Asking the Right Questions about the US in the Middle East.

I’ve noticed that this blog devotes an disproportionate amount of time to political issues. Of my posts so far, about 60% are about political topics. Although this is honestly less than I thought it would be, it is still more than all of my other blogging topics combined (namely “movie reviews”, “religion and philosophy” and “other random stuff”).

This wasn’t exactly my intention when I started the blog and, in fairness, is partially due to a dramatic increase in political writing in the last year. But at the same time, I’m not not, in the meat world, a terribly politically engaged person.

The reason I think my blog turns political is because I’m most often motivated to write by frustration, specifically with arguments that I take to be overly simplistic or could use reframing. In politics, this frustration is very common. The stakes of feel very high, but the quality of the actual arguments is really, really low. In this respect, political topics feel like low hanging fruit.

I’m reacting here to a marginal revolution post, discussing current events unfolding in the middle east.

Turkey prepares to send troops to Qatar

Hmm…Meanwhile Qatar is engaging in talks with Turkey and Iran for emergency food and water supplies.

I don’t know what to expect from the Qatar situation, but I will say this.  If America really is withdrawing from its global role, “crude economism” predicts that small, hard to defend, oil-rich states are the first places where you would expect fighting to break out.  So Qatar is a bellwether for how global world order is likely to evolve.

I found this pretty insightful, although he is simply basing his prediction on “crude economism”

I might quibble a bit with Cohen’s language, which makes it seems like the Turkish troop deployment is a startling new development, when, in actuality, the agreement allowing Turkey to establish a military base in Qatar is over a year old.

(The noteworthy development is that Turkey is accelerating the timeline for troop deployment, with a not-so-subtle insinuation that their goal is to send a message to Saudi Arabia. The history of the tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar is a little complicated)

But broadly, I think Cohen is right to connect this to the American changing foreign policy stance. If you take a step back, the moral and strategic justification for having the US be the single most powerful military force on the planet is that we prevent open conflict between regional powers in various parts of the world. Our reward for doing this is getting to make sure that large reserves of natural resources are controlled by people who meet at least a base level of friendliness. They get to do their own thing, so long as they don’t do anything blatantly opposed to US interests or commit human rights abuses too grisly for us to ignore.

It’s not exactly a utopian status quo, but compared to a costly war between some combination of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, we’ll take it.

But let’s follow this thread. There are hints that America’s place in maintaining this status quo could change. Whether or not you think this is a good thing ought to depend on the answer to two questions: 1) what are the costs (in lives and dollars) associated with maintaining this status quo and 2) are there any less costly alternatives?

Cohen here is outlining the costs of the alternative, which is the potential for a regional power struggle in the middle east, which yes, could be devastating (recall that Turkey has nukes).

Of course, I don’t really have the expertise to critically evaluate Cohen’s argument. There might be ways to build a lasting peace that don’t use the threat of US or UN military intervention a keystone, which would certainly be worth pursuing, if possible.

But what’s really striking to me how rarely you see these questions even articulated clearly. As I said, it’s low hanging fruit.

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