For decades, the Middle East has been an unsolved enigma and a colossal pain in the ass. The reason a peaceful solution for the region’s problems has never been achieved is because the place just confuses and disorients, it doesn’t make sense. To dispel the confusion let me help with this Middle East Primer for Dummies teaching you the basics of the place.
The Middle East is a geographical area roughly bordered to the west by the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, the Black Sea to the north, the Persian Gulf to the East and the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to the south. With that in mind, totally disregard what I have just said and look at geography anew with a jaundiced eye.
You have in domino progression Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco stretching eastwards to the Atlantic Ocean. They are not in the Middle nor in the East but in reality, further west than all of Western Europe. Go and look once again at a Mercator world map. To the east Iran is cheek to jowl with Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Indian subcontinent, almost to the Indian Ocean. The Sudan, the South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia are to the south and certainly not in the middle of the East but smack dab in middle of Africa.
Turkey is the Middle East’s most populous state. It is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, but it is neither on the Atlantic nor is it north. Go figure why it’s in NATO and in the Middle East.
Now that you have the geography and the lay of the land firmly in hand go on to lesson number two: History.
In order to get a perspective on the Middle East you have to know of four historic events. The first is the founding of Israel, a de facto religious racist state. The Holocaust killed 6 million European Jews and left hundreds of thousands homeless. In 1948 so as to provide for these homeless refugees the United Nations decided to establish a new country for them to call home, the State of Israel on the territory what had been the British protectorate of Palestine with a predominantly Arab population.
In order to provide the Jewish homeless with a new home some 800,000 Palestinian Arabs had to be expelled from their homes rendered homeless and stateless. Israel, a solution for some, a bloody problem for others, is a festering sore spewing venom to this day.
The second historical event was the 1951 democratic election in Iran that elected Mohammad Mosaddegh Prime Minister. The United States didn’t like that democratic process much, so in 1953, with Great Britain on board, it engineered a coup that assassinated him and installed in his place the hereditary, autocratic Shah Reza Pahlavi. The era of “he is a son-of-a bitch, but he is our son-of-a bitch“ Arab politicians was born.
The third event was the Suez Crisis of 1956, when Israel invaded Egypt, with Great Britain and France joining in, to remove Egypt’s populist President Gamal Abdel Nasser. He had upset the status quo with the seizure of the Suez Canal and the nationalization of the Canal Company’s assets. Political, economic and military pressure by the United States and Russia thwarted the plot leaving Great Britain and France humiliated. From then on the real players in the Middle East were the guys pulling the strings, the United States and Russia – Pax Americana here we come.
The last event is the Iran Iraq War – Saddam Hussein’s war against the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini from 1980 to 1988. The war was a stalemate and failed to make Iraq the dominant power in the Middle East leaving that reckoning for the future, a day yet to come. This was a war of attrition that also waged a systematic war on civilian populations – casualty estimates from the war range from 600,000 to 1,250,000 deaths. The modern efficiency of death had arrived in the Middle East.
This was a war of proxies and a war by proxies. The West favored Iraq while Russia favored Iran. It was also a clash of political parties with the Ba’athist Party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the People’s Mujahedin of Iran participating. It was also a Shia Sunni confrontation. Add Religion to History and the Middle East is no longer a region, it is a state of mind.
With a clear understanding of History and Geography you are now ready to tackle Current Events.
The current state of affairs started when the United States decided invade Iraq to get rid of terrorists who had weapons of mass destruction but it turns out did not. The United States was welcomed as the liberator of a people enslaved by Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime but it took American soldiers to pull down Saddam’s statue in Baghdad. After a dog and pony, shock and awe show, the liberation turned into a free for all with sectarian violence between Shias and Sunnis and an insurgency against the occupying foreign forces resulting in an estimated 600,000 Iraqi deaths. The insurgency continues to simmer just waiting to boil over.
Into the vacuum created by the withdrawal of US troops a new player, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria [ISIS], a “fundamentalist Salafi jihadist militant group following a fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam” came to power and established a caliphate with the intent to conquer all of the Muslim world. That is now the source of strife. But it is the confusion of “Who’s on first”, “What’s on second” and “I Don’t Know is on third” that give you pause.
The United States supports the current Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS and the liberation of Mosul, but ISIS is supported by America’s long standing ally Saudi Arabia. America supports the Saudis and sell them billions of dollars in arms to wage an aerial war in Yemen allowing them to bomb to smithereens rebels backed by Iran who have taken over Sana, the capital.
The international community has agreed with Iran on the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Iran nuclear deal, but the United States sure as hell doesn’t like Iran. Yet Iran is supporting the Iraqi government and the United States against ISIS. Saudi Arabia, a monarchy, a Wahhabi Sunni state supports ISIS, while Iran, a Shia Islamic Republic, supports the United States even though politically it is aligned with Russia and China.
Fighting ISIS on the side of the Iraqis and the Americans are the Kurds. The United States wants the Kurd’s support and has extended military and logistical aid but strongly opposes Kurdish independence since it is a staunch supporter of Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan. The Turks have waged a genocidal campaign for decades against the P.K.K., the Kurdish separatist party which it holds a terrorist group, as does the United States that has designated it a “Foreign Terrorist Organization”.
As for Syria, the United States opposes President Assad and his dictatorial regime that is waging war against its own people. In fact, President Obama has drawn lines in the sand, that have remained just that. But ISIS is also fighting President Assad, who in turn is supported by Russia and Vladimir Putin. Russia has sent troops and arms in Assad’s support; nevertheless, the United States is cooperating with Russia.
To recapitulate: some of our allies support our enemies; some of our enemies are sometimes and someplace our friends; some of our enemies sometimes and someplace are fighting our other enemies, but we don’t want those enemies to lose; on the other hand, somewhere and sometimes we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win; finally, if our enemies are defeated they could be replaced by enemies we fear more. Got that?
If you apply the lessons you have learned reading my Middle East Primer for Dummies understanding the Middle East is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.
Deyan Ranko Brashich is a contributor writing from New York. He is the author of Letters from America, Contrary Views and Dispatches. His contact and blog “Contrary Views” is at www.deyanbrashich.com
 Reference is to the famous Abbot and Costello baseball comedy routine first performed on radio in 1937 and performed several times for President Franklin D. Roosevelt.