Does the Middle East Matter?

DOES THE MIDDLE EAST MATTER?….Edward Luttwak asks, “Why are middle east experts so unfailingly wrong?” I’ve often wondered the same thing! He proposes three fundamental mistakes that underlie their unfailing wrongness:

  1. “Arab-Israeli catastrophism”: the idea that we’re continually on the brink of an explosion in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

  2. “The Mussolini syndrome”: the idea that Middle Eastern countries actually pose a serious military threat to the rest of us.

  3. The “malleability” mistake: the idea that there’s anything we can do to effect change in Islamic culture.

Luttwak’s advice: the hell with them. Just leave the Middle East alone and direct our attention to areas of the world that actually matter.

Well, Luttwak likes to stir the pot, and that’s what he’s doing here. And I imagine there’s a sizable coalition of (a) anti-imperial leftists, (b) heartland isolationists, and (c) barroom hawks who think we should just let the ragheads kill each other off, who would agree with him.

And, of course, we would leave them alone if it weren’t for all that lovely oil, wouldn’t we? Luttwak tries to brush this aside in a few sentences, suggesting that over time we’re getting less dependent on Middle Eastern oil and will continue to get less dependent in the future, but if he actually believes this it’s a remarkable display of wishful thinking. Every oil analyst on the planet agrees that oil reserves are falling fastest outside the Middle East, and that 20 years from now our dependence on Middle Eastern oil will be higher than it is today, not lower. All the pandering to all the corn farmers in all of Iowa isn’t going to change that.

Still, Luttwak is probably right that the oil will keep flowing — more or less — through thick and thin. Cyclical violence aside, they need our money as much as we need their oil. So in the end, all that’s left is nuclear and biological weapons. If you believe those don’t pose a serious threat over the next few decades, then Luttwak is probably right that we could ignore the Middle East if we wanted to. But if you believe they do pose a threat, then figuring out a way to reduce Arab resentment of the West suddenly seems pretty important. The big question is: how?

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