May 09, 2007

"The Fragile Crescent"

By Noah Pollak

A handful of articles and essays have been published in the past couple of weeks that are worth noting.

The first is from my friend and colleague at the Shalem Center, Martin Kramer (and by “friend and colleague” I mean someone who I admire greatly and who probably forgets more about the Middle East in a year than I currently know). Martin spends part of the year at Harvard as an Olin Institute Senior Fellow, and on April 30th he gave a lecture there entitled “After Iraq: The Future of the United States in the Middle East.” He has now posted an excerpt of his talk on his website, and it is exemplary of Martin’s great skill in putting current events in this region into their larger historic and geopolitical context.

Martin argues that the United States, through the Iraq war, has delivered a shock to the Middle East that is “rendering parts of the political map an anachronism.” Put differently, he says, “the dissolution of the Ottoman empire has resumed.” The first cause is the Shiite revival; the second is the rise of Kurdish nationalism; and the third is the “refugee crescent.”

The choice the United States will face with greater frequency and urgency is whether or not to sustain its traditional support for that [post-Ottoman] map. Past challenges came from aggressive states encroaching on smaller ones, and aggressors could be cajoled, deterred, and punished. But transformation within states, in which the main actors are movements, insurgents, refugees, and secessionists, is another matter.

As they say, read the whole thing.

Posted by Noah Pollak at May 9, 2007 09:46 AM

Yes, we are still fighting World War One. More people should realize this. Mr. Kramer's fine little essay is a must-read.

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 9, 2007 10:59 AM

Agreed -- excellent. Thanks, Noah -- what a nice addition you are to an already great blogsite!

Posted by: Pam at May 9, 2007 04:46 PM

Sounds pretty accurate- post-WW2, the US has generally acted as a "Status quo" power, and has put a great deal of effort into creating and then supporting institutions specifically intended to uphold the status quo- the best example of which is the UN.

The obvious problem with that approach is that as conditions change, the status quo becomes less and less appropriate to the situation. Eventually, something will give, no matter how much blood and treasure is spent trying to prevent change.

The great irony of this is that the US is one of the most dynamic and influential societies on the planet, and by our very nature we cause other societies to change merely by coming into contact with us and being exposed to our ideas and technology.... which means one of the reasons preserving the status quo is impossible is because of the effect we have on everyone else.


Posted by: rosignol at May 10, 2007 07:32 AM

rosignol has hit it on the head: ironically, the U.S., a country of biannual democratic revolution and world-changing technological development itself, has become a status quo power.

Why is that? Lefties sneer at the influence of big business, right-wingers blame the U.N. Solomon2's opinion is that many people in the U.S., especially in government, fear any change that might make them turn away from pursuing happiness to dealing with a changing world; at the very least, it robs us of our time, for some it negatively affects business, for others it disrupts personal relationships.

That seems to be the key reason why the U.S. opposed the breakup of the U.S.S.R. U.S. diplomats pleaded to the C.I.S. states that the trade and regulation barriers of new states would cut economic growth. C.I.S. states like the Ukraine knew that this was nonsense as far as they were concerned: their economies were shrinking because of central control. What U.S. diplomats were really protesting, it seems, was that the break-up of the U.S.S.R. would make life more complicated and less comfortable for the status quo in the United States!

That makes President Bush's willingness to break his father's bonds by supporting Saddam's overthrow even more impressive. Egypt next, anyone?

Posted by: Solomon2 at May 10, 2007 08:36 AM

Excellent note. Too bad Martin doesn't advocate in his excerpt any particular policy.

I'd advocate more decentralization, or "Cantonization" of the area, with weaker central "not quite nation"-states, and stronger local provinces and cities.

In Turkey, especially, there is a Turkish empire which still denies human rights and democracy to the local majority (in SE Turkey) Kurds. The US, and the EU, should be demanding that Turkey allow a referendum on more autonomy.

The Czech empire collapsed in the 1992 velvet divorce, but this wasn't the last breakup of the WW I Austro-Hungarian empire. Kosovo is still not quite resolved, but getting there.

Too bad cantonization wasn't used in ex-Yugoslavia, before the anti-empire independence wars started. It's not too late for the US to promote local democracy for Turkey & the Kurds.

The Kurds could probably gain a PR coup by apologizing to the Armenians for taking such a major part in the Armenian genocide...

Posted by: Tom Grey at May 10, 2007 10:10 AM
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