For the first time in more than half of century, we have a chance to have a Middle East Policy based on the actual realities on the ground and our own interests and values. The cold war and the West’s dependence on Mideast Oil forced us to overlook the fact that underneath a thin veneer of modernity, the area was actually moving backwards towards an imagined Muslim World that never existed. To curry favor with the various states we made alliances with leaders such as Sadat and Mubarak in Egypt who were less than democratic. Monarchs from Morocco to Iran were supported. As we did elsewhere in the world, we adopted alliances based on the enemy of my enemy is my friend policy. Just like our World War II alliance with Stalin’s Russia, we chose what was perceived to be the lesser of evils. Unfortunately, this forced us to overlook things that were abhorrent to Americans and/or policies that would be dangerous to the world. Beyond the basic lack of freedoms, two areas we went along with, much to our future distress, were the endless life of the Palestinian Refugee Camps and the continuing march of Muslims towards extreme forms of their religion.
At the end the 1948 Arab-Israeli Conflict, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was established to provide relief for 652,000 Arabs that fled the Israeli areas. Today UNRWA provides education, health care and social services to the 5 million Arab refugees in 58 registered camps. Over the same period approx. 850,000 Jews left Arab countries, the vast majority going to Israel. None of these people or their descendents live in refugee camps, even though there were cultural differences between the Jews from the middle east and Africa and other Israelis, they were welcomed and integrated in Israel. Why didn’t the Arab Nations also welcome and integrate their fellow Arabs? Only Jordan granted citizenship to the Arab refugees living there. While Palestinian refugees have worked in other Arab lands such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Arab League instructions bar Arab States from granting citizenship. Without citizenship, the refugees have been at the mercy of a change of winds in host countries. For instance, Kuwait expelled Palestinian Refugees after the Gulf War. Why wasn’t the fate of these poor trapped people handled differently? Where was the U.S? Instead of helping these people find new homes throughout the Arab World, we were paying the biggest share for UNRWA to maintain these camps. We never put real pressure on the Arabs to do right by their brothers and sisters. And they are their brothers and sisters. Palestine was never a separate Arab Country. It was always a part of a bigger entity. Surely, Palestinian Arabs are closer culturally to others in the Arab League, than the Jewish Middle East and African Refugees that went to Israel. The Arabs other than Jordan shunned their humanitarian responsibilities and we felt it was in our interest to actually support this financially.
Maybe the same factors prevented us from quietly working to offset the Muslim World’s theological movements walling it off from the rest of the world. Were we really not aware of the growth of Wahhabism or was our dependence on Saudi Oil so great that we just looked the other way, while oil money financed Wahhabi madrassas (schools) and like-minded Imams. The Salafi movement is widely supported by the Gulf States. These ultra orthodox sects may or may not be dominant in every area of the Muslim World but no one should discount their ability to have moved it in an austere fundamentalist direction. Can anyone imagine anyone preaching full women’s rights across the Muslim World? Tolerance in the Muslim World for other religions has markedly declined in this time frame. All this has further divided Muslims from the rest of us and provides the water extremist sharks swim.
The present Syrian Conflict has resulted in between 2 to 3 million refugees, mostly residing in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan. Even when the war eventually ends many will never be able to return home due to sectarian cleansing. Not only do we need to avoid repeating our past Palestine refugee policy, but realize that it presents an opportunity to foster a comprehensive Arab League immigration policy which would cover both the Syrian and Palestinian refugees. We need make it clear we will no longer fund the present system or any extension to Syria without a resettlement plan that covers the whole Arab World. Those presently providing the Syrian refuges would strongly favor wide disbursement rather than endless camps or trying to integrate destabilizing numbers. But why would members not presently affected take part? Why would say Saudi Arabia change its immigration policy? Simply because the world has changed. They need us much more than we need them. Oil is plentiful and relatively cheap. The supply outlook at least for next few years and likely longer indicates a reasonable priced supply. At the present price, most of OPEC and Russia cannot come close to balancing their budgets. Any cut in production would result in even less income, so they are in a vise. Even Saudi Arabia isn’t bringing enough now to balance. They have enough monetary reserves to maintain their present spending for at best a couple of years. Any real cuts could destabilize a regime that stays in power through its largess. Add to this the very real threat from Iran and it’s clients and we have a Saudi Arabia and it’s Gulf Allies very dependent on our good will. A West-Iran atomic settlement would do away with sanctions that keeps a large amount of Iranian oil off the market. This would further depress oil prices and strengthen their rival. More pressure could be applied if the Europeans would limit or suspend immigration from Arab lands until a resettlement plan was in place. They might be very open to this in light of Paris and other problems with Muslim Terrorists. It gives them an excuse to curtail Arab immigration without being seen as overtly anti Muslim. Just doing what right by the refugees. Many Palestinian refugees according to some polls would be amenable to immigrating to have a real future, especially if given financial support. We suspect Syrian refugees would have a similar attitude. Does anyone really doubt that having less hapless Palestinian Refugees surrounding Israel would make peace prospects in the area brighter?
The pressures cited above could also allow for a quiet longer term reformation in Islam. Far less oil money will be available for ultra orthodox madrassas and mosques at a time when there is a growing awareness that the leaders of the Muslim Religion must take a different ideological direction. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi in a Dec.28, 2014 speech at Al-Azhar University in Cairo put it this way:
I am referring not to “religion,” but to “ideology”-the body of ideas and texts that we have sanctified in the course of centuries, to the point that challenging them has become very difficult…
It has reached the point that this ideology is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion Muslims would kill the world’s population of seven billion, so that they could live on their own? This is inconceivable. I say these things here, at Al-Azhar, before religious clerics and scholars. May Allah bear witness on Judgment Day to the truth of your intentions, regarding what I say to you today. You cannot see things clearly when you are locked in this ideology. You must emerge from it and look outside, in order to get closer to a truly enlightened ideology. You must oppose it with resolve. Let me say it again: We need to revolutionize our religion…
There are probably a lot more people in the Islamic World that share these sentiments, but are fearful or lack financing to publicize their view. We can help here especially in the area of financing. As funding from Arab oil money dries up, we can fill the void by funding more enlightened clerics and scholars that are suddenly without financial support. There is no question that you will get more academic support if there is a payday involved. What is important is do it without trace to us. No religion would change its doctrine if the impetus came from non-coreligionists. Hence, our SSSHHH Qt.
Will people in power recognize a golden opportunity to redress past errors and hopefully bring one of worlds great religions back into the real world? We have hope in that our first post SSSHHH QT post that favored supporting the Kurds and mostly ignoring Shia Baghdad might be policy. It’s been reported that up to 90% of our airstrikes have been in support of the Kurds in Kobani . Maybe it’s just coincidence, but just maybe we have some soul mates. We’ll need a lot more to implement the policies we have proposed here. But maybe a few years in the future we will hear of raucous theological debates across the Muslim World with nobody dying for their views. Israelis and a reduced number of Palestinians talking a real workable peace. Then we might think that maybe some of our ideas were adopted. And maybe our friends and allies round the world may have found it in their interest to join us in these endeavors. Maybe everyone thought about what things would be like if they didn’t support these actions. On the QT of course.