Thursday, October 2, 2014

George Packer on the US and the Middle East

George Packer offers a perceptive take on the US and the Middle East in The New Yorker.

It’s very hard for Americans to accept that we are not the root cause of all the world’s good or evil. A kind of nationalistic narcissism joins the left and the right in a common delusion: the first believes that American support for Israel and the invasion of Iraq are behind all the turmoil in the Middle East today; the second sees American ideals and military might as the answer to that turmoil. If only we’d stay the hell out; if only we’d go all in. Both views have a piece of the truth but far from the whole thing, and they share the mistake of denying people in the region their own agency. It’s undeniable that the invasion of Iraq created the vacuum in which Al Qaeda has flourished, and that American support for dictators, from the Shah of Iran to the Saudi royal family, has stoked discontent around the region. It’s also the case that, without American leadership, there would be no international coalition against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham like the one Obama has belatedly formed.

But the original sources of the extreme violence and social disintegration in North Africa, the Middle East, and South and Central Asia are bad government (autocratic, sectarian, corrupt); marginalized, undereducated, economically deprived publics; and homegrown or imported religious ideas within Islam that turn mass murder into an obligation of the faithful. The first two are common enough around the world. It’s the third that turns ordinary misery into the region’s brand of endless horror.

The Middle East and other regions of the Muslim world are going through an agony of largely self-inflicted destruction. Though exacerbated by outside intrusion and neglect, it wasn’t caused by the U.S.—but it’s our inescapable problem, as well as the rest of the world’s. The means we use, including violence of our own, will be based on inadequate information and will bring unintended consequences. We will almost certainly overreact or underreact—most likely both. In or out, we will not come away with clean hands. But ultimate responsibility and a lasting solution begin and end with Muslims themselves, who have free will. That’s the nature of tragedy.

No comments: