The Balkans of the Middle East

After Marshal Tito’s death, Yugoslavia ceased to exist, and the horrors involving Serbs, Croats, and Albanians befell the area. Geography (and a lack of extensive natural resources) conspired to eventually constrain the conflict, and today an uneasy, but existing, peace rules the region. Residents know they have much to lose, and little to gain, in continuing their ‘ethnic cleansing’ and mutual discriminations. They see, from up close, how their neighbors just a few hundred kilometers away can live, and prosper.

Iraq’s Tito was removed, and the tensions extant in that community, instead of merely unravelling, exploded like a firestorm. Unlike the Balkans, there is great wealth to be had by the ruling power, and consequently it’s not just about ethnic cleansing and clan independence, but instead about domination of the country. The virulence of the response has been infectious, and areas with the lowest immunity have been reacting in magnified ways as proof of an insurgency’s “success” continues.

This week has witnessed how potentially volatile the rest of the region is: Gaza squabbles have descended into clan/religious/party infightng with AK-47s firing level, instead of up in the air. Lebanon suffers from an almost identical mix of religious, political and clan conflicts, and they’ve flared up in Tripoli (once a PLO stronghold until Israel’s invasion, and their leaders’ exodus, in 1982). In both these cases there is an army (three, counting the IDF, in Gaza); in both these cases the army is not the solution.

In the past I’ve recommended partition for Iraq. That recommendation stands even more strongly now. The only caveat will be in how oil revenues are shared among the member states. And what each faction stands to gain by cutting its own nose off to spite its face. I suspect, from today’s point of view, that the “Arab street” is much more focused on the art of revenge than the labor of learning to live together.

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