Out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses they propose to replace. No one man, however brilliant and well informed, can come in one lifetime to such fullness of understanding as to safely judge and dismiss the customs or institutions of his society, for these are the wisdom of generations, after centuries of experiment in the laboratory of history.
-Will and Ariel Durant
Reading about the collapse of the Middle East is depressing stuff. Of course, the collapse has been going on for some time. The latest phase is just a continuation of a process that started with the end of the Cold War, which provided a framework for the Arabs to define themselves as separate from the West without rejecting the West. Arab nationalism sprung up after WW2 and was a defining characteristic of the Mohammedan lands for close to fifty years.
The Cold War kept the lid on a lot of problems that we’re rediscovering. One is the fact that the national boundaries in the land of the Muslim are meaningless. The other is that the Mohammedan is incapable of living under anything resembling western style liberalism. Authoritarian rule by hereditary clans is the natural order. Saudi Arabia is the model, not the exception. That may take the form of military dictatorship (Egypt), theocratic dictatorship (Iran) or the palace system in the gulf states.
This reality has been impossible for American elites to accept. Egalitarianism, consumerism and materialism are the three legs of their religion. They looked out over the Muslim world and had the same reaction they get when thinking about Appalachia. The two decade war to set things right in the Muslim world have brought us to the point where region-wide war is the most likely outcome. Yemen is looking like the Balkans of the Persian Gulf.
This old article from the American Thinker offers some useful background.
What is happening in Yemen is symptomatic of the whole Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region. The population was semi-starved until oil production began in the 1980s, when oil production began and wheat imports rose to feed a population doubling every 25 years. The situation now is that oil exports will cease in the next couple of years, the capital is being besieged by rebel groups and Islamists of various types, and groundwater is close to complete depletion because of kat production.
Saudi Arabia has been ponying up to keep the Yemeni population fed. But a day will arrive when the Saudis will be sick of that, or there will simply be no administration on the Yemeni side to handle the aid. The Saudis are still building a 1,100-mile-long fence to keep the Yemenis out. Completion of the border fence will give the Saudis more options on when to stop feeding the Yemenis. The fate of Yemen is to break up into its constituent tribes and for perhaps 90% of the population to starve. That is more than 20 million people and it is likely to happen in the next few years.
The Dissident Right likes to blame the messianic spasm of the Bush years for what has gone wrong in the MENA and they have some points. Bush blowing up Iraq was a foolish decision. You never replace the known with the unknown. That’s what they did when they broke up Iraq. The unknown was an attempt to impose Western democracy on them. Instead they got a sectarian war that rippled through the Muslim world.
The true cause of that ripple is what American planners can never confront. In order to accept that the Arabs do not want and cannot accept the combination of egalitarianism, consumerism and materialism we call “liberalism” calls into the question the very nature of the western project. If “liberalism” is not universal, it is not perfect. If it is not perfect, it can be debated. If it can be debated, it can be rejected at home, as well as abroad. That’s simply impossible so the West refuses to accept the Arabs as Arabs.
The errors of the Bush years could have been patched over without going down this road. The Obama people could have backed a suitable strong man in Iraq, provided the means, money and weapons and then pretended he was just a proto-democrat. That would have allowed the region to fall back into a familiar pattern. Instead, they set off on a course that is strikingly insane. The results thus far are chaos in the Maghreb, particularly Libya. We have a breach with our only reliable ally in the region. Now, it appears our other allies are about to be swept away by Iranian backed lunatics.
Part of this is due to the people in charge. Anyone who has watched a vibrant American city government do business knows the pattern. Today they have policy X. Tomorrow it is policy Y, which is contradictory to policy X. Every day is a new day with new plans, often in conflict of with previous plans. It’s big man government jammed into an Anglo-Saxon political structure.
Another aspect is the central defect of American Progressives. Their singular focus on reaching the promised land leaves a huge blind spot, which the rest of us call the past. They never ask why things are as they are. They just assume the current arrangements happened randomly and therefore they are free to re-arrange them in pursuit of current fads. It’s why their cult ends up murdering people. They can’t imagine why the people are not going along with the new scheme so they assume it is malice. What else could it be?
In the case of the Middle East, Team Obama started with a policy of reversing the Bush policy, because Bush was Hitler and bad so they had to reverse all that. That meant abandoning Iraq to the Iranians. Then it meant undermining the despots in the Maghreb. Of course, they ramped up our involvement in Afghanistan for no other reason than the Bush people did not want to do it. The result was six years of fighting for no reason.
Once they ran out of Bush polices to reverse, they set out to re-arrange the region as if they were starting with a blank sheet. They looked at the alliance of Israel, Saudi Arabia, the GCC and Jordan and decided this did not make sense to them. if they could start over, they would have an alliance with Iran as the regional hegemonic power, with Iraq as the second. Why this is preferred is unknown to me. Shia are the minority sect in Islam so maybe that’s the connection. It will be an alliance of the oppressed. Who knows?
The result is this all out push to make a deal with Iran, no matter the cost. So far the cost is a breach with Israel and Saudi Arabia. The general destabilization of the region is a direct result of America suddenly changing sides. The fact that the president’s team is acting with the consistency of the Detroit city council only adds confusion to the mix. As a result, we are on the brink of all out war in the region. The price of incompetence in the White House could turn out to be very high if the House of Saud is toppled or Israel strikes Iran.