When I first went to Israel decades ago, I was surprised that the locals were still talking about how bad the Crusaders were. Even the term “Crusader” implied negative politics. Time has demonstrated that the Holy War concept is the worst and most violent of altercations. When one or both sides believe God has called them in to battle, the fighting becomes savage to the death.
As I indicated in last week’s New Year’s predictions, the West can not seem to grasp the fact that the Middle East conflicts are fundamentally Sunni-Shiite religious wars. I barely got this projection on paper when the media confirmed just how serious the struggle is becoming.
For example, Lebanon was hit by two car bombs, one killing Mohamad Chatah, a prominent politician allied with the Saudis. The tempo of violence has increased in Syria and the government has now missed the deadline to remove chemical weapons from the country. Currently, the rebel units are fighting each other. In Iraq, the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi were over run by Al Qaeda linked militants, threatening the entire country. Baghdad is running for cover. And the list goes on and on.
Fundamentally, these conflicts are a sideshow for the undeclared war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their “Holy War” uses a sectarian agenda to cover religious intent. Any form of accommodation to stop the fighting is viewed as heresy and so the battles grind on and on in somebody else’s backyard. It’s the same Sunni-Shiite story all over again. Using these other countries and situations as a proxy, Iran and the Saudis are actually at war with each other and the conflicts are fueled by the ancient feud between these two elements of the Moslem faith.
The American equivalent would be the Lutherans blowing up Roman Catholic Churches while the Romans shoot machine guns from the roofs of their churches because of the Protestant Reformation six-hundred years ago. Sound crazy? Not in the Middle East!
The other factor in these conflicts is the withdrawal of the West. The Bush-Cheney wars popped the cork from the bottle. Bush proclaimed America was building democracy in Iraq which now sounds like one of the most bizarre and meaningless political claims since Neville Chamberlain proclaimed an agreement with Hitler for peace in our time – an accord that set the stage for World War II. The continued American presence in Afghanistan will ultimately be the same if America stays long enough. The problem is that Westerners are seen as intruders with no sense of the values of the region. Trying to stop the Muslims from killing each other only advances that conclusion.
Consequently, the West is caught in a “damned if you do – damned if you don’t” position. Secretary of State John Kerry keeps rushing back to the region to prop up the American position. I fear that 2014 will reveal how weak those props actually are.