In my article titled “The Middle East’s Family Feud,” I traced today’s problems in the Middle East back to the turmoil among the family and descendants of the biblical patriarch Abraham. Having just passed the decade marker since the Iraq invasion, where do things stand in the region now?
Currently the problems in Syria and Egypt overshadow what’s happening in Iraq.
Syria is tearing itself apart as rebel forces attempt to unseat the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Egypt continues to spiral downward politically and economically. Egypt is a ticking time bomb that threatens the wider security of the region. It is the largest Arab state with the largest standing army. What does or doesn’t happen in Egypt threatens the stability of the whole Arab world.
Thinking about America’s 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq took me back to David Fromkin’s excellent history of the region,A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East (1989).
The book covers the postwar meetings, high conferences and treaties between 1914 and 1922 that gave birth to the modern Middle East as a replacement to the corrupt and failed Ottoman Empire. European leaders thought they were creating a solution along the lines of European thought and governance.
They failed to truly consider and understand the religious, cultural and ethnic factors of the people around whom they drew lines that created nation states. They were mistaken to think that the ancient tribal and religious feelings could be contained within such a modern concept—they couldn’t. Fromkin concludes: “Even today there are powerful local forces within the Middle East that remain unreconciled to these arrangements—and may well overthrow them” (ibid).
Ten years ago, U.S. President George W. Bush gave a speech in which he stated that his goals were “to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.” He concluded by promising, “We will bring freedom to others, and we will prevail.”
In May 2011 President Obama echoed the same thought when he stated his views on the Arab Spring. “There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope,” he said.
“But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable and more just.”
Substituting one tyranny for another
Of course, peace and freedom are notable goals. But conceptions of these differ. And the aims of the Arab Spring are not ultimately what many Westerners hoped.
The same is true in Iraq. Democracy has set the country against the West and delivered it into Iran’s sphere of influence. Since adopting its democratic constitution in 2005—which establishes Islam as the state religion and sharia as a main source of legislation—Iraq has become one of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty.
It would be wonderful if the Arab peoples could experience real freedom. But it looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. The invasion of Iraq removed a tyrant, but a different kind of tyranny took his place. True and lasting freedom is not prevailing.
The elusive path to true human freedom will not be found in the treaties and agreements crafted around the tables of the today’s leaders. Not until the leaders of the region are willing to lead their people back to the teachings and way of life of their father Abraham will they find peace.
Moses—a descendant of Abraham—stood before the tyrant of his day, Egypt’s pharaoh, and said, “Let my people go.” The path of the Exodus, opened by God through the Red Sea, led Israel to a law and a way that represented true peace and freedom. That Exodus story told every year at Passover time contains the true heart of the issue.
God intervened in history to deliver Abraham’s descendants from bondage. While there are deep spiritual lessons in this story, there is also the plain fact that God’s deliverance of the people shows Him to be a God who intervenes in history. This fact, that the God of Abraham is not an empty idol nor absentee or derelict in commitment, shows us the only way to a lasting peace in the Middle East.
Blood and treasure
Ten years after the invasion of Iraq it’s clear that a generation of leadership has been compromised and lost. Saddam Hussein was removed, and in exchange the country received an uncertain leadership that has yet to find a full footing. And it slides toward Islamic fundamentalism.
America lost more than 4,000 service men and women in Iraq, with thousands more wounded. Beyond the human toll, the U.S. lost credibility within the region and the world. The Iraq war distracted from the war in Afghanistan, diverting attention and keeping it from permanently disabling the Taliban insurgency. Combined, America’s national pride, prestige and ability to project power in the world have been dealt a major blow. America dramatically increased its national debt in the meantime, further weakening its role in the world.
America is seen today as a crippled giant, still alive and a force to be respected, but not the overly imposing force it once was.
The lines in the sand that represent the contours of the modern Middle East are changing. New power blocs and alliances will emerge, creating a new set of challenges for the world. Circumstances will grow dire. The God of history has prophesied that world powers will one day converge upon the region in a final conflict. Before ultimate destruction takes place, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, will return in power and glory to rule the nations. Not until then will true freedom settle upon the peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.