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Muslim Civil Wars Stem from a Crisis of Civilization

June 5th, 2013 - 7:02 am

Israeli analysts have understood this from the outset. Two years ago (in an essay entitled “Israel the winner in the Arab revolts“) I quoted an Israeli study of the collapse of Syrian agriculture preceding the civil war:

Syria will prove impossible to stabilize, for reasons sketched in my March 29 essay, and explained in more detail by economist Paul Rivlin [3] in a note released the same day by Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center, entitled “Behind the Tensions in Syria: The Socio-Economic Dimension.”

Quoted at length in the Arab press, Rivlin’s report went unmentioned in the Western media – a gauge of how poorly the Western elite understands the core issues. Clinton has been ridiculed for calling Assad a “reformer” (in fact, she said that some members of congress think he’s a reformer). Rivlin explains Syria’s president is a reformer, at least in economic policy. The trouble is that Syrian society is too fragile to absorb reforms without intolerable pain for the 30% of Syrians below the official poverty line of US$1.60 a day. As Rivlin explains: “Syrian agriculture is suffering from the country’s move to a so-called ‘social market economy’ and the introduction of a new subsidy regime in compliance with international trade agreements, including the Association Agreement with the European Union (which Syria has still not ratified). The previous agricultural policy was highly interventionist, ensuring (at great cost) the country’s food security and providing the population with cheap access to food items. It is now being replaced with a more liberal one that has harsh consequences for farmers and peasants, who account for about 20% of the country’s GDP [gross domestic product] and its workforce.”

Syria’s farm sector, Rivlin adds, was further weakened by four years of drought: “Small-scale farmers have been the worst affected; many have not been able to grow enough food or earn enough money to feed their families. As a result, tens of thousands have left the northeast and now inhabit informal settlements or camps close to Damascus.”

Assad abolished fuel subsidies and freed market prices, Rivlin adds. “In early 2008, fuel subsidies were abolished and, as a result, the price of diesel fuel tripled overnight. Consequently, during the year the price of basic foodstuffs rose sharply and was further exasperated by the drought.” Against that background, Syrian food prices jumped by 30% in late February, Syrian bloggers reported after the regime’s attempt to hold prices down provoked hoarding.

The rise in global food prices hit Syrian society like a tsunami, exposing the regime’s incapacity to modernize a backward, corrupt and fractured country. Like Egypt, Syria cannot get there from here. Rivlin doubts that the regime will fracture. He concludes, “Urban elites have been appeased by economic liberalization, and they now fear a revolution that would bring to power a new political class based on the rural poor, or simply push Syria into chaos. The alliance of the Sunni business community and the Alawite-dominated security forces forms the basis of the regime and, as sections of the population rebel, it has everything to fight for.”

We tend to forget that the first stirrings of globalization during the Age of Navigation ruined Latin America, Asia, India, and China. That was the premise of my first “Spengler” essay at Asia Times Online on January 27, 2000:

Item: After the conquest of the New World, Spain’s entire capture of precious metals went to India and China to pay for luxury cloth and spices. That did for approximately 90 percent of the indigenous pre-Colombian population.

Item: The African slave trade instituted by the Portuguese and later the British first produced sugar in Brazil and the Caribbean, to be turned into cheap intoxicants for the European market. Tobacco was a second absorber of slave labor. Cotton became important much later. Production of these vices did for a third of the West African population.

Item: In order to sell cheap cotton cloth to India, the East India Company arranged for Indians to grow opium and for Chinese to buy it. All the silver mined in Latin America, which two centuries earlier had passed to China to pay for silks, found its way back to Europe to pay for opium. That did for untold millions of Indians and Chinese.

The loss of life was frightful. The Taiping Rebellion of 1850 to 1864 in the wake of the Qing Dynasty’s humiliation by the British claimed 20 million lives, most of them civilians. Millions starved in Bengal when manufactured cotton replaced the local handwoven cloth.

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Top Rated Comments   
"Why are Sunnis and Shiites slaughtering each other in Syria at this particular moment in history"

The answer to that question is apparent to anyone who honestly looks at the history of the Sunnis and Shiites: "Because that's what Sunnis and Shiites do."

I remember an old cartoon of an alligator writing in his diary. Every day's entry was the same.
Find something, kill it, eat it. So it is with Islam. As others have noted, Islam can only survive by cannibalizing other cultures as it has for centuries or by non- Islamic countries enabling them, and anything we do now, that doesn't have as its goal the end of Islam, is enabling.

The end result of enabling Islam looks to be the spread of Islam, like a parasite, until it consumes its host to the point that the world descends into uncivilized chaos.

"The moral impact on the West of unrestrained slaughter and numberless atrocities flooding YouTube for years to come is incalculable"

That is exactly right but Islam is now and always has been guilty of "unrestrained slaughter and numberless atrocities".

So what are we to do?

The first thing we do is recognize that Obama is 100% wrong when he says that America will never be at war with Islam. America, indeed, the civilized world, MUST make war on Islam, because "unrestrained slaughter and numberless atrocities" is the very soul of Islam.

If anyone is looking for a moral duty regarding Islam it would be to end the nightmare existence that Muslims have under Islam, not to mention the mortal threat they pose to EVERYONE else.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Iran is well fed and it is the most prolific purveyor of terrorism on Earth.
Even if all the arab countries get well fed, they will still fight each other. stability will only reinforce the the dictators in their perches.
Goldman always thinks Bread and circus solves everything. One only needs to view the history of the arab and persian tribes , it is inherent and endemic for them to conquer and subjugate, backstab and steal.
yes I know these maladies occur world wide, but noting on the scale of the arab and persian tribes. IMHO
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Valerie Jarrett is loyal to Iran. Kerry thinks he's a genius and he wants to finesse Hillary and win the Nobel Peace Prize for opening diplomatic relations with the mullahs.

Israel will have to be the bad guy. I hope they're keeping their secrets these days, because Obama is not their ally.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (71)
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"Mr. Spengler", if you are still reading these, I have a question.

How much of this - in Egypt at least - is due to anti-Semitism? The rulers of area, our supposedly friendly "peace partners", have been drilling vicious anti-Semitism into their populace for a long time. One of the last acts of the Mubarak administration was a TV mini-series illustrating the Protocols of the elders of Zion. If they had not engendered such hostility towards us, could we have helped them grow enough food, etc.?

After all, it isn't that long ago that people claimed that nothing could grow here in Israel , not to mention that Jews were congenitally incapable of farming or fighting.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
June 3, 2013, 2:35 p.m. ET
U.S. Oil Boom Scrambles Mideast Calculus

Syria's civil war increasingly threatens to metastasize into a regional conflict, as Hezbollah fighters join the battle on the side of Syria's government, prompting the Syrian opposition to return fire directly into Hezbollah's home base in Lebanon. Calls for the U.S. to get involved persist.

Meanwhile, another interesting news development looms. Government projections show that in September, for the first time in almost two decades, the U.S. will produce more oil than it imports. Nor will that be a fluke; the trend is expected to continue, and domestic oil production is expected to outstrip imports by an increasingly wide margin throughout 2014.

These two developments may seem unrelated, but they are not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So when can we throw Saudi Arabia under the bus? I would love to see the entire Royal Family get what's coming to them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The current wars in the middle east are old money wars.

Everyone knows that the Jihadis are funded by old inbred gulf arabs. These guys are only half thinking thinking about islam or jihad when they fork over their easy money to jihadists. their also thinking that trouble in the region raises the price of oil.

what happens when the opec loses control over the price of oil. what happens when US oil production causes a glut in world wide supply.

That's not happening right now. right now worldwide supply and demand are pretty tightly balanced. But OPEC recently had some pretty strained debates as west african countries like Nigeria complained that the USA had stopped buying all oil from them.

however, for now Iran has lost its ability to threaten an oil cut off as supplies are currently sufficient to absorb an Iranian oil cut off. supplies are currently able to absorb sanctions on Iran.

Two years from now however, US oil production increasing at 800,000 Barrels@ day annually---should push down the price of oil.

This impacts gulf arab funding of Jihaddists by reducing their revenues and further limiting the war premium that the threat of war brings to the price of oil.

The middle east is changing in another way.

It looks like solar—unlike wind—is going to come out a winner in the grid parity game.

There are early reports that solar is reaching grid parity in places like Arizona, Hawaii, Spain, Italy,

Now that's with plenty of government support. However, the pace of solar power price declines suggests that within 5-10 years solar will reach grid parity everywhere without subsidies.

This is significant.


Because the price and efficiency of water desalination membranes is also falling—and therefor the price of water desalination. Water desalination is currently too expensive for anything but municipal use —and even then its the most expensive of options. But the price is falling. There’s even news that Lockheed has produced a super RO membrane that will be many orders of magnitude better than current models.

What is the significance of cheap power from the sun and cheap water from the ocean.

Basically most of the world’s deserts are beside the ocean.

If you can make cheap energy from the sun and cheap water from the ocean near deserts —then basically you can turn the world’s deserts green and double the size of the habitable planet. (here's a google search of saudi solar desalination )

that technological breakthrough is not happening today or next year. But it definitely looks to be in the cards sometime in the next ten years.

The gulf states are getting wind of these technological changes --just as are the Israelis. Both are already positioning themselves accordingly.

In time when the technology becomes unassailable -- the rest of the region will fall in line.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Whoops my number on oil production growth was off. The Wall St Journal reports today that US oil production growth last year was 1.04 million barrels @ day--the "largest increase in the world and the largest in U.S. history."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Goldman is probably more adult than I am. I rather relish the image of these two groups of primitives trying to outdo each other in atrocities until one of them becomes a footnote in history. If we're witnessing a crisis in Islam, bless 'em all and pray they get what they deserve. Just don't bring anywhere near the civilized world.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oh, mighty and intrepid Spengler, nary a grain of salt take I whilst reading your post below averring that the Pentagon is highly confident of a successful bombing of Iran's nuke capabilities. No.

And yet...

One, if given to wondering, might wonder if Spengler possesses unadulterated, impeccable, inside information from a resident of the Pentagon, confirming the Pentagon's confidence. If not, what then is his source of information? Can this be divulged? Should it?

And more: does this confidence extend to multiple attacks, as many as might be needed, with no restriction in time or commitment, so that Iran's not-unexpected tenacious response would ultimately fail? Can this be...assured?

Certainly it is useless to ask the press such annoying questions. One mustn't be impolite to the flickering images that grace our newly elegant screens. But Spengler, man of unflinching insight and unparalleled impartiality, will not shrink from unearthing, so to speak, the answers to this follow-up query.

No way.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Perhaps someone could explain why those who are the experts in the Middle East and its current problems do not recognize that the Arab/Muslim world has been fighting a fratricidal sectarian civil war for over 100 years with millions of Arabs and Muslims slaughtered by other Arabs and Muslims.
Why is this current world war not similar to the great Christian sectarian civil war (commonly called the Protestant Reformation) which slaughtered millions; depopulating and devastating Europe as Christians slaughtered each other en masse?
Or why is this current world war not similar to the great Jewish sectarian civil war (called the Wars of the Jews by Josephus) which eradicated the Kingdom of Israel as millions of Jews were slaughtered?
The problem is not Islam.
The problem is the ongoing sectarian civil war which has the potential to slaughter billions on planet Earth.
Iran; Syria; Pakistan; etc. are just factions and multiple factions in this game. Eliminate any particular player and there are a million more to take their place.
Why don't the pundits examine this, Mr. Spengler?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think your Jewish History is off. There was no "Kingdom of Israel" at the time; the area was totally controlled by the Romans and split into several states. Some of the Jews revolted because of the intolerable Roman oppression. While the civil war didn't help, it was the Romans who accomplished the horrendous slaughter, at first simply as revenge for the Jews fighting too well (see Josephus on the destruction) then it the two following wars, the final one as a result of the Romans outlawing circumcision (and we darn near beat the whole empire that time, by the way).
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Such a sophist...

How did you miss the fact that they are taking their jihad to the four corners of the Earth?

Or the fact that islamism is a fusion of islam and communism?

Or the fact that in the ancient periods you describe those conflicts were not isolated intramural scrums?

Or the fact that with suicide troops and atomics the playground may not survive for the next spin of the wheel?


Bring your A game here.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Syria (like Egypt) as presently constituted simply is not viable as a country"

Spengler II, this is just gross. Syria was perfectly viable until last year. What turned it into a failed state being destroyed by civil war was the Pax Americana's intervention in Libya, which gave the impression that America would offer support to any such coup in the name of democracy. That populist pandering by Obama didn't work out too well for Libya either, as anyone who has seen recent photos from there knows.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

Thousands of years of history ( economic and otherwise ) tells us that Syria and Iraq are normally one polity.

It's the waters: the Tigris and the Euphrates.

Today's Syria hangs over onto the river valley.

As for the Levant, its climate is so different than the desert, it has 'kept falling off the table' countless times. The peoples of the two rivers keep running out of gas when their turf reaches the Lebanon watershed.

This cohesion between Syria and Iraq was flamingly obvious to the locals. Hence the Ba'ath party of Damascus and Baghdad used the same flag -- only the star count was different( two and three). And did they ever hate each other -- until the US Army showed up.

The recent split was courtesy of the British and the French -- a century ago. Their lines in the sand mean a lot to infidels -- nothing to the ummah.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'm having trouble with this. Syria is basically the various Arameas (not to be confused with Armenia) - Aram Damesek (Damascus), Aram Tzovah (Aleppo). etc. Further up you get Aram Naharayim (of the rivers), where Abraham's family settled, but now you're in Turkey/Iraq. South of that is Ashur (Assyria, not relation to Syria) and Babel/Babylon. The last three make up Mesopotamia.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
David, You analysis fails at the point that the schisms in Islam are not over theology, But over who is the rightful heir of Mohammed as Caliph of the Islamic Ummah, The Muslims have been fighting between each other since Mohammed died trying to establish that ascendancy.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I totally agree with you. We are living the further decline of a failed civilization into chaos and savagery. Our problem is that we are facing our own decline, as Europe is living its population implosion and will face further Muslim immigration as these countries socially fail. We can't be to far behind when our nation has chosen a path of self-destruction by electing socialist and incompetents who will follow the failed Economic and political policies which have destroyed other nations. I believe we are headed for another dark age sooner than later.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is also the huge problem of religious bigotry by Islamic leaders.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ya think?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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