by Garik Onani
Being the leader of the free world, the United States must acknowledge the gravity of all the decisions it makes, as there will always be a ripple felt around the world as a result of them. Given the global market we live in today with countries all around the world trading and working together, it is important to note that the actions, policies, and laws all around the world influence the rest of the globe in a cause-and-effect manner. We must take these repercussions into account when discussing our relations with other countries and groups of people.
Our relationship with the Middle East has been the byproduct of hundreds of years of history and policy. Therefore, we must not simply make conclusions on these affairs through current events of the last few decades. The relations between these two regions are formed on the premise of incentives, either fiscal or political. Although every deal has a “winner” and a “loser,” along with trade-offs, it is important to understand that no country acts upon good will or for the wellbeing of other countries in the world. We are going to delve into our relationship with the Middle East to try to gain an understanding of how we must act and deal with our issues abroad.
Over the course of history, land all around the Middle East has been divided by Western nations for their political or economic gain, causing several conflicts of interests and clashes in this region. For example, France and Britain had “equal interest” in managing Egypt’s future, which is called “cause de la dette,” or dual control. Dual control is the situation in which two countries have common interest in another country and managing their future affairs.
This dual partnership consisted of commercial and political interests from the turn of the nineteenth century until 1882. Egypt was then acquired by Britain as a protectorate in 1914 and formally became an independent state in 1936, although it was a monarchy until 1953. Arab nationalism and anti-imperialism, sometimes turning militant, had a strong presence in Egypt as long as direct or indirect British rule loomed over the country. These events influenced the spread of nationalist movements, revolt, changes in power and popular nationalist parties, coup d’etats, political disarray and chaos.
Time and time again, history has proven that meddling with other countries’ political and economic matters creates pandemonium and instability. Changes in political power are not realized without large effects on the country’s economy. Interfering with these issues time and time again leads to long-term instability.
Iran sets another example of what happens when conflicts within a country are substantial enough that any other meddling will cause uncontrollable chaos. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Iran has undergone various political and ideological changes. When the Shah took power the White Revolution began, which extended suffrage to women and made limited land reforms. However, the unequal distribution of wealth from oil reserves and natural gas caused strife and dissent. Islamic officials, primarily Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, protested the problems with the White Revolution, and laid the foundation for the Islamic Revolution that would eventually turn the country in a completely different direction for decades to come. These series of events set a great example for how each country has numerous issues to deal with on their own, and further interference or “help” from other simply adds gasoline to the fire. Western intervention in Iran added several other variables to the equation, leading to further conflict and strife.
The United States trying to “spread democracy” is a vivid example of this situation. This is not because the United States has bad intentions, but rather it is unreasonable for a country to perform an action without being incentivized or seeking a reward. No country, business, or organization on Earth functions for the goodwill or wellbeing of people outside its borders. At the end of the day, as all the rules of economics dictate consumers respond to economic incentives. Therefore, it is important to realize consider what these incentives are and decipher the intentions of the intervening state rather than blindly accepting the narrative that our government presents to us.
If my opinion means anything, I recommend the United States avoid meddling with unstable countries, whether through an attempt to spread ideals or extract resources, as our intervention has proven to be catastrophic for the stability of entire region. Furthermore, we must realize that such instability and chaos is the ultimate breeding ground for terrorism—a key issue for the current administration. Before looking elsewhere and trying to fix the issue from the outside, we must evaluate our own decisions globally and try to understand the effect of our decisions.
Lebanon, on the other end of the spectrum from Iran, throughout history, has handled their affairs more effectively and efficiently. As the what-when-how article states, after World War II, Lebanon demanded the end of French domination and “suzerainty.” They put aside their differences, with both Christian and Muslim political groups signing the National Pact, in order to establish autonomous self-rule. “In a bold statement of autonomy, the new constitution eliminated all existing statutes and provisions that could potentially compromise Lebanon’s independence.” In response, the French arrested the president of Lebanon and suspended its constitution; however, the United States, Britain, and other Arab states came to Lebanon’s defense and forced the French to recognize Lebanon’s sovereignty in December 1943.
In the next few decades, Lebanon’s stability helped create an environment that was conducive to economic growth and social progress. Although civil war followed by Syrian occupation damaged infrastructure and tarnished relationships between Muslims and Christians, the key observation we must make is that sovereign rule without the meddling of external countries and entities led to a period of economic growth and social stability. The country surely had its obstacles it had to overcome, but it was not bombarded with interests from overseas and the conflicts they bring with them. If I were to make a recommendation for countries in the Middle East, I would advise them to observe Lebanon as a case study, and understand the value religious diversity and balance of power bring forth.
The sovereign country was able to handle its own affairs and properly represent its constituents very effectively, especially relative to its neighboring countries in the Middle East. Lebanon’s people were represented quite equally with members of almost all religions serving in government. Although Lebanon has endured numerous hardships in establishing the state they have, they did so in a sustainable manner that allows for their government, and their government only, to serve its constituents. They did not have to appeal to demands and interests of other countries, as we observed, and therefore avoided many of the conflicts their neighboring countries had to endure.
Another issue we must address throughout the history of the Middle East is the constant redrawing of their region. Since the dawn of time, people of various sects and groups have been fighting over this land. Conflicts of interest have torn this region apart time and time again, and over time, individuals with power and influence have created more and more sects in an attempt to divide these people, in order to keep them at bay and distracted with the ongoing conflict around them.
Their intentions were to divide people and avoid unification, as people are strongest when they are unified. Jonathan Gornall writes in The National about one of many examples of a “disastrous” redrawing of the map of the Middle East. It was carved up between the victorious French and British with an “imperious lack of understanding of cultural, tribal, and religious nuances,” and we feel its cascading effects until this day. Redrawing of maps and redistributing land to certain groups affects the entire region and its people for centuries to come. With countries focusing on their secular divides brought forth by this divide, the population is consumed by their differences, rather than striving to unite and bring forth sustainable change and growth.
Israel is a sharp contrast with the failures in the Middle East. Given its geographical situation as neighbor to all the countries we discussed, they are in a similar predicament, but have approached it in a completely different manner. Israel was given their land by Britain after World War II, and from that day forward, their goal was set on sovereignty along with sustainable social and economic growth. In contrast with its neighbors, Israel took a more indirect approach, allowing the people to be the driver of their growth, without too much intervention from their government. They strove for sovereignty, so they could be self-sustained without having to appeal to foreign countries and thus risk having incompatible ideologies foisted upon them. Over the course of time, through several hardships, they were able to equip themselves with the tools to protect their sovereignty with one of the world’s most advanced defense technologies. All in all, Israel empowered its people and formed their government in such a way that it represents its constituents, and is not subject to manipulation by foreign powers.
In order to empower countries in the Middle East and avoid further chaos, it is imperative for us to aim to be somewhat self-sufficient ourselves, and stop meddling with the business that is not ours. It is our responsibility to protect the safety and wellbeing of our people, and if it comes at the expense of more expensive gasoline prices, it must be done. Forcing our ideologies on countries, whose society is not compatible with ours, makes for backlash and unrest around the region and the world.
Allowing countries in the Middle East to be self-sufficient empowers them, so that they can hash out their own issues. It is easier said than done, as many of these countries do not distribute their resources equally to the people, oppress them, and do not allow for free speech, diversity, or any sort of free expression. Bottom-up improvement, efforts started by the population will lead the movement to achieve the growth they so desire and need. Countries facing oppressive governments in the past have unified for a common purpose, through protests or coups, in order to drive the country in the direction they want to see it move, as we observed in the article through Iran’s example.
Throughout the course of time, land around the Middle Eastern region has been divided without consideration to differing cultural, religious, and ideological beliefs, mostly to suit to the wants of Western civilization. As a result, conflict, war and bloodshed have erupted in the region for several hundred years. To add fuel to the fire, Western civilization has time and time again forced these nations to comply with ideologies that simply do not fit them.
Rather than doing what we have done for centuries that has yielded nothing fruitful, we must avoid the hands-on approach of force-feeding people what the government wants them to think and do, but rather allow the people to be the driving force of society’s progress, as Lebanon and Israel have done. Helping Middle Eastern countries into the driving seat allows the country to maintain its autonomy and sovereignty, along with equipping their country with the tools it needs to achieve sustainable social and economic growth.