Multipolar Middle East

After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the United States came increasingly aligned with the Sunni Arab states. A few years previous, Egypt had switched its alliances from the Soviet bloc to the United States. Baathist Iraq and Syria remained in the Soviet bloc until the latter’s collapse.

But the invasion of Iraq—something I must continue to harp on as the strategic blunder of the century, and it was only made in 2003—redrew the map, by, among other things, turning Iraq into a Shi’a governed state (Iraq is majority Shi’a).

Oil politics required that we maintain decent relations with the Sunni Gulf states (many of which have substantial Shi’a populations, including Saudi Arabia in the part of it that has the oil) once Iran became anathema. When the Saudi government was threatened and the Kuwaiti government was ousted by Saddam, we ran to their defense. This was smart from an oil point of view.

But so much of that money goes to fund the very branch of Islam that attacked us on 9/11 and is in the process of creating a refugee crisis that is destabilizing Europe: salafism. Wherever you turn where there are Muslims, there are Saudi-funded salafi centers. Even in places like Ashland, Oregon.

Our stalwart ally in the region, Israel, now seems to feel more threatened by the radical Iranian regime than by the sunni regimes. This is fair enough since it’s Iran that funds Hezbollah to their north and Hamas in Gaza. But the salafi supremacists have no love for Israel. If they are allowed to succeed in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and now even Afghanistan, it will not improve Israel’s security.

This is not to suggest that we change alignment to the Shi’a. It is to suggest that we keep our distance from both and allow this centuries’ old conflict play out on its own without our being in the middle. This has the added advantage of ceasing to act like a desperate suitor with respect to the Sunni Arabs and let them try to increase their bidding for a change, something Dennis Ross astutely argues that we have done too much of in his recent work Doomed to Succeed. (In his work he argues that distancing ourselves from Israel has never impressed the Arab regimes.)

Just look at the two sides at war in Yemen at the moment. The Houthis, who are presented in our media as the bad guys, are Yazidi Shi’a—different than the Twelver Shi’a of Iraq and Iran, but nevertheless allied with Iraq. They have been in conflict with the Sunnis to their south for centuries. Their allies include Russia, Iran, North Korea, and Hizbollah. Yuck. But look at the other side! Saudi Arabia. ISIS. Al Qaeda. They are fighting each other! Great, let them. Can we arm both sides?

We did this in the Iran-Iraq war (with no follow-up in our relationship with Iran thanks to the scandal it generated), and the British did this successfully during the pax britannia between Napoleon and World War I.

Hezbollah is fighting ISIS in Syria, too. We don’t need to hope for one side winning or the other. We don’t need to decide either are our friend. Just let them beat the shit out of each other for now.

If this works, if we can finally warm up just a little with Iran, and play them off the Sunni Arabs a little bit, it might even improve Israel’s lot by giving us more leverage, should we choose to use it to boost Israel.

The money for ISIS is coming from somewhere. It’s likely Saudi Arabia. Someone is paying Afghani fighters $700 per month (!) according to Frontline to switch from the Taliban to ISIS. Where is this money coming from? Our great ally, Saudi Arabia.

It’s time to be a little more coy in the Middle East.

Update:

What about the idea we should back up our allies? A lot of the thinkers on this issue note that we don’t give the impression of being in it for the long haul. This is true, but I’m not entirely sure why it should be different. As a democracy, we are constitutionally required to be able to change course from time to time. If “moderate muslims” need a 50-year commitment from the US, then I don’t think they’re serious about improving their lot. Plus, our perfidy is overstated. We have stood by many of our allies for a very, very long time, even in the Middle East, such as Israel when both our values and our interests align.

References:

The Hawkish Neo-Con Gates Institute seems to have something similar to say, but in the context of a few years ago. This didn’t stop them from hating the JCPOA.

In the New York Times, something from 2007 from Noah Feldman of the CFR, who, I must say fatuously states that Shi’a and Sunni have mostly lived side-by-side peacefully.

Here’s a Cato Institute guy arguing, I think, mostly to not be seen as taking sides.

Note: reading through a lot of articles on this topic, you see a lot of people trying to sound like hard-headed realists who can’t seem to get over their butthurt at Iran.

A 2014 New York Times article, sorta of the “man bites dog” variety about how Iran and US have shared interests in the Middle East. Think of the scene where the Israeli and the Arab smile and shake hands to unite against the alien/zombie apocalypse.

A long rambling blog with some mention of the situation in Yemen at HuffPo.

Of course, here’s something from a Hoover Institute guy playing the “Obama is naive” tune in the WSJ, warning against a Shi’a alliance. A lot of binary thinking on this issue.

Here’s a headline in something called The Fiscal Times saying we can’t support both, but nothing in the article really says why or follows up on that headline.

Andrew Sullivan, someone I seem to think like to just argue with people he doesn’t like instead of sticking to his guns, says no point in picking a side.

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Blame for Terror

Some of my friends still scoff at Pat Robertson blaming hurricane Katrina or 9/11 on gay people. The absurd notion that the mere existence of certain kinds of people in a certain place can metaphysically pollute that place in a such a manner and that the consequence would be a man in the sky altering the laws of nature to bring untold suffering to that place is impossible, so it would seem, for the liberal mind to comprehend. It is so absurd that it is an evergreen source of derision and humor.

And it should be. Such a notion is, in fact, absurd.

It’s startling then that the same liberals who wonder if their brains are wired differently than Pat Robertson’s ascribe the same kind of metaphysical pollution as the cause of terrorist attacks. The mere presence of a Jew in Samaria or an American in Saudi Arabia is “why they hate us.” (Remember The Nation was onto this just days after 9/11.)

The proximate cause of terrorism is the terrorist’s conscious decision to engage in civilization destroying activity. To the extent his free will is at all constrained, it is due to a systematic ideology that promotes this. Either way, it is not the fault of those who are attacked, whether they are gays in New Orleans or French teenagers at a concert.

There can be two wrongs

Here’s an article downplaying and at the same time defending political correctness. (i.e. it doesn’t exist, but it’s justified)

I’m sure there are people on the right who don’t like “uppity” blacks, but college administrators are not those people. I for one don’t blame people for being mad about the disparity of death sentences or the fact that people irrationally freak out about interracial couples.

But framing the behavior at Yale etc. as some sort of reaction to those issues is ridiculous. It is possible to mock students for deliberately misreading an e-mail to create the pretext for someone losing their job on the one hand and on the other be completely passionate about ending race-based police brutality. There is no contradiction there.

Is there anyone outside of the fringe that doesn’t believe minorities deserve respect?

Politically, this is bad because it polarizes and alienates those most sympathetic to that cause and gives fuel to the people who were against this all along.

To say that well, black people have had to put up with this forever, so now it’s your turn!  Ha ha! Is just the road to nowhere. If it was wrong then, it’s wrong now. Everyone can be at fault and everyone can deserve respect.

And the oversensitivity goes for white people too. Freaking out about how people wear their pants is pointless and miserable.

You’ll notice that I didn’t write a single word about protests after Ferguson or any of these other police events because I understand that. I don’t understand this. They are not part of the same movement. Regardless of skin color, millionaires cannot understand the day-to-day life of the poor even if they have one thing in common. That’s a lie.

The fact that people are trying to connect these two things just shows the level of delusion. Every college president in America could be fired tomorrow and it wouldn’t change the behavior of a single police officer.

The Unhinging of the Campus Left Means We Can’t Mock The “Both Sides Do It” Narrative Anymore

Whatever the causes, whether it’s that the online generation has sought out only the kind of information they are comfortable with online, or whether their parents were overly protective (obviously, I think, the answer is all of the above) there appears to be a chasm opening on the left. It’s interesting that so many of the “Netroots” bloggers of the 2000s defend this behavior; they created the liberal hugbox on the Internet in response to a perception that the media was too Bush friendly. At the time, they were proud of being “the reality based community.”

Much like the Tea Party/Country Club Republican split, the differences are often more of style than substance, though there are important substantive differences. The main objection from my generation of liberals appears to be that speech and debate is being stifled. Jonathan Chait points out that through this behavior, they essentially inoculate actual racists by letting them whine about the PC police.

I think it goes further than that, because I don’t agree that this is simply a case of a group of passionate youth rejecting certain things like racism out of hand. This is because they actually use hate speech and hateful speech. They do hold biased and prejudiced views. But their cultural logic permits this as long as the target is a political enemy. Even if we stipulate that a few stray heated and frustrated comments against white male elites are ok, they are still made. They are not taboo. But lumping together people and attacking them on the basis of perceived qualities pervades their dialogue, whether it’s the police, or even politically incorrect minorities, like Jews.

So, to be clear: it’s not about suppressing “hate speech” or speech that is hurtful or harassing a particular group on the basis of their group characteristics. It’s about policing speech according to a political logic that permits “hate speech” against some and not against others. And by “hate speech” we mean, according to the protesters themselves, anything that hurts their feelings. They define it. They get to legislate for everyone individually.

At the University of Missouri, an unconfirmed photo (one that appeared online 11 months ago) of an Indian-style, not Nazi-style, swastika was taken as a threat to black students, not to the Jewish students who were the chief victims of Nazism. But that’s not the issue here, the issue here is that this was consciously chosen as the causus belli for these students.

The graduate student who was formerly on hunger strike for reasons related to health care benefits had his cause “appropriated” and when the football team threatened to go along with it, the scalp of the university president was offered on a plate like Imam Husayn’s to the Caliph.

What’s ironic is that in all of this discussion of privilege and institutions, no one seems to point out that this is the privileged class. Yale more so, but Mizzou, Wesleyan, etc. are nothing to sneeze at. These folks may not end up in the 1%, but they are at least headed for the middle class. Their deepest concerns are offensive halloween costumes?

Maybe they’re frustrated. Maybe they expect things to be different in 2015, as John Oliver keeps reminding us. But as a person with some experience in politics they have only managed to push their cause back years by alienating allies and kicking up an opposition by blowback.

I would also point out that the intellectually disdainful way that the left has looked at the non-left over the last 20 years, as if the right was nothing more than a sociological petri dish of Hofstaeder’s paranoid style, or the way guys like Paul Krugman lampooned centrist “both sides do it types” basically loses it’s justification with behavior like this. The left has turned into a paranoid style reflection of the right, by creating its own media on the Internet, which reflect the right creating its own media in response to the perception that the mainstream media had a liberal bias. Campuses have become islands of leftist correctness in response to the perceived fascism of the rest of the world.

Probably due to the Internet, but perhaps due to some of the childhood factors people have suggested, it appears that the tribalism of our politics is making us all forget why we joined the tribe in the first place, what our values really are. I suspect this is going on on both sides. I suspect there many folks who lean Republican because they’ve had trouble with a bizarre regulation on their business that have been pumped so full of the tribalism and conspiratorialism of modern politics that they think the only way to solve their problems is to go along with the flat earth society that dominates the right.

Likewise, I bet there are quite a few liberals who know that the economy is so biased towards the rich that they are willing to tolerate fellow travelers who have buried economic issues in favor of New Left Totalitarianism.

Remember what you really value. I bet you value a good justice system, a clean environment, equality under the law, fair economic opportunities, strong families, good schools, and, though we don’t want it to trump all, we want security too.

No one should be so confident of their politics that they can guarantee all of those things without criticism. Sure, much political criticism these days is made in bad faith. That’s the price of a free society. Free societies are inefficient. The bad faith criticism can shut down a lot of progress. But only a total snot would look back at even the last 10 years and say that massive progress hasn’t been made. Marriage equality is a reality. We have a vehicle for providing universal health coverage. We avoided a massive depression. If that’s not enough fast enough, then consider what the other side might do if they could move so fast. It was happening in the first Bush term. It was scary.

I’m a liberal, at least in my own mind, because I believe in a certain fundamental fairness and because I think government has a role to play in providing that fairness and I have disdain for bias on the basis of inborn qualities that no one can help, both because it makes for a moribund society and because it seems morally wrong.

I try not to forget that even if it means sometimes that I think other liberals and Democrats have completely lost their grip on reality.

Have Progressives Progressed Too Far?

Molly Ball at The Atlantic says so, but I think using an off-off year election as evidence is strange. Some of the writers at Vox share concern that the Democratic party is collapsing outside of the federal level. (They don’t live in California, I guess.)

The Vox authors don’t connect the issues to the problem and lay it at organizing, claiming the party hasn’t organized well enough or that it’s the teachers unions’ fault or something. But why is that? Why are issues that matter to organized people turning against Democrats?

The echo chamber has hit the reality based community, I’m afraid. Both liberals and conservatives are guilty of assuming that “if everyone knew” they’d vote for their team. But is that really true?

Here’s some of what lost this week:

  • Legal pot—but monopolized—in Ohio
  • Transgender issues in Houston
  • A corrupt sheriff in San Francisco (after a sanctuary city controversy too)
  • Gun issues in Virginia
  • Pollsters in Kentucky

Look, none of this is all that suprising and I think Ball sees a pattern that just isn’t there. As for Democrats’ failing to organize, part of the problem is that the agenda of the party has become the agenda of wealthy white liberals which are almost by definition not organized.

Serious danger lies in the recent turn of the Democratic party back towards an aggressive social agenda. The crime issue strikes me as a serious powder keg. Democrats have unquestioningly parroted calls for “prison reform” and every good liberal will tell you that we incarcerate more people than every other country. If you point out that this coincides with a reduction in crime, they’ll tell you it was because of lead or that some other study says mass incarceration only had 1% to do with it. Right. Unfortunately, any rise in crime will be blamed on this and it appears we are back in a rising period of crime.

Like so many lefty social agenda issues, they mix altering outcomes with altering procedures. Police brutality is a problem. Racial disparity in arrests and imprisonment is a problem. But just releasing people who were convicted isn’t going to help at all. I would compare this with the obsession of affirmative action advocates for making sure everyone gets into the #10 law school instead of the #25 law school instead of making sure everyone has kindergarten. Or, in women’s issues. Waving a magic wand and making half of all corporate board directors be women would just push the glass ceiling lower down to wherever it actually stands, whether it’s business school admissions or middle management.

The political problem with these issues is that they run contrary to American Fairness. What is that? It’s our cultural sense of right and wrong. It’s often very ignorant and myopic, but it’s very easily manipulated by either side of the political divide to win on issues.

It was impossible that religious groups would ever hold back gay marriage because it went against American Fairness. Gay people didn’t choose to be gay–who would?! So why not encourage clean living among them?

You can also call American Fairness something more pejorative like American Self-Centeredness. The question might be, how would I feel if I were in that position? So, if I were denied a position not based on merit, I would be pissed and if I earned one not on merit I would (we want to believe) be ashamed.

I tend to believe that the left liberals are convinced as much as the right wing that our society is degenerate, sick, and evil. Instead of imposing old values, they want new ones and they never will stop wanting new ones. Often, this is beneficial to progress. But politically, it has to be both be compatible with American Fairness and not be too out of the mainstream.

This is why I worry about transgenderism. I don’t think people understand this one yet, really. I think people pretend they are tolerant, but wonder about this one. The “LGBT” formulation equates being gay with being transgender, but that only makes sense to people in the humanities department. The critical difference for most people is choice and it seems like this is understood as a choice.

But the worst part of all of this is that none of this is going to change with the presidency or with control of Congress. All of these issues require social movements, not political ones. If you want to have an anti-cop transgender gun-grabbing presidential candidate just because, then fine. But s/he will lose and even if s/he wins, it won’t change many minds.

Bill Clinton was smart. He was a good president. What was his motto? It was “IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID!” Well, it’s the economy and don’t get bombed by terrorists, but it’s not let everyone out of jail and appear to be enforcing identity quotas, stupid.