I just read yet another excellent piece by Fred Kaplan in Slate laying out precisely why Obama’s meeting with the Turkish president that is set to occur on the sidelines the upcoming G-20 summit is doomed to accomplish nothing.
Obama Will Meet With Erdogan This Weekend. Good Luck With That.
In what will likely rank among the less fruitful sideshows of the G-20 summit in China this weekend, President Obama…
In it he describes in vivid and stark terms exactly how intractable the situation has become in that part of the world. He goes on to illustrate just how little American influence can do to change things for the better. No matter what role we play, whose “side” we take, who we support or oppose someone will view our position as actively working against their own. It’s a lose-lose scenario all around.
Certainly I applaud the article. It was thorough, comprehensive, well written, and thoughtful, at least as any article can be of such short length that attempts to present a picture of such a complicated region. There have seen so many journalistic pieces, including an entire special issue of the New York Times that have done similar excellent reporting on the Middle East. Of course we need to see and read these things. However, what strikes me as disturbing and frankly downright frightening about the vast majority of these works is their tone of resignation and defeat. They typically present the situation as intractable. Most don’t even try to pretend a solution is possible.
Where are the thoughtful and detailed pieces that try to offer a way forward? Of course it is not the journalists job to develop policy positions or advocate for particular positions. However, I ask the people whose job this is, why are you so silent? Moreover in today’s media landscape many journalists often have duel roles as reporters and opinion writers. Why are you not publishing your proposals or offering up ideas in venues like slate, or the Atlantic, or the New Republic or any of a hundred other websites you might select from?
It is entirely possible I just am not seeing these works. Maybe there exists a thriving ecosystem of people writing and publishing think pieces with detailed policy positions and proposals for specific actions that might improve things. Clearly I am seeing all the other doom and gloom and “hard” reporting stuff. This suggests that if it happening it is happening at a much lower rate or in venues the average joe like me does not know about or can’t access. Our politicians for sure aren’t talking about it or overflowing with brilliant ideas. However in this case I am not trying to indict them for their utter failure. I am resigned to the sad fact that in most of the world today looking to politicians to lead on this issue is a complete waste of time.
I am saddened though by the seeming paralysis of all the other thought leaders and experts on the Middle East. It appears to me that they have all given up. Concluded that it is just too hard a problem. That there simply is no solution. No viable alternative to years, decades, or even centuries more conflict and war. That the best we can hope for is an eventual “peace” that will only come when one or many or all sides quit fighting not because of a peace agreement or negotiated political solution but simply because they are too exhausted to fight anymore. I have read this exact or similar sentiment in many recent articles on the war in Syria. They say the war will only end when the death toll, the harsh and brutal reality of the vast number of injured and displaced just becomes too much to bear. Rather than sparking calls for action or inspiring people to work even harder for peace, this body count theory of how the war will end is simply stated matter of factly. The sentence in which this theory is expressed might start with the word “sadly” but typing the word “sadly” or even being genuinely sad about it is really not helpful.
Finally you might agree with much of what I say here but find yourself asking, OK Mr Smartypants what are your ideas? It is easy to criticize but name one thing you would suggest. I have no totally valid rebuttal. However I would remind you that I am no expert on the Middle East and never claimed to be. Moreover even if I had one or many terrific proposals what difference what it would make? I have close to zero readers and even less influence.