This is the fifth of five of my ‘thoughts’ on diverse strategic issues in the first 10 days of 2019. Well, one was related to the state of democracy in Canada, that’s not exactly a matter of great strategic import but it should be of concern to some of us.
Look at these maps, please:
This is the region we, generally, refer to as the Middle East.
Now this one:
This is the Sunni/Shia split in the region. Don’t forget that the world’s largest Muslim country is Indonesia (nearly 230 Million of its 260 Million people are Muslim and 99% of them are Sunni), far from the region. Within the region, the Middle East, something like 90% to 95% of Irans 80+ Million people are Shia while about 90% of Egypt’s 100 Million people is Sunni.
But, then there is this map:
While there is considerable nuclear power in the Middle East, only Shia Iran is hell-bent on having its own answer to Israel’s nuclear weapons.
Finally, please look at this:
On top of everything else, there is the festering sore of the Kurds. They were promised a country of their own back in the aftermath of the First World War but they still remain a thorn in the sides of several competing countries: Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. Notwithstanding all the other divisions, the Kurds remain a huge problem for the region … far more serious than Israel and its nuclear weapons.
The answer to my own question in the title is: I have absolutely no idea, none at all. Sadly, I fear that few others have any, either.
What I am pretty certain about is that there is no hope for things to get much better in the near to mid-term … the Arab Spring of 2010/11 was always more illusion, fed by Western hope, than it was a real, popular pro-democracy impulse. Mohammed bin Salman, who murders journalists in cold blood, is more typical of the Middle East, Sunni and Shia Muslim alike. Now, some will find a contradiction in what I said about China, just a few days ago, when I posited that the biggest problem facing the leadership in Beijing is that “the Chinese people wanting a greater say in their own future.” Haven’t I, also, often said that all people are essentially alike, it is only the environments in which they grew up, their cultures, that make them different? Aren’t Arabs, then, just as likely as Chinese to want “a greater say in their own future?” Of course they are; at the micro level, any given individual Arab is just as likely as any individual Chinese or Canadian or Chilean to want to have a say in how things are done but some of us were raised in liberal cultures, and some in deeply conservative cultures that still respect individual values and choice while others come from very illiberal cultures that demand that the individual submerge her or his own values under a weighty volume that says that each individual must, even on pain of death, believe in one notion, not just obey one set of laws, but accept that their own ideas and personal values have no value at all unless they conform, in every detail, to the established, enforced dogma. People who are raised in (in my opinion are victims of) an illiberal culture are not going to welcome new, strange notions like a liberal (or even a conservative) democracy or find such notions very “comfortable.” George W Bush and his advisors, many from the Project for a New American Century, were wrong when they thought, in the early 2000s that the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq were yearning for democracy; they really wanted safety and stability, something we might call peace. The cultures of the Middle East and South West Asia are too different from ours, or from China’s for that matter, to accommodate too many new ideas too quickly.
Many people think that Israel is the big problem in the Middle East. I disagree; I think it is a complicating factor but, in at least one way, a stabilizing factor, too. I think the more serious problems are ethnocultural, especially the Shia/Sunni split and the problem of the Kurds and I suspect that the two together might provoke a or a series of long, bloody internecine wars which will exacerbate the migrant crisis, about which I have been warning for years, that now overwhelms Europe and threatens Canada, too.
My guess is that, starting as early as 2019, the Middle East will stumble from crisis to bloody crisis, including wars on several fronts, as intractable cultural differences are resolved by the only tools that too many so-called ‘leaders’ actually understand: military force.
Canada will be dragged into the coming mess because:
- We’re already engaged, albeit only lightly;
- We have interests, perhaps even vital interests, in the region; and
- The US-led West is likely to want to try to “do something” … even if it’s wrong, as it most likely will be.