“Violence begets violence, and then you get leaders who are violent men. “-Robert Crumb
Middle East security hinges on the ability of regional powers to overcome traditional and cultural conflicts in order to focus on common threats to the national security of all Middle Eastern nations. What this means is that traditional revivals, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, must learn to solve conflicts through diplomatic channels. In addressing dissent and civil unrest, governments must learn to rely on political engagement as an alternative to violent crackdowns. If they do not, they will continue to inspire violence.
Unfortunately, the hostility between Iran and Saudi Arabia on display at the Syrian Peace Talks in Vienna does not bode well. Expectations that the Vienna Talks would actually address the Islamic State or end the Syrian Civil were always low. After all, those fighting in Syria are the ones who will decide the fate of Syria. The Talks could, however, end the foreign intervention that is propping up the Assad regime and unify efforts to fight the Islamic State. The Vienna Talks are also significant, because they force regional powers to focus on diplomacy instead of the convenience of violence.
Middle Eastern powers would prefer the US, its Western allies, and Russia to launch a massive military campaign to eliminate the Islamic State. Unfortunately, over subsidizing the regional security by defeating the common enemy of all Middle Eastern nations and Peoples for them would be counterproductive in the long-term. Relying on the West to defeat the Islamic States leaves regional powers the room to continue their traditional rivalries and their destabilizing support of militant groups. It also allows Middle Eastern governments to avoid civil engagement in favor of crackdowns against civil discontent under the guise of anti-terrorism initiatives.
The Middle East is much like pre-World War I Europe in that revival powers exist in a perpetual state of hostility where grievances against each other are expressed through armed conflict. Like post-World War II Europe, America has tried to militarily neuter the Middle East by securing the region with US forces and subsidizing their security forces in order to suppress internal instability. Where Europe learned to substitute armed conflict with diplomatic and political conflict, the Middle East learned to substitute open conflict with proxy wars by supporting military groups that undermine their revivals, which is a practice they learned, in part, from the US.
That said, Middle Eastern nations have a history of successful cooperation when it comes to economic matters thanks to their OPEC memberships, but that cooperation does not extend beyond economic matters. What Middle East lacks is the proper mindset. What US leadership did for post-World War II Europe was change the mindset of Europeans. Pre-liberal, pre-democratic European powers viewed war as an inevitability and the human cost of violence as a duty to one’s country while government existed to be served, not to serve, so questioning government was treated as an act of sedition.
When the cultures of Europeans and their leadership moved away from these traditional views, the value of individual lives started to outweigh the ease of violence, thus diplomacy and politics became the priority of European governments. Where violence became thoroughly unacceptable in the West to the point touching someone can be considered assault, violence is still how problems are solved in the Middle East. With the Peoples of the Middle East globalizing and democratizing, national and, even, cultural boundaries no longer divide Middle Easterners, thus the bulk of the population is learning to forgo petty differences in order to achieve their common interests of peace and stability.
The Arab Spring Revolutions gave way to instability, because regional governments decided to respond to protesters with violence. It is hardliner governments and extremists, who use violence to assert their influence that is driving regional instability. In order to address terrorism, governments, and other community leaders must overcome their impulse to use violence to solve their problems. The Syrian Civil War and the Islamic State threat provide Middle Eastern leaders the opportunity to learn how to do just that. Politics and diplomacy exist as an alternative to armed conflict. The leaders of the Middle East need to stop using violence to settle differences and make civil engage a top priority in order to stabilize their region, so they can eventually defeat terrorism.
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