The Middle East
A Generational Challenge
Published on: September 22, 2014
Chuck Freilich is a senior fellow at the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School.
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  • Duperray

    Your proposed action plan betrays the beginning of your paper: Your action plan is valid to address a politicall boiling region embedded in poverty but also sharing with us the same values as us, freedom, and so on..
    No, centuries shaped Middle East is not like us, their civilisation did’nt start with old Greeks. Therefore your generous plan will fail.
    They all dream to conquer this arrogant, rich, powerful and dominant free world we luckily have, they want to turn us to become muslim or die or expatriate once as poor as Job.
    The cheapest plan I see is to contend them in their historical land (north Africa, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Irak,…), displacing all muslim presently living abroad populations. Then establish a new iron curtain around and let them do what they want, without interfering with, not even business. Concerning arabic peninsula oil, either we can live without it (shall we discover enough new oil / gas) or we militarily conquer / exploit arabic fields until they are empty.
    Some people would not like my iron curtain idea: They would have otherwise to live with a curtain of beheaded bodies.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Good spot to recommend the book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations, by Lee Smith. Short version is that Arab culture is based on conquest of neighboring tribes, Islam has done a bit to improve the situation, but the problem remains that the religion is controlled by people who have always been, by any modern measure, just plain evil, and still are.

    That is the problem. A refresher video or two about the Barbary Wars will give a glimpse into the consistently barbarous behavior of Arab/Islamist political organizations throughout recorded history.

  • Alternatively: go behaviourist. When a system, such as a person’s psyche or a foreign region, is too complex to handle, one is well advised to let alone the depths and deal with the surface. Forget motivations: look at conduct. When an Arab regime allies with you, support them, regardless of other considerations. You don’t really know the other considerations. When they’re hostile, fight back. Don’t ask why they are hostile, because you would not understand the answer. The West knows too little about itself to try to understand others. Its task is the task of all political actors: survival. For that, realism and behaviourism are good enough.

  • rheddles

    In the end, it is all about determination, persistence and a commitment to stay the course.

    No, it’s all about culture.

    And we have the culture that has defined and invented the modern world. They have a culture that is antithetical to that modern world. A majority of the people there like our culture (all the women and some men). But a very large number are threatened by our culture and its ability to destroy their culture with us doing nothing except to maintain our culture. Its appeal is hypnotic. Those who are threatened by our culture recognize that the only way to maintain their culture is to destroy ours before ours destroys theirs. And that is what they are trying to do.

    State building: No, it’s not a dirty word, and the U.S. has done it successfully in the past.

    Oh? Where? Germany, Japan and South Korea? You didn’t build that. We convinced them they didn’t want to ever cross us again and then we let them go about living with us as they wished. We hardly did a great job with the Indians or the Philippines.

    We are a high trust, culturally dynamic, analytic culture. That’s what built the modern world. They are a low trust, culturally static, holistic culture. The conflicts are too great. That’s why east is east and west is west and never the twin shall meet till earthy and sky stand presently at God’s great judgement seat.

    For those interested check out Appendix A in this pdf file of a very interesting paper

  • wigwag

    Arthur Belfer must be turning over in his grave. I met Arthur a couple of times; he was an eminently reasonable man. It was his money that endowed the Center at Harvard where Dr. Freilich is currently employed. The Belfer Center is an interesting place; the courageous Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a fellow there. The cowardly Stephen Walt is on the faculty as well.
    Arthur Belfer himself was a well-known and beloved Jewish philanthropist. He was an oil man; his children sold the company Arthur founded, Belco petroleum. to Enron for an extraordinary amount of money. For a time Belfer’s children were amongst the wealthiest people in the United States. The gift the family gave to Harvard to endow the Belfer Center (and Steve Walt’s chair) was almost certainly paid in appreciated Enron stock. Arthur’s son was on the Board of Enron (although he was completely innocent of the shenanigans). When Enron went bust, the family lost hundreds of millions of dollars; they went from being mind-numbingly wealthy to merely wealthy in the flash of an eye.
    Arthur Belfer would have read Chuck Frelinch;s article and grimaced.
    Freilich is right; the fight against Islamic extremism is a generational one; it’s far more akin to the Cold War than to a the police action Obama wants to pretend it is. The problem is that Frelich’s recommended solutions have zero chance of working. A Marshall Plan is a terrible idea; these nations have no history of free-market capitalism; any funds provided would just be squandered. Saudi Arabia is already providing a Marshall Plan of sorts to every Sunni Muslim State in the neighborhood (States without hydrocarbon wealth that is). What are Saudi subsidies used for? Mostly to keep the price of flour, cooking oil, and petrol low enough so Arab citizens don’t revolt.
    Democratizing the Arab world; Freilich says it might work if its done slowly; he’s wrong. The chances that pluralism, which is the cornerstone of real democracy will be accepted anywhere in the Arab world in the next hundred years or so is near zero.
    Fellich recommends building coalitions with Arab nations to implement counter-terrorism; sure, it’s worth a try. But remember, Saudi Arabia, supposedly a key ally in the fight against terrorism is the society most guilty of inspiring Islamic terrorism. Are we really supposed to trust the Egyptians, Gulf Arabs or Iraqis? Give me a break.
    Arab societies are broken beyond our ability to repair. These societies are dying. They will never be able to compete with Asian economies or even South American or African economies. We should stop propping them up and let nature take its course.
    The other thing we should do is work overtime to support the peoples of the Middle East who are neither Arabs or Persians. Support the Kurds to the hilt; stop hectoring Israel; Move the Gazans to Egypt and support the creation of a Christian homeland in Gaza.
    Arab societies are irredeemable. Instead of trying to fix them in vain, Chuck Freilich should get creative and come up with a Plan B.
    We surely need one.

    • rheddles

      Plan B. Why are there no Arabs on Star Trek?

    • rheddles

      We should stop propping them up and let nature take its course.

      I agree with everything you say. But what is nature’s course? The Arab culture is like a drowning man who pushes the swimmer coming to the rescue under water. Nature needs to be accelerated. It will be ugly.

  • Pete

    1. Resources are scarce, but certainly Europe, which faces an increasingly realistic prospect of mass immigration and turmoil spilling over from its neighbors across the Mediterranean, should understand the need.”

    Europe could stop any mass invasion of muslims with just a tiny bit of will power. It will happen. Watch and see.

    2. A ‘Marshall Plan for the Middle East! Only one isolated in an Ivory Tower could think that’s feasible. And a history lesson for you, Chuckie. The Marshall Plan only happened after a true major war when the enemy (and many allies) were flatten. The arabs have not yet been so schooled so until they are, giving them money is not only wasteful, it’s counter-productive.

  • Pat

    Empowerment of individuals and a promise to change the status quo is the false lure terrorists use to recruit, glorify, and justify their idiotic behaviors; who will ever look at a bomb site in wonder or admire a destroyed sanctuary in future ages? Trade, and its ability to diversify authority can serve the best purposes here. When a person eats,sleeps, and lives well, the attraction of violent means loses its shine. It would be far cheaper and smarter to militarily and economically contain, then enhance the standard of living of the populations under discussion than to advocate a return to barbarism. Scarce resources can be augmented by modern science, as we well know; fracking and desalinization come to mind. If we cut off the economic lifelines of the terrorists they will wither, but the high unemployment rates and disillusionment of those millions will remain to forever feed new insurgencies and jealousies. Far smoother to spend the GDP necessary to create vibrant, shared economies, than to look at an endless and futile strategy of armed force.

  • MikeB

    Freilich is delusional in the “solutions” he proffers. The fundamental problem is the irreconcilable clash of modern post-Christian and medieval Moslem tribal value systems. Unfortunately Islam in all its variants absolutely blocks all possibility of evolution or compromise in matters of religion and in regard to the nedieval tribal customs and conventions undergirded by Islam. The core issue is therefore the contents of the grey matter between the ears of Moslem Arabs and their non-Arab co-religionists, and this, unfortunately is something that no amount of money, military intervention or nation-building can, or will ever change in any meaningful way. The best that the America can do is contain Islam through superior intelligence work, superior military power and the unstinting and effective support of whoever among Moslems are willing and able to support America. In this effort, the Western Europeans unfortunately do not count for very much, except as occassional figleaves in international “coalitions.” Today, Western Europe has become Eurabia, its interests are closely intertwined with those of the Arabs, and its position is at best akin to that of Moslems willing and able to support America. The end of the day though this will be America’s Long War to win or loose, just as the Cold War was.

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