The Corner

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Waving Goodbye to the Middle East


One of my favorite quotes is from Jeanne Krikpatrick, when she was doing hard duty in Turtle Bay:

If this body feels that the United States no longer serves the purposes of the United Nations, then maybe it is time that the United Nations find a new home. I for one will be happy to stand on the pier and wave goodbye as you all sail off into the sunset.

That was my thought upon reading VDH’s piece today on the increasingly geopolitical irrelevancy of the Middle East. I’d add only two things: First, not only is our own oil production rising but most of our oil imports now come from the Western Hemisphere. True, that includes Venezuela, but it also includes Brazil, Canada (who would be an even closer energy partner if we ever build the Keystone pipeline), and Mexico (whose new president is making progress toward modernization of the energy sector, which would open up vast new supplies).

And second, Victor elides an important historical development right at the beginning of his piece. The Middle East was indeed an important trading nexus since ancient times, and its geographic importance revived with the Suez Canal in the 19th century. But it needed reviving because Vasco da Gama found a way around the Middle East so Europe could trade directly with the sources of the spice trade in Asia. In its impact on the benighted world of Islam, whose role as the trading nexus had reaped great profits, da Gama’s rounding the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 was the fracking of his day, erasing the Middle East’s geographic advantages as surely as the gushing new sources of oil from North Dakota to Brazil do today.

Some day, the Middle East will join the modern world. But first it must go through a period of violent madness — of which the “Arab Spring” is only an early chapter — as its people grapple with the inescapable contradiction between Islam and modernity. At the other end of that journey a new religion will emerge, one that reconciles with modernity by preserving the name and forms of Islam but jettisoning its substance. But it will be a long and bloody journey, one that now we will be able to watch from afar.