect of strategic as well as moral coherence. A region redrawn along lines of actual self-definition would give voice to the communities on the ground that will become invested in its success and work for its stability.
For Western observers and policy makers, the principle should be to look with appropriately cautious favor on significant groupings that possess their own voice and some degree of self-government, while ensuring that in the event of their political defeat, they will not be exterminated—which is far more than any of the Arab world’s political systems ever offered anyone. Some of these groupings will evolve into robust independent nations, others into weak federal states or new tribal confederations. Some, cherishing the opportunity, will build thriving and prosperous democracies, and perhaps even become natural allies of the West and Israel. Others will undoubtedly, yet again, waste their opportunities, devolving into another round of petty and corrupt tribal entities—though with the advantage to themselves of ethnic and religious cohesiveness and to outsiders of being too small to entertain dreams of internal or external genocide. In the Middle East, again, not such a bad outcome.