A Brief History of Modern East Asia

 

East Asia had an eventful and turbulent history over the last century.  With two World Wars, the fallout of imperialism, the rise of communism, and a series of deadly civil wars her historical trajectory has been anything but stable.  Looking at nations such as Japan, China, Taiwan, Vietnam and Korea we see the impact of these various conflicts and factors, as well as contrasting roads to independence and modernity.  Japan was the first to modernize and became the dominant power in the region until her defeat and ruin in “World War 2” only to be rebuilt as an economic powerhouse in the second half of the 20th Century.  China suffered decades of civil war, western exploitation and Japanese imperialism, the evils of Maoism but then managed to reform economically to the point she is arguably America’s greatest rival.  Taiwan enjoyed a mixed existence under Japanese occupation for 50 years followed by martial law, and “Cold War” angst, but eventually emerged as a much freer and richer society than mainland China.  Korea and Vietnam were subjected to imperialism, civil war and superpower proxy contests yet otherwise suffered two significantly different fates.  However, while East Asia’s major wars seem long ago there is much unfinished business and current issues that make the region potentially volatile. 

Japan

Japan’s last century has been remarkable, impressive and controversial.  When Commodore Perry sailed his modern American warships into Tokyo bay in 1853 Japan was a feudal, technologically backwards state compared to the Western powers.  However, thanks to hard work and brilliant planning Japan’s Meiji leaders managed to more or less catch up to the West in a bit over a generation.  Modern industry, armed might, infrastructure and education quickly sprung up around Japan and eventually produced some unexpected developments.

Japan’s decisive defeat of China in the “First Sino-Japanese War” of 1894-95 surprised the Europeans and Chinese.  Meanwhile Japan’s eventual but still impressive defeat of Russia in the “Russo-Japanese War” of 1904-05 shocked everyone and given that an Asian power had decisively defeated a Western power at the height of European imperialism suggested to all that Japan had joined the club of great nations.  Japan’s annexations of Taiwan, Korea, and various Chinese and Pacific territories from 1895 to Manchuria in 1931 provided further impetus for Japanese expansion.  Meanwhile American and European worries about the Great Depression and German militarism meant Japan’s increasing aggression in the Far East went unchecked.

However, Japan’s continuing arrogant and heavy handed behaviour in China inevitably led to the break out of the “Second Sino-Japanese War” in July 1937.  Japan had not expected war but assumed she could defeat China quickly.  This optimism inevitably faded as Chiang Kai-Shek and the Chinese people refused to admit defeat despite the loss of countless soldiers, the Japanese occupation of the coastal and industrial heartland of China, and the limited prospect of foreign powers coming to China’s aid.  Yet as time went on Germany overran much of Europe, and with Japan doing the same to China, and committing unspeakable crimes like the “Rape of Nanking,” America woke up to the growing threat of Germany and Japan.

Eventually Japan went a nation too far by annexing French Indochina and this led to America’s oil embargo, Pearl Harbor and war.  Unfortunately for Japan her imaginary superior martial qualities and fanaticism did not defeat American industry, technology and nuclear weapons.  By mid-1945 Japan’s navy was sunk, her air force decimated, her people starving and her cities reduced to ash.  After Japan’s surrender American forces occupied Japan and a new saga for the island nation began.  What would become of Japan’s extensive empire which included much of China, Taiwan, all of Vietnam, Korea and great swaths of Asia and the Pacific would be determined by anti-colonialism, communism and super power rivalry.

Yet ironically Japan benefited more from the postwar era than her former imperial possessions.  American occupation brought money, stability, democracy and freedoms, open markets and the encouragement to concentrate on economic potential in lieu of samurai militarism.  This along with traditional Japanese work ethic, and economic booms from the Korean and Vietnamese wars, helped Japan along her path to near economic superpower status (only recently has China overlapped Japan to become the 2nd economic power of the world).

Versus the Meiji period until 1945 which saw the worst vestiges of Japanese militarism and imperialism the postwar period has benefited not only Japan but the region and world via Japanese culture, trade, and stability.  However, despite such success Japan’s role in modern Asia is not without controversy.  Japan’s halfhearted apologies and efforts to compensate for “World War 2” have not brought closure to the legacy of Japanese imperialism or brought harmony regarding relations with her East Asian neighbours.  Certainly the rise of right wing nationalists and educational curriculum that either downplay, or ignore, the horrific nature of Japanese imperialism and war crimes, or even portray Japan as the victim in “World War 2,” has done nothing to help Japan’s diplomatic position in East Asia.  This can be contrasted with Germany’s laudable efforts since 1945 which have done much to sooth Europe and bring her into the fold of the European community while Japan seems destined for some time to be at the periphery of East Asian affairs. 

Korea

Traditionally Korea was a tributary state of China.  Yet after the “First Sino-Japanese War” Japan wrestled Chinese influence away but then had to deal with Tsarist Russian influence permeating there.  When Russia failed to compromise with Japan over Korea and Manchuria the two nations went to war which led to the decisive victory of Japan in 1905.

This knocked Russia out of major influence for East Asia for four decades and gave Japan the dominant role in the region.  A few years after the “Russo-Japanese War” Japan annexed Korea which remained a Japanese possession until 1945.  Japanese rule was harsh, exploitive and cared little about Korean culture, freedoms or livelihood.  Having secured Korea from Russian and Chinese influence Japan exploited her position in Korea to eventually invade Manchuria and then expand war into China in 1931 and 1937 respectively.

Korea’s postwar fate was decided at the Tehran conference when America essentially bribed the Soviet Union into entering the war against Japan a few months after the defeat of Germany by promising territory and perks in East Asia.  Russia’s brief role in the war in the Far East was to invade Manchuria, and Korea, to defeat the considerable Japanese forces stationed there.  This had the desired effects of weakening Japan, and along with the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, convinced Japan to surrender in August 1945.  

The division of Korea in 1945 was not made by statesmen or generals but junior American officials in the field.  On their own initiatives they suggested to the Soviets they should divide the occupation of Korea at the 38th parallel and remarkably the Soviets agreed and stopped there considering they could easily have proceeded south and conquered more of the peninsula before significant American forces arrived.  For the next 5 years abortive attempts were made to unify the nation but the northern communist part and the authoritarian southern one could not agree and thus Korea remained divided.

Within 5 years the Soviets had strongly rearmed North Korea while the Americans neglected the South’s armed forces.  With Stalin and Mao, who had just came to power in China, gambling that America would do nothing North Korea was encouraged to reunify the Korean peninsula by force.  Yet surprisingly, even to American officials and allies, Truman decided to make a stand for South Korea and so the “Korean War” started in June 1950 and lasted three years.

Despite being America’s forgotten war of the 20th Century the Korean conflict was actually more bloody and dirty than the “Vietnam War” and closer to starting superpower conflict and nuclear war once China intervened.  However, in the end, despite the see saw battles that went up and down the peninsula for the first year the war ended in stalemate near the 38th Parallel.  Both sides claimed victory; America for saving South Korea, China for saving North Korea, but at the time it was not really a win for anyone (especially the bombed out, suffering Koreans).

Yet in the long term the war obviously benefitted South Korea and America more than North Korea and China.  Within a few decades the South threw off the yoke of oppression and stagnation and moved towards democracy and economic prosperity while the supposed communist utopia continued onwards to the path of Stalinism, poverty and decline.  America gained credibility by coming to South Korea’s defense while Mao’s China was labelled a rogue state for a generation.

Looking at Korea today no objective person would conclude the Orwellian rogue state with nukes in the North is a better nation, or has a better way of life, than her democratic and prosperous neighbour to the south.  However, the unfinished business and legacy of the “Korean War” and the potential, if unlikely, prospect of nuclear war in East Asia are constant reminders that more than 100 years after the “Russo-Japanese War” Korea is still a major flashpoint for the world’s great powers.  On one hand North Korea with nukes is really no less dangerous than Stalinist Russia or Maoist China but certainly the North Korean armed forces could inflict widespread damage and death on South Korea.  However, the supposedly crazy leaders of North Korea have rarely been true believers of spreading communism and have no death wish to fight America to the death.  Rather they often use their only trump card, nuclear weapons, to gain economic and political concessions from other nations, and provoke the West and their allies to threaten the regime in Pyongyang just enough so that it can justify its cruel military dictatorship over its starving and oppressed people.  Frankly it is the same routine Arab despots and monarchs use rather than attempting democratizing and reform but unlike them North Korea has nukes and thus world opinion usually listens when in reality she is a paper tiger.

Since the war ended in 1953 North Korea has done some missile launches, and made bombastic speeches, but besides shelling a few islands has never really come close to going to war with South Korea and America.  Whatever the cost for the latter, a war would hurt North Korea much more and the regime’s leadership would gain nothing in potential aid, and concessions, and arguably cease to exist at the end of hostilities.  Thus it makes sense for Pyongyang to sabre rattle once in a while to remind the world of her existence but pull back from the brink before warfare which would destroy her.  However, admittedly one poor miscalculation on either side, or the actions of a crazy warmonger in North Korea, could destroy this balance and ignite a devastating war in the Far East.

Vietnam

Perhaps Vietnam’s modern history is the most controversial regarding East Asia.  Vietnam was conquered by France and absorbed into French Indochina in the 19th Century.  Before this, Vietnam had traditionally been a tribute state of China and had often combatted Chinese attempts at dominating the Vietnamese peninsula.  Either way French colonial rule was typically exploitive, cruel and benefited few Vietnamese.  The exception were some Vietnamese that were cultivated to help the French rule and many of these were sent oversees to France for education.  This included Ho Chi Minh and ironically rather than cementing French rule the exposure to French education and the ideas of freedom, equality and liberalism, as well as the exposure to communist ideology, created a small cadres of Vietnamese committed to overthrowing French colonial rule.

Initially these forces had little success and had to operate underground until the Fall of France in 1940 and the subsequent Japanese penetration into, and ultimate annexation of, French Indochina.  Calling themselves the Viet Minh these communist forces used the decline of French power and Japanese oppression to expand their base and mobilize people to their causes.  Much like Mao’s Communists in China they did not do much fighting to hurt the Japanese in “World War 2” but they did gain enough strength to give them a position of strength by the time war ended in 1945.  After Japan surrendered Chinese Nationalist forces occupied the North part of Vietnam, while British forces occupied the South, as the Viet Minh tried to declare Vietnamese independence, and established their own government, before the French returned to reclaim their erstwhile colony.

However, the French returned in force and after futile negotiations war broke out between the French and the Vietminh in late 1946.  What could have remained a limited conflict became a proxy war in the “Cold War” for two reasons.  Firstly, the rise of the PRC in 1949 (a friendly communist neighbour to the north) benefited the Vietminh massively regarding aid, weapons and safe zones which allowed them to not only survive French armed force but eventually produce their own regular army to fight them head on.  Secondly, despite America’s initial wish to destroy colonialism after 1945 the Americans eventually backed the French efforts in Vietnam due to their increasing fears of communism.  Often this is viewed cynically but given that between 1945-1950 there were communist insurgencies in Greece, Malaya, the Philippines, that the CCP triumphed in China and that there was communist backed forces fighting in Korea and Vietnam suggests there were legitimate reasons for America to fear the growth of communism.

Thus Chinese aid allowed the Vietminh to survive and then build up their forces to successfully fight the French while American aid allowed the French to continue their doomed empire in Vietnam for another decade.  In the end the French killed more Vietnamese but never won over the populace or defeated the Vietminh politically, or militarily, and after the Vietminh won the unexpected victory at “Dien Bien Phu” France’s political will to continue the war collapsed and she sued for peace.

Yet rather than securing all of Vietnam due to their victory, the Viet Minh had to accept the division of the country (like Korea) between the communist dominated North and a more pro-west, American leaning, but still authoritarian southern regime.  In all the drama, and poison of the battle of history regarding the ensuing “Vietnam War” it is often forgotten that while North Vietnam being more rural, agrarian, and pro-communist the South was more urban, cosmopolitan and leaned towards the West.  Communist sympathizers and others suggest the South was just as pro-communist as the North, but numbers and events do not bear this out.

For instance, during the “French Indochina War” the vast majority of the Viet Minh bases, recruits and sympathy were in the North while few of these, and none of the main battles, were in the South.  Additionally, after the 1954 agreement at least a million inhabitants fled from the North versus perhaps a tenth of this number from the South who emigrated the other way.  Then there is the fact that when well led, equipped and motivated the South Vietnamese army did well and resisted the communist forces against her.  In 1968 it helped American forces fight off the “Tet Offensive,” in 1972 it fought off the Easter Offensive and even in 1975 it fought well despite America abandoning her.  After 1975 two million Southern Vietnamese refugees fled the country and many experts believe that near the end of the war less than 30% of the South’s population welcomed communism.  All of this illustrates that Vietnam was more than a proxy war between America on one hand and Russia with China on the other; it was also a bitter civil war.

Either way after the division of Vietnam in 1954 the promised elections and attempts to unify the nation (again like Korea) never happened and thus both sides inevitably drew closer towards war.  With France gone America continued to support South Vietnam and her corrupt, authoritarian regime, hoping it would improve while the North Vietnamese grew tired of waiting and eventually supported communist insurgents in Southern Vietnam (the Viet Cong).  Unfortunately, while the South Vietnamese generally did not support communism their government in Saigon was admittedly more corrupt, less motivated and not as determined to prosecute a do or die struggle compared to the Communist North.  

During the next decade the North would continue to support the Vietcong with arms, supplies, recruits and even NVA Army units (always violating Cambodian and Laotian neutrality) and by the mid-1960s the South was clearly losing the battle against communism.  Much ink had been spilt about American objectives, methods and failures in Vietnam but the war was not an aggressive war against Vietnam or even North Vietnam.  Rather, much like Korea and Taiwan, America was invited by a government with a mostly anti-communist population to save her from communist aggression.  Whatever rights and wrongs of the conflict, America’s objectives were strategically defensive to prop up an ally and never to rollback communism in North Vietnam.

Yet if American goals were mostly noble her execution of the war was less so.  While North Vietnamese excesses were generally worse than that of America (not to mention grossly forgotten by many histories of the conflict) there is no doubt that American reliance of firepower, strategic bombing, head counts and conventional military sweeps did result in disproportionate collateral damage, civilian losses and frankly war crimes.  It is a myth that America lost the military struggle in the war; America never lost a battle of any consequence.  However, by failing to cut off North Vietnamese aid to the Vietcong, the lack of focus on protecting the South Vietnamese population and increasing their standard of living, and the ultimate failure to support South Vietnam after America left in 1973 meant that all America’s efforts were vain in the end.  

The political, and therefore ultimate, goal of America’s war in Vietnam was to keep South Vietnam independent and non-communist.  Any way you look at it, America failed to accomplish this so she lost the war.

However, America’s loss has been overstated.  America suffered a political and diplomatic defeat by the “Vietnam War” but besides the “credibility gap” in America the effects were eventually limited.  In reality, the war hurt worldwide communism more.  During the conflict Russia and China competed more and more and even got into a brief border war which accelerated the Sino-Soviet split which Nixon used to get China into the Western camp (by far worth the loss of South Vietnam in a cold realpolitik sense).  More ironic was the war between Cambodia and Vietnam in the 1970s, and the war between Vietnam and China in 1979 (all between communist states who had supported each other during the war).  Thus the “Vietnam War” not only corrected relations between America and China but helped divide world communism.

The long term effects are harder to articulate but it is interesting that in modern times Vietnam is not growing closer to China but to America which again suggests that whatever the latter’s flaws she is often seen as more benign, or less intrusive, than strong powers in Asia like Russia, Japan, and China.  It should be remembered that while Vietnam’s conflict with America occurred over a few decades the Vietnamese determination to resist Chinese hegemony has been an ongoing theme for centuries.

As for Vietnam herself it has to be admitted that unlike Stalinism, Maoism, the killing fields of Cambodia and other Red unpleasantries that Vietnam’s form of communism has been less bloody and oppressive (in the long run at least) in comparison.  There are similarities to China like more openness to economic reforms and capitalism and while democracy is not seen on the horizon the people enjoy relative happiness and cohesion comparable to Tito’s former Communist Yugoslavia.  That said, the Vietnamese people do not benefit from the relative freedom, prosperity and standard of living compared to those in South Korea, Taiwan and Japan which begs the question of how South Vietnam would have turned out if America had not abandoned her but stood by her like these other nations.  

China

In a bit over a century China has gone from a divided, backwards and foreign dominated nation into perhaps the second strongest country in the world.  Meanwhile her economic growth rates and influence are growing while fears about American decline seem more and more credible given the vicissitudes of the Trump administration and the apparent moral, and cultural, decay of American society.  If the 20th Century was America’s the 21st Century may still belong to China.

With Japan’s unexpected victory in the “First Sino-Japanese War” China’s Qing Dynasty attempted some reforms to modernize its increasingly backwards nation.  However, these were often halfhearted, late in the day, and given the poor communications and divided state of China these had little positive effects by the time of the Chinese Revolution in 1911.  Ostensibly China became a republic under the leadership of Sun Yat-sen at this time but given that China was in reality divided into many small pieces controlled via warlords his power was limited and eventually he and his Kuomintang party (the Chinese Nationalists) were forced from power.  

The Warlord period followed as Sun Yat-sen and his acolytes attempted to gain power via alliances, force, or machinations over the next 15 years to little avail.  However, they were aided by the new communist regime in Moscow and the Chinese Communist Party who both felt they could initially ally with Sun’s Nationalist Party to first gain power in China and then expend the Nationalists later.  With Sun Yat-sen’s death in 1925 his loyal, stern, and incorruptible subordinate Chiang Kai-shek won the power struggle to be his successor.  He soon convinced the Nationalists, and their CCP allies, to expand across China to defeat the warlords and unify the nation against foreign and domestic enemies via the “Northern Expedition.”

In a few years the Nationalists advanced to Wuhan, Nanking, Shanghai, and Peking, defeated or co-opted warlord factions and unified China in principle.  However, despite becoming the strongest force in China the Nationalists were beset by many problems.  Many warlord forces refused to collaborate with them, the Japanese fought Chiang in Northern China, the country was still broke and backwards, and the united front with the CCP broke down.  Admittedly, Chiang Kai-shek initiated this break with the CCP with a bloody purge in Shanghai and elsewhere but the evidence is clear that the CCP, with Moscow’s backing, were planning to betray the Nationalists eventually.

For the next decade, the “Nanking Decade,” Chiang and the Nationalists fought warlords and the CCP, appeased and sometimes fought the Japanese, sought foreign aid and recognition, and attempted to initiate widespread reforms, modernization, and industrialization in a divided nation with little stability, money, and military power.  The surprise is not that they failed often, but that they survived at all!  There were some successes such as the near destruction of the CCP by 1936, the German aid that led to some Chinese rearmament, and trappings of modernization in Chinese urban areas, but given the many domestic and foreign enemies of the Nationalists, among other issues, the circumstances were hardly ideal to modernize China, build a strong state, or improve most Chinese lives.

Perhaps Chiang’s worst foes were the CCP and the Japanese.  However, while Japan’s army was by far the strongest threat Chiang was convinced the CCP was the main enemy.  As he once remarked “the Japanese are a disease of the skin, the Communists are a disease of the heart.”  This statement would appear to be as laughable in 1936 as it would be prophetic in 1949.  

The turning point for the Nationalists and CCP was the “Second Sino-Japanese War,” often seen as the beginning of “World War 2,” which began out of mistakes, miscalculations and overreactions.  The war was long, brutal, and ultimately hurt the Nationalists as much as it saved the CCP.  China’s coastal, industrial, and urban heartland were occupied by the Japanese, millions of Chinese were killed, maimed or became refugees, and the Japanese committed unspeakable war crimes which Japan often denies to this day.

Chiang and the Nationalists until recently have received generally poor treatment by history for their conduct of the war but much of this is unfair.  It is true that the Nationalists often made poor military decisions, that their officers and soldiers were of mixed quality, and that there was plenty of corruption, nepotism, and incompetence among their war effort.  However, considering China was a divided, backwards, and poor nation without the benefit of significant foreign aid, fighting a major power this should not be surprising.

What is not true are the accusations that the Nationalists usually refused to fight the Japanese, that the CCP fought the Japanese more than the Nationalists, that America and the allies gave sufficient aid to the Nationalists, and that Chiang was not a team player in the allied war effort.  In reality, the Nationalists fought hopeless battles all the way from Shanghai to Chungking, killed the majority of Japanese soldiers in China, suffered over 90% of all militarily casualties (while the CCP generally stayed on the defensive), and even conducted campaigns to help the allies in Burma despite the latter failing to honour their commitments to Chiang via weapons, lend lease, and promised military operations.  Many histories of the war mock Chiang Kai-Shek as a parasite for lend lease, but China got less of it than all major allied powers (even the Free French) and most of what it got was not to help the Chinese but to support American forces stationed in China.  

While admittedly it was the American advance across the pacific, along with her submarines, bombers, and nukes that defeated Japan the Chinese deserve credit for never surrendering, keeping the majority of Japanese divisions in China, and holding out for more than 8 years of war (China fought in “World War 2” two years longer than Britain and four more years than Russia and America).

With the Japanese surrender in 1945 Chiang Kai-Shek had survived, and China was recognized as a great power, but the Nationalists had been severely weakened by years of warfare.  Meanwhile the CCPs, although admittedly still behind the Nationalists regarding soldiers, population, and territory, had ended the war in a much stronger position than they had enjoyed in 1937.  In the postwar race between the Nationalists and CCP to retake China’s cities from Japanese occupation the Nationalists generally won thanks to major help from American ships and airlifts.  The exception was Manchuria which the Russians had occupied in the summer of 1945 and who collaborated with the communists to take over once the former’s forces left.  Indeed the fight over Manchuria between the CCP and Nationalists would determine the outcome of the final part of the “Chinese Civil War.”

In lieu of Japan’s surrender Chiang invited Mao to Chungking for talks to potentially make peace and create a coalition government, but due to irreconcilable differences and deep rooted hostility, this failed and civil war quickly ensued.  Chiang’s forces had significant numerical and material advantages and at first his army routed the CCP and was seemingly on the brink of winning a decisive victory in Manchuria.  Unfortunately George Marshall had been sent by Truman to arrange a cease fire and American pressure halted the Nationalist’s offensive in mid-1946.  Whether or not Chiang could have beaten the CCP by solely military means is questionable but this was his best chance to do so with hindsight.

After this, the Nationalists committed themselves to occupying as much of Manchuria as possible and given the sheer distances, logistical issues, and the guerrilla tactics of the CCP, it slowly wore down Chiang’s forces until late 1948 the CCP was strong enough to begin routing the Nationalist forces and eventually overrun mainland China.  Committing to an all-out strategy to contest Manchuria would prove to be Chiang’s biggest mistake, would cost him mainland China, and is strange considering how in the past he had always known how to play a poor hand against strong opponents.  Although given the insurmountable postwar issues facing the Nationalists including rampant inflation and the cutting off of American aid in 1946, along with considerable Russian support enjoyed by the CCP, perhaps the Nationalists were doomed once war broke out anyways.

In October 1949, Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China in Beijing and was committed to invading Taiwan (where the Nationalists had fled) the next year to finish the civil war comprehensively.  Unfortunately for Mao in the summer of 1950 Truman ordered American naval forces to defend Taiwan in lieu of the “Korean War” which saved the Nationalist regime and to this day Taiwan is independent from the mainland’s rule.

With the triumph of communism in China in 1949 Mao had fulfilled the Chinese dream that for decades hoped to unify the country and end foreign imperialism and humiliation of China.  The fact the KMT had accomplished most of this prior to their defeat in the civil war was conveniently forgotten.  Either way with indisputable power, backing from the Soviet Union, and a Chinese population eager to follow him Mao sought to modernize China, create a communist state, and reach utopia.

To his credit Mao improved infrastructure, healthcare and education, and initially enacted widespread land reform to redistribute land to China’s massive peasant population.  Had Mao been a more moderate and humane communist like Tito his legacy would probably be more positive.  However, being vindictive, zealous, and paranoid he inevitably turned what he hoped would be paradise into hell on earth.

In a series of anti-rightist campaigns Mao killed, or ruined, countless people.  The CCP’s occupation of Tibet and Xinjiang were also exceedingly bloody and repressive and to this day the Tibetans and Chinese Wiguars generally resent Beijing’s rule.  Worse of all, Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and establishments of communes (which took back the land the CCP had given to the masses) not only failed to increase agriculture and industry but resulted in the deaths of 10s of millions via famine and other causes.  Estimates are controversial but up to 70 million people died from the “Great Leap Forward” but even if the number was half, or a third, as much it is still ridiculously more than either the Nationalists or Japanese inflicted on China directly or indirectly.  

After this, Mao lost some power and credibility for a few years but in a bid to comeback he initiated the “Cultural Revolution” which destroyed much of the progress that had been remade since the end of the “Great Leap Forward.”  Using his Red Guards Mao persecuted teachers, parents, intellectuals, among others and brought progress and modernization in China to a halt once more.  While the death toll was not nearly as high as during the “Great Leap Forward” Mao’s campaign was clearly not a receipt for progress or the path to becoming a great power.

Most cynically of all Mao made a de facto alliance with America in the 1970s against the Soviet Union (her communist brother).  When Mao died in 1975 he was respected as a great politician and strategist, but given his butcher bill and policies that stagnated Chinese progress, economic growth, and industrialization for a generation, he cannot be considered a great man of history.  Certainly Taiwan did much better under Chiang than mainland China did under Mao.  Had Mao’s backwards and bloody-minded policies been continued after his death, instead of the necessary reforms by Deng Xiaoping, it is clear that China would have continued to decline instead of rising to near superpower status.

Fortunately after Mao’s death, his wife and other Maoist acolytes, were expended as Deng Xiaoping came to power and sensibly opened up China’s markets and initiated economic and limited political reforms. The result being that after a generation of these changes, supported by succeeding rulers in Beijing, has not resulted in a liberal democratic, China but has at least made her the world’s second biggest economy, improved the lot of many Chinese, and made China into a great power. 

In modern times China’s economy continues to grow and the CCP still has a monopoly on power despite the Chinese being more willing to show dissent but the future remains an “undiscovered country.”  On one hand America, with a slowing economy, as well as political, social, and cultural malaise seems destined to decline unless some moral rejuvenation occurs.  On the other hand pollution, corruption, political upheaval, separatist sentiment, and demographic issues are much worse in China than America while the latter stills has advantages in immigration, innovation and freedom and it is not a given that China will eclipse America as the world’s strongest nation.  Certainly most of China’s neighbours generally still prefer American protection to Chinese hegemony and given the considerable contradictions of CCP rule it is hard to see a politically communist, but economically capitalist regime stealing the mantle of world leadership.

It is hard to predict the future but this author at least thinks China’s police state will implode before America’s very imperfect democracy.

Taiwan

Taiwan is an interesting case study.  Unlike Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and China her history has been relatively bloodless (with notable exceptions) during the past century.  Becoming a de facto Japanese possession after the “First Sino-Japanese War” Taiwan admittedly received some modernization and industrialization under their Japanese overlords (much like Manchuria after 1931).  Many Taiwanese after 1945 contrasted this with the initial heavy handed conduct of the Nationalists, especially given the “February 28th Incident,” and unsurprisingly were unhappy with the massive influx of Chinese from the mainland after Chiang’s loss in the civil war in 1949.

This, along with the Nationalists’ imposition of martial law which lasted for decades and the “White Terror” certainly warrants some pause regarding the praise of Chiang Kai-shek versus Mao.  However, it is beyond dispute that modernization, industrialization, standard of living and general freedoms were much better in Taiwan under Chiang than Maoist China.  The “White Terror,” though ultimately unforgivable, was peanuts compared to what Mao did to the mainland Chinese.

Fast forwarding to today it might be charitable to suggest that Chiang envisaged the sort of liberal prosperous democracy that is now Taiwan, but at the same time his actions paved the way towards this, especially given the later stewardship of his son, and unlike Mao there were few comparable terrible bloodbaths, famines, or pointless excesses in Taiwan versus China.

However, there is unfinished business over Taiwan due to the fact Beijing has never accepted Taiwan’s independence, the significant military and strategic boost Beijing would get via absorbing the island nation, the fact that Taiwan’s success provides an alternate model to Chinese Communism, and the American alliance with Taiwan which, real or imagined, restricts Chinese influence in East Asia.

There seems no reason given the freedom and prosperity of the Taiwanese people, along with the decline of the Nationalist party in Taiwan, to believe there will ever be a reunification with the mainland and it is just as unlikely that China will try to conquer Taiwan by force so the status quo will probably continue indefinitely.  However, mistakes, miscalculations, or the actions of a firebrand aggressive leader in Beijing could upset this and arguably result in a cross strait war that involves the United States.  

Results 

What were the ultimate results of imperialism, communism, “Cold War” rivalry, the attempts at modernization, and independence for these nations in East Asia?  

European and American imperialism initially created the colonial states of East Asia but also inadvertently pushed Japan onto her own path towards modernization and imperialism.  This, along with the rise of Soviet Russia helped create communist underground movements that gained in numbers, and power, in many Asian nations after Japan’s conquests from 1937-1942.  The costs of “World War 2” which weakened western colonial empires such as the British, French and Dutch, combined with the anti-colonial agenda of America after “World War 2,” resulted in the de facto fall of imperialism in East Asia between 1945-54.

With a power vacuum opened by the departing Europeans it became a contest between America and the Soviet Union to gain these nations for their side.  Unsurprisingly Russia, backed communist groups including Mao’s CCP in Northern China, the communist regime in North Korea, and with the fall of China to communism in 1949 the PRC and Stalin backed the Vietminh against the French and later North Vietnam against South Vietnam.  Meanwhile America effectively dominated Japan, backed the French and later indigenous regime in South Vietnam, gave mixed aid to Chiang Kai-Shek in China, but eventually saved him in Taiwan and came to South Korea’s aid after having failed to arm her effectively against her northern neighbour.  

Eventually the result were prosperous, democratic and pro-American nations in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan on one hand, and an united Communist Vietnam, Orwellian nightmare in North Korea, and politically repressive but increasing prosperous China.  At the risk of sounding ethnocentric, and western biased, a case could be made that the American backed nations have done better in terms of freedom, economic progress, and most other indicators of good governance like healthcare, happiness, and accountability.  Communism has already shown itself to be a failure compared to democracy, or even capitalism, everywhere else in the world so why would it be better in East Asia?  The life expectancy, standard of living, pollution, corruption and police state nature of the communist states compared to their democratic counterparts does not exactly promise a long term recipe for winning the battle of history. 

Against this can be mentioned the collapse of American allies like the Nationalists in China as well as South Vietnam.  The charge that the communists were more efficient, less corrupt, and more dedicated in China and Vietnam than their enemies is ultimately correct.  However, foreign aid is often a crucial difference and while American aid at least saved Taiwan, South Korea and Japan it is notable that America prematurely (or perhaps foolishly) cut all significant aid to South Vietnam after 1973 and gave little to Chiang Kai-Shek in the last years of the “Chinese Civil War.”  It goes without saying that in these cases Mao and Stalin did not hold back crucial aid for their allies.   Additionally, the usual diatribes against corruption, motivation, and supposed incompetence has not only been directed against South Vietnam, and the Nationalists in China, but also regarding the formerly authoritarian regimes in South Korea and Taiwan.  Yet with long term American backing, and the chance to rebuild and reform, these latter nations are now democratic and economical models.  It is futile to debate what could have been, but South Vietnam and Nationalist China never got the best chance to go down this road because American policy makers, along with an American public tired of war, decided to cut off aid and abandon them.

As of 2018 there are no shortages of problems plaguing East Asia:  Japan’s refusal to come clean about “World War 2,” China’s rivalry with America and her longstanding issue regarding potential Taiwanese independence, North Korean nukes and the lack of peace with South Korea, and Vietnam’s uneasy relationship with China, remain stumbling points towards more peace and collaboration in the region.  Meanwhile the unpredictable, unreasonable, and maladjusted Trump administration in America throws another complication into this potentially volatile mix.  On one hand East Asia, in modern times at least, is more peaceful and better off politically and economically since before the “Opium Wars.”  On the other hand, it could take only one crisis along with miscalculations (such as the summer of 1914 in Europe), or one firebrand and crazy leader (like Hitler in 1939), to upset the balance of power or plunge the region into war.  None of this is likely, nor would it benefit any of East Asia’s nations.  But it happened in 1914, as well as 1945, and it could happen again.

Bibliography

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Boot, Max.  Invisible Armies:  An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present.  New York:  Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2013.

Cowley, Robert.  What If?:  The World’s Foremost Military Historians Imagine What Might Have Been.  New York:  Berkley Books, 2000.

Cumings, Bruce.  The Korean War:  A History.  New York:  Modern Library, 2010.

Freedman, Lawrence, The Cold War.  London:  Cassell, 2001.

Hane, Mikiso and Louis Perez.  Modern Japan:  A Historical Survey, 5th Edition.  Boulder:  Westview Press, 2013.

Isaacs, Jeremy and Taylor Downing.  Cold War.  London:  Abacus, 2008.

Joes, Anthony.  Resisting Rebellion:  The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency.  Lexington:  University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

Jowett, Philip and Stephen Walsh.  The Chinese Army 1937-49:  World War 2 and Civil War.  Oxford:  Osprey Publishing, 2005.

Kerr, Gordon.  A Short History of the Vietnam War.  Harpenden:  Pocket Essentials, 2015.  

Lynch, Michael.  Modern China.  London:  Teach Yourself, 2006.

Mitter, Rana.  Forgotten Ally:  China’s World War 2 1937-1945.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2013.

Moran, Daniel.  Wars of National Liberation.  London:  Cassell, 2002.

Murphey, Rhoads.  East Asia:  A New History 5th edition.  Upper Saddle River:  Longman, 2010.

Pipes, Richard.  Communism.  Toronto:  Modern Library, 2003.

Summers, Harry.  American Strategy in Vietnam:  A Critical Analysis.  Mineola:  Dover Publications, 2007.

Taylor, Jay.  The Generalissimo:  Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China.  Cambridge:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.

Wiest, Andrew.  Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land.  Oxford:  Osprey, 2006.

Windrow, Martin.  The French Indochina War.  Oxford:  Osprey, 1998.

Conflict in the Middle East Since 1945

Since 1945 the Middle East has arguably been the most volatile region on earth. It has seen more wars, insurgencies, terrorism, and other violent unpleasantries, than anywhere else. However, despite of this, conflict in the region is often misunderstood, or generalized, by people across the world. Biased and one-sided condemnations of European imperialism, American and Russian meddling, Israeli actions and Palestinian and Arab intransigence are typical, and often ignore the complex historical, cultural, economic and sectarian issues in the region. War in the Middle East is anything but simple but there are plenty of trends if one looks closely.

When looking at conflicts in the Middle East it should be noted they are often hard to define considering how varied they can be. Looking at a sample of approximately 50 conflicts in the Middle East Since 1945 the following can be stated. Four of them were colonial wars by France and Britain. Seventeen, as in 1/3rd involved Israel, ten involved the Palestinians, 4 involved the Russians, and 8 involved the Americans. Nine of the wars were mostly conventional wars (armies fighting armies), eleven were generally aerial campaigns conducted by the America, Russia or Israel, and the remaining were mostly asymmetrical conflicts regarding civil wars, insurgencies, or terrorist movements trying to change the status quo. The reason for the qualification of “mostly” in these categories is that much of these conflicts were hybrid conflicts involving aspects of conventional, airpower and asymmetrical warfare. For example, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 involved not only fighting the PLO resistance group but also the Syrian army. Likewise, America’s aerial campaign in Libya in 2011 was coordinated with Libyan resistance movements against Gaddafi’s regime. Needless to say much of these wars overlap with each other.

So what were these wars? The colonial conflicts were Britain’s war to secure Aden, her doomed attempt to keep Palestine after 1945, the combined Franco-British Suez conflict to subvert Egypt in 1956 (also supported by Israel), and France’s dirty war in Algeria.

Israel’s seventeen wars include the six “Arab-Israeli wars,” numerous aerial campaigns, and several asymmetrical conflicts against the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The Palestinians had ten wars, under many guises such as the PLO, Hamas, and/or other groups, eight of which were against Israel as well as involvement with the Jordanian and Lebanese civil wars.

Russia’s wars include their support for Syria during the never ending “Syrian Civil War,” the “Soviet-Afghan War” as well as the two Chechen Wars if we include these as part of Middle Eastern conflict (Chechnya technically being part of Europe). America’s eight wars include a UN mission in Somalia, the liberation of Kuwait, “Operation Desert Fox,” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and aerial campaigns in Libya and Syria (and perhaps Kosovo even if it is outside the Middle East).

Finally, there are the asymmetrical conflicts (many, if not all, of which overlap with previously stated conflicts) regarding civil wars, insurgencies and terrorist movements. These include at least seven civil wars; Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Oman, Libya and Afghanistan; Kurdish insurgencies against Turkey and Iraq, Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and ISIS conflicts in the region, and other resistance and/or terrorist movements in the region. This list is far from being exhaustive as there were probably dozens of more conflicts in the region during the same timeframe.

From this we can see a few trends. Nine of the conflicts (less than 20%) were predominately stand up conventional fights (5 of Israel’s wars, the “Gulf War,” the “Iran-Iraq War,” the short war between Jordan and Syria in 1970, and the limited war between Egypt and Libya in 1977. Meanwhile the predominantly aerial campaigns involved American efforts in Kosovo, Libya, Syria and Iraq, Russia’s late efforts in Syria, 3 Israeli actions against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and another 3 against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. As already noted the rest are various types of asymmetrical conflicts.

Furthermore we can divide the conflicts between wars involving foreign states (Russia, America, European), Israel, and those waged between Arab and Muslim states/groups. One third of the conflicts involve Israel, foreign states are involved in another third, while inter-regional (not including Israel or outsiders) involves at least 30, or perhaps much more, if you include low grade fighting against Arab and Muslim nations and groups.

What about results, who won these wars? Unfortunately victory and defeat in the Middle East is controversial, not only if we separate military success from political, or even propaganda coups, but also because few wars in the region have involved the complete defeat, or overthrow, of nations or often even resistance groups. Meanwhile the tendencies of Arab states, and resistance groups, claiming victory just because they survive, and the fact that long term results of these conflicts are often mixed further complicates easy determinations of victory and defeat. However, on one hand it is easy to say who has won according to pure military and political terms. Often armies, resistance groups, and terrorist movements has been so smashed that no objective analyst would debate the military result. However, as Clausewitz noted “war is a continuation of politics by other means” and given the usual relatively limited nature of war in the Middle East a nation, or non-state entity, can claim victory if their political goals were accomplished. The third, perhaps most laughable, claim of victory is propaganda victories by nations or groups which claim survival as victory. To make things even more confusing the weird circumstance of the region can result in several sides claiming victory. All of this will be addressed below.

Unsurprisingly military victories are the easiest to show. It is hard for one side to claim they won the battle after a humiliating retreat, losing most of their tanks and planes, and their capital is threatened. In all conventional wars there has been an obvious winner in military terms. Israel decisively beat the Arab armies in all but one or two stand up fights, America dominated the “Gulf War,” Egypt beat Libya and Jordan beat Syria in their respective wars, and even Iraq thoroughly smashed Iran’s army at the end of the “Iran-Iraq War.” The same goes regarding asymmetrical conflicts in general; most insurgent or terrorist groups losing the military struggle. Meanwhile with perhaps one or two exceptions as in Afghanistan in the early 1990s no resistance, or terrorist movement, came to power in the region by physically defeating government forces or overthrowing regimes (at least not without considerable conventional or airpower backing by foreign states). Generally they have been crushed brutally as the Kurdish and Muslim brotherhood insurgencies, or other resistance groups, via harsh Arab despots.

Even in the colonial wars the hated imperialists were never physically defeated but forced to withdraw due to public opinion and political considerations at home. However, in rare cases an army can suffer military defeat at the hands of guerrillas such as during Russia’s first war against Chechnya. In this conflict two of Russia’s columns were mauled during the initial assault on Grozny, she suffered countless ambushes against her convoys, she failed to resolve the “Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis,” and even had her forces trapped and humiliated by Chechen rebels in Grozny at the end of the war. Libya was also ultimately defeated by a guerrilla army of Toyota trucks with anti-tank weapons at the end of the “Chadian-Libyan Conflict.”

Aerial campaigns are more controversial regarding military results considering not only have they usually been against mobile, and lightly armed, guerrillas and terrorists that are hard to track and kill from the air, but that the campaigns themselves have often targeted political will and non-military targets. America’s air efforts are mixed; in Kosovo the Serbian army was not seriously hurt, the operation against Iraq in 1998 was perhaps a half victory in degrading Saddam’s capabilities, her air campaign in Syria hurt ISIS but did not effectively protect her rebel allies on the ground from the Assad Regime or Russia, but her support of the rebels in Libya in 2011 was an unequivocal success regarding the overthrow of Gaddafi by degrading his armed forces. Perhaps Russia’s air campaign in Syria by contrast was exceedingly successful, supporting Assad’s forces while hurting ISIS and punishing America’s allies on the ground. Meanwhile Israel arguably produced poor military results in her three aerial campaigns against Hizbollah in Lebanon but did relatively better in her three against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

However military results, especially in limited war and conflicts regarding insurgency and terrorism, are not always decisive and in these cases political considerations are often more important. Whatever impressive military victories America, Israel, Russia and the colonial Powers have accomplished against armies, and insurgents, their political results have rarely proven as beneficial. Israel won every conventional clash against states and armies but only one of them, against Egypt in 1973, resulted in a peace treaty (ironic considering this was the only war Egypt rebuffed Israel several times in battle). Of course Israel won her statehood in 1948, and bought a decade of tranquillity against Egypt after 1956, yet her greatest victory in 1967 burdened her with hostile Palestinian territory in Gaza, and the West Bank, and led to terrible the “War of Attrition,” and later the “Yom Kippur War,” which were more bloody, and demoralizing, for Israel than anything before or since.

Israel’s record in aerial campaigns is also mixed: Unsurprisingly with the considerable anti-Israeli sentiment in the UN, and international opinion, and the fact Israel is now seen as Goliath and the Palestinians as David, Israel has rarely won the battle of public opinion in most of these struggles. Yet in 4 out of 6 of her aerial assaults Israel can claim political victory (oddly enough even in 2006 during perhaps Israel’s worst showing in any conflict). Israel has managed to gain relative peace in the south against Hamas’s rocket, and other attacks, and has not had to end her blockade, recognize Hamas or concede any notable concession to the resistance group. Against Hezbollah Israel’s air campaigns in the 1990s accomplished little political gains but the 2006 campaign, whatever its many failings, seems to have deterred Hezbollah from provoking Israel and the latter has enjoyed over a decade of relative quiet in the north thus far.

America secured her political goals in the “Gulf War,” which was liberating Kuwait at small cost and not overthrowing Saddam Hussein (which was never seriously considered at the time). Regarding two of her air campaigns, Kosovo and Libya the Americans secured their political objectives outright (even if her aerial campaign against Serbia was relatively inept), but her other two against Syria and Iraq can be seen as relative political failures since neither Saddam’s Iraq, or ISIS and Assad’s regime, were decisively defeated, or forced to change their detrimental regional policies. America’s war in Somalia resulted in a political defeat when Bill Clinton pulled its forces out of the country after the “Battle of Mogadishu” in 1993 where the American forces scored a notable tactical victory in killing hundreds of militants but lost 19 servicemen, some of the latter who were dragged through the streets live on TV which obviously shocked America.

Finally, there are the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one sense America secured many of her political goals by overthrowing Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, ultimately weakening Al-Qaeda, and installing nascent democracies in these countries. However, the price has been too high regarding American soldiers, the cost to American credibility and prestige, not to mention her finances, and especially regarding the civilian losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile the budding democracies in these countries have not so far proven to be effective at surviving on their own, or preventing the rise of ISIS or the resurgence of other terrorist groups.

Russia has secured her political goals in two of her wars; in the “Second Chechen War” she finally subjugated Chechnya (though it took ten years and terrific casualties) as well as her intervention in Syria which safeguarded Assad’s regime, and weakened both ISIS and America’s Syrian resistance allies. However, Russia withdrew in humiliation after failing to conquer Chechnya in the “First Chechen War” and ultimately her 10 year war in Afghanistan was a failure considering the Mujaheddin were never contained, or defeated, and Russia’s client state in Kabul later fell to the resistance fighters.

Britain and France failed politically in their wars despite often impressive military results. Obviously colonialism was discredited, and dying, after “World War 2,” with ironically the Americans, the Soviet Union and the UN all being united against European imperialism. Meanwhile the colonial powers were weakened in the post war period, and their populaces in no mood to fight conflicts that had little moral or international support. Finally, given that there was almost zero support from the indigenous people for the colonial powers that were occupying their country we see there was no political legitimacy at all for these conflicts. While there were diehards in the political, and military, establishments in London and Paris, there was no international support, little public support, and no indigenous support, for colonial wars.

Looking from the other side we see that resistance groups, and Arab states, have accomplished their political goals much of the time. In the case of the colonial wars public opinion in Britain and France, superpower pressure, and the sheer cost of war have handed victory to the underdogs despite the fact the latter never accomplished significant military reverses on their enemies. Russia has had to admit political defeat in Chechnya (in the first conflict), America withdrew from Somalia, while whatever gains both nations accomplished in Chechnya, Iraq or Afghanistan can probably be described as “pyrrhic victories,” despite not losing in the field.

In Israel’s case she has survived all existential threats but the Palestinians scored a notable victory due to the “First Intifada” via the ensuing the Oslo Accords, while Israel’s 1982 overwhelming victory against Syria in the Bekaa valley, and the PLO in Beirut, ultimately made things worse with the subsequent rise of Hezbollah. Eventually Israel tired so much of the conflict in Southern Lebanon against Hezbollah that she withdrew from Lebanon altogether (which has to be seen as a propaganda victory for Hezbollah at best or a political one at worst).

Meanwhile the Arab states are not proficient at military victory in conventional warfare but they have rarely failed to beat insurgents and terrorists (perhaps partly because they are not as constrained by brutal means, or media considerations like Israel or western democracies are). There is no way Israelis, or Americans, would have been permitted to carpet bomb a city like the Russians did in Grozny, to use gas like the Egyptians in Yemen or the Iraqis against the Kurds, to massacre 30,000 civilians indiscriminately like the Syrians did in Hama in 1982 or to shell Palestinian refugee camps mercilessly as the Jordanians and Syrians did in the 1970s.

Besides outright political victory Arab regimes, and resistance groups, can still be seen as relatively successful when using propaganda to claim they have won conflicts by merely surviving. This should not be dismissed because in general Arab states, and resistance groups, have been far more adept at using propaganda in the Middle East then the well meaning, if naive Americans, and the tactically minded and short term focused Israelis. Israel, and America, are liberal democracies with a relatively free media and much of it is often ran by elements unfavourable to their war efforts whereas the Arab states and resistance groups (and Russia), being non-democratic and far from Liberal, can dominate media and public opinion. Therefore while the military strength of Arab armies, guerrilla and terrorist forces can be beaten by their enemies the former can easily manipulate the media.

Therefore the Arabs claim America did not defeat Saddam Hussein in 1991 but was stopped from taking Iraq. Meanwhile Israel may have taken a lot of Arab territory in 1967 but Cairo, Amman, and Damascus was saved from Zionist occupation. It did not matter if the PLO was kicked out of Jordan in 1970, exiled from Lebanon in 1982 and forced to Tunisia, it still survived. According to Arab propaganda in the Middle East their states, and resistance groups, have won every battle despite the fact Israel is a thriving democracy, America is still present in the Middle East, the Arab states are collapsing, or on the brink or anarchy, or that most of the people in the Middle East are still poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised.

Then there is the odd point that such limited, and unpredictable, warfare in the region can even allow several sides to claim victory. Besides the aforementioned illusions there are plenty of incidents were several sides have actually legitimately won. The “Arab-Israeli wars” are illustrative. Israel survived and beat back the Arab armies in the first conflict but Jordan took the West Bank while even a weakened Egyptian retained the Gaza Strip. In 1956 Israel beat Egypt in the Sinai but Egypt accomplished a decisive political coup in surviving the British, and French, attempt to subjugate her. In 1973 Israel pushed back the Syrians close to Damascus, and crossed the Suez Canal to surround an entire Egyptian army, but there is no doubt that Egypt won the political battle by humiliating the Israeli army in the first few days of the war and allowing Sadat to bring Israel to the peace table. Israel’s lopsided military victory in 1982 destroyed the PLO in Lebanon but Syria was the ultimate beneficiary in the long run. This is not limited to nations as Hezbollah may have had to pull back from the Lebanon border after 2006 but she now has more rockets (in fact ten fold), and is in a vastly superior position ten years later. Meanwhile Israel’s efforts to stop the “First Intifada” were successful overall but the PLO could be satisfied by the results of the Oslo accords.

However, it is one thing to claim political and/or military kudos in limited wars, quite another whether or not it accomplishes nations’, or resistance groups’, long term goals. For it is obvious that since there are so many conflicts, often continuations of previous ones, that few wars in the region have produced overwhelming, longterm, decisive results. The colonial wars were decisive given that it forever broke the power of Britain, and France, to manipulate the region. Perhaps the “Arab-Israelis Wars” can be seen as decisive, at least in military means: Not only has Israel survived in the region, but no nation (s) can realistically threaten her with conventional military power, and since 1982 all of her threats have been from terrorism, and resistance groups. As such of Israel’s two major long term goals; survival and peace she has secured the former completely. However, regarding peace Israel’s wars have only had limited success. Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel but otherwise the Arab states, and resistance groups, are still hostile at best, or cold and indifferent at worse.

America gets a lot of censure for her wars in the region but realistically the majority of her long term goals have been secured so far. Israel has survived, America’s military presence in the region is still strong, most of the Arab states are de-facto (if unenthusiastic) American allies, and the access to most of the oil in the region is still open to America, Europe and her allies. American rivals like China and Russia have limited influence in the region, compared to America at least, while her enemies in the region like Iran, Syria, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS are often nuisances, and pose some threats, but are generally contained and mostly in their decline. Meanwhile despite small pinprick successes few terrorist plots have succeeded, let alone killed a lot of Americans, on mainland America since 9/11 and thus technically she is winning the “war on terror.”

However, in two areas American goals have failed. Despite decades of efforts America has never solved the “Israeli-Palestine” conflict which remains a constant source of bitterness, and anger, in the region. Additionally, George Bush Junior’s plan to create a vibrant and stable democracy in Iraq, which would hopefully lead to more Liberalism, and freedom in the region, has also unravelled as seen by the chaos in Iraq, and the dashed hopes of the “Arab Spring.”

Russia gets some points for besting American interests in Syria, bullying Turkey, and her eventual conquest of Chechnya, but realistically these victories are more for show and generally hollow. Given how much power the Soviet Union had in the region at her height Russia’s position there today is very limited. Whereas Russia’s client states used to include Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria now only Syria remains an ally while the others, along with the vast majority of the nations of the Middle East are in America’s camp. The same goes for resistance groups; the PLO, and other Palestinian and terrorist groups, in the region, and Europe, used to be allied with the Russians but now they are either quashed, contained, switched sides or dominated by countries like Iran and Syria. The major oilfields are in countries allied to America, Russian power in most Arab countries is weak, and the prospect of Russia gaining more influence at America’s expense in the region is unfavourable for the foreseeable future.

What about the Arab States, Iran, and resistance groups? In the case of survival, most regimes have admittedly survived wars stand up wars, and insurgencies, trying to overthrow them (Iraq and Afghanistan being notable exceptions). However, their efforts to conquer other territories, or expand their ideologies, have usually been failures: Saddam never kept any Iranian territory and was pushed out of Kuwait, Libya failed to take Chad, Syria ultimately had to withdrew from Lebanon, and the physical borders of the region have barely changed since the postwar period. Meanwhile Nasser’s Pan-Arabism, the Baathist ideology of Iraq and Iran’s fundamentalist template have not successfully transformed the region. Generally the individual Arab states are American client states whether they like it or not and have little power, or even motivation, to challenge America, or Israel’s, main interests in the region.

Perhaps theocratic Iran has done the best to spread her influence and flout America and Israel. She has considerable support, and even militants, in Lebanon and Iraq, and propped up Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah which give terrible head aches to America and Israel. Meanwhile her quest for nuclear weapons has the potential to make her untouchable and give her more regional influence. Yet Iran’s aging theocrats are becoming more out of touch with the Iranian people, more fissures are developing between moderated and fanatics in the regime, western sanctions are eroding Iran’s economy and as such Iran’s future of presenting a major counter-balance to America is far from certain.

Most resistance groups have either been crushed, contained or lost their legitimacy, yet a few of them like Hamas, Hezbollah, and maybe for awhile ISIS are still significant. Hamas cannot expand much but it still has enough foreign connections, and support of the people, to survive almost indefinitely. Hezbollah is still very strong, controls much of Lebanon and enjoys unlimited support from Syria and Iran. It also has more than 100,000 rockets pointed at Israel and is probably the latter’s biggest threat. ISIS still has shock value and seen as a major enemy but its power will probably continue to degrade considering all Arab states, their masses, and the rest of the world is against it (even most hardcore Islamists and terrorist groups think ISIS has gone too far). The Palestinian movement it should be stressed, is no closer to destroying Israel, let alone gaining any notable territory or concessions, after nearly 70 years of conflict. The Kurds, with the exception of northern Iraq, have also failed in their attempts at statehood, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt only briefly, and Al-Qaeda’s vision of establishing a caliphate from Morocco to the Gulf is a mirage.

What has been the cost in blood, and refugees, since 1945 in the Middle East? Unfortunately stats regarding war deaths in the region are often unreliable for various reasons. Some of this is due to poor documentation, but also because Arab nations, and resistance groups, do not record their deaths as accurately as westerners and Israelis, partially due to the fact the latter are more casualty sensitive, and partially due to the less organized nature of the former. Meanwhile most belligerents have political, or propaganda, reasons to exaggerate, or downplay casualties. Obviously all sides want to maximize the number of enemy combatants killed, be it Western or Arab soldiers, or resistance personal.

Civilian losses are another matter; obviously Arab states threatened by foreigners and Israel, will exaggerate losses while the latter want to minimize them. Resistance groups will also maximize these no matter who they are fighting. On another level occupiers or armies; Israeli, Americans, Russians, Arabs, etc, will try to exaggerate how many civilians died via resistance, or terror groups, and minimize how many were killed by their own forces.

Then there is the bias of authors who are either too pro-West, Israeli, Arab, Russia, etc, that cherry pick statistics to support their cases. The point being that it is unsurprising that in a region where nothing is certain, and everything is controversial, that there is often no authoritative estimate for casualties. For example estimates of the “Algerian War” put the death toll between 300,000 to 1 million, the “Gulf War” between 10,000 and 100,000, the “Iran-Iraq War” between several hundred thousand and perhaps 1 million, the “Iraq War” from 200,000 to 1 million and the “Soviet-Afghan War” from 500,000 to 2 million. No doubt the maxim regarding the 3 kinds of lies is very relevant for conflict in the Middle East. Thus the author does not pretend all of the statistics he has written are accurate but he has done his best to make educated guesses based on common sense while rejecting the more absurd estimates.

Some of the bloodier wars include the “Iran-Iraq War,” which resulted in at least 400,000 deaths, the “Soviet-Afghan War” which resulted in at least 1 million, the ongoing “Syrian Civil War” which has so far cost 400,000, the French war in Algeria that cost at least 300,000, the “Lebanese Civil War” with 150,000 dead and America’s recent war in Afghanistan which has probably had 100,000 deaths at least. The “Arab-Israeli Wars” by contrast have been relatively tame with most of them costing close to 20,000 dead while the intifadas, Israel’s aerial campaigns, and her smaller wars have all cost less than 5000, most costing under 2000 lives. Russian, and American, aerial campaigns have also not been overly bloody despite the considerable controversy and moral outrage sparked by them, with generally a few thousand deaths.

Other relatively bloody conflicts include the two Russian wars in Chechnya (together costing probably more than 50,000), the “Gulf War,” with its approximately 20,000 deaths, the “Algerian Civil War” with probably at least 100,000, the Kurdish insurgencies in Turkey and Iraq which resulted in at least 100,000-250,000 and the Islamist uprising, mostly the Muslim Brotherhood, in Syria which arguably resulted in 40,000 dead.

After this, at least regarding the examples we have looked at, the death tolls are not so high as they are the result of smaller civil wars, aerial campaigns, or more manageable insurgencies and terrorist campaigns. Most of the aerial campaigns have not killed over a few thousand (soldiers and civilians) and this is also the case with many civil war like those in Oman, or Jordan, as well as most Al-Qaeda (Iraq and Afghanistan being significant exceptions) and Muslim brotherhood insurgencies.

What trends can we deduce from these butcher bills? Perhaps the first is despite the inherent anti-Semitism in the Arab World, along with international opinion being mostly against Israel regarding Middle Eastern issues, is that Israel’s wars, despite their frequency and controversy, has killed a relatively low amount of people killed in the wars in the region for the past 7 decades. Statistics can always be argued over but all of Israel’s wars, aerial adventures, and anti-terrorist campaigns have probably not killed over 150,000 (which is still significant though well short of many wars in the region). Many wars by themselves have killed not only as much, but often several times more (French War in Algeria, the Lebanese, Syrian and Algerian Civil Wars, the war in Iraq, the “Soviet-Afghan War,” and the “Iran-Iraq War).” Furthermore it would be unfair to blame Israel for the outbreak of all of these wars, as well as all the deaths as many of these conflicts were provoked or initiated from the other side (1948, 1967, 1973, 2000) or involved inter-Arab killings which were hardIy Israel’s fault.

Then there is America, who the Ayatollah called the “Greater Satan,” Israel being the “Little Satan.” Five of America’s wars, 4 aerial campaigns and her part in the UN mission in Somalia, did not result in a disproportionate amount of deaths, while the “Gulf War” cost at least 20,000 and her Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan tragically more (probably at least 200-300,000 in Iraq and 100,000 in Afghanistan). However, these wars cannot be compared to France’s dirty war in Algeria, Russia’s near genocidal treatment of Afghanistan and Chechnya, nor the World War 1 style of carnage in the “Iran-Iraq War.” No doubt the wars to liberate Kuwait, and respond to 9/11 by going into Afghanistan, were justified (Saddam invaded Kuwait and Al-Qaeda attacked America unprovoked) but the “Iraq War” was clearly unnecessary, and unjustified. However, even in Iraq and Afghanistan it is arguable that the inhabitants killed more of each other than America killed of them. Few people like blackwater, and corporate armies, but American forces did not have death squads like the Sunni and Shiite militias in Iraq, and were not as blood thirsty and unforgiving as Al-Qaeda in both countries.

Whatever her flaws, and naiveness, America legitimately wanted to created democracy, and freedom, in these countries and wanted to safeguard the rights of marginalized groups (be it Sunni, Shiite and Kurds) whereas most of their enemies would rather have had sectarian, authoritative and Islamic fanatical regimes. However, as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and American wars in the Middle East since 2001, while not damaging American long term goals overall, has certainly killed too many people, lost most of the Arab and Muslim populations of the region’s confidence, and damaged her reputation both at home and abroad.

We also have the europeans’ part in these wars; France, Britain and Russia. Ironically Britain, the most powerful colonial power in the world, which not only had the most possessions in the region, but also held the most influence there even before the 20th century until the war in 1956, killed the least amount of people in these conflicts than her fellow europeans, America, Israel and certainly Arabs and others since 1945. Britain’s wars in Aden and Egypt were relatively small, and cheap, affairs versus other struggles while her conduct in Palestine against the Jewish insurgents after WW2 was constrained by international opinion and the fact it was politically unacceptable to be harsh against a people of which many of whom had just survived Nazi concentration camps. As such the cost of these wars were relatively small; 2000 killed in Aden, less than 5000 killed in the “Suez Crisis” and a marginal number fighting the Jewish insurgents in Palestine.

France was only involved directly in two of these conflicts, Suez and Algeria, and indirectly in one, Libya’s wars against Chad, but her dirty war in Algeria had a disproportionate effect in blood and politics. While France’s conduct in Algeria was perhaps not as bad as the worst Arab regimes, one thinks of Saddam against the Kurds and Assad against Hama in 1982, it was worse than American, Israeli and British excesses in their wars. The indiscriminate bombing of cities, widespread practice of torture, summary executions, the use of concentration camps, the insubordination of military leaders and factions that not only defied political authority, but actively tried to overthrow it, were commonplace in France’s war in Algeria but thankfully absent, or at least diminished, in other democratic countries’ conflicts in the region. France, unsurprisingly with these means, crushed the rebellion in Algeria, though not the rebel forces across the border, and certainly did not win the political battle for world opinion, in Algeria and ultimately even among the French people. Not only did France lose her legitimacy to stay in Algeria, but French military leaders in Algeria rebelled against the politicians and even threatened to overthrow the French government leading Charles De Gaulle no choice but to abandon Algeria to prevent a potential civil war in France!

Meanwhile Russia, which has generally escaped the visceral criticism aimed at foreign nations who have waged war in the Middle East, has probably killed more Arabs and Muslims then Britain, France, America and Israel combined. In the “Soviet-Afghan war” alone at least 1 million, some say 2 million, were killed. Russian conduct here was just as bad as the French in Algeria and mass indiscriminate bombing, torture, reprisals and atrocities against civilians were widespread and uncompromising. The same goes for Chechnya in two wars where Grozny was more or less carpet bombed twice and perhaps 50,000 Chechens (in a population barely over a million) were killed. None of this saved the Soviet Client in Kabul or brought prosperity, and democracy, to Chechnya.

Finally, we come to the Arabs, Palestinians, Iranians and other indigenous factions (stage or substate). These states, or groups, are often cast as the victims of imperialist, American and Israeli designs (which unfortunately has too often been true) while their own self serving actions and crimes have usually been dismissed in popular media. While much of the “Arab-Israeli Wars” and Israel’s conflicts, can be blamed on Israel much can also be blamed on the Arabs and Palestinians. Obviously in the case of the colonial, and Russia’s, wars, the Arabs and indigenous people are innocent, but in the case of America’s interventions the record is mixed again. American interventions in Kosovo, Libya, and Somalia were humanitarian missions, Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda were unequivocally the aggressors regarding the “Gulf War” and 9/11, yet the “Iraq War” was unprovoked and a mistake, while her bombing campaigns against Iraq in the 90s, and the current one in Syria, are controversial regarding motives and potential results. Yet the majority of the conflicts in the region have been inter-Arab, and Muslim, conflicts where foreign, and Israeli, influence is a secondary factor or non-existent.

How does this relate to bloodletting in the region. As stated above it is unfair to blame all deaths in Israeli, American and foreign wars on the the former and say the indigenous forces deserve no blame but it is also obvious that the latter cannot be totally held accountable for the same in their conflicts (which maddeningly enough overlaps with the formers’ wars too often). However, a share in the Arab-Israeli wars, the fact many foreign wars were provoked by Arab states or terror groups, realizing that most civil wars in the region are domestic, and not foreign problems, and remembering that most terrorist elements are also in this category, means that Arabs and Muslims have too many conflicts and problems where they cannot outsource blame.

Let us assume half blame for the “Arab-Israeli Wars” on the Arab side (the Arab states were not provoked by Israel in 1948, certainly provoked Israel in 1967, and bare some partial blame for other conflicts). Meanwhile let us blame half of the conflicts over Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza on them as well since Israel has either withdrawn from these territories at some point to try peace or has been occasionally attacked from them as well. Surely Israel’s policies, and occupations, have not been stellar but Hezbollah could have made peace after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hamas could have tried peace overtures after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and the Palestinian authority could have tried harder for peace in the 1990s instead of allowing militant groups to keep attacking Israel. This gives us 60,000 or more deaths for the Arabs here alone.

What about pure indigenous wars and conflicts? The “Iran-Iraq War,” civil wars in Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Oman and Afghanistan, Kurdish, Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and other insurgencies and terrorist campaigns are too numerous to count. It is easy to blame war, and oppression, on foreign and Israeli machinations but in the rest of the globe former colonies and oppressed nations have become more democratic and liberal (like in East Asia) rather than succumb to the vicious cycle of warfare in the Middle East.

So what are the death tolls of these indigenous wars and conflicts? Regarding the more bloody contests there was probably at least 400,000 deaths for the “Iran-Iraq War,” 400,000 in Syria’s Civil War so far, 150,000 in the “Lebanese Civil War,” 100,000 in Algeria’s last civil war, at arguably 250,000 killed between Kurds fighting the Turks and Iraqis, while the North Civil War in Yemen cost at least 100,000. This produces an astounded 1,400,000 deaths in these conflicts at least considering many of these estimates are on the lower side put forth by various sources. Of course while these are the worst cases there are far more indigenous conflicts such as the “Egyptian-Libyan War,” Libya’s multiple wars against Chad, the brief war between Jordan and Syria, the “Jordanian Civil War,” multiple civil wars in Afghanistan and Yemen, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist campaigns across the region. If we added the deaths from these conflicts as well the death toll would be notably higher.

Yet at 1,400,000 deaths the number is staggering enough. It is nearly ten times the amount of those estimated killed in Israel’s wars and conflicts, more than two or three times the amount of those killed in American-led wars in the region, one million more than the French killed in her few conflicts, and perhaps 100 times as many killed by Britain’s fading colonial wars. Only Russia with at least 1 million killed in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands killed in Chechnya, is close to matching how many people were killed by Arabs, and Muslims, in the Middle East since 1945.

What do these death tolls suggest? Firstly, Arab and Muslim groups, and nations, have killed more people, especially each other, than either America, Israel, Britain or France and even Russia. This should be qualified again because this not only includes the perhaps 1,400,000 killed in inter-Arab, Muslim conflict but a huge percentage in other wars that involve foreign states and Israel. Shiites and Sunnis arguably killed more of each other in Iraq than America during the war in 2003-11, Algerians may have killed more of each other in the “Algerian War” than the French (especially if we consider the fate of France’s Harkis Algerian allies at the end of the conflict), while Arabs, especially the Jordanians and Syrians, killed thousands of Palestinians, and the Palestinian groups themselves have killed thousands of each other rather than firmly unite against Israel.

All of this quashes the idea the the Arab nations and Muslim groups in the region are purely victims of outside, or Israeli influence and war, or that they themselves are inherently peaceful and just want to be left alone. It also questions the idea that their main enemies are America, and Israel, for according to the number of wars they have fought amongst themselves, as well as the lopsided death tolls, the main enemy of Arab and Muslim factions in the Middle East seem to be themselves.

The death tolls also tell us that Israel, despite being the most criticized country in, and outside, the region for conflict in the Middle East, has actually killed the least amount of people (with the exception of Britain). All other foreigner nations, and especially the Arabs, have killed exceedingly more people and Muslims than Israel. American wars in the region would not be prohibitively bloody were in not for the “Iraq War” (which has killed much more than half of all those killed in her wars in the region) but even here the Arabs have probably killed more or each other than America. France had her one very bloody war in Algeria with 300,000 dead and the much less costly joint “Suez Crisis” with Britain, but despite the terrible conduct of French forces in Algeria France’s reputation, and influence, in the region is relatively healthy. Britain gets perhaps less censure in the region than Israel, and America, yet her colonial past, and recent support of American ventures in the region has not done her many favours either. Yet Israel, Britain, France and America have all killed less Arabs, and Muslims, than the Russia has. However, Russia is not nearly as criticized, censured or demonized as much as any of the former, especially Israel and America.

Besides death tolls there has been many refugee crises in the region since 1945. Unsurprisingly the most commonly known is the “Palestinian refugee crisis.” During the “First Arab-Israeli War” perhaps 700,000 Palestinians were kicked out, or fled, from territory which became Israel and went to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or other Arab countries. This was made worse in 1967 when Israel defeated Egypt and Jordan, conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a further 300,000 Palestinians fled again, mostly to Jordan or other Arab countries. Few of these Palestinians were allowed to return and today there is probably 5 million Palestinian refugees if we include descendants of the original refugees from 1948. Today most of these live in poverty in overcrowded refugee camps in neighbouring Arab countries who have rarely tried to integrate them into their societies. Meanwhile countless Palestinians live in terrible conditions in the Israeli de facto occupied West Bank, or under Hamas in the tiny Gaza Strip that is under Israeli blockade and enjoys a poor standing of living.

The Palestinians also had poor luck when the PLO was driven from Jordan after the massacre of “Black September” and then later from Lebanon after Israel’s invasion in 1982. Even little Kuwait was ruthless when after the “Gulf War” she expelled 200,000 Palestinians from the Kingdom, partially out of revenge for the PLO supporting Saddam Hussein. Omar Gaddafi also expelled thousands of Palestinians from Libya in the mid-1990s in reaction to the Oslo Accords.

While everyone knows of the poor, hapless Palestinian refugees few today remember the at least 800,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab countries after the 1948 conflict. This number was higher than the 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled from Israel during this conflict but ironically it actually benefited Israel since she integrated these refugees successfully to make the country stronger. This is in stark contrast to the marginalized Palestinian refugees in Arab countries who are generally poor, enjoy few rights and are cramped into refugee camps even after nearly seven decades.

Another little known refugee crisis involved the European settler community in Algeria in the 1960s; the so called “Pied Noires” who not only had enjoyed more rights, and privileges, than the majority Arab population but generally maltreated and dismissed the latter as well. After the French withdrew from Algeria in lieu of her failed colonial war most of the Pied Noires, perhaps 800,000, fled to France in 1962 with most of the remainder fleeing in later years.

Several million Kurds have become refugees in Europe, and middle eastern countries, thanks to several wars waged by Iraq and Turkey versus Kurdish movements. There are also several hundred thousands of Chechen refugees and while this may seem low compared to other cases it should be noted that this is proportionally devastating considering Chechnya’s population is not much over 1 million today.

For decades Afghanistan had the worst refugee crisis in the world, with up to 6 million during the “Soviet-Afghan War.” After the fall of the Taliban the majority of these returned home but with rising violence in the new American war in Afghanistan there are now probably at least 3 million Afghan refugees.

Israel’s wars in Lebanon have produced many refugees, though most of them are temporary refugees who return home considering most of Israel’s actions were aerial campaigns, or in one case a limited raid. However, many Lebanese would find little solace in this as they have had to flee their homes no less than five times as seen by Israel’s Litani raid in 1978, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the aerial campaigns against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1993 and 1996 and the 34 day “Second Lebanon War” in 2006. As for figures the Litani operation resulted in at least 100,000 refugees, arguably 300,000 in 1993, a similar number or more in 1996, while it has been suggested perhaps 1 million Lebanese, and even several hundred thousands Israelis, were temporarily displaced by the “Second Lebanon War.” Of course this does not even cover the refugees made by Lebanon’s Civil War or Syria’s subsequent involvement in it. Either way, like Chechnya, the numbers are disproportionate as Lebanon’s population was only 4 million in 2006.

America’s war in Iraq caused millions of refugees. While some of this can be blamed on Sunni-Shiite animosity, Al-Qaeda provocations and excesses, as well as Syrian, Iranian, and even Saudi, support for insurgent, and terrorist groups, in Iraq, America must shoulder much of the blame considering many of her war policies were naive and flawed, and none of this would have happened had she not invaded Iraq. As such perhaps 4 million Iraqis became refugees in their own country, or other ones, during the conflict from 2003-2011. Many hoped that after General Petraeus’s successful counterinsurgency strategy in 2007, and the relative peace and cooperation between Sunnis and Shiites in the next few years, would solve the conflict and help the refugee crisis. However, after the American army withdrew the Shiite dominating government in Iraq succumbed to old habits, oppressed the Sunnis, and thus helped create ISIS, further war and more refugees. Several scholars have suggested that Iraq, by being the Arab country that has the proper mix of sufficient people, oil and water should be leading the Arab World but history has not been kind to her.

Finally, we have the current “Syrian Civil War” which has produced a refugee crisis that has surpassed even Afghanistan at her worst. There are perhaps 10 million Syrian refugees, either internally displaced or currently living in Arab countries, Europe and elsewhere, and this represents close to 50% of Syria’s prewar population! This war cannot be blamed on American machinations, or Israeli aggression. Syria is one of the few Arab states in the region that is not an American client and Israel has generally left Syria alone since 1973 despite the fact the latter has supported every resistance, and terrorist, group against her and arguably sabotaged peace between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and the Palestinians. Henry Kissinger once said “you can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria.”

Rather President Assad of Syria, and his Alawite, Christian and other minority allies in Syria brought the conflict on themselves by marginalizing the larger Sunni population of Syria, by being even more autocratic, backwards and repressive than most Arab states, and by playing with fire by supporting Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and other fanatical Islamic groups, against American forces and the Iraqis. For these hard core Islamic groups could hardly be considered bedfellows for Assad’s secular regime in Syria which has routinely imprisoned and repressed Islamic groups.

Unsurprisingly these militant factions, especially ISIS, found it easy to piggyback on the legitimate demands made by Syrian protesters in lieu of the “Arab Spring” and eventually found a key role in the resistance after Assad’s predictable crackdown. Either way great power rivalry, along with regional powers interest in the country, the fact that Europe, the UN, and other entities do not want to address the conflict head on, means this conflict will probably drag on for years without end or a satisfactory conclusion.

What can we make of these refugee statistics? Jews in the region were effected just as badly as the Palestinians in 1948-49 at first and there is little recognition of this or the fact that the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries even happened in much of the world. However, the Palestinians have been poorly treated by not only the Israelis who hurt them in 1948, 1967 and even 1982, but by their supposed Arab friends as well who expelled them in 1970 from Jordan, Kuwait after 1991, and even from Libya after the Oslo accords. We should also remember that Israel successfully helped, and integrated, the Jewish refugees after 1948, although admittedly were not so kind to Palestinians under their occupation, whereas the Arab states in all cases kept the Palestinians poor, disenfranchised, and usually in refugee camps to use as political pawns in their real, or fictitious, battles between Israel, America and amongst themselves.

We should also note that the fate of the Pied Noires in Algeria, the Kurds against Turkey and Iraq, and the Chechen refugees have generally been ignored and forgotten versus other conflicts and people. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the “Algerian War” was along time ago and its consequences were limited, that the Kurds did not have the media savvy of the Palestinians or were not as important to major states as Turkey, or sometimes Iraq, or that no one really cared about Russia crushing a former republic that no one knew about. Maybe it was because none of these conflicts involved Israel or America, the usual suspects of blame, or maybe the conflicts themselves had less geopolitical relevance than others in the region, who knows.

Sadly even the aerial campaigns Israel unleashed against Lebanon, which generally resulted in temporary, versus permanent, refugees and killed a fraction of people versus other refugee crises, are by contrast well known, often broached and vehemently condemned (with some justification).

Finally, the numerous conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have by far produced the worst refugee crises, at least by numbers. In Iraq and Afghanistan much of this can be blamed on Russians and Americans, although it should be noted that both Iraq and Afghanistan had plenty of issues regarding refugees before American interventions in 2001 and 2003. As for Syria the refugee issue is all but the Assad’s regime fault.

By now it should be obvious that nothing in the Middle East, especially war and terrorism, is simple. Americans, and Israelis, are not simple victims of terrorism who have never provoked conflict. Arab States, and Muslim groups, are not innocent actors who have never started wars against others. Russia is not a neutral state with no blood on her hands, and France and Britain had their colonial wars but have been mostly absent from conflict in the region for the past few decades. All of these entities have started wars and conflicts, backed shady groups, killed civilians, produced refugees, and subverted democratic, and liberal movements, to further their own selfish national, or substate, goals. No factions in the Middle East, foreign or domestic, are innocent.

Having said that there are unequivocal trends in the region, which are often forgotten and ignored, as well as countless myths that are perpetrated which do more harm than good. For one thing Arab, and Muslim groups, have killed more of each other than have been killed by Israelis and foreigners. They have also caused more refugees than the latter as well. Whatever wrongs Israel, and foreign countries, have done to Arabs and Muslims, and there are many, there are clearly many problems the Arab and Muslim groups in the region have to address among themselves.

Regarding conventional wars foreign, and Israeli, arms have always triumphed against Arab and Muslim ones (though Jordan fought Israel to a stalemate in 1948 and Egypt had notable victories in 1973). Meanwhile aerial campaigns have produced mixed results; most military goals failing, but sometimes producing political goals in spite of this (aerial power has been more successful when backed by guerrillas or soldiers on the ground). Either way the allure of airpower to policymakers in Israel, and the West, is an illusionary one; it cannot occupy territory, effectively stop rocket attacks, coerce enemies to change policies, let alone defeat armies and insurgents, on its own.

On the other side despite Israeli shortsightedness in policy, American naiveness, and the decadence and incompetence of Arab regimes, the vast majority of insurgent, and terrorist, movements in the region fail, usually decisively (the colonial wars being notable exceptions). Against Chechen rebel victory in the mid-1990s, the collapse of the Soviet client state in Afghanistan during the same period, the PLO’s temporary victory via the OSLO accords, and the Chadian resistance groups against Libya there are dozens, arguably more than a hundred, of examples of failures like all Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda campaigns, most Palestinian and Kurdish efforts, Shiite and Sunni militias in Iraq, ISIS, etc.

However, between outright victories and defeats there are too many instances in the region when the result is not clear cut, or the defeated party can claim victory (or avoiding defeat) due to propaganda or merely surviving. In the case of insurgencies this is less the case because most of them have been brutally suppressed but when we remember that most wars in the region have not led to the overthrow of countries and regimes this makes more sense. None of the “Arab-Israeli Wars” toppled another regime, no aerial campaign broke the enemy side, and American, and foreign, won battles have not resulted in their political goals being realized as much as they would like. As such Nasser, King Hussein and Assad survived Israel’s wars, Hamas, Hezbollah and Saddam survived bombing campaigns, and Arab insurgents have often survived the worst Britain, France, and America, and sometimes Russia, have thrown against them because political, or other circumstances, have intervened.

Finally, we can look at long term goals of the participants, which should be a good gauge considering most wars in the region are limited, and due to the fact that so many of the conflicts are continuations of previous ones. The colonial powers (Britain and France) lost their struggle to dominate their colonies and control the fate of the Middle East without question. Russia failed to uphold her proxy in Afghanistan, ultimately succeeded in reconquering Chechnya, and has hurt America in Syria, yet has never regained the power, and influence, in the region she used to enjoy (having many powers and resistance groups threatening Israel, America and western powers) and if Syria collapsed Russian influence in the region would be marginal. Russia only has Syria as a client state in the region while America has dozens.

While America has been hurt, economically and diplomatically, in the region her long term goals have held: Most Arab states are her clients, Israel is safe, the access to oil fields are open to her, and her friends, and terrorism against America is extremely limited. Israel, who has won most battles, not so many wars, and frankly sucks at winning international opinion, has generally secured her goals as well: Survival, peace or relative peace, few casualties or disruption to her society, etc. Israel has secured herself against conventional threats from her neighbours, and neutralized threats against resistance groups from Gaza and the West Bank. However, Israel still faces a potential long term nuclear threat from Iran, and a direct threat from Hezbollah, who has at least 100,000 rockets in Lebanon. Thus Israel is either the most secure she has ever been, or approaching the most turbulent time in her history.

As for Arab States, Iran, or irregular groups the future is uncertain. Despite the naiveness that outsiders regarded the “Arab Spring” the despots, princes and other leaders in Arab regimes and Iran have held onto power. Resistance groups like ISIS, who are at war with everyone, and other ones that have alienated too many Arabs or enjoy little foreign backing, will probably be crushed or marginalized. Others like Hamas and Hezbollah, who enjoy local, and foreign, backing will probably be around for a long time. Even militia groups like the Sunni, and Shiite, ones in Iraq will not go away so long as Iraq remains a fractured, corrupt, and sectarian divided state. Iran has done a very good job at staying out of wars, while fomenting wars and terrorism abroad, and it is unlikely American, and Israeli, pressure or sanctions will stop her from eventually acquiring nuclear weapons. However, it is anyone’s guess if the theocratic regime in Tehran can remain in power indefinitely given the growing split between those who support the Mullahs and those who want reform and democracy.

Finally, the Arab regimes are often terrible at war, and cannot seem to reform or really build a future for their peoples, but they are remarkably good at staying in power. Tools such as controlling the media, fomenting violence against external threats, blaming every issues on America, Israel or the West, and suggesting that real democracy will only bring violent Islamic zealots to power are but a few of those utilized by Arab regimes to prolong their rotten rule. Besides which America, the West, and often Israel, generally back most of these regimes, openly or tactically, reluctantly or enthusiastically, for a variety of reasons; some of them pragmatic, some naive, and even some that do not make the slightest sense.

One thing is certain. As long as the Middle East is full of backwards nations, fanatical terrorist groups and oil, and as long as America, the West, and Israel care more about their short term interests than helping the Arabs and Muslims help themselves reform politically, culturally and economically, there will be no shortage of conflicts. While it is hard to see the next seventy years being as bloody as the previous seventy it is not impossible.

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