Well, I'm sitting here at 4:45 Sunday CST, listening to Megadeth's 1991 song "Symphony of Destruction," essentially Dave Mustaine's gut response to the first Persian Gulf War with Saddam, and it's put me in a mindset to finish out my tenure with one last parting shot at some of the questions thrown my way.
David Adesnik has thrown the most pointed questions my way, which I can best answer by pasting in a few recent op-eds that have never been published, and also put out weblinks to two more. But first one of the easier questions (paraphrased):
--"Why don't we just start making MagLev trains and rely on wind and solar, and get the heck out of the Middle East?"
Answer: It's not a solution for China or India, or most Southeast or Northeast Asian nations, who are in a different stage of development but who are increasingly driving the global economy, of which the US is itself a part. Also, having traveled through the six Gulf Arab Monarchies: if you think the terrorism problem is bad now, imagine a hyper-developing set of Arab countries with mammoth public works projects and super-modern skyscrapers, hotels, banks, conference centers, and everything else suddenly being BROKE because all the Developing World decided to chuck their oil dependency as quickly as possible.
It's easy to think of the Middle East as just a bunch of poor nations who are hostile to globalization and who lack modern infrastructure; I daresay this is the mindset of many Americans on both sides of the aisle. It is more difficult to digest the reality, which is that 1) 80%-90% of the populations of the six Gulf Arab states are immigrants from Greater Asia (all Asian countries) who remit substantial monies to their families throughout Asia; 2) the oil surplus subsidizes the economies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan through immigrant workers and through big yearly cash checks from Saudi Arabia; and 3) places like Dubai easily surpass New York in modernity and are literally erecting dozens of new skyscrapers every year, 24/7.
Most of this is oil money, or is connected in some way to oil money. Now last time I checked, we wanted to spread democracy to the Middle East. Well, what do sociologists and historians and political scientists indicate is co-terminous with democrat liberalization? Modernization. Modernity. The Burghers (new commercial elite) of Northern Europe came along well before the first open parliamentary elections...actually, a couple of centuries before. Now, oil money is in fact modernizing the entire Middle East region...and slowly but surely drawing it into the global economy.
Do we really want to end it as soon as possible? Will this really help fight terrorism at the global level? Or would a sudden halt to all such development, and sudden poverty, collapse the entire region into flames? Something to think about. I'm not saying to go out and buy a Ford Expedition, but we have to tread carefully on the question of energy futures.
One medium-term answer is to create a stable international security environment that gives the domestic room for liberalization over decades of time international norms, processes, and rules prior to domestic democratization.
Washington puts the latter first, but my answer to David Adesnik and others is that we should think seriously whether we have nearly the control/effect over other states' domestic practices as we have over their international, foreign policy practices, especially given our power to engage other states and shape the security environment in which they operate. We can probably set up international institutions or looser arrangements....Iraq shows the innate difficulty of putting the domestic level as the "causal variable" for peace and stability.
In this regard, I offer one op-ed already published below, followed by the text of two op-eds on Syria and Iran, respectively.
Peace, Michael Kraig, Director of Policy Analysis and Dialogue, The Stanley Foundation
Gulf Security in a Globalizing World: Going beyond US Hegemony
Assuring a Free Lebanon: Don’t Forget the Golan Heights
50 years after the term "roll back" was originally coined to describe a hawkish US Cold War strategy of beating international communism by aggressively pushing it back across the borders of Russia, the term has gained a new lease on life in the streets of Lebanon. The United States and France are now being gladly joined by almost every conceivable actor around the globe in calling for Syria to leave Lebanon, now and for good: from Kofi Anon and the UN Secretariat, to Asian allies such as Japan and South Korea, to Middle Eastern leaders themselves.
In recent shuttle diplomacy to Riyadh and Cairo, Syria has attempted to gain some semblance of pan-Arab nationalist support, but to no avail. Everyone in the region, from North Africa to the Persian Gulf, from the highest decision-makers to the lowest academics and opposition figures, seem to believe that Hariri’s death was indeed perpetrated by the Syrian government, either in the form of rogue intelligence elements or via a direct decision of Bashar Al-Asad himself. The only palpable Arab nationalist support has been through the good offices of Ammr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League. No practical political or economic aid for Syria’s position will be forthcoming from the League’s varied members. Syria is truly and utterly alone
Despite these developments, however, the West can still play the crisis in Beirut wrong, with costly and violent outcomes resulting from tactical and strategic missteps. Amid the boisterous joy in the streets of Beirut, as the political and military minions of the Syrian Ba’ath regime seem ready for comprehensive rollback beyond the Bekka valley in accordance with UN Resolution 1559, the West and especially the US should take a deep breath and consider carefully the long-term strategy for peace in Lebanon if it truly wants an inexorable evolution to liberal democracy in Beirut. For as in any complex conflict, the party being backed into a corner can strike back in desperation to protect what it sees as core strategic interests and issues of national identity. And in the present crisis, there is indeed a bilateral issue with central nationalist, territorial, and ideological overtones: the status of the Golan Heights.
Although the war of 1973 is a distant memory for many in the West, for Syrian citizens and leaders alike it is an ever-present, eternal issue. And as in the case of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power today, Syria’s attachment to the Golan is not contingent on the character of the regime in power. Just as experts have predicted that Iran will pursue a latent nuclear capability no matter who holds the reigns of power in Tehran, Syria is likely to press for this slim piece of strategic territory no matter holds power in Damascus. Any conceivable ruling coalition of reformists, secular nationalists, or ethnic-based representatives would expect a final, just, equitable settlement with Israel on this issue, since it is not just seen as a piece of land, but also as an ideological, values-based conflict artificially frozen in time by Western intervention and UN peacekeepers. Even though few in Syria today avidly support Bashar Al-Asad’s confused and ineffectual rule, fewer still support the idea of Israel controlling a piece of Syrian territory indefinitely. Syrians may wish for a different domestic regime, but they still do not trust the ultimate intentions of Tel Aviv. Majority opinion in Syria still holds that Israel is an aggressive, expansionist, irredentist power bent on fulfilling the dictates of an inflexible Zionist ideology (and supported blindly by Capitol Hill) – an attitude inculcated by the beating drums of Syria’s state-controlled media, but an attitude that exists nonetheless.
Therefore, if the well-wishers for Lebanese democracy truly want a non-violent, stable, and just outcome in Beirut, they should think strategically of all the linked issues in Lebanon’s neighborhood, and act accordingly. Syria is much more likely to play the spoiler to current trends within Lebanon (via Hezbollah or other instruments) if it believes that no benefits, no reassurances, and no hope is forthcoming on the core issue of the Golan Heights. Even as pressure is justly and universally applied to roll back Syria’s corrupt, cronyistic control of a fledgling democratic nation, the world’s lone superpower would do well to work with Europeans, Israel, and Kofi Anon to craft public and private messages assuring Damascus that a final and equitable outcome to the Golan issue will eventually materialize, respecting the relevant UN Resolutions arising from the war of 1973 – Resolutions 242 and 338, which are universally supported throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. These promises and reassurances could in turn be diplomatically backed up by the Arab League, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to garner some measure of trust with Syria’s beleaguered regime. These assurances are crucial precisely because Israel is in a stronger position than ever to deny such a settlement to Damascus, unilaterally, with or without international support.
But this subtle strategy of linkage between different issues will require patience, wisdom, and foresight on the part of US decision-makers and Western allies alike – something that has been in regrettably short supply over the past four years. Let us hope that as the demonstrators in Beirut supply the courage of their convictions, the US and the international community can supply a balanced, realistic long-term solution to Israeli-Syrian grievances that will ultimately keep Damascus from further acts of desperation in Lebanon.
Engaging Gulliver: China’s Lessons for the Iranian Nuclear Crisis
The Washington policy community is so mired in the seemingly endless nuclear crisis with Iran that they fail to notice the long-term solution: the example of China over the past 40 years.
Looking at today’s dynamic and largely cooperative Northeast and Southeast Asian economic scene, it is easy to forget just how domestically and internationally unpredictable China once was, or how worried the US strategic community was about it. Amid Mao’s various top-down, state-led revolutions in the 1960s, China’s ascent toward nuclear weapons status galvanized the United States to explore several anti-ballistic missile systems and seriously consider preemptive military strikes on Chinese nuclear facilities – as is now being actively considered by Israel and the United States toward Iran. China was viewed as an aggressive and irrational foe that threatened to destabilize Asia – just as Iran is viewed today in the Middle East. And while a nuclear Iran could incite further nuclear proliferation among regional neighbors, China’s huge size and obvious Great Power aspirations were in large part behind South Korea’s and Taiwan’s nascent efforts to "go nuclear" in the 1970s and 80s – a trend that was further spurred by America’s weakened position in Asia after Vietnam, much as America is looking increasingly besieged in Iraq today.
And yet the worst never came to pass. China bridged the nuclear gap, but instead of brandishing nukes with bellicose, offensive threats, it fielded a minimalist arsenal based on defensive threats. China has exercised its growing power through mutually advantageous economic cooperation with its neighbors, spurred partly by the positive example of US-China bilateral trade deals. And meanwhile, strong US bilateral security guarantees and conventional arms sales with Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have kept each from pursuing nuclear arsenals.
The Soviet threat had much to do with the long-term thaw between China and the United States. But it was also because China’s internal revolution – like Iran’s Islamic revolution today – failed miserably in providing its citizens prosperity. In the case of China, this domestic developmental gap was ultimately filled with capital and technology from abroad. China’s Asian Gulliver has not only been tied down by countless financial threads emanating from Lilliputians such as South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, it has also been tremendously enriched at the same time. Paradoxically, the stronger Gulliver becomes, the more he is constrained. Meanwhile, China’s burgeoning market provides the fodder for Lilliputian growth: all of Southeast and Northeast Asia (including Taiwan) have GDPs and GNPs that increase concurrently with China’s market. China has largely become a status quo power, ever hungry for more national strength but largely unable to use that strength for any conceivable aggressive ends.
Herein lies the key to resolving the Iranian crisis. Iran, like China, is an ancient civilization that has regional hegemonic ambitions, and these latent ambitions are motivating its Arab neighbors to buy high-tech conventional weaponry and grant America basing rights in the Persian Gulf. But Iran is a mess domestically, suffering from stagnant growth, declining industry, an apathetic and frustrated population, a leadership hungry for cash and domestic legitimacy, and the desperate need for infrastructure and technology improvements. It is Iran’s own neighbors, the Lilliputian Arab monarchies who are slight on geopolitical power but flush with investment capital, that could conceivably tie Gulliver down and satisfy his regional ambitions at the same time. In the short-term, if Iran could be stopped short of the nuclear weapons threshold – at the level of a latent bomb capability in the form of an indigenous nuclear energy fuel cycle, but not an actual arsenal – then the United States could use the same bilateral security guarantees perfected with South Korea and Taiwan in the Asian context to keep Iran’s neighbors from going nuclear themselves.
But precious time is already being wasted. In order for Iran to become a normal nation, the United States needs to start treating it like a normal nation, as Nixon first did with China. To dampen the nuclear crisis and allow forward momentum in other areas, the United States needs to assure a justifiably skittish Iran that it accepts the Islamic Republic’s basic claim to sovereignty, and it can even recommend Iran’s admission to multilateral economic institutions such as the World Trade Organization, which could constitute a powerful source of leverage over Iran’s regional behavior. Simultaneously, European trade arrangements and technological know-how could be mixed with Arab investment capital and US bilateral detente. Ultimately, European-Arab-US strategic cooperation could effectively create a virtuous circle of security and development with a fearful but ambitious Iran. Let the tying of Gulliver begin.