A confused and irresolute President Obama seems trapped between the century-old imperialist policy of military control of the Middle East, and a tentative new policy of disengagement.
The old policy -- no doubt supported by the military industry that sees any war as a profit source and so fans the flames of intervention -- is perceived by the non-interventionists as no longer feasible, and therefore to be discarded. While this latter perception, based upon the new realities of the Middle East, is undoubtedly correct, there is a serious question as to what the new realities actually are. Despite their differences, both sides label the Middle East wars -- including the invasion of Iraq by the newly-formed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) -- as "sectarian," a notion repeatedly reinforced by the media.
This interpretation claims that the current animus between Islamic Sunnis and Shiites -- the warring groups -- dates back to a dispute in the early days of Islam as to who was the proper successor to Mohammed, Islam’s founder.
This analysis of the conflict is woefully misleading if one is to understand the true nature of the confrontation and arrive at a realistic political position. And, indeed, Sunnis and Shiites lived together harmoniously for centuries, to the extent of regularly intermarrying. So while sectarianism may be the form the Middle East wars take, in substance they are classical, long-simmering class struggle that has finally and predictably erupted into revolution engulfing the entire Middle East, and dubbed "The Arab Spring.
Behind all the infinitely complex alliances are the traditionally disenfranchised Shiite masses rising up against the Sunni ruling classes that have long coopted the area’s wealth (read: oil) in collusion with Western capital -- e.g., Arabia’s Saud family and the sheiks of the Gulf states. And, indeed, ISIS is getting money from Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait -- all oil-rich monarchies.
Analyze the struggle along class lines within the context of each nation’s history, and the alliances, shorn of their sectarian masks, make sense. For example, Shiite Iran, in overthrowing the Shah, has had its "revolution" -- however religion may have derailed it from a truly progressive outcome -- and supports the Shiites; in Saudi Arabia, where there’s been no revolution, the Sunni monarchy supports the Sunnis.
So we have, in the broadest sense, a progressive vs. reactionary conflict -- not a "sectarian" one. A lot of blood will flow, but that’s a tragedy imposed by an ineluctable juncture of history that must take its course -- as it already has in most of the world -- and the reason why any interference by the U.S. or any other power is futile.
According to this analysis, Iraq’s elected Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki -- denounced as a stumbling block to peace because of his exclusion of Sunnis from government -- represents the Shiite majority that the Sunni leader, Saddam Hussein, repressed in order to expropriate the oil wealth in the Shiite south. Maliki gained power through the support of Muqtada al-Sadr, the charismatic leader of the impoverished Shiite masses -- who also controls the Mahdi Army, once the most powerful militia in Iraq and now regrouped to oppose ISIS.
The sectarian form of the Middle Eastern revolution evolved from the secular progressive movements of the 1950s and 60s -- such as Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Pan-Arabism -- that were squelched by Western imperialism.
The secular route to progress having failed, the masses found a new common ground for revolutionary organization: Islam, with its reactionary fundamentalism directly contradicting its revolutionary aspect. This contradiction surfaced tragically in Egypt. A revolutionary movement resulted in democratic elections that removed a dictatorship. Yet this same newly elected government imposed retrogressive Sharia restrictions that flamed a counterrevolution and authoritarian rule was reasserted.
Egypt is a prime example of a topsy-turvy Middle East where many reactionary forces are secular and repressive sectarians embrace progressive democratic agendas -- at least until they gain power. Secular progressives are in the minority.
This is a historical/cultural phenomenon embedded in the Middle East and no external forces can excise it or alter its natural course.
While the religious issues create a multi-leveled problem that’s often hard to fathom, they must not be seen as the substance of the Middle East struggles. Pare them away and you’re left with a roiling core of class struggle -- just as existed 60 years ago. Ultimate resolutions are possible only at that level, since all political issues, however complex, are ramifications of that struggle. People will be repressed, exploited, and deprived for only so long before they explode in rebellion. Think 1776.
Andrew Torre is a resident of Landgrove.