The Middle East as a Model for Climate Crisis

As the Ice Age ended, the Middle East was the cradle of Western civilization. The “four rivers” mentioned in the Bible met in the Persian Gulf. The Euphrates River Valley, cultivated with a sophisticated irrigation system, was a breadbasket for thousands of years. Unfortunately, the mountain waters coated the soil with clay long before iron and steel plows were invented. The climate warmed, and the introduction of sheep in the Central Asian steppes caused the grass to loose its purchase. The soil washed away in the rain. The carrying capacity of the land plummeted.

Today, much of the region is dessicated. Population levels are sustained by imports financed by oil revenues. Unfortunately, those revenues are not distributed uniformly. Both ethic and class prejudice allow a small minority to capture most of the wealth, while the less fortunate scrabble for bread and shelter.

What will happen when the oil is gone?

This is a significant factor in the rise of ISIS: the Sunni/Baath minority in Iraq lost control of oil revenues to the northern Kurds and southern Shias. While IS also uses extortion and sales of archaeological treasures to finance its operations, sale of oil from captured Iraqi and Syrian facilities is a mainstay.

The brutality of the regime is intense. As in failed African states, many of its fighters are locals without any other means of support.

Is there any means for external actors to control the downward spiral in such situations? Obviously the oil economy allowed the Sunni/Baath community to amass enormous wealth, and given the focus on capturing territory over sustaining a viable economy, an investment in guns and bullets reaps huge gains for the violent few. The material left by the US for use by Iraqi government forces was also a boon to IS. But is it reasonable to expect that we can keep weapons out of the region?

The harsh climate and conditions also make it difficult to secure borders. IS is now spreading eastwards into Afghanistan, the source of much of the world’s opium, a cash crop that has moved for decades into the Western world in spite of efforts to suppress it.

The response of much of the Syrian population has been to flee. Is it possible to supply them in the region, or must they relocate to more stable societies? The Palestinian refuge camps in the ’70s and ’80s were not successful. Do we have the wisdom and skills to do better now?

My concern is that if we do not set about applying ourselves to understanding how to manage this kind of chaos, we are going to be facing the same situation all over the world in the next eighty years. Although driven initially by natural glacial cycles, the Middle East and Central Asia are archetypes for the ecological collapse and social instability that comes with global warming.

A Demonstration of Strength

The juxtaposition could hardly have been more jarring: after completing today’s post, at morning break the lead story reported the attacks in France. In the worst violence since WW II, in coordinated attacks jihadists murdered as many as 120 people at three separate locations.

The reference to WW II is notable in revealing how much the world has changed. In relative terms, civil war and ISIL’s terrorist opportunism has brought Syrian suffering comparable to that of European populations during WW II. However, where indifference allowed Hitler to spread war across the continent from 1938 to 1944, cautious intervention in support of the rebels coupled with airstrikes and economic isolation has limited the spread of violence from Syria. As a result, to date the net cost to France of its intervention in the Middle East is tens of thousand of times fewer deaths than it suffered in WW II.

The natural response of the French government to these renewed attacks must be heightened scrutiny of Muslim populations, and Islamic authorities in France should be expected to both increase cooperation with security services and publicly condemn extremist activities.

But how do the events in France reflect on my post this morning, obviously an assertion that peace must be our aim?

While I will not participate in physical violence, I am not a pacifist. We fight cancers with surgery and chemotherapy. Both courses of treatment weaken the body. So with our struggle against terrorism, whether state sponsored (as in Syria and Ukraine) or indigenous, we must reduce its virulence by withholding resources and legitimacy from the perpetrators and seek when possible to destroy the mechanisms of its operation.

But there is more than that to the process. We must maintain vigilance in the spiritual domain to ensure that in the course of executing our campaign of violence, we do not become infected by the mentality that sustains self-justification in the mind of the terrorist. My practice extends even further: in manifesting that discipline, we also gain the power to immerse the jihadist in our knowledge of the benefits of peace.

It is this second battle that I have joined, and I am merciless in my own way. The mentality against which I struggle is ancient, and thrives when the actions of specific individuals are characterized as justifying violent prejudice against entire populations. That was the response of the victors to German resolve in WW I, with WW II the inevitable consequence. It is also the response of the jihadist to global inequity in the allocation of wealth and political influence for the benefit of Western populations that do not comprehend the egregious magnitude of our self-indulgence.

As I see it, every military action should be advertised as a failure of the mechanisms of peace, and reported with regret even when it is successful in reducing the threat of violence on tactical and strategic terms. Even more, I would hope that every announcement would be accompanied with a summary of diplomatic efforts to empower peace-loving peoples seeking to reassert control of regions in turmoil.

So in the months and years to come, I pray that the French people recognize the strength reflected in the asymmetrical results of Middle Eastern intervention. This will almost certainly not be the last such experience they will suffer, in a history dating back to attacks in the ’70s and ’80s, and modern access to secure communications almost guarantees that individuals committed to violence will continue to succeed in their aims. In absolute terms, though, the jihadists and their dependents, isolated and starved of resources in their caliphate, suffer far, far worse.

But to reiterate: it is essential, on the spiritual level, to recognize that the attacks reflect the insanity, in the context of modern technology, of the expression of ancient patterns of predation. While that mentality will lash out more and more violently in its attempts to survive the return of Christ, its impotence is revealed in the increasing brevity of the interruptions it can generate in the creative outpourings that emerge from love.

Surely You’re Putin Me On?

Desperate to bury the cumulative effect of the Bengazi persecution, fratricide against current and potential House Speakers, the mendacious Planned Parenthood hearings, the onrushing consequences of global warming, and bellicosity from the Chinese state to which we have outsourced our electronics manufacturing – well, the Republican Party is doing what it does best.

It took almost a year before POTUS 43 declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq. But with Russian and Chinese entry into the quagmire of the Middle East, Chris Christie and others have declared victory in less than a week. Russian victory, of course.

Let’s look at the beneficial side-effects of this development.

First, we’ll have to diversify our manufacturing sources. India has rushed into the 21st century with all wombs at full capacity, creating a labor glut that is consciously intended to undermine the economics that have made China the world’s manufacturing powerhouse. Given India’s position as a leading supplier of information technology services, India is ideally positioned to rapidly take up the role we must shift from China.

Of course, with a newly assertive Chinese navy operating in the South China Sea, the choke-point for most of Asia’s container shipping, we’d be well advised to bring our manufacturing back to the US. That will require an about-face from conservatives trying to destroy American unions. Then again, given Chinese dependence on Windows XP, the NSA might be able to force our adversaries to their knees in less than a week.

Secondly, we’ll have to limit our dependence on foreign oil. That will involve an “Apollo Program” style investment in renewable energy supply. Let’s hope the Koch Brothers are completely blind-sided by the opportunity.

Thirdly, we’ll have to relocate all of Israel to the United States. This innovative and educated community will spark a boom in our high technology industry.

Fourth, we’ll have the opportunity to seize interest payments on our Chinese debt, at a single stroke balancing the federal budget.

Sadly, we’ll accrue none of these beneficial outcomes. Russian victory in the Middle East is no closer than it was when Bush made his speech on the USS Independence. The bellicosity of the “Axis of Evil” – Russia, China, Iran and North Korea – reflects desperation in the face of unified action by the G20 to oppose their aggression with economic sanctions. They are playing 20th century great power politics, and will discover in due time the true cost of their adventurism: restless and demoralized populations at home, loss of markets, and attrition of military might and geopolitical stature in asymmetrical conflict against suicide bombers.

We’ll see how long it is before the oligarchs in the two countries organize the replacement of their military despots. And whether greedy American CEO’s will ever recognize the stupidity of outsourcing to dictatorships for the purpose of driving down global labor costs.

The Blood of the Innocent

I was winding my evening up, thinking about how to organize my next post on programming, when I got a notice from MSN of the truck bombing in Sadr City in Baghdad. It turned my thoughts back to yesterday’s topic.

In the aftermath of Hussein’s arrest, I had a dream about Muqtada Al Sadr, the “firebrand” cleric whose father had been assassinated in the south of Iraq for his outspoken opposition to the regime. Muqtada and his Shia militia had been playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the occupying forces, attempting to wear out US resolve. In the dream, he railed against the hypocrisy of American intervention, seeing it as merely a far more active example of the means we use throughout the world to secure our corrupt lifestyle.

I did not dispute his point, only offering “But Osama is right. If Muslims lived according to the Qur’an, what America did wouldn’t make a difference.” I waited while the point sank in, and then asked “So tell me, what is the source of your anger?”

And I was down on the street with him as a wailing mother carried to him the daughter that had died of starvation.

“Everyone mourns the death of a child.” I laid in my bed and wept, and when the tears stopped, showed him my own burdens. “It’s not possible to prevent suffering in the world. The role of the spiritual leader is rather to guide the beloved community away from anger and fear by turning their thoughts toward the miracle of healing.”

The situation in the Middle East demands enormous strength from those such as Ali Sistani and Al Sadr. I see the region going through the exercise that Europe pursued in the first half of the twentieth century. Europe in 1900 was a continent full of peoples that hated each other. It wasn’t limited to the Jews – the Jews simply didn’t have an army. World War I was inevitable due to the interlocking and contradictory alliances of convenience that triggered a general mobilization following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. The Treaty of Versaille and subsequent blockade of German ports were a bloody cross borne by the German people for the continent’s hypocritical great power politics.

World War I is my model for the Middle East. The conflict is not waged trench-by-trench under the barrage of artillery, but street-by-bloody street after the truck bombs explode. As in Europe, it is a cancerous explosion of violence perpetrated by men lacking the skills and imagination to succeed in productive collaboration with their neighbors. It is a cancer fed by the cowardice of leaders that surround themselves with their ethnic peers for fear of bringing the enemy too close.

The resolution in Europe, after fifty years, was brought only by the complete destruction of the industrial economies of the continent. The nations of Europe realized that there were no longer winners in wars. Today it is even worse: modern chemistry makes it too easy to create weapons, and the accumulated grief of the Middle East provides a steady stream of suicidal delivery men.

So what can America do? Until the leaders of the region agree to intervene to create peace, little except to try to brake the spread of the disease. Among the recognized governments, that may include creating dependency on advanced weapons systems that require frequent maintenance using expensive parts sourced from America. Another means is to organize economic sanctions against rogue states. Finally, we can wait for the violence to turn inwards, creating a new generation of martyrs whose avengers help us target the leaders of extremist movements.

There are no grand gestures here, no quick fixes. It’s a long grind against evil, by an American people and government that give the world plenty of reason not to trust us. But as was demonstrated in the Cold War, the Philippines and South Africa, it’s the only material means of foreign policy that will effect change.

And for those without access to those mechanisms: Pray. Open your hearts to their suffering. Will them to receive the best of your strength, faith and wisdom. It makes a difference, in ways that cannot be proven. In the face of all the reasons they have to fear, ultimately our compassion is the only way of bringing courage to the citizens that must find solutions in the Middle East.