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Beware the Creeper!

Iain's life as a psychotic crimefighter

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The Middle East - explained in thirty seconds.

Originally posted by andrewducker at The Middle East - explained in thirty seconds.
Imagine you have a whole sprinkling of tribes, provinces, and vassal states, ruled over by a single empire, that then fell apart[1].

Then imagine that a couple of other empires grab this area, and divide it up based on the lines that make it easiest for them to rule over it[2].

For each of those areas, the ruling empire would pick a particular tribe/clan/family. This group would be picked for being a minority and then supplied with weapons and made into a local proxy for the foreign power (while being hated by the majority abd entirely dependent on foreign support) [3].

And then, eventually, with the waning power of their foreign backers, the rulers of these countries lose control of the majority, overstep themselves, and are overthrown in violent revolutions or military coups[4].

However, these countries are still based on semi-random lines drawn on the map by foreigners, cross numerous tribal lines, and are inherently an unstable mess, frequently supported by numerous foreign countries who use them as proxies, want their resources, and support whoever is the enemy of their enemy[5].

With nationalist, tribalist, and religious infighting being the norm, along with low levels of education, and constant turmoil, this leaves huge societal gaps for religious extremists to fill.[6]

All of which is greatly simplified, but hopefully gives a basic idea of why things the entire area is such a disaster[7].

If you want to know what we _should_ be doing, then part of that recognises that those lines on the map are probably unsupportable, and that short-term measures that support them are probably making things worse in the long run[8].

[1]The Ottoman Empire, which lasted from 1299 to 1922. Seven years too early to be an anagrammatic pair.
[2]The Sykes-Picot Agreement between the UK and France.
[3]Client States being the technical term.
[4]Egypt in 1952, Iraq in 1958, Iran in 1979, etc.
[5]Hence the US arming Saddam Hussein during the Iran/Iraq war, before deciding that had been a really bad idea. And arming the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviets, including Osama Bin-Laden.
[6]Hence Al-Quaeda, and then ISIS/ISIL/Da'esh
[7]And I haven't even mentioned Israel! Where things are more complicated than you think!
[8]This lays out the options pretty well.

Original post on Dreamwidth - there are comment count unavailable comments there.

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However, these countries are still based on semi-random lines drawn on the map by foreigners, cross numerous tribal lines, and are inherently an unstable mess

I agree wholeheartedly. We have to stop regarding borders as sacred. If the borders were based on hopelessly unrealistic assumptions they will eventually get adjusted but unfortunately the adjustments are unlikely to be accomplished peacefully. It's smarter to accept the inevitable and allow the adjustments to take place before the whole situation explodes.

Of course the problems are not confined to the Middle East. The same kinds of unrealistic borders have had tragic consequences in Europe, Yugoslavia being a classic example of an artificial country that was never going to work. Khrushchev's bright idea of giving the Crimea to the Ukraine is another case in point. The Ukraine itself is another example. Let's create a Ukrainian state with a large ethnic Russian minority. Of course the Ukrainians and the Russians hate each other's guts so what could go wrong?

And then of course there's Africa. We all remember how well Rwanda worked. South Africa is likely to end badly. The Zulus have never been thrilled about being put under the domination of the ANC.

In general it's preferable to have borders that create ethnically homogenous states. Anything else relies too much on wishful thinking and feel-good emotionalising. Countries that are lucky enough to already be fairly ethnically homogenous should be very cautious about doing anything to disturb that situation.

It's unfortunate that the United States seems to be chronically incapable of basing its foreign policy on pragmatism and reality. And the British are much too inclined to go along with daft American ideas. The trouble is that both American conservatives and American liberals think they can conduct foreign policy on ideological lines. The conservatives think they can use foreign policy to export democracy and free markets to countries that don't want those things. American liberals think they can use foreign policy to export democracy, progressive social policies and the welfare state to countries that don't want those things.

The Americans should forget their obsession that democracy solves everything. Democracy is a nice long-term goal but you need stability first. If you try to impose democracy on essentially medieval societies you'll destroy any chance of stability. Stability might not have the lovely feel-good connotations that democracy has but there's a lot to be said for stability.

The only American president to demonstrate any real ability to think pragmatically about foreign policy was Nixon.

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