No easy solutions in Middle East
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 16:10
The turbulent conflicts in the Middle East have many complex causes and no easy solutions. The religious intolerance within the region, especially between Sunni, Shia and Kurdish Islam has played a major role. Beyond that, the abundance of resources in the region and the sensitivity with which we must approach our economic partners has made this an international concern. There are conflicting values, alliances, and new governments to consider.
Global vulnerability to the impacts of the conflicts and the multipolarity of the decision-making in the developed world will require strong and knowledgeable leadership in the present to ensure the safety and security of our people and our resources for a stable future.
The paradigm shift of the modern world has led trade to replace war in many regions. The onset of the Arab Spring opened many opportunities for the Middle Eastern nations to become democratic societies, but only two years in, there is still much to be done.
From the American perspective, it is important to look at U.S. interests and be well informed when going to the voting booths this November to ensure that our leaders are able to represent our values appropriately.
Dr. Thomas Gouttierre, dean of International Studies and Programs at UNO and the director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies offered his perspective on what he believes are the most critical issues in the coming months.
Gouttierre sees Pakistan as the most volatile nation in regards to regional and U.S. interests. This is due in part to the availability of nuclear weapons, the hostility towards the United States and the issues that come with the religious intolerance in the diversity of their population.
Internal violence in Syria has escalated because of religious persecution in this diverse Middle Eastern state and the uprising against the Assad regime. The growing urgency of the civil war poses threats for nearby countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and eventually Iran due to the Kurdish population, Gouttierre said.
Dr. Moshe Gershovich, associate professor of history at UNO and the director of the Middle East Project Fund and the Nathan and Hanna Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies, said that it is not enough to want Assad to leave. The graver international concern is the matter of who or what will replace him, and how that transition will occur.
Gouttierre further believes that we must do all that we can to bring in intermediary action from organizations such as the Arab League or the United Nations as the Syrian civil war heads into a long-term conflict.
As for Afghanistan, the president has developed a strategy for the United States in which combat troops will exit by summer 2014. This plan should be adhered to, Gouttierre said.
“With the so-called ‘insider’ attacks, we will have to find a way to deal with those, including putting more pressure on Pakistan to end its support to insurgency groups to whom it provides refuge, training, weapons, and funding,” Gouttierre said. “This issue will need to be addressed also by the Afghan government through more effective vetting of those recruited into the Afghan national security forces.”
The 2014 exit strategy doesn’t mean the United States will be abandoning Afghanistan. There are plans to provide continued civil and military support in years to come.
Obama has commented that he will not be forced into a conflict in Iran unless he sees it as being solely determined by American interests in the area.
“I think that’s a wise choice. One thing we do not want to get into is another conflict within the Middle East,” Gouttiere said. “It is important to guarantee the security of our ally, Israel, based on our own evaluation of USA interests in the region, not solely on Israeli evaluation.”
“Israel and the United States need to develop a joint strategy,” Gershovich said.
He believes that while there may be political tension between Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, that “at the end of the day, Israel wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardize American vital interests, or vice versa.”
The Israelis do not want to fight alone.
“The Obama Administration holds very severe functions in place, for several months now—bringing the international community together against Iran while maintaining a channel of negotiations with [Iran], in attempt to bring about peaceful solutions to the conflict,” Gershovich said.
The issue in Iran is magnified due to the size of the territory and the population. Iran is larger in both respects than Iraq or Afghanistan, and by that extent also has more diverse and greater amounts of resources, Gouttierre said.
Gouttierre also said the impact of destabilizing the region by engaging in conflict with Iran could become a disaster not only for the Middle East, but also for the United States due to American interest in the region in energy and transportation.
Libya remains a work in progress as far as U.S. relations go. The country went through scrutiny following the killing of four Americans at the U.S. Embassy on Sept. 11, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The attack is not thought to have been organized by the Libyan government, but rather Islamic extremists. Gershovich feels optimistic about their future. The relationship remains important for the development of Libya and will be an important topic in coming months.
It is important for us, as Americans, to not look at issues from a strictly Western perspective. No peace will be achieved by pushing a strictly American agenda.