Saturday, September 05, 2015

The muddled political situation in the Middle East

Nothing is completely clear about the Middle East political situation, at least from a traditional western perspective.  Take Yemen as one prime example.  The U.S. and the Saudis both support the supposed legitimate central government based in Aden now and not in the former capital.  That central government is composed of Sunni believers and secular opportunists.  Their two main opponents are the Houthis, which control the recent former capital of Sana'a, and Al-Qaeda of the Yemen Republic.

The Houthis are Shiite based and are reportedly backed by Iran but they refute that. The Houthis have their own powerful fighting force and control major parts of the country as well as their native northwest part.  They are the major challengers to Al-Qaeda in the country, while the central government has traditionally accepted that Al-Qaeda can control much of the eastern part of Yemen, or as news reports call it, "the hinterlands".  The central government doesn't want to battle another adversary, especially one of Sunni origin.

The U.S. is filling the vacuum of attacking Al-Qaeda through drone attacks.  Saudi Arabia and a few other Arab allies are actively using their U.S. built airplanes to attack the Houthis.  The Shiite controlled central government of Iraq that is sponsored in a major way by the U.S. is not involved, but the contradictions grow with every sentence.

Let's complicate things.  Militias from Iran have arguably been more helpful to Iraq's defense of itself against ISIS than the U.S, as they are on the ground and not just up in the air.  The U.S. has finally begun to allocate funds and resources to the Iraqi Kurds directly as they are the only rigorous fighters against ISIS within Iraq.  Whether that statement at long last made less than two months ago by President Obama is backed by actual facts is unknown.  Turkey is using U.S. sourced jets and money to attack not only ISIS but the Kurds in Turkey and those on or over the border into Iraq.  That's in return for allowing the U.S. to now use Turkish airbases to attack ISIS in Syria.

Major U.S. ally Saudi Arabia supports a Taliban style justice system for the masses, but that clearly does not apply to the ruling House of Saud dynasty.  The Sunni Saudis are vehemently anti-Iran, yet with all of the aid that comes their way from the U.S., the large number of House of Saud members who have been educated at major American schools, and the many House of Saud leaders who have a huge footprint in London for their investments and their secular lifestyle, Saudi Arabia has recently confirmed that they support the pending Iran deal.

Then there is Syria which is committing genocide on its own people in many areas.  President Assad of Syria would like to think that he is a friend of the West, as he and his supporters are as much secular in their beliefs as religious, live a Western lifestyle, as well as being key fighters against ISIS, at least in Assad's limited mind. Russia supports Assad, Iran supports Assad, and Saudi Arabia does not.  The U.S. does not support Assad, but has for all practical purposes done little tangible to show it.

All of this ramble is simply meant to show how complicated the Middle East is, and is not meant to be understandable. The Middle East is a region whose various relationships between countries are ruled by age old relationships or animosities, much of which seems to have no logic.  President Obama's 2009 speech in Cairo seeking a more stable relationship within the region and with the U.S. was at best well meaning but immensely naive, at worst completely thoughtless self promotion after he used the same speech making tactic to win election in the U.S.  He has never had any grasp of what to do in the region, almost having a "let Biden and Kerry handle it" attitude.

Of course, finally there is Israel that cannot help but be relieved at the moment by all of the chaos among their various Arab neighbors.  Why wouldn't this have been an opportunity to cut back on the continued expansion of the settlements and make some real effort to control the more extremist elements in their country.  What a coup it would have been if during this chaotic time they could have made some progress in relationships with their more moderate Arab neighbors and with the Palestinians. Under Netanyahu that certainly has not happened, and whether there is or was any opportunity the world will never know.

This is a dangerous region for the world as everyone knows.  Simple solutions do not exist, except perhaps in the minds of some minimally informed and policy blind U.S. politicians.

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