An Idealist View of the Mess in the Middle East

                In their January 18, 2014 edition, the Economist printed an article written by Lexington entitled Mr. Obama’s Iran problem (http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21594295-congress-not-helping-president-deal-islamic-republic-mr-obamas-iran-problem).  The article discusses the President’s plans to open communications with Iran and work to persuade President Hassan Rohani to slow his role in trying to obtain nuclear power.  It was a question that plagued the Bush administration: use diplomacy and negotiate or use force and command.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates answered the debate with “[suspecting] that no one in the world doubts this administration’s willingness to use force”.  However, was and is this the best policy?  And how can changing our game plan in the Middle East affect relations and structural balance?  After all, it was diplomacy that prevented the Cold War from going nuclear.

                Despite the fact that the key players to these negotiations are more-or-less totalitarian states, the relations between our countries have been extremely strained, and less than half of Congress supported talks, since the article was published Iran has reduced its enriched uranium stockpile.  This is surely good news, especially for the US, where our economy and military has been crippled by our presence in the Middle East; as well as, proving to be good news for Rohani.  Since his election, he has made it one of his goals to stabilize the country by lessening sanctions and improving his ties with the West.

                The negotiations are not to be entered into blindly.  President Obama is being scrutinized for his lack of “action” in Syria when Assad opened chemical warfare on targeted communities and, as I mentioned above, we have strained relations with the parties involved in the Iranian negotiations (both President Putin and Assad have offered their influence to Iran).  We need to work with these countries—we do not need to like or justify what they are doing or have done, but maybe the days of Americans policing outside states have passed.  If so, then the best course of action for progressing society—globally and locally—is going to be through diplomatic efforts. 

As proven in the matching pennies example, war and acts of war do not fully benefit one party; each side is subject to casualties the possibility of their actions leading them no further than they were from the start.  It becomes a matter of preventing casualties (whether mortally or monetary) and any resolution is often forced on to the other party.  Give and take, or compromise, is (ideally) eventually reached, so why not proceed through negotiations.  It isn’t a tactic that is going to change the face of the Middle East overnight, but it is the option that doesn’t use violence to breed violence.  That isn’t to say that the world will eventually be eradicated of violence, it will just open the door to put everyone on the same page to deal with it.  All countries are in more or less stabile relationships and deal with the negative relations within their own country or as a whole with other countries—kind of like what the UN was intended for.

It is a simple ideas that if a problem or issue isn’t discussed it isn’t resolved, if a country is in poverty resentment and hostility are bred and, from that, more resentment and hostility.  I haven’t quite figured out why our previous administrations and our military is so apt to jump to war; after all, one catches more flies with honey.  We should continue the negotiations, but not blindly, understanding and working towards a better life for all, isn’t necessarily giving pure trust and faith.  If we open negotiations with the Middle East, then (hopefully) we can impose influence over the way they govern and hold them to a better moral code than they have in the past.

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This link will direct you to an article detailing the “convuletedness” of relations in the Middle East and better explains the network in this posting: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/08/26/the-middle-east-explained-in-one-sort-of-terrifying-chart/.

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2 thoughts on “An Idealist View of the Mess in the Middle East”

  1. I appreciate the humor illustrated in the “Complete Idiot’s Chart to Understanding the Middle East” and the frustration with U.S. foreign policy which informs it. Nevertheless, from a network perspective, both the political dilemma facing the Obama administration and the world politics surrounding the Iran sanctions regime reflect the “levels of analysis” problem as described by international relations theorists. That is, in analyzing a potential threat to an existing balance of power and the crises it can provoke, one has to look at three “levels” of political dynamics.

    At the “systemic” level of interactions among major actors (traditional global politics), patterns of threat and accomodation, constraint and enablement, and competition and coordination, all play out among the major political powers. These powers include not only nation-states, but also international organizations and transnational non-governmental organizations (NGO’s). However, the influence of the “domestic” level within each country, where political parties and major interest groups constrain the action that each of the three categories of players on the “systemic” level can pursue, is often just as effective as activity on the more traditional plane of international politics. This is especially true in an age of enhanced democracy, where more and more governments must deal with robust civil societies within and beyond their borders. So, the notion that the leadership of Iran, the United States, Russia, and even China can act independently of the social and political constituencies they nominally represent is a polite fiction in the twenty-first century. Social media and the proliferation of news and information sources ensure that “publics”, broadly conceived, will have substantial influence on government decisions in the foreign policy realm.

    Finally, at the “individual” level, key leaders, advisors, and diplomats, are subject to their own ideological dispositions, their personal experiences, and their unique characters. All three of these “levels” – the “individual”, the “domestic”, and the “systemic” (in ascending order), constitute a vertical dimension to the graphical depiction of international networks. Traditional depictions of alliances and competitions (and even the “Idiot’s Chart”!) occupy the horizontal dimension of international politics (if the chart or diagram is imposed on a grounded flat surface, such as a table-top). Thus, the “levels of analysis” paradigm implies a third dimension in the networking of international actors (the individual embedded in various subcategories of the domestic, the domestic embedded in the international system). Network analysis in three dimensions makes for an even more frenzied set of relationships than the one the “Idiot’s Chart” describes, but it is ultimately a more accurate framework for explaining the Iranian nuclear crisis.

    The “Economist” article properly notes the influence of the Republican Party’s sullen resentment toward President Obama, the disproportionate influence of a domestic lobbying group championing a particular foreign country (AIPAC as an instrument of Israeli influence within the American Congress), and the constraining effect of the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran on the Iranian leadership. These all illustrate sub-national and transnational actors active on the “domestic” level. However, one major domestic-level factor is not mentioned in either the source article or the post, namely, the skewed demography of the Iranian Republic.

    Iran has the highest percentage of domestic population under the age of 30 of any nation in Southwest Asia. Its youth cohorts are highly educated and enthusiastic adopters of web-based technologies. They are VERY FAVORABLY disposed toward American society (as opposed to the American government), though you would never know it from mass media reports in the West! These young people have become very impatient with the effects of the economic sanctions which have hamstrung the Iranian economy and drastically reduced living standards. They also know that these living standards are far below those of their Islamic neighbor, Turkey, which has benefited from working within Western collaborative frameworks. So the potential of this restive demographic within the Iranian nation should be more closely assessed as to its internal network arrays and potential linkages with both independent transnational actors and the commercial and non-profit network clusters in the “intermediate” Islamic societies of, for example, Turkey and Tunisia.

    I agree with the blog post’s contention that American foreign policy in the Middle East has been unduly burdened with military operations and the unforeseen consequences that have ensued from them. However, a comprehensive network analysis of international politics in the Middle East and Southwest Asia involves assessing developments along three dimensions, and the vertical plane comprises at least the three levels described above. Diplomacy may have been an under-utilized resource in recent American history, but statecraft itself is a multi-dimensional project. The gradients against which its specific policies and negotiations are pursued are weighted with both positive and negative relationships, which in turn are embedded in larger networks. Complexity pushes us toward oversimplified explanations, but reductionism crowds out the best understanding.

    Confusion is worth templating!!

    Regards,

    dlimmer

  2. In reality, we should be working *with* the Iranians to counter the salafist Sunni’s in the region (that’d be the Taliban, al queda, et.al.). The salafists pose an existensial threat to the Shia in Iran and elsewhere in the region (as well as to all non-Muslims worldwide). Iran with a nuke is no threat to the USA. It’s unlikely a threat to Israel either, as the Iranians know it would be suicide.

    If the Israelis and Saudis want regime change in Iran, then let those strange bedfellows do it themselves – America has enough problems, we ain’t got time, public support, or money for another mid-East war. America is no position right now to continue these foreign government reformations when we too are facing an economic crisis. This is why the strain in relationship exists… America is not proving to be a good role model right now.

    -Joan

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