In the last issue of The Good News, my article titled "The Middle East's Family Feud," adapted from a Beyond Today TV program I wrote, traced today's problems in the Middle East back to the turmoil among the family and descendants of the biblical patriarch Abraham. In the article I noted: "The present religious and political turmoil in the Middle East is at its heart a family feud between Abraham's descendants. It's a dispute prophesied to erupt into a larger conflict much sooner than we might think . . . These are ancient wounds that will not be healed by peace treaties."
Real peace in the Middle East continues to elude the diplomats and leaders engaged in efforts to solve the intractable problems there. Passing the decade marker since the Iraq invasion by coalition forces in March 2003 brought many articles analyzing what went wrong and the present state of the country. Where do things stand?
Attention now on Syria and Egypt
Iraq continues to face serious problems, but this is presently overshadowed by what is happening in Syria and Egypt.
Syria has been tearing itself apart for the past two years as rebel forces—including many Islamists—attempt to unseat the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in the fighting. Iran and Russia supply arms to the Assad regime. The United States has been involved in supplying aid to the rebels but is in no mood to place troops on the ground as it did 10 years ago in Iraq. And no other Western nation is willing to send troops to assist the insurgent movement either.
Egypt continues to spiral downward politically and economically. Nearly three quarters of the under-30 work force in the country are unemployed. Inflation is raising costs for basic needs such as food, inviting further unrest.
The Muslim Brotherhood may have its man in the presidency, Mohamed Morsi, but he has done little to show he can guide the nation out of its deep problems. 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 happens in Egypt or, more relevant today, what doesn't happen in Egypt with regard to solving its problems threatens the stability of the whole Arab world.
Boundaries drawn by outsiders
The nations just mentioned and others such as Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, are currently dealing with the effects of decisions made by outside powers. These decisions are not only recent decisions but some that stretch back nearly a hundred years.
Thinking about America's decision 10 years ago to invade 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). In the concluding pages of this well-documented story of how the lines of the present-day Middle East were created, Fromkin shows that the same mistakes made in the aftermath of World War I are present in today's politics:
"The Middle East became what it is today both because the European powers undertook to re-shape it and because Britain and France failed to ensure that the dynasties, the states, and the political system that they established would permanently endure.
"During and after the First World War, Britain and her Allies destroyed the old order in the region irrevocably; they smashed Turkish rule of the Arabic-speaking Middle East beyond repair. To take its place, they created countries, nominated rulers, delineated frontiers, and introduced a state system of the sort that exists everywhere else; but they did not quell all significant local opposition to those decisions" (p. 563).
Fromkin's 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 had created a solution along the lines of European thought and governance.
They failed, however, to truly consider and understand the religious, cultural and ethnic factors of the people around whom they drew lines that created nation states. The mistake they made was thinking 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.).
Fromkin wrote these words 24 years ago in 1989, and they describe the headlines of the region today. Iraq, as well as any of the other states, presents people "unreconciled" to the arrangements decided by outside powers.
Ten years ago, in explaining the reasons for invading Iraq, U.S. President George 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 Barack Obama echoed the same thought when he stated his views of the so-called 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 have not ultimately been what many Westerners hoped.
The same is true in Iraq, where democracy has set the country against the West and delivered it into Iran's sphere of influence. Sadly, since adopting its democratic constitution in 2005—wherein Islam is established as the state religion and sharia is declared 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 denied to them through the decades by a combination of corrupt leaders, flawed theology and failed ideology. But as other articles in the previous Good News pointed out, 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 has taken his place. True and lasting freedom has yet to prevail.
The elusive path to true human freedom will not be found in the treaties and agreements crafted around the tables of 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.
A descendant of Abraham, Moses, 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. The Exodus story, told every year at Passover time in the spring, 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 or 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 is clear who lost. Saddam Hussein, a ruthless dictator who viciously oppressed and pillaged his countrymen, was removed and brought to justice at the end of a rope. In exchange the country received an uncertain leadership yet to find a full footing within the region along with a slide toward Islamic fundamentalism. A generation of leadership has been compromised and lost.
America lost more than 4,000 service men and women in Iraq, with thousands more wounded. Beyond the human toll there is also the loss of 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, this has resulted in a major blow to national pride and America's ability to project power in the world.
These wars of the past 11 years have dealt a major blow to American prestige. The period has also seen America dramatically increase its national debt, further weakening its global role.
And there is another, near mortal blow that has developed. In 2000 America went through a bitterly divisive presidential election cycle that resulted in the election of George Bush as president. His foreign policy decisions, forced on him by the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and Washington, created further opposition within the American political scene and in other world capitals.
America is seen today as a crippled giant, still alive and a force to be respected, but the gray hairs are showing. With the protracted struggle in and withdrawal from Iraq, America is seen as incapable of projecting power in a manner that can mold or shape a nation or a region. This is what stands evident 10 years after the U.S. intervention.
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—but that then 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.