World order from a Western and an Islamic Perspective (Part 3)

A Critical Review of the Book World Order, written by Henry Kissinger
11 March 2024
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Nabi Sonboli

 A Critical Review of the Book World Order, written by Henry Kissinger


 Middle East order: Opinion

 In the chapter on the Middle East and the Arab Spring Kissinger claims that: Ignoring the future of democratic future is a long-term danger, but ignoring current security risks is an immediate disaster. So he criticized the US's implicit support or lack of serious opposition to the Arab Spring and raised the question: should the United States support any public protest against non-civilian governments that have been important for maintaining the international system? According to him, a statesman is different from a political activist, and a balance should be created between realism and idealism.

 Kissinger's main concern in the Middle East is to maintain Israel's security. In his view, Israel is a Westphalian government founded in 1947, and the United States is its ally and the guardian of the Westphalian system. Kissinger views Israel as the axis of American Middle East politics and believes that Washington should develop a common understanding  with a country that is targeted by both Shiite and Sunni jihadist versions and play a key role in boosting the region's constructive development.

 As for Saudi Arabia, Kissinger considers it an Arab-Islamic arena that focuses on friendship with America, Arabic loyalty, Puritanical interpretation of Islam …. Saudi Arabia's strategy over the past few decades has been based on fundational ambiguity. For Kissinger, Saudi Arabia's mistake from the 1960s to 2003 was that this country thought it could support extremist Islamism abroad without being threatened in its domestic position. So, there was a dual policy of association with America and aligning with the opposition of modernity and world order. Kissinger believes that depending on the outcome of the nuclear negotiations, Saudi Arabia will seek nuclear weapons.

 According to Kissinger, the conflict with Iran for Saudi Arabia is a conflict that includes the survival of the monarchy, the legitimacy of the state, and the future of Islam. According to him, the US attitude towards Iran and Saudi Arabia cannot be based solely on the balance of power or the spread of democracy. Still, it must be formed in the context of a thousand-year-old religious conflict between the two factions of Islam. The United States and its allies must be careful in their behavior when they interact with the two.

 According to the logic of the Westphalian system and its emphasis on non-intervention and national sovereignty, Kissinger opposed the policy of regime change. In his view, diplomacy produced by the Arab Spring replaces the doctrine of humanitarian intervention with Westphalian principles of power balance and justifies intervention with global principles of governance.

Suppose this doctrine is accepted as a principle of foreign policy. In that case, it will raise other questions: Is the United States obliged to support any popular uprising against non-monocratic governments, including those who have been helpful to maintain the United States international order, like Saudi Arabia?

 At the height of the Syrian civil war, when the demand for intervention in Syria had increased, he writes that the demand for humanitarian and strategic intervention has been integrated into Syria. In the heart of the Islamic world, Syria helps Iran's strategy in the Levant and the Mediterranean and supports Hezbollah and Hamas. So, the US has both strategic and humanitarian reasons to support the fall of Assad, but a few major issues must be addressed before taking into account the military force. How can a new military commitment be justified in the same area as the US withdraws its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially when it is likely to face similar challenges? Who replaces the current leadership, and what do we know about them? Will the Taliban experience be repeated?


Middle East Order: Critical Points

 First, Kissinger tries to introduce Israel as a national government that preserves the status quo and is based on the Westphalian order. This statement is in conflict with Israel's expansionist behavior and settlement building. In addition, Israel itself was the main obstacle to the formation of the Palestinian state as a Westphalian state alongside itself, which could have prevented the current war.

 Second, Kissinger refers to Israel's constructive role in maintaining the Westphalian order in the Middle East. Since the establishment of Israel until now, that is, for 75 years, the war in the Middle East has more or less continued. Israel's current behavior in Gaza and its attacks on other countries in the region have nothing to do with the Westphalian system and the values and norms supported by the West. Netanyahu's speech in the US Congress in support of the attack on Iraq and Israel's role in the collapse of order in the Middle East is quite clear.

 Third, the Westphalian system in the Middle East were primarily destroyed by the United States and its allies, not Islamic groups. Islamic groups grew precisely in response to the interventions and invasions. Hezbollah did not exist before the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon. Hamas as a movement flourishied after failure of many other national and social movements that were created following occupation of the Palestinian territories, and this group won in a free and democratic election but was abandoned by Europe and the United States before any action. ISIL grew after the occupation of Iraq. Ansar Allah was the result of inefficient dictatorship, instability, chaos, and foreign intervention in Yemen. The Taliban was born in Afghanistan because of the instability and the interventions of the Soviet Union and the United States. Shiite groups in Iraq grew up in response to the spread of terrorism, instability the US/UK invasion of Iraq. So, contrary to what Kissinger says, the destruction of order by the United States and its allies provided the basis for the growth of Islamic groups.

 Fourth: In the face of the West, modernity, and the Westphalia system, four main movements emerged in Islamic countries, not two movements. The first movement believed and still believes in the convergence with the West. This movement has no problem with the Westphalian system. The second movement believes in a selective treatment with the West and believes that we accept what is compatible with Islam and the Islamic tradition and reject what is incompatible. This movement has a reformist approach toward Western modernity and has no problem with the Westphalian system because it guarantees its sovereignty. The third movement is the supporters of the Emirate, which also opposes modernity but has no problem with the Westphalian system. Perhaps the current Taliban and religious Salafists can be included in this group. The fourth movement is the jihadists, who are essentially opposed to the West. Kissinger has considered all four Islamist groups the same and reduced to the last movement.

 Fifth: Kissinger says that for any system of world order to be sustainable, it must be accepted as a fair order not only by leaders but also by citizens. The question is whether the existing order is accepted internationally, and especially in the Middle East, as a fair order by the people and leaders? Islamic Republic’s problem with current international and regional order is its content, not fundamental and inherent. The Islamic Republic oppose the existing regional and international order because it is unfair, not because of being non-religious or non-Shiite. Criticizing the unfairness of the international system is something that many non-Muslims also raise.

 Nabi Sanboli, a senior expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

 (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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