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 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

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Middle East Mosaic: A Geopolitical Analysis

By Scott Arthur

Middle East geography has made it historically a “fault’ region in which East/West have encountered, challenged, and borrowed from each other going back fifteen hundred years.  The irony is that the cradle of Western civilization rest in Mesopotamia centering on the city-states dotting the Tigris-Euphrates Rivers.  Bombing Baghdad in March 1903 was bombing our shared heritage. Besides its history as an East – West nexus, the Middle East is geopolitically significant because of trade/commerce, the cities of Damascus and Antioch being terminus points of the Silk Road for centuries.  Later, the construction of the Suez Canal by the French/British as a major artery of trade and the establishment of the Persian Gulf as the world’s greatest oil artery transformed these two waterways into prime strategic points.  Control over them has been vital to American global interest since World War II.

What makes the Middle East a tinder trap is that it a meeting place of converging socio-economic and political/religious forces that often are incompatible with one another.  There is the tension between the Israelis and Palestinians over the question of whether or not a two state solution is feasible within the larger historical context of an Arab/Israeli Forty Year War that since the Six Day War of 1967 has never been resolved.  The Jewish Occupation and Balkanization of Palestinian land has made a two state solution a mockery of international law.  The “Right of Return” has been denied by Israel government, endorsed by America and has radicalized the Palestinians who in their frustration have turned to Hamas.

The politics of oil has made the area central in the global struggle for energy. Energy brought the West into the mix following World War I through the actions of Sykes-Picot and the major oil companies.  Keep in mind “Energy” and not culture keeps America, Europe and the developing countries of China and India there. The American invasion of Iraq was precipitated by it possessing the third largest oil reserve in the world!  A major change is that the OPEC countries especially the countries of the Middle East have gained complete control over production and have freed themselves from paying heavy royalties to the Oil Majors.  Today’s skyrocketing price of oil puts the global economy on notice of how vulnerable it is to this commodity.

Add to this seething cauldron the role of divergent faiths.  Religion plays a significant role in the flow of events in the Middle East.  Jerusalem is the nexus of the three Abrahamic Faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  The city has numerous sites sacred to pilgrims including the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in which there are dangerous jurisdictional issues triggered by the Six Day War and Israeli occupation of Jerusalem.  Compounding religious emotions is the rise of Fundamentalism in all branches from the Christian Right to Wahhabism to Hasidic Jews - each more intolerant and apocalyptical in their views, each more political than ever.

Since 9/11, politics in the Middle East has become more radical.  In Lebanon Hezbollah emerged, in Palestine, Hamas, in Egypt, Islamic Brotherhood, and Al – Qaeda in Iraq as well as the Israel Defense Force.  The Sunna/Shiia divide has made politics even more volatile in Iraq and has enhanced the Iranians presence in the Persian Gulf. Sectarian violence has been bitter in Iraq making it difficult for the Nuri Al- Maliki government to reach a compromise between Sunnia/Shiia. Thousands of Iraqis have been displaced, wounded, maimed or killed tearing neighborhoods and villages apart as each side angles for political /demographic advantage.

Two issues in particular have further radicalized politics.  First is the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their lands, and second, America’s seemingly unconditional support for Tel Aviv.  America has provided Israel with $170 billion dollars of aid and on 60 different occasions in the United Nations refused to censor Israel for its actions against Palestinians.  Arabs largely regard Israel as a client state of Washington thereby raising the spectrum of continuing Western colonialism/imperialism. This interpretation was confirmed by Tel – Aviv’s air strike last summer in Lebanon which only strengthened the hand of Hezbollah and its leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Nuclear weapons in the Middle East have become another Molotov cocktail making the region more volatile.  The worst kept secret in this part of the world is the intelligence that Israel perhaps has a nuclear arsenal of 200 weapons.  Her nuclear presence more than off sets the demographic advantage of the Arab world.  But it has triggered an arms race in which her enemies used either unconventional approach, Al- Qaeda/ terrorism/dirty bombs, or else pushes states like Iran, in the direction of developing their own nuclear capacity.  Despite Teheran claims that uranium enrichment is done for peaceful reasons, Israel has been saber rattling by flying air strike simulations in the Mediterranean, apparently directed at intimidating Iran who has warned that any such action would transform the Middle East into “ash”.

With the collapse of Britain/France during the 1950’s America occupied the vacuum left by them starting with the Truman/ Eisenhower Doctrines giving rise to America’s ever growing presence in the Middle East. America’s involvement in the Middle East was initially associated with energy cultivating close ties with the Saudi Royal House.  It soon became connected with Empire building culminating with the Bush Doctrine of George W. Bush when he, along with the neo-cons, came into the White House in March 2001. The Bush Doctrine moved away from international collaboration to unilateralism and rests on three legs: interventionism, regime change and cultural change whenever American interests are threatened. Implicating Iraq with 9/11 was the perfect canard to expand the strategic/monetary imperatives of Empire established on an expansive military-industrial complex consisting of Wall Street, Halliburton, Bechtel, Lockheed, Boeing and Oil Companies all seeking airfields, bases, and oil to promote its hegemony. The War cost at least 5 billion a month and has thrown the American economy into a dangerous free fall aggravated in part by the mortgage melt down and skyrocketing oil prices sending economic reverberations across the world. American shortsightedness about the human and social cost involved in an Iraq intervention has done what the terrorists were not able to do.

The question that confronts America and the world community now is how Middle East stability and democratic reform can be attained and sustained. It is quite clear that a new vision for the Middle East needs to emerge free of the wounds of the past and this can only be done through a change of leadership. Mohamed Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Ehud Umbert of Israel, Bin Laden of Al–Qaeda, Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, George W. Bush, and others need to move on and allow new grass root voices for reconciliation to emerge and to speak out about the critical socio-economic changes in educational opportunities, gender equality, health services, and technology critical to transforming daily life of millions from one of despair to hope thereby raising the social expectations for the many and not just the few. Such an agenda embodies the best of Islamic egalitarianism which deplores discrimination and violence based on race, color, creed, gender. Obviously whatever happens in the future America’s role will be pivotal and as the presidential election unfolds Barak Obama hopefully will represent a “New Voice” for change, perhaps a newer version of Nelson Mandela, who can break the old 9/11 thinking and reframe the questions leading to peaceful solutions. Holding a dialogue with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad unconditionally then makes more sense than saber rattling.

Who knows?  Dialogues such as these could usher the start of a new historical era between the West and the Middle East.

Arthur Kane Scott is Professor of Humanities and Cultural Studies at the Dominican University of California
and Fellow of American Institute of International Studies