The End of Normal

By Daniel Greenfield l August 22, 2011

The Arab Spring didn’t accomplish a whole lot beyond swapping out a handful of dictators for their more obscure henchmen and Islamist allies, but it did kill the treaty model of regional normalization completely dead.

European models of conflict settlement never mapped well onto a region where there is no enduring form of government. Middle Eastern states are tribal arrangements ruled over by a combination of force and local consensus. A signed treaty with them was not an enduring agreement inherited by a republic, but an agreement with a family or an oligarchy. The overthrow of Mubarak and the subsequent rejection of Camp David by his successors is a reminder that even the most famous regional peace accord could not outlast Sadat and his chosen replacement.

Israeli politicians on the left and the right have chased after the will-o’-the-wisp of normalized relations, but a normalization of relations that permanently moves conflict out of the sphere of armed warfare, and into that of trade competition and soccer matches does not exist in the region. The Saudi peace plan with full regional normalization is something that they could not offer to Israel, or even any significant Arab Muslim state in the region.

The Middle East’s players ricochet from competition to armed confrontation, each regional player always has its eye on the other, alliances are made, broken and reformed in only a few years. Anyone who thinks the region is driven by honor and revenge only has to look at how quickly leaders will ally with the murderers of their own fathers for a temporary advantage. Or how quickly they will turn on their brother, if the price is right.

Blood and religion create nebulous allegiances and enmities that are permanent in the long view, but flexible enough to accommodate temporary alliances. A Sunni and Shiite alliance cannot be sustained over the long term, but it is common enough in the short term. Jews and Christians can never form a long-lasting agreement with a Muslim state for the same reason. But official and unofficial alliances are common.

European diplomats pressure Israel to do whatever it takes to achieve regional normalization, but they forget that their own regional normalization only occurred after hundreds of years of war, culminating in a devastating global conflict that displaced them from world power status. Europe’s internal peace did not come from higher enlightenment, but the firepower of Pax Americana, which settled two world wars and averted a third.

The only possible Middle Eastern peace could come from a regional hegemony by a superpower. And half the conflicts in the region have been driven by the aspirations of Egypt, Iraq, Iran and Turkey to become that superpower. Should such a peace come about, it would be a Caliphate, a pseudo-Islamic empire built on repression and terror.

The Pax-Americana imposed a peace based on free enterprise and human rights. A peace built on the sacrifice of soldiers, wealth and trade. A Pax-Caliphatica is unlikely to make similar sacrifices for regional stability. Like Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Ataturk’s Turkey, it will be a prison of nations, overseen by an ethnic elite, whether it be Turks, Persians or Arabs, and a religious elite, Sunnis or Shiites, with brutal suppression of minority uprisings.

And that is the only credible hope for peace in the Middle East.

Regional stabilization through treaties and agreements worked poorly in Europe. Only unexamined diplomatic dogma could make anyone think that it would work in a region centuries behind it. But the shreds of that unexamined dogma have been dragged by Western diplomats through conflicts in every part of the world.

At the heart of that dogma is the great European delusion, which led to World War II and nearly to a third. That diplomacy and international agreements based on humanitarian principles are stronger than greed, power and empire building. They are not and were not. And if they failed there– they are not about to work anywhere else.

The absurdity of Israeli leaders signing peace treaties for generations with Muslim leaders who can be overthrown any minute was always obvious. But the fall of Mubarak brought it home. Had they foolishly bowed to pressure and turned over the Golan to Assad for another peace treaty, the loss would have been even worse.

Similarly the Palestinian Authority was not able to outlive Arafat. The current Abbas/Fayyad entity financed by international aid and propped up by Israeli soldiers will fall to Hamas sooner or later. And on top of that, Israel is forced to prop-up Jordan’s King Abdullah II, the last of the British Empire’s line of Hashemite puppet kings, whose own restive population will eventually toss him out.

It’s not unusual for regional players to have their own client states, but Israel is the only one whose client states keep trying to kill it. Hezbollah doesn’t shell Syria, and Syria doesn’t harbor terrorists who carry out raids on Iran. That’s not because they wouldn’t contemplate doing it. There is no love lost between the Shiites of Lebanon and the Alawis of Syria, or the Alawis of Syria and the Persian Shiites of Iran. But there would be consequences. Hamas has already paid the price for failing to back Syria. Hezbollah has been careful not to make the same mistake.

But Israel doesn’t understand how to play by regional rules. It’s only slightly less clueless in this regard than America and Europe. Europeans pride themselves on a colonial background that makes them more in touch with the realities of the region than Americans. And Israelis pride themselves on their behind the scenes contacts that keep them even closer to the pulse of the Arab world than the Europeans. Unfortunately all of them keep making variations of the same mistakes.

And the greatest of those mistakes is the failure to understand that nothing is permanent in the desert. Sooner or later the shifting sands will swallow everything. All treaties, alliance and arrangements are temporary. Governments are unstable, friendships will be broken, so will enmities. All is passing. Each day is a temporary phenomenon that will never come again. Words are rarely true. And the faces of the men you deal with shift as quickly as the sand.

Look closely enough at any solid object under a microscope and the illusion of solidity falls apart. The same is true for regional stability in the Middle East.

Stack enough sheiks, generals and presidents in a room, write up treaties that run for hundreds of pages and it all looks very solid. But look under the surface, and the mirage ripples and boils away in the desert heat.

Western diplomats have been convinced that solving the Rubik’s Cube of the Muslim-Israeli conflict is the key to regional stability. But the Arab Spring disproves it on both points.

The Arab Spring is a reminder that it is only a bit player in the larger dramas of the Muslim world. A scapegoat for Muslim states who come to terms with it behind the scenes, while using their state controlled media to spread paranoid and bigoted conspiracy theories about it. And a reminder that no treaty can create regional stability when it can hardly outlast the men who sign their names to it.

Even if a Palestinian state is created, what of the Kurds, who have also acted as the Palestinians of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. And what of the countless stateless ethnic and religious minorities in the region. What of the Iranian refugees in Camp Ashraf who duplicate on a smaller scale the dilemma of Palestinian refugee camps. Even if all these people received their own micro-states, the violence would still not end. And if it somehow did, that would only mean less proxy warfare through terrorist groups and more direct confrontations between regional armies. Is that something anyone really wants?

The Middle East has never been normal or rather it is as close to normal for a baseline that goes back thousands of years. The progressive model applied to the West has no relevance to its Muslim conquerors. And there is no normalization to be had anywhere here.

If the Arab Spring has accomplished anything, it is to destroy the illusion that a treaty signing and a handshake will stabilize the region and allow Israeli mothers to stop worrying about their sons. These childish ideas have created an entire peace industry built on expectations that have not been realized anywhere in the region.

It is a moral and mental laziness that the peace depends upon; a willingness by the public to believe sentimental slogans about the power of love and of politicians to think that a shortcut to market stability can be reached with territorial concessions and foreign aid. This laziness carries as high a price as war, but with far less to show for it.

The Pax Americana is losing its grip on the Middle East, and its American and European leaders are pressuring the one country still intimidated by them; the one regional democracy that they can count on as an ally. Such foolishness is not unprecedented. The political history of the world is full of such betrayals. But the Pax would not be nearly as determined, if not for the lack of a firm “No.” There have been all too few Israelis politicians who said, “No” and meant it. And diplomats have learned that the Israeli right makes more of a show of saying, “No,” but is just as likely to say, “Yes” under enough pressure.

While the Pax goes on believing that it can bring the Middle East up to European standards, a tide of immigrants is instead lowering the Pax to Middle Eastern standards. And when the Pax Americana falls, the last of its progressive illusions will fall with it.

The end of that illusory normalcy that provided safety, security and open markets to over a billion people is being swept away on the tide of the very belief that such a state was normal and that its very normalcy could be infinitely reproduced with enough goodwill and treaties.

There will be a high price to pay for that mistake. But Israel is paying it already and will go on paying it until the illusions die, the mirages are swept away and the naked truth will stand revealed. That treaties are worthless, agreements shift as quickly as the desert sand, and it is only those plants which defend themselves with prickles and tough skin that will survive. There is no use being an orchid in the desert. It is the sabras that survive.


Daniel Greenfield is a New York City-based writer and freelance commentator with a special focus on the War on Terror and the rising threat to Western Civilization. Mr. Greenfield is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. He maintains a blog and is a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis.