The geo-political bonds that hold many of the greater Middle Eastern countries together today are fragile, as observed as an expat while working in Abu Dhabi for three years. Granted, some of the region’s countries are currently considered politically stable, such as the country in which I lived– the United Arab Emirates. Others are cosmetically stable, and the balance are in varying states of dysfunction – some subtle, some tumultuous. The irony is that few, if any, military analysts, intelligence organizations, politicians, economists, optimists or pessimists can accurately predict the region’s destiny beyond the next half decade – and that might be pushing that microcosm in time. Many prognosticators equate the greater Middle Eastern countries to a prolonged and nightmarish chess board game. Where to begin?
The many diverse peoples and factions that must be appeased to achieve a semblance of lasting political resolution are seemingly insurmountable. Fortunately, if one can call it that, there are too many players crowding the board for any single group to pull off a checkmate. Internal communities – Sunnis, Shiites, Maronites, Kurds, Druze, Alawites, Hamas, Fatah, Muslim Brotherhood, to name most – compete for government control. Clan relations often span national borders. Monarchical families are intent on safeguarding their rule. Terrorist organizations (by predominantly Western definition) – al Qaeda, Hezbollah, al-Nusra, and other jihadist offshoots – stir the pot. Regional alliances – Iran-Syria, US-Israel, and the US, Russia and China – compete for influence. Israelis and Palestinians struggle for self-determination. The greater Middle Eastern countries have more organized and/or disorganized forms of government – democracy, parliamentary, monarchy, autocracy, military, tribal and religious – within their boundary than any other region in the world.
The rulers of many of the greater Middle Eastern countries are haunted by high unemployment and a high percentage of youth – most all with a perceived future of hopelessness. In countries with internal unrest, civil war has resulted in a horrendous loss of life, massive emigration across borders, destruction of homeland, and economic devastation – all of which fuel the conflict and spark hatred. Vast sums of money have been transferred out of those countries to perceived safer havens like the UAE and Qatar.
And then, there is oil. Without petroleum, everything from heart valves to fishing boots to ballpoint pens to plywood adhesive would not exist. Surprise yourself: http://www.anwr.org/features/oiluses.htm Many oil-thirsty countries depend on the Middle East’s vast energy resources for their economic survival. That dependence pleases the world’s largest oil exploration corporations – Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, BP, to name only a few – which are heavily invested in the Middle East, and whose shareholders expect an attractive return on their investments.
The concentration of powerhouse nations’, particularly the US’s, military assets on the ground, in the air, and on and under the water in the greater Middle East, for the sole purpose of overseeing geo-political direction (aka oil flow), cannot be understated. Virtually every American president since Dwight Eisenhower has had a Middle Eastern country that has brought him some degree of angst in protecting the unhindered export of oil.
Will the US cease to be a military overlord of the Arabian Gulf if its increasing energy self-sufficiency over the next decade, or earlier, resulting from exploitation of its shale oil and gas reserves, leads to a decline in the strategic importance of the Middle East as a supplier of energy? How will that play out?
The white knight may believe that benevolent leadership, understanding others and demonstrating respect for their diverse cultures and beliefs, and the renunciation of sectarianism, extremism, and racism are the most effective means to discourage the pretexts used by those who try to exploit and encourage violence and terrorism. Unfortunately, hatred is a powerful human emotion that supersedes tolerance and an open mind. Hatred has been an integral part of life spanning centuries amongst many internal communities in the greater Middle East.
Opposing factions that pay lip service to constructive dialogue often have their own perceptions and programs for dialogue. Each side rejects the others’ dialogue when it believes that the agenda is not in accordance with its own. Although peace may be the ultimate goal of competing factions, it must be recognized that peace carries varied interpretations – many incompatible.
The hope is that the chess players endeavor to make moves that placate enough of the internal communities to avoid wide-spread chaos. Possible? Miracles have occurred before. Oh yeah? Name one within the last 2,000 years.