Historical forces at work
January 14, 2002
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?
Alfred Tennyson, "The Higher Pessimism"
It is the year 2020. It calls for reflections on the past. Vision 2020
gives you sharp and questioning eyes. Why did the bloody wars among the
Jews, Christians, and Muslims of the last two centuries take place at all?
Why couldn,t the children of Abraham unite sooner in a struggle against
their common enemies, namely injustice, hatred, and violence? Why did
it have to come to a nuclear war and millions of casualty on all sides before
they learned to establish a commonwealth of Middle Eastern nations?
Now that an Association of Middle Eastern Nations (AMEN) is a political
reality, all these questions conjure up only bad dreams. The nightmare
of successive Arab-Israeli Wars in 1946, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and the
protracted Palestinian Intifada all seem like a total madness. In 1953,
the Anglo-American intervention in Iran to topple a democratic government
and replace it with the Shah,s dictatorship triggered an Islamic revolt
that spread to the entire region. The Iran-Iraq War of 1980-88 was a concerted
effort by the conservative states and Western powers to stem the revolutionary
History repeated itself. In the first stage, a social revolution such
as the French, Russian, Cuban, or Iranian revolution occurs. In the second
stage, all the conservative states unite and attack the revolutionary state
to pre-empt the export of its message. In the third stage, the revolutionary
regime solidifies itself around a patriotic war of defense and pushes back
the aggressors. Its success glorifies the revolution for all others to
take note. This historical pattern repeated itself every time in the French,
Russian, Cuban, and Iranian revolutions.
However, politicians rarely learn from history! Saddam Hossein,s invasion
of Kuwait in 1990 demonstrated how greed obscures the most elementary calculations
of power. The American response to the Iraqi invasion was massive and successful
in the short run. But trying to isolate Iran and Iraq, the two most populous
Persian Gulf nations, from developing a regional security regime seems now
foolish and short sighted. Now that Arabs and Persians are allied, the
controversy about the name of the Persian Gulf, initiated by President Nasser
of Egypt to advance his own ambitions, seems like a bad joke.
Global terrorism is another nightmare of the past. It stemmed from
a struggle of the Global South against the Global North, the poor against
the rich. But on the surface, it appeared as an Islamic revolt against
the West. Some pundits went so far as calling it a "clash of civilizations
between the West and the rest, an Islamic-Confucian alliance against the
Judaic-Christians. In response, others called for a "dialogue of
civilizations. But in reality, guerrilla warfare combined with ideologies
of resistance (communism, nationalism, ethnicity, race, and religion) for
long had been the weapons of the weak against the strong.
As globalization accelerated during the last four decades, both state
and oppositional terrorism became globalized. Networks of drug trafficking,
money laundering, weapons trade, campaign financing, political corruption,
and terrorism undermined democratic and non-democratic regimes alliance.
Modern democracies were corrupted by the rise in campaign financing costs,
increase in corporate welfare, decline in social welfare, growth of ghettoes
of the rich and poor, and rising crime in the urban centers. Premodern
dictatorships increasingly turned to violent and repressive measures, often
in cooperation with Western governments and corporations, in order to plunder
the national wealth. Some sleazy characters like Marcos, Mobutu, and
Suharto come to mind.
In 2010, Saddam Hossein,s life and regime came to an end abruptly by
his assassination in the hands of his own son. That triggered a disintegration
of Saddam,s tightly woven Takriti Mafia into rival factions. A Shi,a revolt
in the south and a Kurdish revolt in the north invited Iran to intervene.
The integration of Iran and Iraq recreated one of the oldest imperial systems
in West Asia, this time armed with nuclear power. Pakistan, Turkey, and
Egypt joined the new union. Other Islamic states in the region had no
choice but to close ranks. The stage was set for the confrontation of two
traditional Eastern and Western empires. In the past, Greek, Roman, and
Byzantine empires had confronted the Persian, Arab, and Turkic empires.
In 2015, a United States-Israeli alliance faced a new Islamic union in
the Middle East. The nuclear war that ensued lasted only one day. December
21, 2015 resembled the Armageddon so vividly described by the three Abrahamic
religions. Its casualties were in the millions. Great cities such as Jerusalem,
Istanbul, Tehran, Baghdad, Cairo, and Isfahan were turned into ashes.
The government leaders and their regimes were thrown into the dustbin of
history. Chaos ruled. It took five years before the forces of sanity
began to prevail again.
As a result, the major powers in the Middle East began to realize that
they must mend their ways. On January 1, 2019, an international peace
conference met in Jerusalem. Women dominated the American, European, and
West Asian delegations. Peace organizations such as the Toda Institute
for Global Peace and Policy Research (Tokyo and Honolulu) and the Center
for World Dialogue (Nicosia, Cyprus) provided the hospitality. The UN
Secretary-General presided over the meeting. Instead of focusing on the
nightmares of the past, the conference focused on the future.
The net outcome of the conference was the formation of AMEN. Built on
the model of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), AMEN brought
the warring and competitive states into a peaceful and cooperative framework.
Its membership consists of all of the Middle Eastern states. The United
States, Russia, China, and the European Union became associate members.
The new club left its membership open to the states in the Caucuses
and Central Asia that subscribed to its objectives. The members pledged
themselves to collective security, and a gradual development of economic
integration and common political institutions. A bicameral regional parliament
consisting of a senate and a house came into being provided democratic regional
checks and balances. The Presidency of AMEN, a ceremonial job, will rotate
among distinguished Jewish, Christian, and Islamic leaders with universal
respect in the region. The first president is Javaher Bahar, a renowned
poetess from Afghanistan. Administered by the AMEN Secretariat, Jerusalem
is the capital.
AMEN has served all of its members well. The West is guaranteed its
access to a free flow of oil, or what remains of it, at stable prices tied
to the prices of its own exports to the region. The United States no longer
has to maintain an armada at considerable cost and immeasurable resentment.
Israel has gained a vast market for its goods, services, and scientific-technological
Instead of quarrelling among themselves or with others, the Arabs are
now focusing on their own social and economic development. AMEN controls
the three most strategic waterways in Eurasia. Their improved bargaining
power vis-à-vis Europe, America, and Asia has gained them respect
and benefits. Turkey no longer has to beg to join Europe. Egypt no longer
has to beseech for foreign aid. Iran no longer has to take hostages to
have its voice heard. Iraq is a prosperous country exporting food, capital,
and brains to the region. Israelis and Palestinians live no longer in dehumanizing
I talk of dreams; which are the children of an idle brain; begot of
nothing but vain fantasy. Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet"
Majid Tehranian is professor of international communication at the
University of Hawaii and director of the Toda
Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.