By Daniel J. Gallington
June 13, 2014 ·
Why the Middle East Is Going to Implode
Violent Change in the Region Is Inevitable And We Need To Be Ready For It.
Motivated by two excellent writings on the recent political dynamics in the Middle East, here are some longer-term political and economic assessments about the region – which always seems larger politically than its actual geographical boundaries.
Motivations for regional political behaviors: Historically, there have been three of these: religion, tribal power and greed, which makes the Middle East both traditional and anachronistic, especially when one considers the religious reformations that much of the world experienced hundreds of years ago. Ignoring this, the Middle East continues to be stuck in a religious time warp. Add the 1948 reinsertion of the new state of Israel into the region and the post-World War II political world assured itself of hundreds of more years of regional religious conflict.
Furthermore, the Middle East, when compared to the rest of the civilized world, with few exceptions, continues to be frozen in a colossal state of social and cultural ignorance, and there appears little internal motivation for change. Where else are girls shot for going to school?
Strong preference for corruption: Likewise, there seems no real interest in changing the sad reality of everyday life in the region, which is one of total corruption from the smallest neighborhoods to the highest officials. Rather than developing the political institutions necessary for the lessening and eventual elimination of endemic corruption – which in much of the area is more akin to organized crime – the various competing factions seem to prefer it to other forms of political life. And with this goes the understanding – and tacit acceptance – that minorities of any kind will be treated with merciless contempt and discrimination by whatever corrupt figure or group is in power.
The most genuine, expensive and recent attempt at constructing a democratic model was inserted as part of the U.S. occupation of Iraq – and was a failure – as no faction saw it as a viable alternative to a corruption based system. And, as the area gets poorer and poorer as a result of modern economic realities, corruption reaches the level of gang warfare in many local regions. This is a clear longer-term trend and one with no visible incentive for change.
[See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]
Oil and opium: It is probably true that, if it were not for oil and opium, the Middle East would be a vast wasteland, in that no one in the rest of the world would care about what happened there or who was in charge. Ironically perhaps, this also seems the longer-term general trend for the region. As oil ceases to become the central revenue for the assorted corrupt regimes in power, the super rich clans and families will gradually vacate the region and move to the relative safety of Europe, where most of them are already long established.
Opium is also a cash crop of the region, and will likely continue to be a replenishable source of hard currency and political power in the various “ungoverned” regions for the indefinite future. But oil – for a number of reasons – has a diminishing future as a source of world power: For example, OPEC has already lost the power to set world oil prices as increased world supplies are allowing more traditional economic models to operate.