A Basic Overview of the Middle East as of 2013

The following is not an academic paper or formal essay but a simple overview of many important considerations regarding the Middle East. While most of the paper is based on facts, statistics and various sources the author has taken considerable artistic license regarding many assumptions and conclusions. Therefore this paper should not be seen as more than a starting point for further learning on the subject. The author neither claims to be an expert on the region, nor that the general data listed below constitutes a full picture of the region; considerable information has had to be left out for the sake of brevity. He also realizes that many of the assumptions and conclusions reached are often subjective and therefore should mostly be considered as educated opinions rather than unequivocal truths.


The major oil states of the Middle East are Saudi Arabia, which holds nearly 20% of the world’s proven oil reserves while Iraq, Kuwait and Iran also hold approximately 10% each which compromise another 30%. Algeria, Libya, and the United Arab Republic likewise have significant levels. Most other countries in the region have at least some oil, while perhaps only Israel and Yemen have insignificant amounts.

Ultimately the region has 60% of the world’s proven oil reserves. While this should in theory give these nations much power and prosperity, in reality Western military supremacy, authoritarian governments, and the domination of oil revenues by the ruling elites of these nations mean that most are relatively weak, dependent upon U.S. backing, and their populations relatively impoverished.

Population levels:

Pakistan has the largest population, around 180 million. After this Turkey, Iran and Egypt all have major populations, between 70-80 million each. Below this, countries like Sudan (after the loss of South Sudan) Algeria and Afghanistan have more than 30 million countries while countries like Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Yemen have significant populations around 20-30 million.

Most other countries do not have significant numbers of populations, though countries like Israel and Jordan, with less than 8 million each hold disproportionate importance relative to their population levels. Of course smaller terrorist and resistance groups, the Palestinians, the Alawites and the Kurds are other examples of this phenomenon.

The total population of the Middle East depends upon how many countries are included, such as if you only count the proper Middle East versus the greater Middle East (which regrettably is subject to several different interpretations regarding which countries are included). Regarding the former, which spreads from Egypt to Iran and Turkey to Yemen the population is roughly more than 300 million, but if one includes other countries like Pakistan, North Africa, Sudan, Somalia, the Central Asian republics and even countries in the Caucasus the numbers could very well include between 700-800 million. Obviously the ultimate population levels depend on how many nations are included.

It should be noted that most countries in the region have much higher birth rates compared to most western countries, and this combined with political repression, a massive poverty rate, and the continuing scarcity of vital resources such as water, food and eventually oil, suggests that the already considerable levels of turmoil and frustration which inevitably lead to fanatical ideologies and the rise of violence are likely to increase in the decades to come.

Military power:

Israel and Turkey have the most powerful, best trained, and most advanced militaries. None of the others come close though Egypt, Saudi Arabia Pakistan, and arguably Iran have significant capabilities. Syria is notable, at least for its numbers, while the Jordanian military is small but man for man arguably the best in the Arab world.

Regarding weapons of mass destruction only Pakistan and Israel have nuclear weapons. Iran is probably developing them, while Iraq and Syria were arguably frustrated from making them due to American and Israeli military efforts. Regarding chemical and biological weapons Israel, Pakistan and Syria, among others, have considerable stocks. As far as is known no terrorist or resistance groups possess WMDs.

As for asymmetrical military capabilities Hezbollah is easily the most proficient regarding terrorism and guerrilla warfare (and has a considerable stock of cheap and simple rockets to hit Israel). Al-Qaeda and the Taliban also still pose significant terrorist threats. Hamas’s capabilities at terrorism and guerrilla warfare are not as potent as they used to be but like Hezbollah they have a significant stock of rockets to target the Jewish state. Groups to watch in the future include the Iraqi, Libyan and Syrian militants from their recent respective civil wars.

Put in perspective the Israelis, the Americans and the western backed armies in the region have indisputable advantages in conventional wars and thus their enemies have resorted to guerrilla warfare and/or terrorism since the end of the “Israeli wars” and other notable conventional conflicts like the “Gulf War,” in an attempt to counteract this. This has led to mixed results. Certainty the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have been costly to the U.S, yet ultimately have failed to defeat American interests in both these countries. Likewise, Hezbollah and Hamas have held out against Israeli assaults, but Israel shows no signs of giving up its conquests in the West Bank or even making significant political or diplomatic concessions. Finally, the countless insurgent and rebel groups in the various Arab countries have all either failed, or only succeeded with American or outside aid, regarding their respective conflicts. While many insurgencies have previously enjoyed successes against former colonial occupiers their victories against modern enemies has been extremely limited.

Meanwhile the quest to procure WMDs is mostly for the sake of deterring foreign aggression in the case of the region’s governments, or for the potential of launching devastating attacks in the case of terrorist groups. The ultimate prize would be nuclear weapons, especially since no country which has held them has ever been successfully overthrown, as well as the fact that nothing would signify a terrorist victory more than a mushroom cloud over Tel-Aviv or New York.

Types of government:

Perhaps only Israel, Turkey, Pakistan and Iraq are legitimate democracies, although if you include countries that merely elect people this would include the Palestinian governed areas, Lebanon and the new Egypt, Libya and Afghanistan. These latter nations should be watched attentively. Additionally it should be noted that Iran had a relatively democratic government in the early ’50s that was subsequently overthrown by an American and British sponsored coup.

Much of the rest of the countries are either Monarchies (some more enlightened than others) such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, or dictatorships like Syria, Sudan, Algeria and the late administration in Yemen.

Iran is the only current fundamentalist regime although the Taliban were arguably much more fanatical when they ruled Afghanistan. Hezbollah is a fundamentalist proxy of Iran and although it is not in charge in Lebanon it still has significant power in its governance.

It goes without saying that the terrorist/resistance groups in the region seek to overthrow their respective governments or at least want more inclusion in power.


The majority of inhabitants in the region are Muslim, of which the two main denominations are Sunni and Shiite. Most countries have a Sunni majority, although Iran, Iraq and Bahrain have Shiite majorities. Israel obviously has a Jewish majority and not surprisingly there are few Jewish people in other countries in the region. There are also significant Christian populations in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. The Alawites in Syria hold most power despite being a small minority. There are countless other religious sects or denominations as well.

Perhaps the most threatening religious groups would be the more extreme believers of Wahhabism in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran’s fundamentalist regime (and its proxy Hezbollah in Lebanon), Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other extremist groups (including the more fanatical Jewish groups in Israel and the West Bank).

It is also worth mentioning that the majority of Muslims are not Arab, and do not predominantly inhabit the Middle East. Indonesia is primarily Muslim, Nigeria and Black Africa have many Muslims, as do Russia and China, and there are of course plenty of Muslim communities in other regions, especially in Western Europe and North America.

Ethnic composition:

Perhaps the biggest myth about the Middle East is that the population is almost exclusively Arab. Pakistan with its considerable population comprises mostly of Punjabis and Pashtuns. Among the most populous nations Turkey is mostly Turkish, and Iran has a Persian majority. In Israel there is a significant mix of races due to the vast immigration after the holocaust. In Somalia and Sudan the population is mostly black. Finally the Kurds have significant numbers in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey comprising roughly 30 million and their efforts to gain autonomy, or even semi-autonomy, has resulted in extreme bloodshed.

Needless to say there are many other considerable groups.

Ideologies since “World War 2”

During the last 70 years the Middle East has witnessed a vast menagerie of competing ideologies, secular or non-secular, in many attempts to achieve good governance, prosperity or establish a widely accepted philosophy for living. Try picturing all the ideologies thought up and fought for, or against, in Europe and the Western world over several centuries, but in the case of the Middle East it occurred in mere decades since the “Second World War.” These ideologies, whether Islamic or secular, regional or nation based, have, with a few exceptions, ultimately failed to bring lasting happiness, prosperity, or stability to the region.

Pan-Arabism, the attempt to merge all Arab countries into one state failed due to petty infighting, corruption, and the lack of trust among various Arab leaders. The Arab monarchies with their rubber stamping parliaments are also nearing extinction due to their refusal to offer of any real democratic reform and sharing next to none of their oil wealth with their people. Secular and socialist countries such as Ba’athist Syria and Iraq (when under Saddam Hussein) have killed more people than even the religious fanatics and mismanaged their economies so poorly that even Iraq’s oil wealth, and Syria’s domination of Lebanon, were not enough to fix their economic woes. The Islamic Republic in Iran was admittedly popular at first, but the 8 year long “Iran-Iraq War,” economic stagnation, lack of any real democratic reform, and the growing numbers of young, unemployed and desperate youth is slowly catching up with it. Finally there are the remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has more popularity than most westerners would admit, but has not been able to arouse the same impressive resistance against the occupying Americans as the Afghanis have done so brilliantly in the past against the British, the Russians, and even Alexander the Great.

Somehow Liberal democracy has gained little currency in the region. Maybe this is the result of the nearly impossible attempts to separate church, or in this case Mosque, and State, the fact that most of the inhabitants in the region are relatively uneducated, the various efforts made by self interested elites to keep economic and political power, or maybe even the consideration that the masses in the region could arguably be skeptical of an ideology that the Western world promotes so much, yet has done so little to actually implement in the Middle East. Put simply perhaps the inhabitants see the hypocrisy of Western nations giving lip service to democracy while often supporting brutal despots and tyrants in the region.

However, as previously mentioned, it would be wrong to say that the region does not have any democracy as Israel, Turkey, Iraq and Pakistan all have more or less legitimate democratic governments, while it is hoped that Afghanistan, Egypt and Libya will soon develop them. Lebanon, and even the Palestinian territories also have many elements of democracy (at least elections), and some of the Gulf countries have various elections at lower levels of governance. And less people in the West succumb to ethnocentrism it should be remembered how long it took countries like Britain, America, and even Canada between establishing democratic governments and ending slavery, giving women the vote and giving equal status to minorities. This process lasted decades to centuries and was not accomplished in a matter of years.

It is hoped that with the rise of media and information technology, leading to more education and widespread communications, that the masses in the region will ultimately be able to control their fates (however considering many of the region’s despots have effectively used such technology in efforts to crush such dissent this may seem overoptimistic). Either way there is little doubt that various forces, including fanatics, militants, or elites who have no wish to share power or wealth, will do everything in their power to frustrate such progress.

Modern History:

While the Middle East obviously has a long history perhaps it is easier to focus on the last century. Although far for perfect it is easy to divide the history of the region into several periods. While there is little room here for more than a small, and admittedly unsophisticated, historical narrative the main points can be easily articulated.

At the beginning of the “First World War” most countries of the region were either colonies, or protectorates, of the British, French, Russian, Turkish, and Italian Empires. The inhabitants of these nations had little say in their governance and generally hated their imperial overseers who plundered much of their resources and drew up frontiers and governments more for the convenience of themselves than to correspond to the existing cultural or social makeup of the various peoples. During the war the British, with some French help, defeated the Turks, conquering all of their foreign possessions, and became the foremost power in the region (arguably holding this position until the Suez conflict in 1956).

However, instead of granting independence to many of the inhabitants in the region as had been implied by several agreements with many Arab leaders the British and French annexed their conquests and held the region under their thumbs during the interwar years. During these years the British put down several rebellions, notable in Iraq and in Palestine in which there was considerable violence between the Arab majority at the increasing levels of Jews that were emigrating there (obviously a portent of things to come).

“World War 2” also witnessed calamitous events. The fighting in North Africa and Syria, the putting down of a rebellion in Iraq, the Anglo-Russian invasion of Iran, and the holocaust (which led to massive Jewish emigration to, and eventually the establishment of, Israel) all promised to alter the complexion of the region.

Indeed, the war weakened Britain and France so much that it ultimately led to de-colonization of the region, the establishment of Israel, and eventually the relinquishment of Britain and France as the main power brokers in the region (to be replaced by America and the Soviet Union). Thereupon these two countries tried dividing the region into proxies to serve their own purposes. Considering there was already a mini Cold War in the region between those countries with conservative monarchies and those with more revolutionary ideologies it made sense they would be absorbed into the greater “Cold War” between the U.S. and the Russians.

Major events during this period include the establishment of Israel, the multiple “Arab-Israeli wars,” the “Algerian War,” the “Iranian Revolution,” the “Iran-Iraq war” countless other revolutions, insurgencies and coups, the “Soviet Afghan War” “the First Intifada” and the “Gulf War.” These violent events, along with the various failed ideologies that dominated the region for the last half a century ultimately resulted in growing frustration in the Arab world, Islamic fundamentalism, considerable anti-American, anti-western and anti-Israeli sentiment in the region, and paved the way towards “9/11” and the considerable clashes between western and Islamic forces in the 21st century.

With America’s triumph in the “Cold War” and the “Gulf War” it appeared at the time that the U.S. was in a position to solve the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” as well as dominate most of the region’s issues and thus play the role Britain did during the interwar years. However, their efforts at the former failed by the end of the millennium and their influence regarding the latter was limited. The failure to fix the Palestinian problem, the vain efforts to put Saddam Hussein in his place after the “Gulf War,” and the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia after the “battle of Mogadishu” encouraged many of America’s enemies that she could be defeated and forced to withdraw its forces from the region. These, along with the factors mentioned above, drew a direct line from the end of the “Second World War” to “9/11.”

Which leads to the calamitous 12 years since the devastating attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. There has certainly been plenty of history between Sept 11, 2001 and 2013. Not since the “Iran-Iraq war” has so much blood been spilt in the region in so short a time. Major events during this time frame include “9/11,” “the war in Afghanistan,” the “Iraq War,” the “Second Intifada,” “the Second Lebanon War,” the “Gaza conflict,” the “Arab Spring,” the “Libyan intervention,” the “Syrian Civil War,” etc. These events have influenced the Arab world and the Americans differently.

On the one hand it could be argued that the considerable turmoil of the last 12 years has considerably damaged American power and prestige in the region. Certainly the “Iraq War,” the backing of Israel’s many military ventures, rogue actions such as Drone attacks, and the considerable financial, human, and diplomatic costs of these endeavors have taken its toll on American political will, her reputation, and her geopolitical position. On the other hand most of the regimes in the region continue to stagnate and have not improved their positions vis a vis the Americans, the Israelis and the West. Thus relatively nothing has really changed regarding the balance of power and considering that nations and people’s in the region have turned to America, and not Iran or fanatical organizations like Al-Qaeda, in lieu of the “Arab Spring” there is no indication that America’s influence in the region has significantly less clout than usual.

It is more likely America’s enemies will burn out before she does, but whether they are replaced by more moderate, democratic, or at least more stable elements, or whether they are replaced by more fanatical or hostile forces remains to be seen. Certainly the history of revolutions, coups and ideologies in the region during the past 70 years which failed to produce freedom and prosperity could at least suggest that one should be cautious at hoping for the best.


Unfortunately there is nothing clear cut in the Middle East about various alliances, sympathies or alignments. While there are simple examples such as Israel and Turkey being formal allies of the United States, or that Syria and Iran are also close allies, it is generally more complicated than that. Generally one could suggest that the main contest in the region is between nations that support the status quo, supported by the Americans (and Israel tacitly) and other nations, or groups, that want to change the status quo (often in drastically different ways), led by Iran and her principal ally Syria.

In the simplest, though not entirely accurate, terms one could say the former group includes Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the Gulf States, Pakistan, Lebanon, and militant groups like Fatah (or friendly militants in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan) etc, while the latter would include Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, several branches of the Muslim Brotherhood, various terrorist or militant groups, etc. Then there are the extreme hardcore groups that are enemies of both which obviously includes Al-Qaeda.

As noted above these latter groups often have many differing goals, some of which compete with each other. For example, Iran arguably simply wants to emerge as the dominant power in the region, no doubt at the expense of America. Syria and Hezbollah share this goal, while Hamas and Fatah both want to lead the Palestinian cause as well as liberate the Palestinians from the Israeli yoke. Various groups want to overthrow their governments and install more or less Islamic regimes, while others like Al-Qaeda want to unite all the nations in the region under an Islamic Caliphate like in bygone days. There is also significant religious and ethnic infighting, such as the Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, the hard pressed Alawites and its few allies vs. the majority of groups in Syria, and the Kurdish groups fighting for more autonomy in their respective nations. There are countless more examples.

If this were not complicated enough, there are significant elements among the supposed “status quo” nations that lean more towards the revolutionary side. For example, while Egypt is usually seen as a U.S. ally it is conceivable that under the new Muslim Brotherhood regime it could eventually join the other camp (hence why the Americans have yet to cut off the billions of dollars of aid they give to that country). Also there are significant forces in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to name a few, that have fanatical sympathies, often supporting the Americans with one hand, and arming terrorists with the other. Lebanon, Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan are also odd case studies. Lebanon’s government and military is generally pro-west while Hezbollah, which holds considerable power in the country, completely opposes such an alignment. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya all have competing militias and groups that are fighting each other for various aims, but ultimately are either pro, or anti-U.S.

Which leads to the point that nations and groups in the region often change sides, sometimes due to coups, sometimes due to foreign intervention, sometimes due to ideological shifts, or simply out of changing interests. Egypt for instance went from being an implacable enemy of the West, to being its best ally (and may switch yet again), while Iran was arguably America’s best ally until the “Iranian Revolution” and is now its worst enemy. Iraq has also gone back and forth several times, and even terrorist groups like Fatah and insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed sides.

Finally the situation of Israel is extremely complex. While America, and until recently, Turkey have been steadfast allies, Jordan, and the Gulf countries have often been tacit allies, and even Iran was an Israeli ally before the “Iranian Revolution.” Of course this is usually in secret as all factions in the Middle East, safe of course America, openly side with the Palestinians even though all of them generally do nothing to significantly aid them.

The quintessential point being that while there are generally some alliances and alignments, they are rarely longterm and that there is significant infighting in many nations themselves. If all of this has confused the reader that was precisely the author’s intention, as he himself has yet, and probably will never, be able to understand the various relationships between nations in the region. The alignments are not simple as in both world wars such as the Triple Entente and the Central Powers, or Axis and Allies.


As noted above the Middle East covers, especially if the greater Middle East is included, a large geographical area. In the latter case it stretches from the Atlantic to Pakistan, and Kazakhstan to Sudan. While traditional literature would suggest most of the region is dessert terrain this is an over-simplistic, and inaccurate, conclusion.

Much of the region, including its major rivers such as the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates, and the Indus have significant agriculture and vegetation. Likewise while there is plenty of dessert terrain in North Africa and the Gulf countries there is no lack of mountain terrain in places such as Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Northern Iraq, the Caucasus, etc.

As for population centers there are plenty of large urban centers such as Cairo, Alexandria, Istanbul, Tehran, Baghdad, Islamabad, Karachi, Damascus, Aleppo, Tel-Aviv, etc. The idea that there is a prevalence of rural communities and nomads is erroneous.

Regarding geopolitics the region’s geography is notable for its many maritime choke points where considerable levels of world trade, and especially its oil exports, pass through. Considering the region contains most of the world’s proven oil reserves, and considering it is also a major hub of international commerce, the control, or denial, of such checkpoints has always been an important consideration for most major world powers.

These choke points include the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden, and the Hormuz strait. It is no coincidence that the British Empire at its height and America since the “Cold War” have done so much to control these vital lines of communication to guarantee their access to world trade and oil supplies.

Major regional issues:

Being the powder key that it is the Middle East has no lack of significant issues. The most well known is obviously the “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict. However other major issues include the “Syrian Civil War,” the war in Afghanistan, the “Iranian Nuclear program” and the region’s considerable social, political and economic strife, to name a few among many.

The “Israeli-Palestinian” conflict arguably only effects the Palestinians but the masses in the region, and especially their corrupt leaders, use it as an excuse to justify any violence, or at least any displeasure, against Israel, the U.S. and the West. This is obviously hypocritical given the fact Egypt and Jordan have previously annexed Palestinian lands, how poorly most of the countries in the region have treated Palestinian refugees and the fact that the Arabs have killed more Palestinians than the Israelis. Additionally one could easily point out how many countries in the region treat such minorities as the Kurds and Shiites arguably just as bad as the Israelis treat the Palestinians. Certainly a case could be made that there is a double standard regarding how world opinion disproportionately focuses on Israel’s crimes versus those of her neighbors.

However, solving it would remove a sore point, but considering all the bruises in the region it would not solve the rest of the major issues. Certainly it would not stop the Iranians from wanting nukes or dominating the Middle East, end the fighting among the countless groups with their various interests, or improve the political or economic status of the inhabitants in the region. The conflict itself seems unsolvable as Israeli security concerns, or down right attempts at annexation stall progress at one end, and unreasonable Palestinian demands and outright hated of Israel from other countries stall it at the other. While it would be arrogant for the author to suggest he had a formula to solve the conflict, perhaps a concerted effort by the Americans to pressure the Israelis to compromise on one side, and another effort by the Arabs to pressure the Palestinians on the other would likely yield fruit. However given the power of the Jewish lobby in America, as well as the fact it is not in the interest of the ruling elite in the Middle East to do so suggests that this formula has little chance of ever being adopted, let alone succeeding.

The “Syrian Civil War” is important as Syria’s position in the region has immense geopolitical importance. Being Iran’s chief ally, its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, its border with Lebanon, Iraq, and Israel, and its considerable stocks of weapons of mass destruction (which will fall into the hands of whoever wins) are some of the many important considerations. In the best case scenario a relatively pro-western faction could emerge victorious, end the Iranian alliance, isolate Hezbollah and restrain Hamas, make peace with Israel, and be a force for stability in the recognition. In the worst case a regime even more hostile to the status quo could emerge, intensify the current turmoil and even give WMDs to terrorist groups. Given the many competing insurgent groups with their differing aspirations and goals it is hard to predict the end result. While it is debatable if direct American military intervention in the conflict would be wise certainly a case could be made for America and her allies to support and prop up the more moderate insurgent groups to prevent the more extremist groups coming to power in Damascus at the end of the conflict.

The resolution of the “Afghan War” is also of great importance. Considering that America’s abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal in the late 1980s led to the rise of Al-Qaeda and terrorism it is obvious that preventing the Taliban or other entities that hate the West from gaining power there would probably be a good thing. Yet despite all the cynicism regarding the current administration in Kabul there are good reasons to be somewhat hopeful. The Iraqi experiment has so far survived despite the American withdrawal, and in previous situations where other governments were initially propped up by foreign influences (such as South Vietnam, Batista’s Cuba, and even the government the Russians installed in Afghanistan) they ultimately collapsed more to do with the foreign governments pulling the plug on all aid (monetary, military and diplomatic) than weaknesses on the indigenous governments part. In other words if the American government continues to give the government in Kabul significant aid after all U.S. troops withdraw it will probably survive.

The Iranian nuclear program is arguably the biggest concern of Israel, the U.S, the West, and the nations in the region that favor the current status quo. While many Israeli and Americans like to emphasize the potentially apocalyptic consequences of Iran getting the bomb it would arguably not be so detrimental to the bigger picture so long as the Iranians did not plan on nuking Israel or giving nuclear weapons to terrorist proxies (no doubt significant caveats). While there exists enough evidence to suggest that Iran is more or less a rational state that would not risk annihilation by doing so, no one can guarantee that Iran would not do so either. However, it is perhaps reassuring that since 1945 no country has used nuclear weapons, including Stalinist Russia or Maoist China. Either way Israel and the U.S. both have nuclear weapons and an overwhelming advantage in conventional military power and it is therefore hard to see Iran getting much advantage out of possessing nuclear weapons. It could arguably trigger a nuclear weapons race, or give Iran more clout in the region, but more likely the increasingly unpopular Iranian regime will eventually burn out like the Soviet Union did before her.

The social, political, and economic strife obviously fuels all of the above, as well as all other major issues in the region. These were also factors for the significant strife, wars, revolutions and other unpleasant events which occurred in the West during the last few centuries as well. Massive unemployment, overpopulation, the unequal distribution of wealth and resources, lack of freedom and severe discriminate are just some of the many issues affecting the societies in the Middle East. While the author has no idea of how or where to start in order to fix such problems it is plain that rectifying them would go along way to alleviating most of the region’s problems.

General summary of main points

-Despite holding more than 60% of the World’s proven oil reserves many of the region’s regimes are unstable and weak, their populations frustrated an impoverished, and are often at the mercy of foreign influences

-the Middle Eastern nations have a considerable population base which in most cases will grow exponentially vs. most western nations
-however the lack political freedom, the considerable economic difficulties in the region, and the scarcity of resources such as food, water and even oil suggests that with increased population growth many of the current problems in the region will probably get worse, rather than better, over the foreseeable future

-Israel, Turkey, Pakistan and western backed nations have an unsurpassable conventional military advantage over rogue states such as Iran and Syria
-however Iran and Syria have resorted to using proxies to fight their enemies, while non-state actors like Hezbollah, Hamas and various insurgent/terrorist groups have used asymmetrical methods such as guerrilla warfare and terrorism to compensate for their weakness in conventional warfare capabilities
-only Israel and Pakistan have nuclear weapons, though Iran is thought to be developing them
-the development of WMDs is sought by regimes to deter foreign aggression (such as invasion by the United States) and by terrorists to launch potentially devastating attacks against their enemies

-most of the countries are ruled either by monarchies or authoritarian regimes
-Iran is technically the only fundamentalist regime in the region
-there are few legitimate democratic governments though many other countries have, or are developing, some democratic policies or procedures
-resistance/terrorist groups are either trying to overthrow their respective governments or at least want more autonomy, or say, regarding their governance

-the vast majority of inhabitants are Muslim, of which the two main denominations are Sunni and Shiite
-most Muslims do not inhabit the Middle East
-most countries have a Sunni majority but Iraq, Iran and Bahrain have a Shiite majority
-Israel obviously has a Jewish majority, and there are significant Christian communities in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt

-despite having an Arab majority there is a significant non-Arab population in the region
-Turkey is predominantly Turkish, Iran is mostly Persian, and Israel has a very mixed racial background (mostly due to emigration before, and after, the holocaust)
-the population of Somalia and Sudan is mostly black
-Pakistan is mostly Punjabis and Pashtun

-the Middle East has gone through countless ideologies since the end of the “Second World War”
-these include Pan-Arabism, the retaining of Monarchies, various forms of Socialism, and various interpretations of Islamic fundamentalism
-none of these ideologies have brought freedom, stability, or prosperity to the inhabitants of the region
-liberal democracy has not “yet” been implemented in any serious way (safe of course Israel)

-most of the Middle East was occupied by foreign powers before the beginning of the “First World War”
-during the war Britain and France defeated the Turks and established themselves as the dominant powers in the region
-“World War 2” led to the establishment of Israel, decolonization, and Britain and France ultimately being replaced by America and the Soviet Union as the dominant powers in the region
-various coups, revolutions, insurgencies and conflicts during the “Cold War” led to rife instability, economic stagnant, general frustration, and rising anti-Israeli, anti-American, and anti-western sentiment in the region
-despite victory in the “Cold War” America did not effectively exploit her dominant position in the region in the subsequent decade and thanks to several U.S. failures in the area her enemies felt encouraged enough to confront and attack her
-this resulted in the escalating terrorist attacks during the 1990s to “9/11” and triggered considerable clashes between American and western forces vs. Islamic ones during the next decade
-however pent up frustration among the region’s masses has also led to the “Arab Spring” and it is debatable if the more extremist and anti-western regimes and groups (including Iran and Syria as well as Al-Qaeda) can survive indefinitely

-the Middle East can generally be divided according to two camps, one that favors the continuation of the status quo, and the other that wants to challenge it
-Israel, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, potentially the new Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan and the Gulf countries, and various pro-western militant groups such as Fatah are mostly aligned with the former
-Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, Al-Qaeda, and anti-western militant groups mostly align with the latter
-however such a division is imperfect as many elements on both sides sympathize more with the other side (as elements of the Saudi, Pakistani regime sympathize more with the latter group whereas dissidents in Syria and Iran sympathize more with the former)
-allegiances in the region often change side (as Egypt and Iran changed sides in 1979, Iraqi insurgents changed sides after the American surge of troops in Iraq in 2007, as well as the countless different changes due to revolutions, coups, ideological shifts, etc.)
-America and Israel have confusing relationships in the region as most states are openly against them but often align their interests with them in secrecy

-geographically the Middle East is extensive, arguably spreading from the Atlantic to Pakistan and from Sudan to the Caucasus
-besides the considerable desserts of North Africa and the Gulf States there are the considerable rivers such as the Nile, the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Indus
-the popular perception of the region comprising mostly of rural areas and nomads is false as most of the inhabitants live in massive urban areas around such cities as Cairo, Alexandria, Istanbul, Tehran, Baghdad, Islamabad, Karachi, Damascus, Aleppo, Tel-Aviv, etc.
-the Middle East contains significant maritime checkpoints such as the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz
-much of world trade and a disproportionate amount of oil exports pass through these checkpoints and thus most major world powers compete to control them

-major issues in the region include the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the “Syrian Civil War,” the current war in Afghanistan, the “Iranian Nuclear Program,” and the considerable social, political and economic strife in the region.
-solving the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” would remove a sensitive issue with fuels much animosity in the region but would not solve the other major issues affecting the area
-the “Syrian Civil War” is important due to the serious influence Syria holds regarding Israel Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Hamas
-the victory of a pro-western faction in Syria would serve the American, Israeli and the more pro status quo nations’ interests in the region while the victory of an anti-western faction would arguably be more beneficial to those countries and groups that wish to challenge the status quo in the region
-the end result in Afghanistan is important as the victory of the current government would probably result in more stability, both for the region and the world, while the victory of more radical elements would probably increase turmoil, violence and terrorism just as the emergence of the Taliban after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 did so
-the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons is arguably the single greatest concern of the Americans, the Israelis and the more pro status quo nations and groups
-in the worst case scenario the Iranians could nuke Israel or give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups
-more likely the Iranians may gain some additional political and diplomatic in the short term, but the fact Israel and America both have both nukes as well as a considerable advantage in conventional warfare capabilities, and the growing levels of dissent in Iran suggests that Iran will not profit in the long term
-the social, political and economic strife in the region provides much fuel to the violence, turmoil and many issues in the region
-until they are solved or at least alleviated there is little chance of fixing the long term issues in the region


Beckett, Ian. Modern Insurgencies and Counter-Insurgencies. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Darwish, Nonie. The Devil We Don’t Know. Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2012.

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

Herzog, Chaim. The Arab-Israeli Wars. London: Greenhill Books, 2005.

Kaplan, Robert. The Revenge of Geography. New York: Random House, 2012.

Lewis, Bernard. The Crisis of Islam. Holy War and Unholy Terror. Toronto: Random House, 2004.

Lewis, Bernard. What Went Wrong? The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. New York: HarperCollins, 2003.

Oren, Michael. Six Days of War. New York: Ballantine Books, 2003.

Polk, William. Violent Politics. New York: HarperCollins, 2007.

Ross, Stewart. The Middle East since 1945. London: Hodder Headline, 2004.

Rubin, Barry. Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Shlaim, Avi. War and Peace in the Middle East. New York: Penguin Books, 1995.

National Geographic Atlas of the Middle East. Washington D.C: 2003.

CIA’s World Fact Book Online: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/

Wikipedia Article on the “Middle East”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East [May, 2013]

Why America Should Intervene in the “Syrian Civil War”

The time has come for the United States, preferably backed by NATO and hopefully by the United Nations, to intervene decisively in the “Syrian Civil War.” By “intervene decisively” I mean that the United States should use military power to fatally weaken the Assad regime as well as equipping and supporting moderate and trustworthy rebel factions to overthrow the regime themselves. Toothless words uttered at the U.N. and sanctions will not, and have never, solved such conflicts. This type of intervention would not require the Americans or NATO to commit to an extensive and costly ground war such as in Iraq or Afghanistan, but to use their advantages in air power and special operations much as they did with considerable success in Libya in 2011. While intervention, as such, in Syria would likely be more difficult, both militarily and politically, than in Libya there are no indications that it would be extremely risky. Additionally, whereas there are many advantages from an early American intervention there are also considerable risks of continuously sitting on the sidelines and hoping for the best. If it can be proven beyond a doubt that the Syrian government was responsible for widespread use of chemical weapons against its own people then military intervention by America and NATO against the Assad regime would be justified.

The first, and most obvious, reason for intervention would be the current humanitarian crisis in Syria. After two and half years of war the death toll has surpassed 100,000 (a much higher number than how many Palestinians the Israelis have killed during the last 65 years) and there are an estimated 1.7 million Syrian refugees who are either dispersed in their own country or living in dreadful refugee camps in neighboring countries. Additionally, there is the alarming use of a considerable number of chemical weapons by the regime against rebel forces and civilians. Not since Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons against the Iranians and the Iraqi people has there been such a widespread use of such weapons in any conflict. Back then the United States and NATO not only did nothing, but also backed Iraq to various degrees; it would be disgraceful for them to remain silent and do nothing again. There is no reason to believe that the number of deaths, refugees, and use of chemical weapons will not continue to rise prohibitively until the conflict ends. With American aid the conflict would most likely end much sooner and lead to less suffering in the long term.

There is also the fact that many of the Syrian people (safe, of course for the minority who support the Assad regime out of self-interest or perks), the Syrian National Council and most of the Syrian resistance groups have openly called for, and desperately need, both outside intervention and material support. While there is no way to know for sure, as the Obama administration could be using proxies or CIA black operations to equip the rebels, it seems as though the rebels are generally outmatched against the Assad regime. Incidentally, while the western world searches its conscious regarding what to do to help the Syrian people the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians have not hesitated to support Assad, both diplomatically and materially (including delivering weapons) and help him stay in power.

There are certainly no lack of precedents where giving rebel groups sufficient weapons and supplies has ultimately proved decisive. The Chinese aid to the Vietminh against the French, the American aid to the Mujaheddin against the Soviets, and of course NATO’s aid to the Libyan rebels are obvious examples. And while skeptics would point out the long term instability and calamity regarding the aftermath in the cases of Vietnam and Afghanistan the main mistakes were made after the wars were over and the host country failed to properly set up the new governments, both structurally and financially, for success.

While skeptics and pessimists point out the risks of intervention there are also many risks of non-intervention. Although there is no way to tell, in the case of non-intervention, who will triumph in the “Syrian Civil War” the chances of a faction winning in such a case who would be friendly to American and Western interests would be low. In the case of Assad’s regime holding onto power the status quo would remain, in the case of an anti-western jihadist or secular faction winning power it could arguably become much worse, and in the case of a moderate faction it could arguably get better. However even in the latter case the political capital the West would hold with such a faction would be limited as America would have sat out the conflict instead of helping them when it mattered.

But if America and NATO intervened they could choose which factions to support (hopefully the more moderate and pro-western ones) and prop them up with the ultimate aim of installing them, at least initially, in place of Assad. While admittedly this would be anything but easy in such a messy situation as a civil war with countless factions it would certainly be more likely to benefit Western interests than sitting back and hoping a moderate faction would ultimate triumph (which would be unrealistic as the more hard core Islamic factions tend to be the most organized; as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood have shown).

It must be remembered that there is more at stake regarding this conflict than Syria itself. In fact, Syria’s position in the Middle East is an extremely important one. Syria has, or has had, an important role regarding Lebanon, Israel, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Turkey, and Iran. Regarding Lebanon, it has continuously backed the militant group Hezbollah; allowing it to both fight Israel as well as challenging the Lebanese army and government (both usually reliable western allies). Regarding Israel it has been in a state of war since 1948 and has continuously fought the Jewish state conventionally or via proxies for over 65 years. Regarding Gaza it has backed Hamas both diplomatically and materially against Israel. Regarding Jordan it has continuously undermined the Hashemite Monarchy (a moderate and useful ally for the West) and tried to raise the masses against it. Regarding Turkey it has occasionally provided support for Kurdish separatists in southern Turkey. As for Iran it has been its major ally in the Middle East, continuously opposing the West and the more progressive Arab moderates since the late 1970s.

Think of all these conflicts and contexts and imagine how different they could develop if factions, either more pro-western and less anti-Israeli, or more anti-American and more hostile against Israel came to power. While citing extreme examples is arguably unfair the following should at least be able to put things into perspective: In the case of a more enlightened government coming to power in Damascus there could potentially be a Syrian-Israeli peace treaty, Hezbollah and Hamas would become weaker or even forced to come to terms with Israel instead of further bloodshed, Iran would lose its best ally and Syria could have more constructive relations with her neighbors and the West. In the case of a more hostile government coming to power there could be further conflict between Syria and Israel, more support for terrorist groups, potentially more support for Iran and a further deterioration of relations between Syria and her neighbors and the West.

In fact the “Syrian Civil War” is perhaps the pivotal battle in the Cold War in the Middle East between America and her allies which favor slow reform to address the many grievances in the region vs. Iran, Syria and their proxies which seek to violently overthrow the status quo and generally want to see a more conservative, Islamic fundamentalist, Middle East. This latter group supports widespread terrorist groups and insurgencies which have not, and never will, lead to democracy or prosperity for the region, as well as fomenting violence between Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas and Israel. Critics of American foreign policy as well as their less than enlightened allies among the Arab states can certainly find much to criticize about both but they certainly cannot make a convincing case that a Middle East dominated by Iran, Syria’s Assad and terrorist groups would make for a safer, or more stable, region. The very reason most of the Arab countries are U.S. allies is that they fear Iranian influence and Islamic fundamentalism more than America. It is telling that during the “Arab Spring,” the “Libyan Civil War” and in the current Syrian crisis the Arab people and resistance factions have usually turned to the Americans, not the Iranians or Al-Qaeda, for help.

Likewise, decisive intervention in Syria also gives America the chance to eliminate Russia and China’s last major ally in the region. While the Soviet Union had plenty of allies in the region during the “Cold War” since the 1990s Russia’s influence has been steadily waning. Additionally, both the Russians and Chinese are still bitter about the overthrow of Gaddafi who was another key ally (not least because the new Libya has turned to the West instead of them). Just as in the case of Iran a Middle East dominated more by Chinese and Russian influence than by American would not lead to more democracy or prosperity for its people. While Western media (somewhat perversely) has traditionally focused on the many wrongs America has inflicted on the Arabs and the Muslims, the Russians and Chinese have killed and oppressed many more. Russia killed arguably 2 million people during their occupation of Afghanistan and countless Chechens in two separate wars and certainly treats their Muslim population much worse than America treats its own. China also arguably killed millions of their Uyghur population in the northwest Xinjiang province and also severely limits their rights. In fact, whereas there has only been one successful terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists on American soil since 9/11 (the Boston marathon) there have been several notable ones in Russia and China, including a small scale insurgency by the Uyghurs against the Chinese state.

While naive idealists and apologists for neo-communists and Islamic fundamentalists would rather see America withdraw from the region, realists, and those who are informed about the fragile context of the region, understand American influence is a necessary evil. This does not mean that America has not committed grave errors with tragic consequences for the inhabitants of the region, but it does mean that in the case of total American withdrawal that Russia, China, and especially Iran would fill the vacuum and the long term results would be much worse.

Finally there is the fate of Syria’s considerable stocks of chemical and biological weapons (among the largest in the region). While in lieu of the Iraq fiasco 10 years earlier it is understandable that few want to debate the potential threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction once more it is an issue that needs to be addressed eventually. It only makes sense that the Americans and NATO make sensible plans to secure these weapons rather than trusting that whomever triumphs in Syria will not use the weapons against them or give them to terrorist groups. And before someone mentions the tired old saying of “no blood for oil” it should be noted that there is very little oil in Syria!

These are the reasons why America should intervene militarily, but another question is could it? Plenty of skeptics point out that a Libyan style intervention would be more difficult in Syria. Indeed, much of the fighting in Libya was in desert terrain which is more ideal for the use of Airpower than the mostly urban battlefields in Syria. Additionally, the Syrian regime has a much stronger and more modern military, especially regarding SAMs (surface to air missiles) and AA (anti-aircraft) defenses. Then there is the matter of logistics as NATO had many bases close to Libya which allowed their air forces to attack it efficiently whereas they have few close to Syria. Finally, there is the fact that whereas Gaddafi (perhaps foolishly given his end) gave up his chemical and biological weapons before the Libyan intervention Assad still has his. These are all valid points and an American and NATO intervention in Syria would not be an easy feat.

However, these factors can most likely be mitigated and the U.S. effort would certainly not involve scores of ground troops (although it is likely special operatives would be used as they were in Libya).

Regarding the urban battlefield it should be stated honestly that there would be considerably more collateral damage than in Libya and that it would be much harder to hit targets accurately than in the desert. However, whereas it is easy for insurgents and individual soldiers to hide inside cities it is much harder, though admittedly not impossible, for them to hide the considerable numbers of tanks, trucks, planes, artillery pieces, equipment and supplies that is needed to run an army.

Besides which even if American Airpower did not physically destroy many of these assets (as it often remarkably has not in past situations as in Kosovo and the air campaign in the “Gulf War”) it would likely prove decisive in other ways. Firstly, to avoid being hit the Syrian army would have to hide most of this equipment and go onto the defensive; indeed it would change its mission from quashing the rebels to that of mere survival. This would give the Syrian resistance breathing room and allow them to reorganize and better equip themselves and ultimately to take the offensive and overthrow Assad. Secondly, the air offensive would also have a moral effect; encouraging the rebels and discouraging the Syrian regime’s soldiers. Most soldiers are aware of the fact that no conventional army in modern history has won a war without air superiority. Thirdly, much of the NATO’s first strikes would be against the Syrian’s command and control capabilities and as a result the Syrian army would inevitably lose its cohesion and thus lose much of its edge over the rebels.

As for the fact that the Syrian armed forces are both larger and better equipped than Libya’s was on paper, the last 65 years of military history in the Middle East should dispel the notion that it would be able to seriously withstand American and NATO’s military might. The Israelis alone, with a smaller population and resource base vs. Syria have consistently bested the Syrians, even when the latter have had considerable numerical superiority and often just as good, if not better, technology and equipment. In 1967 the Israelis destroyed the majority of the Syrian Air Force on the ground and won aerial supremacy in a matter of hours (even though they were also fighting the Jordanians and Egyptians at the same time). In 1982 the Israelis also destroyed the entire Syrian SAM network in the Bekaa Valley (the most concentrated and extensive air defense system outside the Soviet Union in the world at the time) in a matter of hours without the loss of a single plane. They also shot down nearly 100 Syrian planes, again without loss, in a matter of days. The Israelis even managed to bomb a suspected nuclear plant in Syria in 2007 without any loss or Syrian retaliation (likely as the result of cyber-warfare that shut down the entire Syrian anti-aircraft defense network). There is simply no reason based on history or the comparative balance of forces that the Americans and NATO, who have vastly superior Airpower and technology, and indeed who have given Israel much of their military technology, will not be able to quickly over power the Syrian air force and air defense network and then have the liberty to bomb at will any target they please.

Since 1944 the Americans have never been without air superiority in any conflict; it is hard to believe that Assad’s Syria will be the exception. While it is wise to admit that Airpower has never won wars on its own, and that any Syrian intervention (if the objective was to remove Assad from power) would arguably be more difficult and take longer than it did in Libya, which took many months, there is certainly little risk that it would result in significant, or even negligible U.S. or NATO casualties. There will never be an Iraqi style intervention with an invasion or prolonged occupation by Western group troops in Syria; neither the Obama administration, nor the American people, has the political will.

As for logistical constraints, America and NATO could potentially find it more difficult to use Airpower in Syria than in Libya for the fact that there are fewer, and less developed NATO bases from which to launch such a campaign from. Besides the obvious use of aircraft carriers and ships and submarines with precision guided missiles, there are the British bases on Cyprus, which in terms of numbers and capabilities are much less impressive than those used in Italy to launch the Libyan intervention. Admittedly this is more of a problem for the Europeans, who generally do not have the amount of carriers, the aerial refueling capabilities, nor the considerable military logistical network that the Americans have. It is probable that the Americans, who would carry out most of the tasks anyway, would be able to carry out such a mission, but for the Europeans they would either have to limit their consignment of troops and supplies to the few carriers they have and to whatever capabilities the Cyprus bases can accommodate, or secure the use of bases in neighboring Arab states or Turkey.

Turkey, itself a NATO member, seems like the obvious choice with its respectable military and extensive air bases. However, it is questionable how willing the Turks would be open to such a move. While they certainly have no warmth for Assad, having had to host thousands of Syrian refugees and to deal with many Syrian manipulations over the years, it is debatable how much the Turks would want to risk fighting a Syrian regime that has shown itself willing to use chemical weapons. The use of other countries in the region seems even less likely. Jordan is militarily weak vs. Syria, Iraq would unsurprisingly be reluctant to once again having western forces deployed on its soil, Lebanon is virtually a Syrian vassal state and the presence of Hezbollah (which has considerable power within the Lebanese government) rules out its use. It is also obvious that the Arab world would not tolerate American or NATO planes bombing Syria from Israel and given the current political turmoil in Egypt it would probably not assent to helping NATO either. Thus it is inevitable that the lion-share of any military action against Syria will be mounted by the Americans with a more limited effort by NATO.

However the considerable stocks of Syrian chemical and biological weapons are definitely a more dangerous factor. While the risk to American and NATO personnel of such weapons would be low considering they wouldn’t be inserting ground troops the Syrians could launch attacks against NATO bases in Turkey or Cyprus, or against U.S. allies in the region. However, given the inherent unreliability of chemical and biological weapons, as well as the huge conventional advantage of U.S. and NATO forces the vast majority of such weapons would either be shot down in flight, destroyed on the ground, or their delivery systems rendered inoperative via cyber-warfare (where the Americans have the indisputable advantage in the world). While it would be foolish to dismiss the potential risks of such weaponry the history of war and the technological imbalance between the Syrian and western forces suggest there is little risk to America or her allies.

Yet the Syrian people would still be vulnerable to these weapons and it is possible the regime would escalate such attacks in desperation. While none of this should be discounted the fact remains that there is considerable evidence that the regime is already launching chemical attacks against their own population while the rest of the world does nothing. Additionally, as stated above, if the west does not intervene it will not be able to secure such weapons when the Syrian regime finally collapses and there would be a significant chance of them falling into the hands of factions that are irrevocably hostile to American and western interests. Admittedly, it would be no simple task to secure such weapons and there would exist a chance of such weapons landing in hostile hands anyway, there would be better odds of limiting the proliferation of biological and chemical weapons if America intervened.

The time for American intervention in Syria is now. All efforts at diplomacy or mediation have failed. After two and a half years of civil war more than 100,000 people have died, more than 1.7 million Syrians have become refugees and the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against its own people. The Syrian National Council, most resistance factions and much of the Syrian people have called for decisive intervention on their behalf. The Americans and NATO need to prop up the more moderate factions in Syria and groom them for power so that the next government in Damascus is friendly, and not hostile, to both her neighbors and western interests. Likewise, the elimination of the Assad regime would be a major blow to the Iranians, the Russians and the Chinese; all of whose interests’ in the region are more cynical and sinister than America and the West’s. Additionally, while it would be risky to confront a regime with chemical and biological weapons it is arguably more risky to hope for the best and that such weapons would not ultimately fall into the hands of Islamic fundamentalists who may think of using them against Israel or the West. While such a military venture would be more difficult and potentially last longer than the one mounted in Libya in 2011 it is well within America and NATO’s capabilities to do so.

Opponents of intervention are afraid of Syria becoming “another Iraq” while advocates of intervention want to stop another slaughter as occurred in Darfur or Rwanda. However Syria is neither Iraq, Darfur nor Rwanda. There is no political will in either the American people or the Obama administration for a ground war or occupation; there will not be “another Iraq.” However America and NATO have the potential to use Airpower and special operatives, and prop up rebel factions, to allow them to overthrow Assad themselves. This is not fantasy; it has precedents in Kosovo in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001 and Libya in 2011. In these three situations no considerable ground forces were involved in the defeat of the enemy government and the only reason American ground troops entered Afghanistan in big numbers was to find Bin Laden in lieu of the attacks on the World Trade Centre. Before intervening the Americans should be able to prove beyond a doubt that the Syrian regime used widespread chemical weapons against its own people to satisfy world opinion and not repeat the same mistake regarding Iraq 10 years earlier. While war should not be taken lightly and the risks should be carefully weighed there is a good case to be made for immediate American intervention in Syria.