Reading the comments at the Elder of Ziyon‘s blog reminded me of a very unpleasant truth: at times, we are forced to deal with and even support very unpleasant people. Two examples should suffice: Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and The House of Saud of Saudi Arabia. In a perfect world, we would be free to conspire to remove both from power, but these entities are the lesser of evils that would exist. As it is said, better the devil we know than the devil we don’t. Furthermore, Abbas and The House of Saud have a vested interest in ensuring not only that they continue to receive our support but also that they continue to support our interests. In some cases, our interests are their interests as well. But then one has to wonder to what extent certain problems (such as, the so evil adversaries of Fatah or The House of Saud which cause us to support people and entities we’d rather not) are perpetuated by those who receive our support. In other words, rather than solving the problems that cause us to support them, are they in fact prolonging them so as to continue to receive our support?
An example of this is Pakistan’s government and military and the issue of the Taliban. To a certain degree, the government and military of Pakistan do not and will not completely eradicate the Taliban in Pakistan or in any areas over which they exercise influence or authority, no matter how easy or possible it is. The same with Usama bin Ladin: Pakistan has a policy, unofficial, of course, of deliberately not taking him out and even of sparing him. Both of these exist for the same reason: if the Taliban were destroyed and/or Bin Ladin taken out or apprehended, The United States’ interest in Pakistan (and, importantly, in Pakistan’s ruling regime) would decrease. Pakistan’s government and military want to ensure the maximum interest of The United States for the maximum amount of time.
(When the Pakistani government hinted that it may not permit foreign forces to move against Bin Ladin were he found within Pakistan’s borders, The Government wisely responded quite severely, stating that if Bin Ladin were found, The United States would move against him whether Pakistan permitted it or not. This sent a very clear message to Pakistan’s government and military: that Pakistan’s intransigence would be tolerated only so much.)
The issue of what Pakistan can and cannot do, as far as potential and politics are concerned, is another matter all together. In certain areas and issues, Pakistan’s government and military are quite impotent.
Unfortunately, we have to recognize that reality is often complicated and quite inconvenient. As much as we may hate it, we have little choice but to side with our erstwhile allies (while, at the same time, keeping a watch on our back). And we need to remember this for the future: when conditions change, we should remember why we supported whom we supported, both so as not to falsely accuse our past actions of laziness or insufficient dedication to our ideals and also so as to analyze every situation to ascertain if we can finally end an unpleasant relationship and bring onto the world stage a better, newer partner.
One of the difficult aspects of politics of The. Palestinian Territories are the essential character and characteristics of its main players. The main players today, Fatah and Hamas, are basically militias with political involvement rather than political parties or social organizations that happen to have armed wings. That is, the primary element of the two groups is their armed natur rather than their political involvement. As they have shown, armed tactics is part of their modi operandi regardless of whether they are in power or not. Hence the civil war that has been raging in The Palestinian Territories.
(Sidenote: As “government” is often defined as that entity that has a monopoly on the use of force, and as entities such as Fatah and Hamas (and Iraq’s sectarian militias) demonstrate, for some people at least, why only state authorities ought to have the ability to project armed force, it seems incredible and extraordinary that in The United States the average citizen not only has the ability and permission to bear arms independent of the government’s forces but even has the right to do so. Quite remarkable indeed.)
So if we hear of any disarming or dissolving of militias in The Palestinian Territories, we must keep in mind that there is more to the civil war than just a few militias. Without an effective, legitimate, and able law enforcement body, how can one expect any Palestinian “government” to operate properly (that is, not engaging in a civil war with its political opponents)? It will, accordingly, take more to solving this war than the unilateral disarmament of one side: the normal characteristics of an effective government would have to come into being, which would include, most importantly and unavoidably, the disbanding of every militia or armed outfit in favor for an impartial and professional law enforcement force. Such a force would exercise its duties uniformly regardless of what party or faction may dominate whatever bodies of government.
But it is difficult to see this happening in The Palestinian Territories, and this because of what seems to be an endemic or systematic element of militia-mongering, with its associated instability, popular promotion for and propaganda for militias and violence, and the delegitimization of other factions, that can be said to characterize the Palestinian political milieu. Of course, various internal and external forces not only favor this situation but also perpetuate it: after all, without Hamas, whom would the Iranis sell weapons to in the Palestinian political theatre? (And a theatre it is: the play is a tear-gushing tragedy.)
The situation in The Palestinian Territories is quite sad indeed; but we should not ignore to what extent the Palestinians’ tragedies are cause by Palestinians, Arabs, and other players other than Israel: indeed, one may say that viewing who has a hand in the Palestinians’ troubles, Israel should be the least of the Palestinians’ concerns.
This may seem like a somewhat random post, but I’d like to point out an interesting aspect of political geography: the difficulty of grouping states together.
Consider, for example, Iran. Iran is often grouped into the “Middle East” (also known as the “Near East) but it differs markedly from other Middle Eastern states: it is Shiite rather than Sunni (Syria has a Shiite government with a Sunni population while Bahrain has a Sunni government with a majority Shiite population; Iraq has a significant Shiite demographic: but none of these is like Iran, where both the government and population are Shiite); it is ethnically Persian rather than Arab (and, consequently does not share the dominant language of the Middle East, Arabic); it has an elected theocratic government rather than the monarchies and dictatorships of most of the Middle East. Even historically Iran differs significantly in that most of the Middle East was part of the Sunni caliphate’ particularly the Ottoman Empire, while Iran had been under its own local regimes.
But where else, then, could Iran be grouped into? Iran is certainly not Central Asian or South Asian (despite the Persians’ influence on the latter). And Iran shares closer relations to and with Middle Eastern states than Central Asian or South Asian states. As such, the common inclusion of Iran in the “Middle East” makes sense.
And what of Turkey? Like most Middle Eastern states, it is Sunni. Unlike most Middle Eastern states, it has a popularly elected governmen and has little, if any, connection with Arabic culture and civilization. Yet, like Iran, it has shared close relations with other states of the Middle East: indeed, for centuries it ruled the Middle Eastern states (except for Iran, but it battled with Iran, figuratively and literally, for dominance and influence over the area). Can Turks and Arabs (or, for that matter, Persians and Arabs) be lumped together?
One example that amuses me is Egypt (and can include or be used for any of the Arab states of Northern Africa, beginning with Egypt and stretching to Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean): are Egyptians Arabs, Middle Easterners, or Africans? And as Egypt has been considered to be in Africa for centuries now, can Egyptians, as Africans, claim benefits or special arrangements for Africans or people of African origin?
And what about Mediterranean states? Should they not also be considered to be a group unto itself? Does not a state’s location on the Great Sea play an important part in its character, politics, culture, and tendencies?
And how about Afghanistan? Is it Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Central Asian? Or this a case, as some say is with Turkey, that parts belong to different areas (the Pashtun areas being South Asian; the Tajik and Uzbek areas being Central Asian; the more Persian or Dari areas being Middle Eastern)?
It is not easy to group states together into useful categories or geopolitical regions, yet doing so makes considering the world and its manifold issues easier. And, indeed, in some cases such categorization even makes sense as far as issues go. But there has yet to be a comprehensive system developed: all systems in use are debated and problematic to some degree.
As such, while we ought to consider a state’s location, we should not put all of our understanding of a state’s problems or issues solely in the context of geopolitical location. In some ways, each state is an entity unto itself or may involve issues, characteristics, or aspects common or dissimilar to the states around it.