Thursday, April 6, 2017

Peace in the Middle East

The current situation in the Middle East is caused by numerous factors which make war almost inevitable without serious changes in the reality of the region.

  1. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, driven partially by religion with both countries supporting terrorist groups abroad. (sources)
  2. Rivalry between the United States and Russia supporting and opposing governments in the region. The United States is allied with Saudi Arabia and Israel, and Russia is allied with Iran.
  3. There is very little trade between Sunni and Shiite states, making war far more likely.
  4. Colonialism created boundaries which do not take into account the ethnic and religious diversity of the region. Iraq, Yemen, and Syria are the most seriously harmed by this policy. They are multi-ethnic states (which can sometimes work) but lack the institutions to govern a diverse people effectively. Turkey used to be a major player in the region and they were able to keep the Kurdish regions, historically harming the Kurds creating rebel groups which were supported by Russia.
We see today the invasion of Syria by the United States, a historic moment where we have transitioned from supplying the rebels to actively bombing ISIS. ISIS is a terrorist organization which needs to be eliminated, but terrorism in the middle east will continue until we target the causes of terrorism. The root of this is the Sunni-Shiite divide. The majority of attacks by terrorist groups are done in more multi-ethnic states and non-Muslim states. You do not find many attacks in Riyadh or Tehran. Partially this has to do with the stability of those regions, causing fewer potential recruits and also because Al Qaeda has its historic roots in Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah has support from Iran. All of this combined means they are far safer. Oman which is neither Sunni nor Shiite also has almost no terrorist attacks, being Ibadi, another branch of Islam. They maintain good relations with both Iran and Saudi Arabia. This, combined with their wealth, helps explain why terrorist attacks in Oman are rare.

If we want to fix the mess in Syria we will need to start by having Saudi Arabia and Iran talk with one another and have better relations. Trade between the two countries and cooperation for a more prosperous Middle East will quickly reduce the terrorism the countries finance bringing stability to the region. Countries increasing their trade and improving relations with both regional powers will also help those individual countries avoid future conflict. There are definitely other factors but I believe these two will make the largest effect.

My heart aches for Syria and I wish that the people had the government they deserve.

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