Yemen Undone

It shouldn’t really be a surprise to anyone that Yemen has collapsed (again).  A country that has split and been pulled together before, with the youngest and fastest growing population in the region, running low on oil and water, with a personalist government rather than stable institutions, it was on the top of every fragile state experts’ list as the state most likely to fail next.

What is surprising is that U.S. policy ignored all of this and insisted that simply drone-bombing Al-Qaeda terrorists was a policy that could keep Yemen intact and stable.  Indeed, when Obama pointed to U.S. policy in Yemen as an example of a “success” and a model for the plans that would roll back the Islamic State (IS), I shivered. Yemen does have value as a lesson — this is what happens when you ignore the basic foundations of social stability (legitimate leadership with stable succession plans; a united elite; institutions to bridge regional and ethnic divisions and assure fairness in political and economic access; a functioning economy with capabilities for providing employment and growth) and succumb to the illusion that precision-bombing or other surgical interventions to remove “dangerous elements” will sustain broader social and political stability.

So the collapse in Yemen should come as no surprise — current theories of revolution lay out the conditions for both social stability and political collapse, and anyone could see that the conditions for collapse were progressing in Yemen and that aerial attacks on Al-Qaeda terrorists would have no effect on them.  Those attacks were a side show — like firing an unpleasant band performing on the deck of an ocean liner while the hull is full of holes below waterline and taking on water fast.

What we have now is an area with about 24 million people (10 times more than IS now controls in eastern Syria and western Iraq) that is virtually ungoverned and up for grabs, that is falling into the grips of an all-out civil war between Iran-supported Shi’as  and Al-Qaeda/IS aligned Sunnis.  That is a war that the West loses no matter who wins.

It is now too late to do much of anything except watch and try to either support any moderate elements if they should emerge as capable of holding any regional or national power, or contain any dangerous jihadist elements if they should do so.  Either task will be difficult, and provide yet another costly distraction to efforts to restore peace in Syria and Iraq.

In other words, what has happened in Yemen, although predictable, is about the worst outcome imaginable for U.S. policy.  That America ever deluded itself into thinking it was pursuing a course that could lead to success could only be more frightening if that course — using air strikes to deal with the fundamental problems of fragile states — still reflects America’s thinking on how to address the crises of IS and failing states in the Middle East and north Africa.

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But not all sunsets are the same

A few days ago, I wrote that any deal with Iran on its nuclear program with a sunset clause would be a bad deal.

Perhaps I should clarify.  By a “sunset clause” I meant one that phased out most restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program without continued intensity of inspections and a clear sanctions/response that would continue after the sunset.  In other words, I am against the kind of sunset clause that rewards Iran with a promise of a reduced level of monitoring and response at a relatively near future date.

But there are other kinds of sunset deals, and here is one that would be acceptable:   IF Iran has complied with all conditions for 10 years, and IF inspections would continue unimpeded AND sanctions and other responses would continue to be automatically triggered by any discovery of higher-enriched uranium or undisclosed enrichment or fabrication facilities, and IF Iran has need for expanded civilian power generation and transparently lays out its plan for civilian nuclear power (including full compliance with international inspections of those facilities and their fuel cycle) THEN it would be permissible for Iran to start expanding the amount of uranium it enriches domestically to the 3-5% civilian use level to a volume reasonable to supply that specific need.

In short, the goal of a deal should not be to indefinitely deprive Iran of any opportunity to develop civilian nuclear power.  Such a deal would not be acceptable to Iran, nor consistent with the goals of the international non-proliferation treaty that Iran has signed.  Rather, the goal of any deal should be to limit Iran’s enrichment capacities for the near term, AND to ensure that ALL of Iran’s nuclear activities are subject to strict international scrutiny and inspections, and immediate punitive response, if they deviate from approved and transparent procedures.

For example, a treaty that specified that sanctions would be re-imposed automatically each year unless Iran received a certificate of compliance from the International Atomic Energy Agency, with no sunset clause for that item, would be OK even if it did allow for moderate increases in civilian-level enrichment of uranium after some future date.

What matters for weapons capacity is not how much 3-5% enriched uranium Iran has; what matters is how much industrial capacity (centrifuges) Iran has to raise that enrichment level to 20%+, and whether inspections and transparency are sufficient to detect that higher enrichment quickly.  Keeping capacity to reasonable limits and inspections active, and having strict and punitive responses to non-compliance with those limits and inspections, are the key.

Again, Iran should be willing to comply with any deal that will allow it to eventually develop a civilian nuclear energy industry (which does require 3-5% enriched uranium which is useless for bombs), even a deal that requires very strict inspections to ensure that none of that uranium is diverted for higher enrichment, and that auxiliary technologies for bomb making (detonators, lenses for focusing implosion) remain undeveloped.  That is, IF Iran is willing to conform to its avowed interest ONLY in civilian nuclear energy.

So I will say again that a good deal would be good for Iran, its people, the US, and the entire Middle East.  Let’s hope the negotiators do craft a good deal.   A bad deal would be a temptation, but one that must be resisted.

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A Bad Deal for Everyone

I have long advocated that Iran and the P5+1 negotiators reach a deal that will assure everyone that if Iran launches an effort to weaponize its nuclear materials, they will be detected in time for other nations to launch a pre-emptive strike to stop them.  Such a deal would pave the way for a full partnership between the U.S. and Iran in the vital task of destroying ISIS — a task in which there is already covert coordination underway.

Crafting a deal that allows adequate detection time is not an impossible task.  Inspections only need to be sufficient to detect (1) any construction and equipment activities that could indicate efforts to construct additional nuclear enrichment capacity; this is how the world gained knowledge of the Natanz and Fordow plants; and (2) any uranium enriched to concentrations above the 3 to 5% needed for civilian power purposes.

If inspections detect either of these, sanctions should automatically be reimposed; with the sanctions then only being lifted if Iran complies with expanded inspections to show these initial detections were erroneous, or if Iran destroys any materials detected in the expanded inspections.   If Iran would not comply with such expanded inspections, that could trigger cyber or or weapons attacks to disable Iran’s capacity.

In other words, the risks of not complying should fall heavily on Iran.

You may ask — why would Iran agree to such a deal?  The answer is because Iran is not a single entity.  There are aggressive and paranoid powers in Iran, including leaders of the Revolutionary Guards, who will never trust the world and want a nuclear weapon to ensure their survival and gain the prestige of being a nuclear weapons state.  In their eyes, if Pakistan and North Korea can get away with this, why not Iran?  But there are also powers in Iran — including, I believe, President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif — who see nuclear weapons as a costly distraction, something that would reduce Iran’s influence in the world and trigger new threats to its security.  Better to gain experience with a low level of nuclear technology, get sanctions removed, and rebuild Iran’s economy and its regional influence in more conventional ways.

In the contest between radicals and pragmatists that has driven Iran’s politics for the last two decades, a real deal that blocks Iran’s path towards weapons would be a great asset for the pragmatists, helping them keep the radicals in check.  It would also be a great deal for the Iranian people, reducing the impact of sanctions and cutting wasteful spending on the pursuit of nuclear weapons that simply invites further isolation and possible attacks.

Would the Supreme Leader assent to such a deal?  It is hard to say, but not impossible.  Ayatollah Khamenei cares most about staying in power, and has shifted his support back and forth between radicals and pragmatists as best suited that goal.  If the Ayatollah believed that a deal would result in significant economic gains for most of Iran’s people, and could help bolster Iran’s influence in the region, he might well support it, despite opposition from his radical flank.

Unfortunately, such a deal is NOT what seems to be on offer.  It is obviously speculation based on leaks, but word has escaped that the agreement would have a sunset clause, so that after 10 years the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities would be phased out and eventually expire.

It is hard to find the words to describe such a concept — insane? Foolhardy? Out of touch with reality?  Desperation speaking?  It seems that Secretary Kerry is so desperate to get a deal – any deal – that would bring Iran into an agreement to fight ISIS and drop sanctions that he would consider even a terrible deal that would be bad for everyone!

A sunset clause would of course please the radicals and pragmatists:  pragmatists would get a decade of relief from sanctions; radicals would get a decade to get everything in place — the technology, the missiles, the stockpile of near enriched materials — to leap quickly to fashion multiple weapons as soon as the 10-year deadline expires.

Of course, advocates will tell you that 10 years is a long time and the regime in Iran might change.  Of course: and Israel and Palestine might live to learn happily ever after together in that time as well!   But that is no basis for intelligent policy.  The regime in Iran has continued virtually unchanged in its domestic and foreign policies for 36 years.  The only sensible basis for a deal is to assume the Iranian regime ten years hence will be essentially the same in its outlook and aims as the regime we are dealing with today.  And of course, given the prospect of a long-term conflict with ISIS and continued Sunni-Shi’a battles in the future, there is probably an even better chance that the Iranian regime in 10 years will be worse than today’s — more paranoid, more defensive, and more at conflict with its neighbors.

If anyone should be desperate for a deal it should be Iran.  Oil prices have collapsed, sanctions have hit hard at its economy, and ISIS is threatening its allies and is too near for comfort to its own borders.  Now is the time to extract a good deal, one that will give leverage to pragmatists, weaken radicals, and ensure that Iran will have a near-impossible time developing a nuclear weapon without early detection of those efforts.

Such a deal would in fact be good for Iran’s people as well, making it possible for them to resume normal economic life and reducing tensions with its neighbors.

Most of the terms of the deal being discussed are reasonable, but the sunset clause should be a deal-breaker for the P5+1.  Iran should be told that there is no reason to expect it would be any wiser for them to advance their nuclear weapons capacity 10 years from now than today.  The goal should be an agreement that lets Iran develop a limited civilian nuclear capacity under vigorous international inspections, and that should be all that Iran ever needs (and is in fact all that Rouhani and Zarif claim it ever wanted).

So by all means, let us have a deal, but a deal that lasts.  A deal with a ten-year expiration date is worse than no deal at all.


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Why still violence?

A few years ago, Steven Pinker published, to much acclaim, a book arguing that violence in the world was on a marked downward trajectory, and that we failed to appreciate how peaceful and stable our lives had become.

Yet today, as we are confronted by the extreme violence of ISIS, and the more conventional though still terrible conflict in the Ukraine, we might ask what is driving this violence?

No doubt there have been several positive factors reducing the death toll of conflicts.  Most important is probably the globalization and digitization of wealth and wealth creation.  These have made conflicts over land and resources — the major issue over which nations fought wars — much less relevant to anyone’s prosperity.  Indeed, given the easy flight of capital and skilled workers, and the much greater contribution of these factors to economic growth than mere territory or resources, wars are almost always counterproductive today, from the viewpoint of seeking to increase economic wealth.

So why does violent conflict continue?  This is NOT, as famously suggested by Samuel Huntington, due to a clash of civilizations: the biggest death tolls today are from conflicts within the Muslim world, and within the Russian Orthodox world.  Instead, local violent conflicts are driven by three main forces.

One is a revival of religion as the prime factor of personal and social identity, including a revival of millenarian beliefs; these have led to fierce sectarian battles among religious sects for control of lives and territory in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Bahrain and Nigeria. This is largely Sunni vs. Shi’a but also involves fights against other religions and sects, e.g. Muslim vs. Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Bahai, and others.

Second, also driven by the revival of religion as a primary identity, is the conflict between the ideal of organizing society primarily on the basis of religious belief and holy writ vs. the ideal of society as secular and individualist, with religion limited to voluntary and private or communal activities that do not impinge on society’s primary legal/organizational framework.   In Europe and North America, this conflict has played out mostly peacefully in agitation over abortion and gay marriage.  But in Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Egypt the conflicts between authorities seeking to preserve a secular government and those determined to impose religion on social order have spawned violence and terrorism.

This force also fuels terrorism within Europe, as those committed to religious primacy (mainly jihadists) attack those who exemplify secular freedom (e.g. Charlie Hebdo).

The third factor producing rising violence is the conflict within the few remaining multi-national empires between imperial control and repressed nationalism.   In and on the borders of the Russian Federation, this involves conflict between the Russian state and Chechens, Dagestanis, and now most notably Ukrainians.   In China the conflict is with the populations of Xinjiang and Tibet. In Sudan the fight was at first between southern and northern Sudanese, but now fuels civil war within South Sudan.   In Israel, the conflict between Muslims and Jews is really much more about repressed Palestinian nationalism, as there are Arab and Muslim citizens of Israel who accept the Israeli state, which Christian Palestinians fight against Israeli control of their lands, although after several decades religious conflict has now so infused the nationalist struggle that in Hamas they are inseparable.

Intra-religious, secular-religious, and nationalist conflicts have been important drivers of violence in human societies for millennia; with the fading of cold war ideological conflicts, and the reduced importance of conflict over land or resources in an increasingly globalized, digital economy, it should not be surprising that these older sources of conflict should return.

Unfortunately, unlike economic battles, these struggles are less easily resolved by compromise or sharing of material goods.  As long as believers find the rules and practices of unbelievers to be an existential threat to the dignity of their lives, we will see terror and violence continue.  And as long as those who feel themselves belonging to one nation believe their aspirations for a better life are being blocked by leaders of another, nationalist strife will reappear.

The best way out is for those who live in secular free societies to demonstrate that the material prosperity and tolerance of those societies works best for ALL who live there, and for such societies to be a compelling model that will attract people away from the extremist believers.  Muslims in Detroit and Melbourne and Pune do not turn to terrorism because they are, for the most part, well-integrated into society and free to enjoy their beliefs AND enjoy above average living standards in their societies.  Muslims in other societies, where they are disproportionately poor and in prison and live in segregated enclaves, whether in Paris or northern Nigeria or southern Thailand, are much more likely to express themselves in violence against those who they feel have wronged them.  The same is true for nationalist minorities in larger nations — whether Scots in Britain or French-speakers in Canada or Kosovars in Serbia — they either need to feel their success is not obstructed by the larger society in which they live, or like Kosovo they will seek to break free.

In the end, freedom and justice is what most people want, just as much as basic security and a chance at a better future.  Sadly, there are still many parts of the world where people have to choose.  And when they feel any of these core needs are being denied to them, they will eventually protest or fight, and they and others will pay the price.


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The Illusion of Peace in Ukraine

No doubt some kind of agreement in Ukraine is desirable simply to stop the slaughter.  As PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk observed, even a bad agreement that saves lives is better than on agreement.

But the agreement reached last week is  mainly an agreement to recognize and accept Russia’s gains, and enable Russia to meet its goals.  Those goals are to create a frozen conflict and permanent weakening of Ukraine that will prevent its closer alliance with the EU and NATO.

Russia gained de facto recognition that its proxies control most of the Donbass and will remain secure in that control; yet the costs of public services and payrolls in that region were shifted back to Ukraine.  Moreover, the border between Russia and the Donbass will remain under Russian control at least through the end of 2015, assuring that Russian can send whatever troops, weapons and other support necessary to keep its proxies in control across the border without hindrance.

Ukraine did not gain nothing — it gained a temporary peace with heavy weapons supposedly silenced then drawn back from the front lines; and more important yet it gained a $17.5 billion bail-out fund from the IMF, which was unlikely to arrive if Ukraine was still actively embroiled in a losing military campaign.  Still, on balance this is simply a surrender and a clear Russian victory.

Why did European leaders accept this deal?  And why were plans being mooted to send heavier and more lethal arms to Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian-backed rebels?  The answer is simple — Europe and NATO have no stomach for war and did not want to risk an escalated conflict that might have seen the rebels take Mariupol or push further into eastern Ukraine.    European leaders believed that no matter what military resources they put into Ukraine, Putin would easily match or exceed them, so there was no way to use force to dislodge the rebels from their positions; sanctions were not serving to dissuade Putin from aggression; and they raised the warning that Putin cared so deeply about Ukraine that he might even use tactical nuclear weapons if an all-out NATO assisted assault was staged on rebel positions (Russian generals had in fact raised this possibility).

On the face of it, this is absurd.  NATO always relied on nuclear deterrence to dissuade the USSR from using nuclear weapons in numerous proxy wars during the cold war — why should that fail now when Russia is much weaker than the Soviet Union was during the cold war?  Russia’s economy is about one-fifth the size of that of Britain, Germany and France combined — never mind the rest of Europe.  Yet in a vital conflict right on its borders, Europe, worn out over debt issues and fearful of the turmoil on its borders in the Middle East, wanted nothing to do with another war.

Let us say that NATO got serious, and — as in Libya –used its cruise missiles and air power to destroy the heavy arms of the Russian-backed rebels.  What would Russia do?  Bomb Kiev?  Send in thousands of its own troops?   Use nuclear weapons (against whom)?  Putin’s entire domestic strategy depends on his portraying Russian efforts as purely defensive and humanitarian efforts to protect helpless Ukrainians from the fascist Kiev/U.S. aggression.   Any major offensive escalation by Russia would destroy that myth.  Yet Europe would not risk having to deal with that escalation, and so gave Putin everything he wanted without forcing him to take that chance.

The best course now for Ukraine is to try and keep the peace, unify its western and central regions, and use the IMF funds to rebuild its shattered economy.  Georgia has managed to rebuild and even thrive despite losing Abkhazia and South Ossetia to a remarkably similar campaign by Russia.  Ukraine has little choice but to try and do the same.

What should be more worrying for Europe is that President Putin, whose weakening economy makes him more reliant on nationalist victories abroad to keep his support strong, has learned the lessons from both Georgia and Ukraine that creating facts on the ground is an effective way to change realities in the face of a weak Europe.  If I were living in Transdniestria or Moldova, I would expect more changes at some point in the future.

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Addressing Inequality

The  Davos show is beginning this week.  I am not going, but I am in Zurich and close enough to see the ads for ever-bigger and better private planes to take the elites to elite places.  All of this against a background of calls for inequality.

The problem with addressing inequality is that the rich have convinced themselves that they have fairly earned and fully deserve every penny in their off-shore tax-haven bank accounts, and governments (the enemy, socialist, communist) have no right to raise taxes or change loopholes and rules that strongly favor the continued accumulation of wealth by those who already have most of it.

Famed French economist Thomas Piketty has argued that it is a natural law that the rate of return on capital will exceed overall economic growth rates; as long as that is true those who own capital will get richer compared to those who do not.  Hence his only solutions to inequality are to tax the wealth that the rich accumulate, or wait for wars or depressions to destroy that accumulated wealth.

That is a bleak view and wholly unnecessary.  One can easily reduce the rate of after-tax returns on capital (which are what matter for accumulation) by legislation.  Progressive income taxes PLUS high estate taxes did the trick for decades in the US.  High pre-tax incomes were readily allowed, but strongly progressive taxes meant that  the higher the additional income the smaller the net gain, which disincentivized the pursuit of astronomical incomes.  Simply going back to the tax structure of the 1970s, or even early 1980s, would reduce the extreme inequality from high CEO and financial sector earnings.  Then a high estate tax will block the inter-generational transmission of inequality.

Even simpler would be to knock out some of the strange quirks in the tax system that actually enhance the after-tax return to capital.  One is the step-up valuations of assets at death, which saves the very rich billions in taxes for no sensible reason (shouldn’t all capital gains be taxed at the same rate?  Why give an exemption to capital gains that happen to have not been realized at the time of one’s passing?)  Another is the preferential tax treatment given to capital gains, which are taxed at a substantially lower rate than wage earnings.  If it is the case, as Piketty argues, that returns on capital tend to be higher than the growth of wages (which are linked to the growth of the overall economy), then to put a much higher marginal tax on wages as well is to create a double-whammy against wage earners, and guarantee an escalation of inequality.

All of this is straightforward and much discussed.  But there are other approaches to inequality that do not rest so much on trying to equalize incomes and are far more effective.

It doesn’t matter much to the opportunity and life chances of a child  whether their parents eat chicken or beef, whether they drive a Porsche or a Chevrolet, and whether they have antique furniture or shop at IKEA.   What does matter is whether that child has an adequate diet of protein and micro-nutrients; fresh air and space to play; access to information; quality preschool and formal education; and medical care to address illnesses and injuries and issues of sight, hearing, or emotional problems.

So what if we let differences in income continue to determine what kind of cuisine, car, and furniture people have.  But for things that are really important for child development and opportunity, we should take those things out of the realm where income has a major effect differentiating access.  That is, they should be treated like public goods (like police protection and roads) and provided by public authorities — but with more attention to high and uniform levels of quality in their provision than is often the case today.

Of course, the question will be raised — how to pay for those public goods?  The answer can be taxes that do not focus mainly on income.  They could be provided by taxes on spending — value-added taxes, luxury taxes (on yachts, and cars and homes above a certain capital value), liquor and cigarette taxes, hotel and travel taxes, etc.   No one is forced to pay such taxes; they are voluntarily occurred by choices to consume certain goods and services or at a certain level.  But they can provide the means to make opportunity-goods available to everyone, and thus avoid the most noxious effects of inequality — that severe inequality closes the doors to future opportunity.

So don’t worry about differences in income inequality – just make them less relevant!

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ISIS in Paris

Take a pleasant farm and field. Introduce a flow of water from diverse sources. If the water mixes into the soil and feeds the mix of crops, the result is greater prosperity. But if the water pools in stagnant, non-circulating ponds it feeds disease and pests. If travelers going back and forth between the farm and foreign places bring back weeds that take root in the ponds and spread, the entire farm can be ruined.

Something like this has been happening in Europe over the last few decades. From 1970, Europe – which had for four centuries been a vigorous exporter of people around the world – became an importer of people from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Immigration has generally been healthy for societies: new ambitious people entered America, Australia, Argentina, and Canada and created a quilt-work of different faiths and ethnicities. But in each of these cases, the immigrants were encouraged (or demanded) to assimilate. They were asked to learn the language, conform to the laws, attend the schools, and work alongside prior generations of immigrants, natives and mixed native-immigrant communities. They might keep their own weekend schools to transmit their historic cultures, cluster in certain neighborhoods, and enrich the local social scene with their own ethnic and religious festivals (what could be more American than St. Patrick’s Day?). But they aimed above all to succeed in the greater society, and their success was welcomed if they made the grade.

Like Frank Sinatra – the child of Italian immigrants from New Jersey – who told us that if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere, immigrants aimed to blend in and take leading roles in entertainment, by founding their own businesses, and in the professions (breaking down the barriers to high-level corporate offices took longer).

Yet most Europeans and European leaders never viewed the immigrant workers from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East as valuable newcomers who, if required to adopt the manners and values of Europeans, could enrich and fully join their societies. They preferred to think of them as “guest workers” who would do their tasks and then return home, or as “multi-cultural” adjuncts to mainstream European societies who would cluster in their own ponds and remain separate, following their own culture’s rules and dictates rather than giving them up in order to blend into their new European homes.

Allowed to fester in stagnant pools with weaker services and education and limited employment opportunities, and few links to the broader society, the immigrant communities became filled with resentment and anger, especially among the younger, native born generations. Neither immigrants with a strong work ethic grateful to leave the dangers of their homeland, nor true natives with all the opportunities and full embrace of the society of their birth, the 2nd and 3rd generations born into the segregated pools of immigrant communities were in a position of fraught identity conflicts and economic anxieties – ripe territory for the invasion of radical messages promoting anti-Western attitudes and siren calls to join the fight to redeem and counter historical and current humiliations.

These frustrations broke out in recurrent racial and immigrant riots in Europe, from Brixton in England to the banlieues of Paris. But now add to this existing mix a new flag-bearer in the Middle East, a dramatic, media-savvy, and powerful new organization at war with the West and urging loyal Islamic youth to join their battle both in the Middle East and in Europe. How could the rise of such a group – first al-Qaeda and then, even more powerful and successful the Islamic State (ISIS) – not increase the intensity of violence and conflict between Muslim youth and Europe?

When the Arab revolts broke out in the Middle East in 2010, Western nations had an opportunity to vigorously support moderate elements in the inevitable revolutionary struggle of moderates vs radicals, or to stand back and let the revolutionary dramas play themselves out.

Of course, it did not take much knowledge of revolutionary history to know the outcome of the latter course: revolutions typically descend into civil war and the triumph of authoritarian and radical regimes. Only in older societies, with some prior experience of democracy, and strong links to outside democratic powers, are revolutions against authoritarian rule likely to lead to democratic outcomes. From Libya to Syria to Yemen, these conditions were generally lacking in the Middle East and North Africa, so in the absence of strong external support for moderates and efforts to isolate and extinguish extreme radical groups, dangerous outcomes were likely.

Yet as revolutions descended into civil wars and extremist groups like al-Qaeda spread and morphed and multiplied, Western powers did little. Perhaps believing that Western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan had led nowhere (in entirely different conditions, as in Afghanistan the West entered a state already at war with the Soviets, and in Iraq the West itself overturned a stable dictatorship), no powers were willing to stay involved in trying to shift the balance in the 2010-11 revolutions. Perhaps they also believed that jihadism and violence in the Middle East would stay in the Middle East, ignoring the ease with which radical ideology has spread across borders throughout history, or the potential for easy and powerful linkages between the radical jihadists of the Middle East and the pools of anxious and radical youths that had developed in Europe.

The horrors and foolishness of this approach are now evident in the blood on the streets of Paris, traceable directly to the influence of ISIS. It will be a long struggle to change this situation; we have likely set up a decade or more of danger and struggle in European capitals and several decades of struggle in the Middle East.

It is important to immediately work to overcome the isolation of immigrant communities in Europe. The deal that Europe offers should be the same offered to immigrant communities (including Europeans) when they settle in countries of immigration such as America or Canada – you – or your children – can obtain full membership in the society including citizenship provided you accept the values and practices of your new society; but if you are unwilling to accept them you should go home.

In the Middle East there must now be a struggle that transcends the Sunni-Shi’a conflicts that have dominated for centuries; instead the battle must be between the forces of civilized order and the forces of barbarous disorder. The leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia need to make clear on which side they want to be counted, and only if it is the former should they be admitted to full trade and relations with the rest of the world.

Several decades from now, our children will wonder at how our generation could have been so blind to the risks of climate change and simply kept polluting the skies. They will also wonder how our generation could have been so blind to the risks of unassimilated immigrant communities, and of conducting wars against jihadis in the Middle East with half-hearted and poorly planned overseas efforts combined with unchecked torture and surveillance at home.

It is not too late to change course, but the first step is to understand why the course taken in the past decades was so wrong.

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