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Muslim Civil Wars Stem from a Crisis of Civilization

June 5th, 2013 - 7:02 am

If we had some bagels, we could have bagels and lox, if we had some lox. Syria doesn’t have enough oil to survive in the region. It doesn’t even have enough water, as the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman noticed last month, two years after Israeli analysts published the story in depth:

“The drought did not cause Syria’s civil war,” said the Syrian economist Samir Aita, but, he added, the failure of the government to respond to the drought played a huge role in fueling the uprising. What happened, Aita explained, was that after Assad took over in 2000 he opened up the regulated agricultural sector in Syria for big farmers, many of them government cronies, to buy up land and drill as much water as they wanted, eventually severely diminishing the water table. This began driving small farmers off the land into towns, where they had to scrounge for work.

Because of the population explosion that started here in the 1980s and 1990s thanks to better health care, those leaving the countryside came with huge families and settled in towns around cities like Aleppo. Some of those small towns swelled from 2,000 people to 400,000 in a decade or so. The government failed to provide proper schools, jobs or services for this youth bulge, which hit its teens and 20s right when the revolution erupted.

Then, between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s land mass was ravaged by the drought and, with the water table already too low and river irrigation shrunken, it wiped out the livelihoods of 800,000 Syrian farmers and herders, the United Nations reported. “Half the population in Syria between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers left the land” for urban areas during the last decade, said Aita. And with Assad doing nothing to help the drought refugees, a lot of very simple farmers and their kids got politicized. “State and government was invented in this part of the world, in ancient Mesopotamia, precisely to manage irrigation and crop growing,” said Aita, “and Assad failed in that basic task.”

If we had a Syrian elite dedicated to modernization, free markets, and opportunity, we could have an economic recovery in Syria. But the country is locked into suppurating backwardness precisely because the dominant culture holds back individual initiative and enterprise. The longstanding hatreds among Sunnis and Shi’ites, and Kurds and Druze and Arabs, turn into a fight to the death as the ground shrinks beneath them. The pre-modern culture demands proofs of group loyalty in the form of atrocities which bind the combatants to an all-or-nothing outcome. The Sunni rebels appear quite as enthusiastic in their perpetration of atrocities as does the disgusting Assad government.

What are we supposed to do in the face of such horrors? I am against putting American boots on the ground. As I wrote in the cited May 20 essay, “Westerners cannot deal with this kind of warfare. The United States does not have and cannot train soldiers capable of intervening in the Syrian civil war. Short of raising a foreign legion on the French colonial model, America should keep its military personnel at a distance from a war fought with the instruments of horror.”

The most urgent thing to do, in my judgment, is to eliminate the malignant influence of Iran, which is treating Syria like a satrapy and sending tens of thousands of fighters as well as material aid to the Assad regime. Attacking Iran would widen the conflict, but ultimately make it controllable. No sane American should want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. As Admiral James Stavridis told the New York Times today,  “If you can move 10 tons of cocaine into the U.S. in a small, semi-submersible vessel, how hard do you think it would be to move a weapon of mass destruction?”

Ultimately, partition of Syria (and other Middle Eastern countries) on the model of the former Yugoslavia probably will be the outcome of the crisis. There are lots  of things to keep diplomats busy for the next generation. But the terrible fact remains that it is not in our power to prevent the decline of a civilization embracing over a billion people, and to prevent some aspects of that decline from turning ugly beyond description. Among the many things we might do, there is one thing we must do: limit the damage to ourselves and our allies.

(Thumbnail on PJM homepage assembled using multiple images.)

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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
All Comments   (71)
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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