Middle East

Jeffrey Sachs on the Middle East

A couple of recent articles by Jeffrey D. Sachs on the Middle East caught my eye

He makes the point that the west has to allow Islamists to participate in government. I agree and I think there is an increasing acceptance of that. He claims that the US was complicit in the the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in Egypt in 2013 but provides no details. Any political settlement in both Syria and Libya will certainly include plenty of Islamists.

There is of course the standard line about how bad it was to remove the Saddam regime in Iraq and what a terrible mess it has created. However, I think the bottom line is that no kind of democratic political change was possible in the Middle East without the removal of that regime. Saddam would have exploited the necessary instability of the process. Furthermore, the regime in Iraq is a vast improvement on Saddam’s fascist tyranny based on minority Sunni dominance, and it has prospects for improvement whereas the previous regime did not.

Sachs bemoans the fact that the Syrian civil war has caused so much death and misery, and lead to the rise of Daesh (ISIS). However, only military means could remove the hated Assad regime that responded to peaceful protests with gunfire. The civil war would have been less bloody and generally less horrific if external powers had intervened earlier to both assist the opposition forces to overthrow Assad and to oversee the transition to a democratic regime. I don’t know how much intervention was needed. Maybe it would have required the US to overcome its war weariness and/or Europe to get over its general pacifism. Obama who has a low threshold in such matters certainly thought too much effort would have been required. Hilary Clinton as Secretary of State certainly thought more could have been done to support the kind of forces that will be part of the eventual political solution.

Sachs raves on about the importance of doing things through the UN Security Council. But action in that arena until recently was impossible given Russia obstruction. That only changed when Russia and Iran realized that the Assad regime was unsalvageable.

It appears we are about to see a cease fire between the Assad regime and the non-Daesh opposition. This will be followed by some kind of political process that establishes a democratic government. There will be no place of course for those who have been the key players in the Assad regime. The whole purpose of the civil war is to get rid of that tyrannical and murderous lot. The next stage is the serious business of mobilizing internal and external forces to destroy Daesh. Part of that should be the recruitment of young Syrian refugees. Many already have military training and these could train the others. The less reliance on forces from places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt the better.

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