Politics of Murder in the Middle East

David Ignatius is dishearted by what he terms “The Politics of Murder” in his beloved Lebanon and throughout the Middle East.

A disease is eating away at the Middle East. It afflicts the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Lebanese, even the Israelis. It is the idea that the only political determinant in the Arab world is raw force — the power of physical intimidation. It is politics as assassination.

[…]

The sickness must end. The people of the Middle East are destroying themselves, literally and figuratively, with the politics of assassination. So many things are going right in the modern world — until we reach the boundaries of the Middle East, where the gunmen hide in wait. Those who imagined they could stop the assassins’ little guns with their big guns — the United States and Israel come to mind — have been undone by the howling gale of violence. In trying to fight the killers, they began to make their own arguments for assassination and torture. That should have been a sign that something had gone wrong.

[…]

The idea that America is going to save the Arab world from itself is seductive, but it’s wrong. We have watched in Iraq an excruciating demonstration of our inability to stop the killers. We aren’t tough enough for it or smart enough — and in the end it isn’t our problem. The hard work of building a new Middle East will be done by the Arabs, or it won’t happen. What would be unforgivable would be to assume that, in this part of the world, the rule of law is inherently impossible.

The rule of law has been the norm in the West, however, for centuries. The Arab world, which at the time of the Crusades was much more socially and technologically advanced than Christendom, has remained mired in the Medieval mindset. The old tale of the frog and the scorpion, with the punchline “because it is the Middle East,” usually rings true.

Ignatius is quite likely right that the United States is not going to be able to change this. He’s wrong, though, if he thinks the United Nations will do any better. The answer, then, is that change has to come from within. Sadly, there are no signs that this is forthcoming.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    David Ignatius, for whatever else he is, is no student of history, that much is clear. At what point in the last 50 years of its existence, has it ever been able to bring about peace in the middle east?

    Ignatius says;

    Those who imagined they could stop the assassins’ little guns with their big guns — the United States and Israel come to mind — have been undone by the howling gale of violence. In trying to fight the killers, they began to make their own arguments for assassination and torture. That should have been a sign that something had gone wrong.

    Actually, no, David… we weren’t undone by the violence. That violence would have been the first sign that we’d made the right choice… to take physical action, as opposed to trying diplomacy… tired, toothless, and in the end of early worthless, except to those with the sickness as you mention.

    The fact is with such a situation force is the only response possible. As you say yourself, it’s the only thing they understand. It became the coin of the realm long before you dispensed your wisdom on the subject.

    The problem is, that force has to be applied over a long period of time. Longer, apparently, then you and yours are willing to even consider. We are only in able to stop the killers, because we have announced their intention to withdraw. And we were not about saving the Arab world from itself as you claim. Rather, we were about saving the remainder of the world from Arab extremism. You may recall that there were a few other places involved in our getting into this fight; Say, southern Manhattan for example.

    And if you want further indication that these people simply cannot be negotiated with, that force, the answer you rejected, was the only viable one, I suggest you look no further than the London Times article cited by Captain Ed this morning.

    In recent weeks the idea that the United States and the UK should “engage” Syria, but also Iran, to stabilise Iraq has been all the rage. On Tuesday, in an east Beirut suburb, Lebanon’s industry minister, Pierre Gemayel, showed what the cost of engagement might be.

    Gemayel respectfully suggests that this may have not been the best path.

    But that is precisely the path that Ignatius is suggesting to be the answer.

  2. Tano says:

    Well, you sure arent going to change the culture of violence by starting a war to advance your political interests in the region. The Bush approach has probably made the problem worse, since even the great and mighty moral beacon of the world, when seeking to solve problems, resorts to violence. How can you expect that that would be a factor toward the good?

    As the genius commenting above makes clear, this “mideast mindset of violence” is rampant in the West as well.

  3. daveinboca says:

    Lebanon must be supported and its democracy defended. Of course, assassins will continue to murder the opponents of Syrian autocracy or Hezbollah terror [or the Syrian-based Hamas terrorist Kamel Mishaal].

    At the same time, it is predictable that the UN’s “Investigative Inquiry” will submerge as the evidence and counter-evidence that crime forensics in the Muddled East produces surround the process. Professional assassins [remember the art form was invented in its derivation from “hashishiim” who killed the enemies of the Old Man of the Mountain while stoned] know how to cover their tracks as part of their metier and when caught, assassins tend to die quickly and unexplainably, so as not to reveal their paymasters. Although Islam did have a cultural flowering from 850-1258, the political/economic trajectory of the Middle East has been downward relative to its neighbors since then. And one of the reasons for the Arab caliphs cession of their ascendancy to the Turks was that Arab caliphs rarely died a peaceful death. The Turks were able to counter this murderous tendency by killing all the brother-relatives of the Ottoman Caliph at his accession, and before that accession, sequestering them in the so-called Golden Cage. Read Lord Kinross’s Ottoman Centuries for the details.

    Ike landed in Lebanon in ’58 to defend democracy, as did Reagan in the ’80s, to terrible consequences. But the US has to be the bulwark of democracy since the Euroweenies appear intent on cutting deals and electing Spanish surrender-monkeys rather than face the consequences of defeatism.

  4. Bithead says:

    Well, you sure arent going to change the culture of violence by starting a war to advance your political interests in the region.

    After all, war never solved anything.

    Oh… except The Nazis, Japanese imperialists, Communist expansion, slavery, and tyyrany over the colonies. I mean, other than that, what has war ever done in the name of humanity?

  5. Tano says:

    Bithead,
    You are the soul-mate of the Saddams, the binLadens, the al-Sadrs of this world. They use the exact same logic that you do, to arrive at the exact same conclusion regarding how to achieve ones political aims in the Middle East.

  6. Bithead says:

    I suggest, Tano, that you look at a parallel situation. Just yesterday, Israel signed a ‘peace’ plan…

    And it didn’t take long for the truth to out:

    JERUSALEM —AP- Israeli troops withdrew from the Gaza Strip as a last-minute cease-fire deal took hold Sunday morning, but two major Palestinian militant groups, saying they had no intention of stopping their attacks, fired volleys of homemade rockets into Israel.

    At some point, Tano, you’re going to understand that the only way peace is possible is defeat of the enemym and that negotiations and ‘peace efforts’ by means of diplomacy, are only used as a tool against the west.