The Middle East from Hope to Chaos...and Back

Five years ago the whole world saluted the events of the so-called Arab Spring as a harbinger of progress in terms of democratic participation based on a proud claim to agency and justice. What we see is something that would disturbingly fit the definition of a “perfect storm”. Internal and international conflicts intertwine, while sectarianism, tribalism and localism threaten the very existence of several of the region’s nation-states. Disintegration and violent fragmentation seem both contagious and unstoppable.

Looking at the Middle East in the first days of 2016 it is extremely difficult to avoid yielding to pessimism, if not downright despair. What we see is something that would disturbingly fit the definition of a “perfect storm”.  Internal and international conflicts intertwine, while sectarianism, tribalism and localism threaten the very existence of several of the region’s nation-states. Disintegration and violent fragmentation seem both contagious and unstoppable.What is all the more disconcerting is that only five years ago the whole world had saluted the events of the so-called Arab Spring as a harbinger of progress in terms of democratic participation based on a proud claim to agency and justice.

What went wrong?  It is all too easy to minimize the novelty of the present predicament and point out that the only problem with the “Arab Spring” was that it never really took place insofar as the removal of longstanding tyrants (Ben Ali, Mubarak, Gheddafi) not only was not the product of an authentic revolution, but not even of a broadly based and sustainable social and political evolution.  In a way it can be said that the Arab Spring was a mirage in the true sense of the word, i.e. not the perception of a non-existent image, but the distorted view of an image that, while being real, is actually much farther away than what is apparent.  Spring turned out to be premature, and its buds were destroyed by a cruel frost.

The interpretative fallacy that had prompted such widespread enthusiasm was especially due to the exaggerated importance attributed to civil society activism, and in particular to young, modern and pro-western activists. This is especially true in the case of Egypt, as shown by the fact that Western media gave more importance to a handful of young bloggers that to the islamist mass movement on one side and the military on the other. While pro-Western civil society activists were indeed important at the beginning of the anti-authoritarian movement, it soon became tragically evident that they were not, and could not be, the main players since they neither possessed the necessary electoral clout nor the capacity to shift the political contest to the terrain of mere force. They had neither the ballots nor the bullets.
Yet the substantial failure of the Arab Spring did not entail a reversal to “square one”.

What the events of 2011 did was to deconstruct and challenge the previous power configuration in the area without really building an alternative one. The most extreme case is that of Libya, where events have proved once again that there is only one thing that is worse than dictatorship: anarchy. A lesson that does not seem to have been lost on the Obama administration, already convinced of the folly of the 2003 Iraqi invasion. This, more than the reluctance to engage in a costly military adventure, explains Washington’s rather minimalistic Syria policy.

But even Egypt, where apparently things are substantially back to the military-backed authoritarian system of Mubarak (and his predecessors) is actually less stable than it seems, threatened as it is by the double challenge of radical jihadism and the still powerful grievance of a Muslim Brotherhood base which, in spite of the disappointments of its short period in power and the price paid to an especially harsh repression, is far from having disappeared from Egyptian society. 

But what are, beyond the ups and down of recent history, the root causes of the violent instability of the Middle East?   The complexity – social, political, religious, cultural – of the area should advise us to resist the widespread temptation, the product of dogmatism and intellectual laziness, to recur to single-factor theories, but unfortunately this is not the case. Interpretative fads have changed through time, but they continue leading into the trap of simplification.
One still quite popular theory is that which sees colonialism/ neo-colonialism/imperialism as the single key opening all interpretative doors. 

The countries of the Middle East, according to this theory, possess zero agency vis-à-vis the combined power of Wall Street and the Pentagon.  An objective analysis, conducted both on strategic and economic grounds, tends indeed to support the view that we cannot understand events in the Middle East (of for that matter anywhere else in the world) without factoring in a glaring imbalance in power between developed and underdeveloped world, center and periphery.
Definitely neither imperialism nor colonialism are a figment of the imagination, while the role of powerful external players remains a very significant component of the present situation. Definitely, the personae of the present Middle Eastern drama are also external.

The most significant external actor is the US, whose role – and responsibility – are denounced in the region, alternatively, both for its overwhelming presence (from the support of dictators to the use of military force, in particular with the invasion of Iraq) and for its present lack of resolve (as in the case of the Syrian civil war).  “Damned if you do, damned of you don’t”, in a way, but an inevitable consequence of the realities of power in the international system after the demise of the only real counterweight to the US, the USSR.

The trouble is, however, that the exclusive focus on external players does not limit itself to a legitimate view that responsibility is directly proportional to power, but shifts one hundred per cent of responsibility to external actors, thereby rendering political activity within each body politic pointless by definition. The most grotesque manifestation of this political fallacy – a self –fulfilling prophecy insofar as it saps any true drive for action and change - is the proliferation throughout the area of wild conspiracy theories, a pathetic and self-defeating confession of impotence.  If our destinies are the product of an all-powerful Devil (essentially, a negative God), we are both impotent and innocent.

A variant of this interpretation is the individuation of oil as the determinant factor. Also in this case a real, powerful factor is arbitrarily extrapolated so as to minimize all other aspects of a very complex reality, such as military security, geopolitical rivalry, sectarian identity.

The “single factor of the day”, however, is certainly religion. Someone has said that the XXI century actually began on September 11, 2001, when 19 Muslims  - followers of an organization, Al Qaida, headed by a Saudi wahabi -  hijacked passenger planes and crashed them against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. From that date on, the menace of radical Islam has become a true nightmare on a global scale, with repercussions that are negatively affecting the very democratic and pluralistic nature of both American and European societies, since the perceived “Muslim menace” is dramatically increasing popular support for radical right-wing xenophobic politicians and political parties.
What is happening is indeed more troubling than the mere instability that characterizes the Middle East, since regional instability and global terrorism are clearly linked.

At the center of global concern is the phenomenon of the Islamic State, the violent embodiment of a reactionary utopia – that of a world Islamic empire based on the imposition of a medieval interpretation of Islam. Some like to define it as the “so-called Islamic State”, preferring the consolatory view that it is just an ephemeral militia that has acquired temporary control of a territory, but perhaps it would be more correct to say that it is actually an aspiring state, or a proto-state, and that the jury is still out on whether it will ever consolidate into a true state. With its surprising capacity not only to conquer, but to hold territory (though with growing difficulty) against a coalition of several dozens of countries, some of them militarily very powerful , as well as its capacity to attract foreign fighters from a variety of origins,  the Islamic State has further heightened the concern of the whole world about an alleged global onslaught of the Muslim faith through a combination of territorial control in the Middle East and terrorist  actions -organized or inspired by it - from Europe to the United States to Africa.

“Islamophobia” does exist and even grows, to the point that even the issue of refugees reaching Europe or the US from the Middle East is overtly associated with the perceived threat originating from radical Islam. Only a few years ago one would have never imagined that Western leaders would have referred to religious affiliation as a legitimate reason for rejection of the entry of individuals on one’s territory. Now it is happening.

It is understandable that Muslims resent and oppose this basically racist discriminatory attitude. Yet, the way to oppose the attribution to Islam of the whole weight of responsibility for terrorism and jihadi territorial conquest  cannot consist – as some moderate Muslims are rather pathetically doing – in denying that there is any connection between terrorism and Islam, and that the jihadi radicals “are not Muslim”.   Individual Catholics could (and often did) mark their distance and moral condemnation vis-a-vis Francisco Franco, but it would have been absurd to say that he was “not Catholic”.  In the same way,  Marxists could not say that Stalin or Mao were “not Communist”, much as they might disagree with the atrocities of collectivization and repression of dissidents.

Muslims resent in particular the use of the expression “islamofascism”,  and they are right insofar as it is often used indiscriminately to brand a whole religion and a whole religious community. Yet, it would be false, both historically and from the point of view of political theory, to maintain that “islamofascism” does not exist. Who can deny that Francisco Franco, Ante Pavelic or Augusto Pinochet were both Catholic and Fascist?  (Mussolini was of course the proto-fascist, but he was never a Catholic). And, as a matter of fact, the ideology of Vladimir Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, had some significant similarities with fascism, while today the most radical right-wing Israeli parties could well be defined as “judeo-fascist”. The  fact is that within there can arise non-democratic, violent trends that can be generically defined as “fascist”. This is true (as readers of this journal do not have to be reminded) also for Hinduism, but even Buddhism, as counter-intuitive this may sound for a religion of peace and compassion: witness Wirathu, the Buddhist monk leading a violently anti-Muslim movement in Myanmar.

Being in denial is definitely not the most morally valid and politically effective way of opposing what one can legitimately consider distorted interpretations of the religious or ideological credo one adheres to. In a very powerful “Open letter to the Muslim world” published by Huffington Post at the beginning of 2015, a French Muslim philosopher, Abdennour Bidar, denounced the refusal to recognize that “this monster (violent  Islamism) was born from you, from your  mistakes, your contradictions, your being endlessy torn between past and present”, and goes even further, with merciless courage: “ Here are your chronic diseases: incapacity to build durable democracies in which freedom of conscience vis-à-vis the dogmas of religion is recognized as a moral and political right; chronic difficulty in improving the condition of women in the direction of equality, responsibility and liberty;  incapacity to separate sufficiently political power from the control of religious authorities; incapacity to establish respect, tolerance and an authentic recognition of religious pluralism and religious minorities”(www.huffingtonpost/abdennour-bidar/lettera-aperta-al-mondo-musulmano_b_6448822.html).
Having given religion its due in supplying a rallying point and an ideological motivation for violent political action, one should however discard it as a single factor explaining what is going on in the Middle East.

In the first place, it is evident that the powerful onslaught of radical Islam throughout the Middle East, as well as within the Muslim diaspora in Europe, is not the product of a religious revival. Militants tend to repeat a few basic religious formulas and their knowledge of Islam tends to be extremely superficial.  This is true both for jihadi combatants in the Middle East and for sympathizers in the West, some of whom travel to the region in order to join Daesh or other jihadi fighting organizations. A short video circulating in the net shows a patrol of the Islamic State circulating in a recently conquered town stopping at a road crossing and being reprimanded by an old lady who, quoting the Quran and religious poetry, denounces their violence as being in contradiction with the teachings of the Prophet.  The fighters are more amused than irritated: they laugh and tell the old lady to go home, as if she was some sort of crank. Who is religious here?

As for European jihadis, a police search in the computer files of a “foreign fighter” – evidently a convert - recently revealed that before leaving for Syria he ordered from Amazon a book titled “Islam for dummies”. Religion is indeed important, but only insofar as it supplies a focal point for a series of diverse motivations and purposes. 
A paper by a Lebanese think tank, Quantum (“Understanding Jihadists in Their Own Words”) supplies some extremely valuable indications.

The paper is based on a series of interviews of captured jihadi fighters (belonging to three categories: Western militants; Arab external fighters; internal fighters) aimed at assessing their motivations behind the decision to join ISIS.
The conclusions of the study deserve to be extensively quoted:
“A majority of the fighters were identified as ‘status’ and ‘identity’ seekers driven by money and recognition, on the one hand, and by a construct providing a transnational identity or offering a sense of belonging on the other. Geographically, Western external fighters were firstly ‘identity seekers’ and secondarily ‘thrill seekers’ in search of a restyled ‘Call of Duty’ narrative. Arab external fighters were predominantly ‘thrill seekers’, while internal fighters were chiefly ‘status seekers’ as well as ‘revenge seekers’ striving to inflict harm on the persecutors of their oppressed grouping. (….) Islam is not the full side of the story. As the wording of the fighters suggest, Islam is a means to an end and not an end itself. Alternative, earthly pursuits seem to be the underlying end for a majority of sampled fighters. Second, ISIS is not a monolithic entity driven by ideology alone. It seems the allure of individual power and richesse instigated by a context of marginalization and deprivation overrides the collective rallying behind a self-styled Umma chronicle.”
Islam, in its most radical version, does supply an ideological focus to violent militancy in the Middle East area, but if we shift from ideology and rationalization to substance, we are led in a totally different direction: that of a deep crisis of governance undermining both economic development and political sustainability.

An extremely valuable analytical source can be found in a series of UNDP reports published starting in 2002, the Arab Human Development Reports.   They are documents whose credibility is attested not only by an impressive statistical and analytical apparatus, but also by the fact that they are the product of a team of qualified Arab economists. Findings such as those spelled out in the reports, as a matter of fact, would otherwise be exposed to predictable criticism or even denunciation as “anti-Arab”.

What is especially interesting is that both economic and international factors are flagged but not identified as central in explaining why the Arab world is lagging in terms of human development.  A quote in the 2003 report supplies an important starting point:
“In 1970 Arab GDP per capita was half that in East Asia: by the opening stages of this century it dropped to less than one seventh of GDP per capita in that region”.  The UNDP reports list in detail the reasons for this relative economic deterioration.  They definitely are not of an economic nature: to reverse a famous quote, one could say: “It’s the politics, stupid!”.

As cogently spelled out in the Reports, Arab nation-states are characterized by poor governance, corruption, crony capitalism and bureaucratic state control, outrageous privilege of governing elites (running regimes that can be defined as “extractive”), weak or nonexistent rule of law, lack of transparency and accountability, limited or nonexistent freedom of information, marginalization of women.  Culture constitutes another important dimension of the Arab predicament, but certainly not for the absence of an Arab intellectual class nor the lack of educational structures (Arab intellectuals are numerous and eminent, while literacy is generally higher than in other less developed part of the world), rather as a consequence of the primacy of political conservatism and rejection of pluralism and innovative thinking. To quote the 2003 report: “ Researchers argue that the curricula taught in Arab countries seem to encourage submission, obedience, subordination and compliance rather than free critical thinking”.

Free, innovative, plural thinking is discouraged and repressed by rulers that intend to maintain full control. This has global negative repercussions both on the economy and on society, closing the avenues for peaceful change and building a system of inclusion/exclusion that requires, in order to be sustained, the heavy hand of repression.   Even in cases where elections are held, countries of the region can be defined as “democratic” only if the definition includes “illiberal democracies”, i.e. systems lacking the fundamental  requisites of a free press; division of powers between executive, legislative and judiciary; guarantees for minorities.

In such political systems resentment and grievances tend to accumulate without any possibility to find a constructive outlet and, in the presence of the violent repression by secret political police, the mukhabarat, they tend to turn to violent means.    The original, promising characteristic of the 2011 Arab Spring was that the groundswell of popular protest was not violent, but the exception was short-lived, since power (sometimes immediately, as in Libya and  Syria, sometimes after a brief non-violent interlude, as in Egypt) reacted once more in the only way in which it knows how to rule: with merciless and overwhelming violence.

The blossoms of the Arab Spring have been killed everywhere by a cruel frost, with the fragile exception of Tunisia.  The alternative today seems to be between military dictatorships and islamist regimes. The West, after having greeted with premature enthusiasm what seemed to be a promising shift toward freedom and democracy, is now back to a pessimist view on the impossibility of escaping, in the Middle East, the alternative between dictatorship and chaos. Thus it is now considering inevitable to support authoritarian governments in order to prevent state collapse and the spreading of radical jihadism, with its transnational terrorist threat, as well as the endemic conflict that is today the main source of problematic refugee flows. Such policy is presented and justified as a return to realism after the delusion of an impossible democratization of the Middle East. But can short-term realism be really considered realistic?

Having said that the predicament of Middle East countries cannot be attributed to external influence, but derives mainly from internal problems and shortcomings, one cannot help but recognizing that Western (and mainly US) policy toward the area bears a significant share of responsibility for the present dismal situation.

Without going back to the mistakes – and crimes – of colonialism it is enough to refer to “the mother of all destabilizations”, the 2003 attack on Iraq that destroyed, together with Saddam and his power, the very structure of the Iraqi state.   A political mistake as  well as a violation of the principles of that “ethic of responsibility” that should inspire all political action: we cannot pretend to be judged, politically and even morally, on the basis of abstract principles but only on the basis of the consequences of our action, often predictable on the basis of sheer common sense. The moral and political absurdity of the Iraqi invasion was repeated in Libya in an even more blatant, and even less justifiable way, killing, together with a despicable dictator, a state that was extremely fragile and unleashing devastating centrifugal forces of a regional, sectarian, tribal nature.

States that are inherently weak because of the political distortions introduced by repressive and corrupt leaders have been literally dismantled by external intervention or have become pawns in a complex network of geopolitical rivalries as well as the terrain for proxy wars. What has been the dominant political institution of the modern world, the nation-state, is weakened everywhere insofar as globalization has shifted to an uncontrolled, and often unknown “elsewhere” the origin of events that affect the daily life of groups and individuals: from the environment to security against terrorism, from the financial situation to migration flows. People feel that the nation state is not where the most important decisions are taken. But if this is so, how can we  expect to preserve citizen participation and democracy?

In the Middle East this feeling of growing irrelevancy of the state is compounded by a lack of legitimacy produced by the blatant partiality of the way it is ruled by elites that are always corrupt and often thuggish. The category of the citizen, always rather weak in the region, has now become practically nonexistent, and people – in desperate need of a framework within which to pursue their own interest and protect their own safety – are massively regressing to previous stages of political identity: sectarianism and tribalism.

Indeed it is the crisis of the nation state, rather than a hypothetical “revenge of God” against secular civilization, that defines the present situation in the Middle East.    In particular, the believer is replacing the citizen as a more satisfactory, more credible foundation of both identity and political agency. Islam has always been an “integral” religion, but today the deep crisis of the Arab state is fueling the spread of the conviction that the only way of addressing the frustration of failed modernization and failed democratization is reverting to the most traditional, most fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. The reactionary utopia of the Islamic State is the most radical instance, but it would be a mistake not to see that it constitutes only an extreme version of a wide and deeply rooted trend.

The Middle East, of course, is not only Arab, and  as a matter of fact the three non-Arab Middle Eastern countries (Iran, Israel, Turkey) are deeply involved as protagonists in the complex, intertwining network of competitive and conflictive relations. Yet there is one remarkable difference between Arab and non-Arab countries, insofar as the latter, differently from the former (which someone has inelegantly but not unjustifiably defined as “tribes with flags”) are real and coherent nation states.

The “real states” of the region are in no way exempt from their own crises and contradictions, and – instead of contributing to regional stability – they are also a part of the general problem of Middle East conflictive instability.  
Israel has never taken stock of the fact that it cannot be at the same time large, Jewish and democratic : it can be Jewish and large (i.e. maintaining its post-1967 occupation of Palestinian lands) only by keeping Palestinians in the condition of second-rate citizens, or by expelling them, as some extremists are advocating, or it can be large and democratic but not Jewish, as the proponents of a bi-national state are advocating. It can be Jewish and democratic, therefore, only by reverting, with the necessary border modifications, to the 1967 borders and allowing the birth of a Palestinian state.
In the absence of a decision,  Palestinian insurgency  may well be kept under control by the powerful military and security apparatus of the Israeli state, but the Palestinian question will continue supplying (sometimes as cause, sometimes as pretext) a powerful means of recruitment for Arab militancy, including terrorism.

Turkey, under the authoritarian leadership of Tayyip Erdogan, has turned from being an element of regional stability, thanks to its combination of democratic institutions and dynamic economic development, to an additional factor of instability. The AKP government’s policy of “zero problems with neighbors” has now turned into a proliferation of controversy and contrast with neighbors as well as a downright adventurist policy of indiscriminate support, including to radical jihadis, to every component of the anti-Assad front.

As for Iran, the July nuclear agreement could be an important premise for the end of an isolation that, while being in the first years after the 1979 revolution a consequence of an overtly expansive revolutionary mission, has later become a reflection of a geopolitical contest between on one side Tehran’s aspiration to an important regional role and on the other Washington’s hostility toward what it by and large still considers a “rogue state” as well as Iran’s Arab neighbors’ fear of traditional Persian hegemonic ambitions.

At the same time, the region-wide Sunni versus Shia clash (a prophecy that has self-fulfilled as a consequence, rather than a cause of conflict) sees in Iran  side and Saudi Arabia the main political and ideological references of the sectarian confrontation.

The tendency to attribute the rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia to religious sectarianism is, however, basically flawed, since it ignores a substantial asymmetry.  Iran pursues national interest goals through alliances that are not based on religious affinity. It supports the Assad regime (based not on Islam but on the secular and fascistic ideology of the Baath Party) not because of religious brotherhood:  Alawis are Shias only in a very indirect and theologically contested sense. Incidentally, the same can be said about Yemeni Houthis, only vaguely related to Shias.Iran also supports Hamas, a Sunni-based  Palestinian movement and, as far as Afghanistan is concerned, finds as its main allies people speaking Dari, a Persian language, rather than Afghan Shias.  Lebanon’s Hezbollah is indeed Shia, but it is interesting to note that it is allied with a significant segment of the Christian population.

Saudi Arabia, on the contrary, being a weak state finds both identity and allies on the basis of the most radical, most intolerant version of Islam, whahabism.

What constitutes the unifying characteristic of the many crises that are today affecting the Middle East is what could be defined as “the general crisis of the nation-state”.   With the exception of the three non-Arab Middle East countries, as a matter of fact, all other states are not only dysfunctional and riven by violent conflict (civil war and terrorism), but threatened in their very survival.  The process leading to the present situation is very convincingly described in a recent paper published in The Arabist:
“The Arab uprisings revealed how dilapidated state structures are, and how willing ruling elites are to sacrifice them to their own survival. Arab societies mobilized in opposition to the bankruptcy of their national institutions, typically with a view to changing governance rather than changing governments – calling, in a word, for less ‘regime’ and more state. Almost everywhere, their leaders pushed back by reinvesting in everything that made them regimes in the first place: repression and radicalization, cronyism and patronage, and the fear of chaos as principal sources of domination.
This process has profoundly undermined the belief in and the desire for the state. Most Iraqis, Syrians or Lebanese have given up hope entirely, not to mention Palestinians; who would even think of building a state for the latter when the model seems to be crumbling everywhere else? Many across the region, especially among the elites, no longer aspire to a state for all, but beg for a power structure – at best a regime, at worst a large militia – that can protect them from another part of their own society seen as threatening, at any collective cost.” (Peter Harling and Alex Simon, “The West and the Arab World, between ennui and extasis”, The Arabist, December 16, 2015).

Facing this situation, one frequently hears proposals for a solution based on the premise that existing nation states, having been as a rule created by colonial powers on the basis of borders drawn without considering ethnic and sectarian differences (“Sykes-Picot” has now become a symbolically infamous  reference), are artificial and cannot survive in their present configuration.  Iraq should be divided into three countries: one Shia, one Sunni and one Kurdish, and Syria – which allegedly it would not be realistic to put back together after years of  ferocious civil war – might be divided into a Sunni and an Alawi entity. Some “realists” also foresee as the only possible solution to the present Libyan anarchy, the division of the country into two separate entities:  Tripolitania and Cyrenaica.

One can certainly understand the despair inspired by the devastation and human suffering produced by the conflicts that are tearing apart the whole region, and yet one should at least pause and raise a few definitely non-secondary questions.
In the first place, where has one ever seen “natural” nation-states?  States are a political construct, whatever their origin.  Second: how is it possible to draw “non-artificial” borders in an area which has been characterized by centuries of coexistence and mixing of ethnicities and religions?  No new entity would be homogeneous, thereby multiplying the present problem of coexistence between majority and minority – a problem that would then be solved by ethnic cleansing, if not genocide.   And how about the capitals of present nation states? If Iraq is divided, who gets Baghdad? And again:  how serious is it to imagine that fragments of countries that are today beset by very substantial economic problems would be minimally viable, instead of becoming permanent wards of the international community while falling into the hands of criminal networks?

The idea that territorial fragmentation could be a solution to the present crisis seems to be neither realistic nor responsible. The truth is that it is not the geographical configuration nor the ethnic or religious composition of each political entity that is the source of the problem, but the nature of governance and the way power is exercised.  Smaller states would not only reproduce the distortions and crimes of existing ones, but would even exasperate them by increasing a pretense of homogeneity that, being a utopian ideological aspiration going against history and demography, can only be pursued by inordinate amounts of violence. The idea that the only way to have a sustainable and peaceful  polis is to base it on ethnic or religious homogeneity is at the same time illusory and dangerous.

In the Middle East (for that matter, as elsewhere), the real peace-builders are not the proponents of radical solutions - from the hallucinatory imperial project of the Caliphate to the mutilation of present nation states - but rather the reformers, i.e. those who conduct a long and patient struggle aimed at addressing all the “deficits” in governance and rule of law that are at the root of the present collapse of so many of the region’s nation states.

Recomposing the disrupted landscape of the Middle East, on the other hand, will also require a concerted action by external powers.  As a brilliant Middle Eastern analyst has commented, there are two fundamental premises for this external role: “ a) there can be no lasting military solution to political problems that are created by human beings, and their cruelties and poor policies: and b) the lack of military solutions to political disputes is screechingly amplified when foreign military powers send their armies into the local conflicts, such as we are seeing in Syria, Iraq and Yemen”.  ( Rami G. Khouri, “The Age of the Young Warriors is Upon Us”,  Daily Star, October 10,2015) .

Since, however, the appeal to justice or humanity cannot unfortunately be considered as effective, only an appeal to self-interest, from security to energy,  might be a convincing stimulus for action. Not in the sense of renewed military interventions, to be sure (Iraq and Libya should have taught us something) but rather as a concerted political and diplomatic action aimed at finding a workable compromise among the now conflicting national interests.   Moving from proxy wars to a compromise peace will be extremely difficult, but the alternative, the continuation and extension of the present chaos, does not seem to be a realistic option.          

Roberto Toscano

Roberto Toscano has been Italy's Ambassador to India and to Iran. Among his books:”Between terrorism and global governance: essays on ethics, violence and international law”; “La violenza, le regole”, Einaudi, Torino, 2006.