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Does The Middle East Matter?

By Matthew Yglesias

"Does The Middle East Matter?"

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Via Ross Douthat, Edward Luttwak has a curious article in the British Prospect making the provocative argument that “the Middle East doesn’t matter.” In fact, though Luttwak doesn’t doesn’t seem to see it this way, he’s simply endorsing the traditional anti-imperialist view that the best solution to America’s problems in the region is to simply . . . get less involved and Middle Easterners go their own way.

He differentiates himself from the left in a few ways. One is to use insulting rhetoric like calling the Middle East “backwards” and other similar language liberals wouldn’t use. Second, he invents a straw position he disagrees with which holds “that if only this or that concession were made, if only their policies were followed through to the end and respect shown, or simulated, hostility would cease and a warm Mediterranean amity would emerge.” Third, and most interestingly, he denies the significance of the Israel-Palestine conflict:

Yes, it would be nice if Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences, but it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the middle east from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya, or the different varieties of inter-Muslim violence between traditionalists and Islamists, and between Sunnis and Shia, nor would it assuage the perfectly understandable hostility of convinced Islamists towards the transgressive west that relentlessly invades their minds, and sometimes their countries.

Some of this seems clearly true, but the part at the end is wildly unconvincing. Luttwak speaks of the “perfectly understandable hostility of convinced Islamists toward the transgressive west that relentlessly invades their minds, and sometimes their countries.” This seems to suggest that there’s a binary “hostility/non-hostility” dynamic, when obviously the real issue is how many people are hostile and how hostile are they. Arabs and Muslims are, clearly, quite hostile to Israel and since the US is such a heavy backer of Israel, some of this hostility attaches to us. If there were a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there’d be less hostility to Israel and therefore less hostility to the United States. The alternative would be to radically curtail our backing for Israel, which Luttwak should really say clearly if it’s what he intends to propose.

That said, it’s a very interesting article that makes many sound points.

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