Middle East - “When in a quagmire, don’t sully your boots, fly over it” *

The complex situation in the Middle East must be seen with a model different from the political concepts we use for discussing among us.

 Years ago, in the American wars in the Far East, we witnessed a failed experiment on the efficiency of aerial bombing.  Today, the planes are certainly much better, faster and precise, but they are still not enough to win the war alone. Coming  from the attempt of  a revolution to unseat  the dictator of Syria , a strong group of Muslim fighters, called ISIS,   has taken over a part of Syria, and coming down from there, also a large part  of Iraq,  giving a huge display  of ferocity , and  leaving after them  a stream of dead bodies.

In certain cases there is no other possibility, and, no doubt, the USA planes can do a lot ... but still, cannot, win a war alone.  Correctly, the USA tried to create a "Coalition of the Braves” and made it operational in a difficult situation. The job going on now for those planes is to help people, basically Kurds that are defending their villages from the forces of the ISIS. The people defending their homes are Kurds, and they want the Turks to let some of their own people and arms to come to their help. But the Kurds are hated by the Turks, who have fought against them for ages with no result whatsoever, and they will not let some other group of Kurds to cross an area of Turkey to rescue the ones under siege.
So this event might very well start again the war between Turks and Kurds, that has been in the past quite long and fierce. This is just one of the possible problems that may come from a bombing in one of the areas where ISIS is established or is trying to enlarge its territory. 

The second problem is that in the areas where ISIS is ruling now, it might be difficult to attack their forces without hitting the habitants, or forcing some temporary emigration. The problem is of course made more difficult by the religious situation. The ISIS people claim for themselves to be the fundamentalist of the Sunni religion, and seem to have decided to kill everybody else.  They claim to be battling against  any Iraq forces they meet  as the country is run now by a Shia Government , whose army  used to be and ,probably, still it is quite full of Sunni.

A very relevant  member of the "Coalition of the Brave "  is the  strongest Sunny country, Saudi Arabia, which is now  fighting against ISIS, who claims to be the only real Sunni State  in the Middle  East trying to take over a large part of Syria and Iraq. The problem is not only religious. Saudi Arabia  has  up to now actively operated against the Shiia Government of Iraq , and has certainly  tried to topple Assad , the ruler of  Syria , who  is  now declaring himself  his  war against ISIS.

This complex situation in the Middle East must be seen with a model different from the political concepts we use for discussing among us. The Ottoman Empire was dismembered and countries were created with Kings taken from the Nobility of Islam.  Some years after the Second World War the countries went through a revolutionary years  except Saudi Arabia, which consolidated its original monarchy. It is difficult to know how much the countries were modernized or had really remained in antique model.

The basic scheme of a Middle East country is that of different groups, made up by a number of families, run by the Senate of the old men, which has in extreme cases the capacity to condemn people to death. In the cities this system might have been superseding somewhat, but in the country even in rich families the power lies in the Senate of the elder. 

Another   power is the religious one. The Sunny have no proper clergy, the men of doctrine address  the faithful in the evening in the mosque, and they might be arbiters of the families problems too difficult to solve. The Shiia has a proper clergy, much more money and power than in the Sunni countries. On top of all that, there might be the Government, which is not seen as something related to the State, but a group of rich  people, administering the common property, and becoming richer.  The concept   of State seems to have been taken by the ISIS people, probably as a memory of the Califf uniting the religious, the military and the business side. 

* American  expression to state that we must avoid the temptation to venture on a marshland - an adage probably reminded by Barack Obama in front of the muddled situation in the Middle East.

Marcello Colitti

Economist. He was President of Enichem. His last book is "Etica e politica di Baruch Spinoza". Member of the Editorial Board of Insight