The [Mid]Eastern World, It Is Exploding…
Debaters struggling with the complexity, turmoil, and violence across much of the Middle East, might enjoy Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit song “The Eve of Destruction.” The song helps put today’s conflicts in perspective. An online list of wars in 1965 shows an Indo-Pakistani War and Vietnam War and another webpage lists 42 conflicts in 1965, including a civil war in the Dominican Republic, followed by U.S. occupation.
In the Middle East, 1965 was home to conflicts over water from the Jordan river and an uprising in Bahrain started by high school students protesting laid-off oil field workers. So, lots of violence now in the Middle East and around the world, but more in 1965 (and most years since). Here is first line of song and the video with scenes of conflict (including Civil Rights conflicts in America’s south).
“The [Mid]eastern world it is exploding, violence flaring, bullets loading…”
Despite the bloody conflicts beamed in from around the world each day, violence from wars, conflicts, and crime have dropped dramatically over the last fifty years. Bryan Caplan notes, in this August, 2013 Econlog post:
The ceaseless ugliness of the news notwithstanding, the Great Pacification continues. Check out Wikipedia’s latest map of Ongoing Military Conflicts, circa October 2012.
The minor wars are usually dwarfed by private crime. Even most of the major wars would have seemed minor thirty years ago. Out of the “major” wars, only the Syrian Civil War and the Mexican Drug War exceeded 10,000 fatalities for the year. Throughout the rest of the world, government has virtually abandoned its historic pastime of organized murder.
Caplan links to his earlier post on the Great Pacification, which links to a 2011 Cato Unbound Debate asking “Why is Armed Conflict on the Wane?” Andrew Mack in the lead essay reports a 78% drop in conflicts since the “end of the 1980s”:
From 2003 to 2008, overall conflict numbers increased by some 25 percent. This was due primarily due to an increase in minor conflicts that kill relatively few people. But the number of high-intensity wars, those with an annual battle death toll of 1,000 or more, has continued to decline. By 2008 there were 78 percent fewer of these conflicts being fought around the world than at the end of the 1980s. …
The average war in the 1950s killed about 10,000 people a year; in the new millennium the average was a little less than one thousand.
Students might think that current Middle East conflicts in Syria and Iraq or between Israel and Gaza represent a surge in violence. But that’s more because today violence is in the news and yesterday’s violent conflicts are relegated to online archives, rarely watched documentaries, and unread books.
The 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war wasn’t so long ago, but still before homeschool debaters researching this topic were born. It was the longest war of the last century with up to a million casualties, and drained hundreds of billions of dollars from Iraq and Iran. The war followed the 1979 Iranian Revolution that brought to power the first Islamic state.
So… a general timeline for students to research (understand consensus and disputed views in U.S.-Iran-Iraq conflicts over the last thirty-five years.
• Pre-1979, the Shah of Iran. Book review: “From Shah to Supreme Leader”
• 1979, the Iranian Revolution. Islamic state overthrows western-backed secular Shah of Iran who is trying to modernize and secularize Iran (on the Turkish model).
• 1980-1988, the Iran-Iraq War. Saddam Hussein tries to grap Iran’s southern oil fields, following the turmoil of the Iranian Revolution. Stalemate, finally peace.
• 1990, Iraq invades Kuwait to grab Kuwait oil fields. International trade sanctions put in place.
• U.S. led force liberate Kuwait, destroys Iraqi army and infracture, but decides not to take Bagdad.
• U.S., it is claimed, encourages Shia majority and northern Kurds to rise up against a weakened Saddam. They do (1991), and are slaughtered by Saddam’s Sunni forces. No fly zones set up by U.S. in north and south Iraq to protect Kurds and Shia.
• Continued trade sanctions until U.S. led 2003 invasion of Iraq.
• Iraq destroyed even more in invasion and turmoil after. Shia-led Iraqi government elected, Shia military, with Iranian support, goes after Saddam’s surviving military (purged from new Iraq government).
• Last of U.S. troops depart Iraq in 2011 and Iraqi government steps up attacks on Sunnis in Sunni territories.
• Sunni forces of Islamic State join with disbanded Sunni military forces, to push out Iraqi Shia military from Sunni territory.
So… how might U.S. military strikes defeat Islamic State without ending Sunni authority in traditionally Sunni territory? No “moderate” Sunni coalition would trust current Iraqi government and Iraqi/Iranian-influenced Shia military.
For more in-depth discussion of conservative/classical liberal U.S. foreign policy, consider reading William Ruger’s August 26, 2014 review: “A Realist’s Guide to Grand Strategy.”