hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Demons and Dragons: A Marshall Plan for the Middle East?

“We are in the middle of a world revolution, and I don’t mean Communism. The revolution I am talking about is that of the poor, little people all over the world. They’re beginning to learn what there is in life, and to learn what they are missing”.
General George C. Marshall

Alphen, Netherlands. 25 October. With the Battle of Mosul in full swing the next stage of the war between the Middle Eastern state and anti-state IS forces is about to begin. This stage could well see more attacks launched around the periphery of the Middle East, most notably in Europe. On Saturday I listened to US General John Allen speaking on BBC Radio about what he warned could be a potentially ‘interminable conflict’. General Allen has kindly written the foreword to a new book William Hopkinson and I have written entitled “The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons” (Routledge) which will be published in January 2017.

The book is sub-titled Demons and Dragons because it refers to the range of multifarious and nefarious actors (demons) involved in the war and which make the struggle for Mosul just one, albeit deadly element, in what is a generational struggle over faith, ideas, territory and power. It is a struggle that will not only shape the future Middle East and much of North Africa, but also much of the geopolitics beyond.
And then there are the dragons. This is not simply a war between Iraq, Syria, IS, and a host of other rebel groups. As the involvement of Iran, Turkey and other regional power attests; the current struggle could simply be the prelude to a general Middle Eastern war between states. And, beyond the dragons there are the super-dragons, global powers for which the Middle East is again a theatre for geopolitical competition, and not just between Russia and the West.
What to do? Perhaps America’s biggest-thinking and most considered military man what General Allen told the BBC might surprise some and should be a lesson for all Western leaders.  There will be no military solution to the conflicts in the Middle East and terrorism will never be defeated. What matters instead is a sustained coherent, cohesive grand strategy, and billions of dollars of investment to partner forces for good in the region (and there are many) that could offer the region’s millions of people some hope for their future. In other words, what is needed is thus a new Marshall Plan for the Middle East it could well be the defining foreign policy mission of the coming US Administration.

The European Recovery Program or Marshall Plan (named after its architect General George C. Marshall) was launched in April 1948. Eventually Washington pumped some $12 billion dollars (about $50 billion in today’s money) into a European economy shattered by World War Two. Critically, the Plan was not simply an act of American altruism. Rather, it was a crucial ‘weapon’ in the early Cold War with the Soviet Union because it was an investment in European freedom and future prosperity. That is precisely why Stalin and Molotov rejected the Plan.

Now, one can argue about the efficacy and wisdom of Western-inspired plans to impose democracy on Middle Eastern societies. However, if one looks at global mega-trends that are also driving conflict in the Middle East the need for socio-economic reform looks ever more critical. This means at the very least improved education, prospect of jobs, reduced corruption and the just rule of law.
Here is where the challenge really begins. Of late the approach of the US and the wider-West to the grand challenge posed by the Middle East has been little more than a hand-wringing counsel of despair. If Western leaders really want to end conflict, humanitarian suffering and the seemingly endless flows of society-bending migration flows into Europe then a radical policy shift is needed in which they invest political, as well as real capital, over the short, medium and long-run. This is after all a generational challenge.

Paradoxically, for such a plan to work it would also need NOT to be a Western plan, with a name that was of the Arab people not of the West. There would also be a vital need to link local community-based activism to grand strategy via grand policy in much the same way as the European Recovery Program. The role of charities and other legitimate agencies that make life bearable in the region would be pivotal, many of which are Muslim. Work would also be needed to support regional states and institutions such as the Arab League to see the money regional powers invest are matched and that political reforms bolster rather that weaken partner states. Iran and Russia? Like the Marshall Plan Moscow and Tehran would be invited to participate to demonstrate the Plan favoured neither Shia nor Sunni, neither East nor West. If, like Stalin and Molotov, Moscow and Tehran refuse to co-operate then they would be frozen out.

The consequences of failure? Yet another Western failure in the Middle East would be disastrous, most notably for Europeans, but above all the people of the region itself. Indeed, the Plan would be as much about securing the citizens of Berlin, Paris, London et al as those in the Middle East. And it is this bigness of vision that would perhaps be the greatest challenge to a generation of post-Cold War European political leaders long on rhetoric, very short on action and delivery, and even shorter on political vision and courage.  

For such a plan to work it would need to be very big and very long. For, as General Allen said on the BBC, such a Plan would in turn require politicians to “embrace enormity of newness of thinking, planning and structure and think very differently”. Is the West up to it? If not the twenty-first century will be a very cold and a very dangerous place. What alternative do we have?

Julian Lindley-French

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