The Mideast’s Humpty Dumpty Problem

Western powers most recently the United States have smashed up the Mideast so thoroughly that many of the options now under review in Official Washington go from bad to worse but almost certainly can never put the region back together again, writes ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller.

By Graham E. Fuller

As mayhem and anarchy spread like a contagion across the Middle East, can the Middle East, like Humpty Dumpty, be put back together again? Some pundits say no. Yet, for a variety of admittedly highly debatable reasons, I still believe that yes, it can be salvaged. The status quo may not be viable, but what alternatives are there? Here are a few, conflicting ones.

Bring back imperialism. After all, didn’t the old-fashioned imperialists manage to keep the lid on? But that time is long past. Who today has the money, resources, energy, or will to pick up this near hopeless task, except for an undying band in Washington that still believes in Pax Americana?

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)

Furthermore, there is no way the peoples of the region will stand for another self-appointed western savior to come in and “rescue” them (and stay a while), beyond immediate humanitarian aid or international peace-keeping. Mandates are over.

Complete hands off by the West. The West could hardly have done more damage to the region over the years through its imperial mapmaking, political interventionism, wars, destruction of infrastructures and societies, and unleashing of refugee flows. Even were the West suddenly to become wise and constructive overnight, it can’t play big brother forever.

The peoples of the region desperately require the chance to gain their own political maturity, through learning to manage their own states, societies and futures. Constant outside political interventionism in the Middle East has only led to fatalism and the political infantilization of its peoples.

Some might say the region is historically and culturally incapable of overcoming conflict, “it’s in the genes, you know.” Yet it might be sobering to remember here that Europe has been the scene of at least one or two thousand years of constant warfare, political, religious, tribal and ethnic, involving kaleidoscopic border changes, right down until the end of World War II. (Plus the post-Soviet turmoil.) No model there.

We cling tenderly to the hope that at least Europe by now may have actually put an end to those bloody centuries of its history. The jury is still out.

Redraw the borders. The last borders, after all, were designed by European imperialists to serve their own interests. But redraw them how? Even illogically delineated states have by now taken on a certain life of their own. Redrawing borders raises mind-boggling questions. On what basis will they be drawn? Ethnically, tribally? Culturally? Religiously?  Who will be consulted and how?

One can imagine a plethora of ongoing never-ending referendums, each bitterly contested by those perceiving themselves to be the losers. And indeed every change does bring new winners and losers. And what governments will be empowered to supervise and approve the changes?

Prioritize restoration of order. Conservative theory holds that nearly any form of order is preferable to most forms of disorder. Hence dictatorship, however bad, is preferable to anarchy. The West has happily bought into that formula, but only as long as the dictator was “ours”; we must overthrow of course the ones who are not.

So do we hold our nose and restore dictators who can at least maintain order while the longer-term process of “organic” political change can start to take place? Bring back Saddam’s ghost? Keep Assad? Empower the Saudis to keep the lid on in the Arabian Peninsula? Bless Sisi’s law-and-order in Egypt?

I am disturbed by that option. Yet, as retrogressive as it is, it might keep the lid on and, so the thinking goes, help eliminate at least the radical jihadi forces. But of course it has been just those dictators who have helped produce the political despair that has spawned angry Islamist movements everywhere.

Prioritize military suppression of the jihadists? The jihadists may be the most immediate barrier to restoration of order and governance. Yet past military suppression and ongoing war has unleashed anarchy and produced the terrible political and social conditions we see today, that then lead to the emergence of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and ISIS among others.

International peace-keeping? A dangerous and thankless task; specialists know that you can’t really “keep” peace until the battle lines have been identified and frozen. But who will do it? When major world powers get involved, local crises often turn into surrogate battlegrounds for other great power agendas.

In reality any such forces must be truly international. The presence, say, of US, UK, French, Russian, Chinese, Pakistani, Indian or UN forces must all be acceptable; none should be peremptorily ruled out. We don’t need locked-in spheres of foreign influence. For the West there are no vital stakes in preserving or denying a sphere of influence here or there.

.One might argue that regional states are better equipped to do peace-keeping than outsiders, possibly more acceptable, but even that principle is debatable. Are Turks, Iranians, Saudis or Egyptians more favorably viewed by Middle Eastern societies in turmoil than outsiders would be? Not necessarily, but it is their region, and perhaps they are more willing to act. Will they make serious mistakes? Yes, but hasn’t also the West done precisely the same, on a colossal scale?

There is no grand answer that covers all contingencies. To date my bias has been towards early removal of all western boots on the ground (especially the volatile American ones). That would remove one major source of anger and permits the region to learn to manage on its own. (And for Washington it is never the right time for U.S. forces to leave; and thus a relationship of codependency emerges.) In principle a hands-off policy should be the western default position. But each country poses different urgencies.

Above all certain human priorities cry out.  War must end. Killing must stop. People must have shelter, food and medicine. Essential security must reign, even if only in refugee camps for now. Constitutions and democratic process rank only as distant secondary needs.

The initial democratic gains brought by the Arab Spring have largely collapsed. Has there been any learning curve among the peoples of the region? Perhaps, but good governance is a slow, and never-ending process. Only Turkey and Iran, in their own way, are truly launched on the process, maybe Tunisia, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia.

Yet we cannot fall into despair simply because the process is a long one, as it was in the West. Some of these difficulties simply reflect the human condition, everywhere. But a prioritization of the urgent human needs of the region is required, to provide at least some crude compass in dealing with this mess.

For now, whether governments are Islamist (but not jihadi), military, democratic, pro-West or pro-Russian may not matter much while the restoration of order is taken as the urgent task at hand. This is not a very gratifying approach, but war, civil or externally visited, takes the greatest human toll and produces the deadliest of anarchy whose repercussions affect the entire world.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle)


19 comments for “The Mideast’s Humpty Dumpty Problem

  1. Mr. J
    October 24, 2015 at 06:39

    Admittedly, I didn’t read the entire article from opening sentence to closing, but from what I know of the quagmire that is the middle east of present, there is no positive outcome. There is no situation where it gets put together in a peaceful manner. The Shiite and Sunni majorities will continue to persecute and murder each other regardless of whether or not the US or other NATO or eve EU nations interfere. Not to mention the Kurdish population which will continue to be thrown under the bus and hammered by every other sect of Islam. We are talking about a culture and religion based in the times of old. You can’t just waltz in there and change their ideologies and cultures on a whim, let alone over the course of a decades worth of luke warm conflicts or proxy wars. Best case scenario is the global community leaves Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc to their own devices and watches them tear themselves apart. There is no diplomatic solution, becasue as soon as the big brother nations leave, they will be right back at trying to gut each other.

    As for Syria, the US needs to cease involvement and allow Russia and Assad to stabilize the region. Assad is a fuckstick to be sure, and Putin is sketchy at best, but all that the US has done in recent years in the middle east is destabilize and promote conflict. Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and likely Tunisia. Hell, let’s lump Ukraine into the mix as well. Several nations that the US has had involvement in destabilizing, regimes and legitimate governments alike. US involvement in the middle east has been toxic at best, ever since the ’50s. Conceding untold idiocy on the Iranian nuclear deals, instigating a civil war in Syria so as to dismantle a legitimate government in a sovereign nation, engaging in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq over dubious means which only promoted more terrorist build up, instigating the Iran-Iraq war, funding extremist powers such as al-qaeda, taliban, ISIS, and others….The list of US stupidity in the middle east goes on and on. All tracing roots to preventing the spread of communism during the cold war.

    As others have mentioned, our sole interest in the middle east these days can be credited to the protection of the petrodollar. Syria, Russia and other nations have been looking towards moving themselves away from the US currency based global trade system. Of course the US wouldn’t abide by that. Not to mention, Syria, last I read was one of the last bastions of a truly free society in the aspects of being free from central banking, the IMF and World Bank and other debt based measures of control. They are their own nation, truly and wholly. Of course the US wouldn’t want that to continue, especially if they are looking to buddy up with Russia to form a competitive global trade currency.

    There is no altruism or humanitarianism in the actions of the US or NATO or EU in the middle east. It’s all about maintaining a status quo. Maintaining an established means of running most of the world.

  2. October 23, 2015 at 21:32

    Mr. Fuller never states what our national security interests in the region are in his meandering thoughts on what should be done. Given his background, I have serious reservations about his altruistic recommendations. Altruism in foreign affairs between sovereigns is like kissing a beautiful first cousin – seemed like a good idea at the time but left a really bad taste and long term problems. The real problem is the lack of honest debate about our real interests because, if these were laid bare, our leverage to achieve them would be compromised by honesty. Compromised by honesty. Sounds like a good title as well as oxymoronic. After all, honesty is the best policy, right?

    So, what are our national security interests in the Middle East? I would maintain that they are inseperable from longstanding geopolitical power politics issues which have informed our actions for years. Our antagonists (Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and their allies) are eating our lunch, with the head of Al Quds and Russian forces, now allies with Iraq, solidifying their control of an area of vital strategic importance. It’s a disaster whichour leaders seem to be aiding and aabetting.

    To be plain, our interests include: maintaining the petrodollar system or an alternative where the dollar substantially maintains is reserve status; preventing a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world; maintaining energy access to fuel the world economy and strategic access to maintain our preferred outcome; creating stability of our preferred outcome. Our preference of using jihadists to achieve these goals has badly backfired. The current situation is greatly complicated due to our inaction and misguided actions. Let’s not make it worse by feigning altruism.

  3. Mortimer
    October 23, 2015 at 20:23

    {notes from the underground… .}

    War and Peace — revisited: Escobar

    And of course he quoted Tolstoy.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin once again had to pull all stops at the International Valdai Discussion Club’s 12th annual meeting in Sochi to highlight the tremendous seriousness of the current geopolitical juncture.

    As a compact Greatest Hits on comparative foreign policy and military strategy, this already qualifies as required reading in political science courses everywhere.
    Putin’s full speech, plus a crucial Q&A, is here.
    The speech on video is here.

    Let’s go straight to some of the unmissable highlights.

  4. Erik
    October 23, 2015 at 19:10

    The US cannot participate in any progress in the Mideast, or anywhere else, because it is presently incapable not only of valuing progress for other peoples or even its own, it is in fact governed by a selfish, ignorant, hypocritical, and malicious oligarchy, and democracy cannot be restored when elections and mass media are controlled by money. It would take three generations to restore common decency in the people after removal of money power over mass media and elections, and that process cannot ever be started. So the foreign policy debate is dead before its starts.

  5. Joe Tedesky
    October 23, 2015 at 09:49

    Zachary, I posted three times by linking off of your reply button, and the my comment disappeared.

    What I posted was, Clark Clifford’s report, and his anger over the USS Liberty attack.
    Google ‘Clark Clifford on USS Liberty attack’. The official site for USS Liberty attack is what I posted in my link.

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 23, 2015 at 09:50

      As it turns out Clifford was very upset over the USS Liberty attack. The first link above, is Clark Clifford’s report regarding the USS Liberty incident. The second link, is Clifford stating his regret over the tragedy.

      People are complex. Not always what they appear to be. Einstein was pro-Zionist, and yet as time went on he had regrets over his allegiance to the Zionist cause. There are at least seven people, among them E. Howard Hunt, who gave death bed confessions to who murdered JFK. Not much news about them confessing though. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day Dick Cheney, or some high ranking neocon were to spill the beans about all these wars, and 9/11? Okay, now I’m getting carried away, but one can wish, can’t they?

    • Zachary Smith
      October 23, 2015 at 11:38

      I thought for a while that the USS Liberty attack might have caused an “attitude adjustment” with Cliffort, but that wasn’t what happened. Unable to brush away the event, he made the best of things by adopting the line that it was a terrible and unfortunate accident.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 23, 2015 at 11:55

        I agree, someone had to wear the false face, and that was Clifford’s role to play. I just wish, that Truman had been an atheist, and that he would have taken Marshall’s advice regarding the Middle East situation. Imagine, what that would have meant for the world, over the last sixty some odd years. Apparently, the wishes of the Zionist were more important than our trading for oil. Think about that, that’s some heavy stuff.

        Ps sorry for all the posting, but something went seriously wrong with the comment page accepting them…oh well.

  6. Abbybwood
    October 22, 2015 at 21:29

    According to this article, an Israeli general has been captured in Iraq and is confessing to a coalition between Israel and ISIS:

    Obviously I have no way of knowing if this is true, but Mr. Parry could research this for his readers.

    If true, this would be, to put it mildly, a major game changer.

    • Secret Agent
      October 22, 2015 at 22:58

      Veterans today, while interesting, needs to be coraberated with a second source.

    • John P
      October 23, 2015 at 14:08

      It has been reported before in non-MSM, that Israel and Saudi Arabia have been helping IS. Israel gets to weaken Hezbollah (Shia) and break up Syria, while the Saudis gain Sunni (Wahhabi sect) influence. Iran is thus weakened and both Saudi Arabia and Israel gain influence in the area and it makes the growth of grater Israel easier.

  7. Zachary Smith
    October 22, 2015 at 17:12

    I found this to be a very unfortunate essay. Mr. Fuller doesn’t even make an effort at pointing out why the Middle East was smashed. This isn’t exactly rocket science. Paving the way for the expansion of Israel is and always has been the aim of the ‘neocons’. Those are the fellows who got us into the first war with Iraq. The second and final war with Iraq. The smashing of Libya. The ongoing destruction of Syria. This group has been frantically trying for years to get the US to destroy Iran for Israel. Lately the neocon Democratic politician Hillary Clinton has been banging the drum to stop Russia’s legal presence in Syria! That may be necessary to finish the neocon wreckage of Syria, but it could also result in setting off WW3. When you have either dual-citizenship Jewish or Christian neocons operating at this level, bad things happen. And have happened.

    But somehow Mr. Fuller has missed it all? That’s doubtful, and I suspect other motives for this singular blindness.

    • Dr. Ibrahim Soudy
      October 22, 2015 at 18:05

      I fully agree with you. Strange that this very site “Consortium News” keeps talking about the Neocons but it seems that the writer of this article does not have the time or interest to read other articles on this very site.

      It seems to me that some people have way more interest in writing or talking than reading or listening…….Thanks for pointing the flaw in the article………..

    • Joe Tedesky
      October 22, 2015 at 18:24

      Truman would have done the world a favor, if he had taken George Marshall’s advice, over Clark Clifford’s. With the Middle East Arab countries rich with oil, it didn’t make sense to Marshall to recognize Israel as a sovereign state. Marshall could not stop the ever fundamentalist Truman, from taking Clifford’s advice.

      • Joe Tedesky
        October 22, 2015 at 20:00

        Here is another article describing how George Marshall loss out, over the Palestinian Israel statehood issue, and how Clark Clifford delivered a big win for the Zionist. Towards, the end of this article, please note how our elite gain special privileges when under the gun of Justice.

        • Zachary Smith
          October 22, 2015 at 21:33

          Having some time on my hands, I made a search for Clark Clifford. His Wiki has this single sentence under the Religion category: Clifford was a Christian Zionist.

          At a guess, this is an example of the much earlier investment in the Scofield Bible paying off for the Zionists in a big way, for Clifford seems to have tipped the balance in a close-fought battle for Truman’s mind. Looking through that Wiki I noticed something else – Clifford was very tight with Lyndon Johnson. Might he have been an influence on Johnson regarding the way LBJ behaved with the USS Liberty attack?

          And carrying on with that line of thought about Johnson caused me to make another search about him. This turned up in the Jewish Virtual Library:

          “Our society is illuminated by the spiritual insights of the Hebrew prophets. America and Israel have a common love of human freedom and they have a common faith in a democratic way of life … Most if not all of you have very deep ties with the land and with the people of Israel, as I do, for my Christian faith sprang from yours …. the Bible stories are woven into my childhood memories as the gallant struggle of modern Jews to be free of persecution is also woven into our souls.”
          (Speech before B’nai B’rith)

          “I may not worry as much as Prime Minister Eshkol does about Israel, but I worry as deeply.”
          (Conversation with Israeli Ambassador Harman, February 7, 1968)

          When Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin asked Johnson why the United States supports Israel when there are 80 million Arabs and only three million Israelis, the President replied simply: “Because it is right.”

          LBJ was not any kind of deep thinker, IMO. Was US policy towards Israel the result of his dim memories of Sunday School lessons when he was a kid? In other words, was Johnson a “Christian Zionist” himself? If he was, be it conscious or unconscious, it would explain a lot!

          • Joe Tedesky
            October 22, 2015 at 22:49



            As it turns out Clifford was very upset over the USS Liberty attack. The first link above, is Clark Clifford’s report regarding the USS Liberty incident. The second link, is Clifford stating his regret over the tragedy.

            People are complex. Not always what they appear to be. Einstein was pro-Zionist, and yet as time went on he had regrets over his allegiance to the Zionist cause. There are at least seven people, among them E. Howard Hunt, who gave death bed confessions to who murdered JFK. Not much news about them confessing though. Wouldn’t it be nice if one day Dick Cheney, or some high ranking neocon were to spill the beans about all these wars, and 9/11? Okay, now I’m getting carried away, but one can wish, can’t they?

  8. Bob Van Noy
    October 22, 2015 at 16:15

    I’m a reader who has long admired this site. I like the reporting and the well thought our commentary. I’m fully aware that I not in the same intellectual category as most regular responders yet I’m compelled to respond here for what its worth: Wasn’t the United Nations established originally to help resolve these specific kind of geo-political international problems? Why is it necessary to reinvent the wheel? Were that institution (the UN) functional, and able to mitigate these problems in Syria; the people of Syria and indeed all people would be better off.

    My take is that the reason that the United Nations doesn’t work as intended is that it has been co-opted out of functional existence by Grand Thinkers like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Henry Kissinger. Both seriously flawed theoreticians. Before them it was all of the seekers of empire; ultimately none of them successful. Isn’t it time to think of a new model of international relations, one that is more cooperative and understanding of other organizing philosophies other than democracy and capitalism? Our leadership should be confident enough of our system not to feel constantly existentially threatened by every other nation.

    • haze
      October 23, 2015 at 06:06

      the UN is dysfunctional mostly because of the veto system (in my opinion), just look at the Israel-Palestine situation: Israel would never have been allowed to expand its borders every few years if it weren’t for the US veto being thrown out every time a resolution to stop Israeli expansion is brought up.

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