Bottom Line Up Front
Peaceful discourse, mutually supportive policies, economic growth, and the realization of certain inalienable rights to all peoples is one way of summarizing US goals and diplomatic efforts. Achieving these goals anywhere has proven difficult. Achieving these goals in the Middle East has proven impossible, at least for the past several decades. Dealing with Iran and Syria has been emblematic of this struggle faced by US policy makers.
In short, the Middle East is ruled by iron fisted dictators that visit their sadistic pleasures against their citizens, routinely and violently attack neighbors based on issues as seemingly trivial as what form of religion they practice, and smile too sweetly at the US with their hands extended either for a questionable handshake or for money. Unless the West drastically changes its political will and stands tall with testicular fortitude, the Middle East WILL devolve further from our vision of peace and further into chaos. The problem with deepening chaos is that the entire world will feel that pain. How much oil do we depend on these sanctimonious psychopaths for? How much of the worlds trade travels through their regions? How much are we going to have to pay in our own ransom before there is another knife at our global throat?
My suggestion is to stand strong and respond to a bloody nose with a bloody nose and breaking of the knee.
So, the Middle East is a problem that is worsening. Coercive regime change has, and is still, being tried in Iraq, Egypt, and Libya. While Iraq is currently seeing fewer shootings than in Chicago it is not a stable peace. Egypt and Libya appear to be falling into deeper trouble without their previous rulers in place. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has stated that it is dedicated to the destruction of the West and its allies in establishing a caliphate, is solidifying its grip on Egypt. Libya is still in the death throes of the Qadaffy regime.
As a result of the sour smelling bag of dung the West now has its hands on there is currently a strong resistance towards regime change in places like Sudan, Syria, and Lebanon. Applying any measure of control or trying to urge the leadership in the East to use restraint has resulted in mockery and public chastisement of the West, a serious loss of face and sign of weakness to the cultures we are trying to connect with.
The other obvious option is trying to use sanctions, trade deals, and resolutions aimed at gently turning the despotic leaders towards being kinder and gentler leaders. Will behavior change, rather than forced and violent leadership change, work in either Iran or Syria or anywhere else for that matter?
Diplomatic options might be worth exploring if done with broad regional appeal and allied relationships among friends and allies. The primary caveat to this might be that we need to enter discussions with eyes opened remembering that, even as allies, the regimes are dangerous, untrustworthy allies. Problematic is achieving this without the appearance of appeasing the parties at the table. Appeasement has always proven to be a failure.
How does one negotiate a positive ending, a resolution to longstanding issues? One way, as taught in ivy covered colleges, is to identify what the others want and find a way to achieve that without giving up what you want. What do these governments want? What does a person who trains his own citizens to be suicide bombers want? I say that person wants a totalitarian system of government in which no one is allowed to think for themselves. Listen to what each country says about its neighbors! In the case of religious rule for a country Saudi Arabi, the seat of wahabism, is not considered strict enough. Anyone who does not share their understanding will be executed. If you want to know what a this will look like, contemplate the Taliban in Afghanistan—the only state in recent memory that is considered to have been legitimately Islamic. Consider, also, the rise to power of Stalin and how many millions of people were, and still are, murdered for the communistic regime.
Only after the UN demanded (several times) an end to the slaughter in Libya by Qadaffy did Obama call on NATO to be part of the solution. That should be read as NATO being used as a cover for Obama’s attempt to clumsily effect a regime change. Meanwhile, in Syria Iran sent elite forces, equipment, and money to Bashir al-Assad to use in his continued legacy of killing his own people based on their religious bent.
Thousands of people are dying at the whim of al-Assad, in a manner not too dissimilar to how Qadaffy ruled, and Ahmedinijad declares that he will stand by his ally.
What do we do? Do we depose of the despot or try to charm him? How long did the West try to talk with Osama? What has happened since we killed him? What will come of deposing a terroristic leader? When the West kills or removes a leader in the East it is widely heralded as an act of devilish evil which must, by religious decree, be met with the blood of the people of the West and their leaders.
The options still include regime change and appeasement, but there is also another option. That is to install a benevolent dictator. Look at the culture and the attitudes of the regions and peoples of the Middle East. A harsh environment in which the slightest bit of weakness brings death has created a people who see the world, life and death, in the same way.
There is no simple answer. The only sure thing is, by going in showing timidity and weakness, by apologizing for all wrongs (real and perceived) will dangerously fail.