MIDDLE EAST FUTURECAST

Mixed Omens Amidst Fevered Irrationality

FUTURECASTS online magazine
www.futurecasts.com
Vol. 4, No. 5, 5/1/02.

Homepage

An opaque crystal ball:

  Throughout forty years of effort to rationally discern future trends, the publisher of FUTURECASTS online magazine freely admits frustration with respect to developments in the Middle East. When focusing on that region, the crystal ball turns opaque. It's as if some malign influence hovers over that benighted region - blocking both reason and understanding.
  [

  Only one picture has come through with terrible clarity - and has been included in FUTURECASTS forecast articles.

  • For the tropical latitudes stretching from Morocco on the Atlantic to Indonesia and perhaps the Philippines on the Pacific - where warm climates, strongly held religious beliefs, and large families predominate - there will be conflict.

  • For the Holy Land in particular - where two peoples divided by strongly held and antagonistic religious beliefs live in the same small territory - they will fight.

Religious fundamentalism:

  Both of the two major religions in that region - the Muslim and Hindu religions - as well as the small Jewish enclave in the Holy Land - suffer from powerful irrational fundamentalist forces. If not for the very real dangers involved, Iran demonstrates one logical way to deal with them.
  [

Seventy five percent and more of Iranians now routinely vote against their clerisy.

 

In Afghanistan, the joy of the Afghan people in their release from theocracy easily destroys the credibility of anti American propaganda.

  In Iran, the people have now had over two decades to experience first hand all the joys of living under a theocratic government. As a result, 75% and more of them now routinely vote against those clerics currently in power. In Afghanistan, the joy of the Afghan people in their release from theocracy easily destroys the credibility of anti American propaganda.
  [
  It would not be such a bad thing if one or two nations in that region were at any one time to succumb to theocracy. If that's what the people want, it might be beneficial for them to get it. Let them, too, experience the joys of theocratic government. If they are oil exporting nations like Iran, they would still have to sell their oil on the world market. They can't eat it, and their other economic sectors are likely to remain backwards. They need hard currency more than we need their oil.
  [
  Unfortunately, terrorism and the danger of modern weaponry now make this kind of "containment" strategy increasingly dangerous and unstable. The modern world, led by the U.S., may have no choice but to try to save these people from their own stupidity - something that could become very bloody. At least, there must be strenuous efforts to avoid the creation of more than one or two of these theocracies at any one time.
  [
  Thus, just as in previous conflicts, it is a tactical necessity to seek alliances wherever they are available. You can't attack everything everywhere - as the Muslim terrorists are now finding out. Even autocratic governments can be useful allies if they are content to live peacefully within their borders.
  [
  There are several nations where perhaps a majority of the people currently prefer theocracy. Although certainly no bargains, repressive governments, such as those in Algeria and Egypt, are certainly better than any theocratic alternative - both for the strategic interests of the developed world and for the welfare of the indigenous peoples themselves.
  [

A paucity of probable outcomes:

  Some hopeful signs are evident. It is certainly not inconceivable that the Iranian people will at some time in the near future find a way to escape from the smothering domination of the ruling clerisy. A substantial majority would probably now favor normal relations with the modern world.
  [

 

 

As the technology of alternative energy sources matures, the larger oil exporting nations, including those in the Middle East, will have to find other ways of supplementing their oil earnings.

 

 

 

Increasingly, migrants from the Muslim nations find jobs and improved lives in the modern world. They send home remittances and undeniable information about the benefits of modernity.

  In Iraq, Saddam Hussein is in his late 60s. It is certainly not inconceivable that his successors will find it in their interest to get along with the modern world - and it is evident that the overwhelming majority of the people of Iraq would certainly favor such an outcome. Of course, military removal of Saddam would present other possibilities - and problems.
  [
  Other changes, too, are afoot. Already, alternative energy technologies are competitive at around $25 per barrel of oil. Wind turbines are sprouting vigorously in the fertile soil of Iowa and in many other areas - wherever average wind velocities are somewhat above average. There are Iowa farmers who already earn more per acre with their wind turbines than with their corn.
  [
  As this technology  continues to improve, each surge in energy prices will bring substantial increases in usage of alternative energy sources - and energy prices will on average decline. The larger oil exporting nations, including those in the Middle East, will have to find other ways of supplementing their oil earnings. This will undoubtedly cause additional disruptions in an inherently unstable region. However, access to the markets of - and good relations with - Europe, Japan and the U.S. will become essential.
  [
  Increasingly, Middle Eastern parents strive to send their brighter children to European or U.S. universities. Increasingly, Middle Eastern businessmen and their workers identify their economic prospects with access to the hard currency markets in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Increasingly numerous members of each succeeding generation grow up and live in the larger more cosmopolitan cities - away from tribal lands and separated from tribal influences. Increasingly, migrants from the Muslim nations find jobs and improved lives in the modern world. They send home remittances and undeniable information about the benefits of modernity.
  [
    Some tentative efforts at democracy are in evidence in various places in the region. If not for the dangers of modern weaponry, containment would continue to be the obviously preferred policy with respect to the regions' dangerous regimes.
  [

The fundamentalist zealots know that they must disrupt and terminate these favorable trends if they are to sustain their patriarchal and fundamentalist way of life.

 

Conflict blights the lives of all the peoples involved - undermining prospects for development and prosperity.

 

Diplomatic mediation followed by peacekeeping participation after peace agreements are reached remain the most that the U.S. and other outsiders can contribute.

  If this were not the Middle East, FUTURECASTS would have no trouble adopting optimistic long range forecasts based on these powerful forces that favor modernity. But this is the Middle East - and fervent religious passions and irrationality undermine any effort to assess future prospects as a rational exercise. These are trends that must run not just for years or even decades, but for several generations before they can achieve predominant influence. And the fundamentalist zealots know that they must disrupt and terminate these trends if they are to sustain their patriarchal and fundamentalist way of life.
  [
  In the Holy Land and in Kashmir, no rational glimmer of hope is currently evident. In Pakistan, fundamentalist forces are at least now being actively opposed, and access to U.S. markets - still unfortunately limited - has improved economic prospects. However, conflict blights the lives of all the peoples involved - undermining prospects for development and prosperity.
  [
  Nor is it likely that outside military intervention - even with substantial forces - would be helpful. "Peacekeeping" is difficult enough - - "peacemaking" between fervently antagonistic forces is probably futile and would simply add the outsiders to the array of targets. Ultimately - as in Somalia - the outside forces would be driven to take sides.
  [
  Whatever the difficulties, Pres. Bush would be wise to continue to resist pressures for the commitment of U.S. forces to separate either the Israelis and Palestinians or the Pakistanis and Indians. Whatever the difficulties, diplomatic mediation followed by peacekeeping participation after peace agreements are reached remain the most that the U.S. and other outsiders can contribute.
  [
  These peoples are locked together by geography, and the only hope is if bloody experience forces recognition upon them of the need to get along with each other. For the peoples locked in these irrational hatreds, it would need miracles of biblical proportions to avoid further calamities.
  [

  However, the fundamentalist zealots can only destroy. They can build nothing. Thus, no matter how destructive they prove to be, they cannot win. Their future was the twelfth century, and not even the people of the Middle East are in any hurry to go back to the hopeless impoverishment of that time. It is no accident that the governments of the Middle East - that know the zealots best - have been fighting them longest.
  [

The Holy Land:

 

The Palestinians do not have the power - but do have the will - to utterly destroy Israel.

  Israel has the power - but not the will - to utterly destroy its Palestinian adversaries. The Palestinians do not have the power - but do have the will - to utterly destroy Israel. This fact has long been a feature of FUTURECASTS forecasts.
  [
  Although Israel retains obvious tactical superiority, the Palestinians thus retain their powerful strategic advantage over Israel. Israel can win all its battles, but cannot win its war, and the guerilla war of attrition grinds on interminably in the Holy Land. Their has been a progression in favor of the most radical and paranoid leadership - something that is typical of many such conflicts throughout history.
  [

The Saudis continue to subsidize schools and clerics that teach hatred for the U.S. and the rest of the West.

  However, successful settlement of this conflict - or even the disappearance of Israel - would not bring peace to this region. Iran and Iraq still eye each other with distrust, India and Pakistan remain just a hair trigger away from full fledged warfare, Afghanistan still boils with ancient enmities in a geographic pot stirred vigorously by neighboring nations playing the modern version of "The Great Game," and a variety of other conflicts seethe just beneath the Middle Eastern and North African sands.
  [
  Nor is it in U.S. interests to "choose" Saudi Arabia - or any other Arab state - as a primary ally in the area over Israel. The Saudis continue to subsidize schools and clerics that teach hatred for the U.S. and the rest of the West, and any of these regimes can fall to antagonistic fundamentalist forces at any time.
  [
  Israel and Turkey have been and remain the only reliable allies for the West in that region. Fortunately, they are also by far the most powerful.
  [

Friedman, "From Beirut to Jerusalem:"

 

Political control is held in each nation by some minority group that has seized and harnessed the power of the state to dominate the political apparatus.

  For, in fact, the "nations" of the Middle East are not like the familiar nations that arose from European history. Some of the profound differences begin to appear in "From Beirut to Jerusalem" - a truly excellent and perceptive book that sets forth the experiences of Tom L. Friedman during his decade as a N.Y. Times correspondent in Lebanon and Israel.
  [
  The picture he presents is of various clans and religious sects - with long histories of mutual grievances - thrown together within artificial boundaries drawn by old European imperial powers. Political control is held in each nation by some minority group that has seized and harnessed the power of the state to dominate the political apparatus. Friedman identifies 17 different Christian and Muslim sects in Lebanon alone.
  [

Power is ultimately gained and maintained by Machiavellian maneuvers - and the credible threat of widespread slaughter of dissident clans or sects.

  In this potentially anarchic situation, the only rule is that there are no rules. Modern Western sensibilities whither in the sun. Power is ultimately gained and maintained by Machiavellian maneuvers - and the credible threat of widespread slaughter of dissident clans or sects. 
  [
  Ruthless suppression of dissident groups has occurred in recent decades in such nations as Algeria, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Despite all of its massive power advantage, Israel has not yet demonstrated that degree of ruthlessness with respect to the Palestinians. Despite all its massive power advantage, Israel could not maintain an occupation even of Southern Lebanon.
  [
    But Syria has been able to step back into the Lebanese cauldron and bring order out of the chaos. Syria is fully prepared to play by Middle East rules - with Machiavellian maneuvers and a credible threat of ultimate resort to ruthless power. While submission to Syria's dominant influence is no bargain for the people of Lebanon, it is infinitely better than the anarchic chaos that it supplants.
  [

Since the various groups proceed from different theological assumptions that they deem unassailable, Israel becomes frozen in its politics.

 

Just as American Jews have supported Israel, and American Irish have supported various factions in Ireland, American Palestinians are now increasingly important players in the conflict in the Holy Land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Israel, too, has its own sharp religious and political divisions. They, too, are prone to view the world not in logical terms but in theological terms - according to their various basic religious or secular assumptions. Since the various groups proceed from different assumptions that they deem unassailable, Israel becomes frozen in its politics.
  [
  It has been Friedman's very credible contention that Israel cannot indefinitely maintain its occupation of Palestinian territories. Indeed, no nation unwilling to be utterly ruthless can maintain such an occupation. Here, we see the startlingly mature wisdom of the United States after the bloodletting of WW-II - quickly putting the passions of war behind it and recognizing that occupation of defeated adversaries is a wasting asset - to be used constructively to restore them as autonomous states and equal participants in the commercial world - and as allies in the Cold War. This was certainly not the political wisdom of Israel after the 1967 war.
  [
  It is once again proven here that - in conflict - time is always of the essence. Despite the huge power disparity between the sides, it is not surprising that - given enough time - the Palestinians have found effective means of delivering significant blows against their stronger adversary. This should not be surprising, since the Palestinians and Israelis are from the same ethnic background - with similar talents and capabilities. They are really divided only by religion.
  [
  The Palestinians have now progressed to the point where they have sufficient outside support to maintain a long conflict. Money comes not only from other Arab nations, but more reliably from the great Palestinian Diaspora - which has now lasted long enough to achieve considerable economic success in Europe and America. Just as American Jews have supported Israel, and American Irish have supported various factions in Ireland, American Palestinians are now increasingly important players in the conflict in the Holy Land.
  [

 

 

 

 

 

Large parts of the world are now primed to condemn as war crimes any effective Israeli response - thus raising a significant barrier to the viability of Friedman's suggestion.

  Friedman thus sees the only possible solution - short of a widespread bloodbath - as a complete withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories and the settlements therein - and the willingness to strike back ruthlessly if thereafter provoked from within the new Palestinian state.
  [
  The political difficulties of such a policy and the possibilities of failure are realistically acknowledged - but not fully evaluated. Israel is being asked to give up land for peace, but in reality it will probably be giving up land for no peace.
  [
  Many Palestinians still view any peace settlement as merely a tactical ploy leading towards the total destruction of Israel, and fully intend to continue attacks against Israel at some time afterwards. Inevitably, there will be no shortage of irritations and disputes as pretexts for further conflict. Even though Israel will retain the advantage in military strength, a conflict with an armed and far more numerous Palestinian state would inevitably be extraordinarily bloody for both sides. Israel may indeed ultimately be driven to the extremes of ethnic cleansing - or worse.
  [
  Viewed realistically, nothing may be more dangerous for Israel than a settlement that leaves the Palestinians free - free to develop their own military forces - free to gather in hundreds of thousands from the Palestinian Diaspora - free to make treaties and perhaps arrange the stationing of troops from Syria and/or Iraq - or "peacekeeping" forces from some European states - in Palestine as a shield  behind which harassing attacks against Israel may be continued. Drawing in European peacekeeping forces has been a long standing Palestinian objective.
  [
  And large parts of the world are now primed to condemn as war crimes any effective Israeli response - thus raising a significant barrier to the viability of Friedman's suggestion. Imposing restrictive terms of engagement on Israel is a major strategic objective of its adversaries. Advocacy of U.S. "even handedness"  really calls on the U.S. to force restrictive terms of engagement on Israel and thus doom Israel to eventual defeat.
  [
   Indeed, the dreary litany of intractable issues blocking settlement is all too familiar -- Jewish settlements with privileged status in occupied territories - the "right of return" - Jerusalem - water rights - the claims of religious zealots - and especially the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility, of providing Israel with truly secure borders -- all now enveloped in over half a century of conflict and hatred. Israel, from its inception, has always had this tiger by the tail.
  [

It is the Arab peacemakers - and the Israeli peacemakers, too - that are being asked to put their lives on the line.

  Friedman raises the possibility that Israel missed the boat - that it failed to use its power over the occupied territories immediately after the 1967 war to make peace with the Palestinians. Of course, we can never know whether that is true. We can never know whether a viable peace was possible even then at that early date - before all the conflict and hatreds of the ongoing occupation occurred.
  [
  As Sadat was to find out, any Arab leader willing to negotiate peace with Israel was immediately targeted for assassination. It is always easier for outsiders - relatively secure from immediate threats - to assert the need for others to "take risks for peace." It is Israel, after all, not the commentators, that would have to take those risks - with its continued existence very much at stake. After all, it is the Arab peacemakers - and the Israeli peacemakers, too - that have to put their lives on the line.
  [
  In those days, Israel was confronted with the reality of an ongoing state of war with all its neighbors. Maintaining some strategic depth, and preventing the growth of another adversary on the West Bank, were important objectives.
  [

Recent attacks on synagogues in Europe yet once again emphasize one of the most important religious purposes of Israel - to provide a welcoming refuge for Jews under stress in other nations.

  Here, the extraordinary brilliance of the founding fathers of the United States Constitution is once again demonstrated. The separation of church and state allows Christians, Jews, Muslims, and many other religions and their various religious sects to live in peace and prosperity - and friendship - within the same nation. Meanwhile, nations based on a particular religion or religious sect find themselves in conflict or constantly threatened by conflict with those from different religions and those from different sects of the same religion.
  [
  Even the secular governments in the Middle East - including the Israeli government - have a central religious identity and purpose. Indeed, recent attacks on synagogues in Europe yet once again emphasize one of the most important religious purposes of Israel - to provide a welcoming refuge for Jews under stress in other nations.
  [

When clerics are given free reign to preach intolerance and hate as a means of keeping their flocks from considering alternative religious views, how can war fevers ever be quenched?

  Israel, thus, is far from being a European type nation. It is in fact a typical Middle Eastern state - confronted by the constant necessity of dealing with the religious antagonisms and conflicts that exist both outside and within its borders. It may yet be driven to the level of ruthlessness needed to survive in the Middle East.
  [  
  After all, when each religion - and each sect within each religion - is certain that it alone possesses God's ultimate truth - where is there any scope for the constant play of compromise and accommodation that alone can provide a basis for civil society, peace and prosperity? When clerics are given free reign to preach intolerance and hate as a means of keeping their flocks from considering alternative religious views, how can war fevers ever be quenched?
  [
  Wherever religion becomes an essential feature of politics, religion changes from a blessing to a curse. Religious wars have been responsible for vast miseries throughout history.
  [

The "substantial probability" standard:

  The standard for FUTURECASTS forecasts is "a substantial probability." This is a narrow remit. Mere possibilities are infinite, and there are so many others who deal in what they believe would be desirable that it would be pointless to join them.
  [
  It is the premise of FUTURECASTS online magazine that enough can be foreseen as substantially probable - by means of rigorous, reasoned, objective analysis - to provide practical assistance in understanding the present and in planning for the future. Unfortunately, when examining a region where fervent passions and irrational beliefs dominate - reason must prove inadequate to define probable outcomes.
  [

Offensive terms of engagement:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The reward for Iran and/or Iraq when they join the nuclear club is to have a nuclear missile submarine in the Indian Ocean dedicated to their destruction.

 

Under the rules of the game in the Middle East, it is essential that those who do not like you at least respect you. It is essential that those that hate you also fear you.

  Thus, principles of military tactics apply. Preparations for what is likely to occur will always be grossly inadequate. Preparations must thus also encompass everything that can possibly occur. Obviously, a defensive posture is inadequate in such a situation. You can't defend everything everywhere.
  [
  For all the players in the Middle East - including the U.S. - a sharp offensive component is essential if their situations are not to become totally unmanageable. For the United States, this means that any regime that is prone to support terrorists must fear for its existence. For Israel, this means that it must never accept terms of engagement that block or severely restrict its ability to strike hard at the territories from which it is attacked. For the Palestinians, this means not surrendering any method with which it can effectively strike Israel.
  [
  Robust terms of engagement are essential. War is inherently atrocious, and it is foolish to deny that fact. Before condemning the brutality of Middle East conflict, the U.S. had better consider its own military needs. Restrictive terms of engagement can condemn the U.S. to defeat in a war that the modern world cannot afford to lose.
  [
  There may come a time when the United States will have to conquer a strongly held city. Even its most modern technology will not always be able to distinguish soldier from civilian - friend from foe. The military need to flatten a city with vast loss of civilian life is still a real possibility.
  [
  Then there is the need for nuclear deterrence - should any adverse Middle Eastern state gain nuclear weapons and decide to threaten the West with them. The reward for Iran and/or Iraq when they join the nuclear club is to have a nuclear missile submarine in the Indian Ocean dedicated to their destruction. Without an effective missile shield, the only defense remains MAD - which inevitably targets vast numbers of civilians. Even with an effective missile shield, nuclear defense may have to continue to rely on MAD.
  [
  As Friedman makes plain, under the rules of the game in the Middle East, it is essential that those who do not like you at least respect you. It is essential that those that hate you also fear you.
  [

It is likely that neither our worst fears nor our fondest hopes will be realized.

  And the crystal ball remains largely opaque when focused on the Middle East. Once again - as in so many previous Middle East crises - it is likely that neither our worst fears nor our fondest hopes will be realized. Conflict merely continues interminably.
  [
  One is tempted to conclude that it is in this profoundly religious sector of the globe that Satan has chosen to give notice that the struggle for men's souls is not yet determined.

Please return to our Homepage and e-mail your name and comments.
Copyright 2002 Dan Blatt