BOSTON — The centuries turn over, the big players evolve, the local battlefields change, but the results remain the same: When external military powers intervene in the Middle East to secure their national interests, the result is inevitably local chaos that also generates retaliations and terrorism against those same foreign powers. Turkey and Russia are the latest states to experience this, clearly ignoring the lesson of their own imperial past.
The military power and its dominant national or religious identity are irrelevant; this universal pattern of history and human behavior applies whether the external power’s population is mostly Christian (Russia, United States), Muslim (Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia), Jewish (Israel), or any combination of these. The United Kingdom and France a hundred years ago, the United States in the past 60 years, Russia, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey today, and others all blindly assume they are impervious to any kind of reactions from the societies they penetrate militarily, and subsequently ravage politically, and often dismember as coherent states.
This critical dynamic is as old as human history itself, and is replayed with the repercussions of events in Syria and Iraq. So this would be a good moment for president-elect Donald Trump and his band of warriors to ponder the implications of mainly using more military force to rid the world of the scourge of terrorism from the Middle East. Perhaps a Trump administration will be able to re-think this approach more effectively than its predecessors, because of the many ex-generals in Trump’s entourage who have actually fought wars and maybe understand two critical facts that the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations ignored.
The first fact is that military power cannot be the primary instrument of foreign policy, even when addressing security threats such as terrorism. We also learn this from decades of experiences of the United States, Israel, and Turkey, who have used massive military force against their political foes, but continue to face resistance and terrorism, in some cases on a widening scale. Foreign powers have never found the formula for how to prevail by using military force against foreign societies whose ordinary people seek to live in security and dignity at home, such as in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Algeria, and many others.
The second fact is that military force used brutally and constantly generates its own new problems of insecurity, resentment, chaos, ungovernable spaces, and mass demographic displacement and desperation in the countries in question, which in turn spawn new forms of resistance and terror. These often manifest themselves well beyond the borders of the lands that foreign armies have invaded or penetrated. Most of the perpetrators call their acts resistance; the rest of the world calls them terrorism. If we do not grasp the relationships between these two realities then we will only suffer this problem for decades to come.
It is important to note that I do not condone or excuse the acts of terror we see in Syria, Iraq, Ankara, Berlin, Zurich, Brussels, Paris, and dozens of other cities. I am not judging terror and indiscriminate violence against civilians, because decent human beings can only respond to such crimes with severe revulsion and condemnation, and apply appropriate, legitimate, and effective responses to reduce or end terror threats. So why do terror and terrorists keep expanding all around us?
Deep, honest analysis of the links among foreign military interventions in the Middle East, sustained autocratic and often incompetent local regimes, and greater terror waves emanating from our region remains largely absent from the mainstream Western and Middle Eastern media and political spheres, with only occasional exceptions. A more accurate analysis would show that all our condemnations of terror seem only to coincide with expanding acts of increasingly brutal terror in more and more countries around the world. Good morning? It is high time to hear a more sensible explanation of this dilemma from mainstream media and political circles than the largely nonsensical, self-serving, imperial, and fiercely un-self-critical discussions of terror that dominate most Western and Middle Eastern societies.
Here’s another reason to wake up and ask why most of what we hear about the causes of terror make little sense, in view of terror’s expanding terrain and targets: Many of the recent acts in Europe and the United States seem to have been perpetrated by local individuals who became incensed by events abroad and at home, and once they became radicalized they carried out attacks such as those in Ankara and Berlin this week. This trend is likely to continue and expand.
The assassination of the Russian ambassador in Turkey follows many other recent attacks against American, French, Israeli, Jordanian, Iranian, Saudi Arabian, Turkish, German, and other targets. It seems that no country is immune. Why is it that all the smart people in the world lack the political honesty to figure this one out, but never seem to run out of enthusiasm for condemning the barbarism and criminality of the terror that they cannot seem to slow down? Maybe Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran who are now part of this ugly cycle can offer us better insights that the United States, Israel, U.K., France and other traditional military actors in the Middle East have failed to do?
Rami G. Khouri is a senior fellow at the American University of Beirut and the Harvard Kennedy School, and can be followed on Twitter @ramikhouri
Copyright ©2016 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global
Released: 20 December 2016
Word Count: 874
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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for Le Monde diplomatique, and The Washington Spectator, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Rami G. Khouri, Vadim Nikitin, John Stoehr, and Immanuel Wallerstein.