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Gulan-media - Professor Dr. Lenore Martin to Gulan: The competition between the Saudis and Iranians has elements of both power struggle and sectarian rivalry
Professor Dr. Lenore Martin to Gulan: The competition between the Saudis and Iranians has elements of both power struggle and sectarian rivalry
Date: 07/04/2018 : 04:32:50621 Views
Dr. Lenore G. Martin is a Professor and Chair Department of Political Science and International Studies, Emmanuel College. She is an Associate of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs of Harvard University where she serves as co-chair of the WCFIA/CMES Middle East Seminar. She is also an Associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard where she co-chairs the Seminar on Turkey in the Modern World co-sponsored by CMES and WCFIA. Her major field is International Relations; particularly, international relations of the Middle East and Turkey. Professor Martin is a member of the American Political Science Association, the International Studies Association, and the Middle East Studies Association. In a written interview with our Magazine, she throws light on the recent developments in the Middle East.

Gulan: How do you characterize the situation in the Middle East? Why -in your perspective-instability and insecurity are so prevailing and perpetual in this strategically significant region?

P.Martin: When we analyze the Middle East we must look at three levels of interactions: the international system, the regional dynamics and lastly the individual leaders and domestic policy considerations.With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the United States became the predominant international actor enabling it to be extremely active, some might even say, aggressive, in important areas such as the Middle East. Under the presidencies of Barack Obama and now Donald Trump there is less interest in the U.S. to project military forces on the ground into the region. This has left more room for other international actors such as Russia and most especially regional actors to develop independent policies and take independent actions. Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Iran, Turkey and Qatar are good examples of this phenomenon. We have also seen new and young leaders taking advantage of the power rebalancing in the region. This is most clear in Saudi Arabia where the Crown Prince is challenging some of the more established leadership on social, political and economic issues. Lastly, we have seen the growth of sectarianism in the region affecting alliance possibilities and exacerbating differences and creating fissures in societies.It is also important to remember that liberal democracy does provide for more input from diverse sections of society and slower change producing more stability. The Middle East is still grappling with liberal democratization making the area more vulnerable to instability.
Gulan: As you know there are many terrorist and radical groups in the region, that they have caused unprecedented death and destruction, what are the underlying and structural causes for the emergence of these groups and what should be done for countering them?

P. Martin: The literature on the causes of terrorism is large and growing. One of the main reasons that terrorist groups form is if a group or people are excluded from power in government, this then may lead them to take more radical routes to power. For example, the frustration caused by the loss of the Sunnis of much of their representation and their positions in the military and government in Iraq following the 2003 invasion led eventually to the development of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The world is continuing to suffer from the inhumanity and destruction by that group and others like them today. There needs to be a united international approach to fighting terrorism, including sharing intelligence, cutting the funding sources of terrorist groups and closing the safe havens that allow them to regroup and train.

Gulan: What is your opinion about the external intervention in this region, do you believe they have always been exacerbating the situation or the external power can engage constructively in the internal affairs of this region’s countries?

P.Martin: When we look at Syria today we see so many outside actors looking to gain power. Russia is expanding the number and quality of bases as is Iran and Hezbollah. Turkey, determined to weaken the Kurdish forces in Northern Syria, has now invaded and is talking about going further. While the U.S. also has a small force in the country, the U.S. electorate would like to get out of Syria. The many militias and extremist groups in Syria today are fuel to the Syrian fire supplying fighters, arms and money that keep the war going. But, external intervention can at times provide safety and even stability. We can look at Operation Provide Comfort in Northern Iraq and the no fly zone in Southern Iraq at the end of the 1991 Iraq war and the protection it provided for the people of those areas. We can also look at NATO intervention in Bosnia and the Dayton agreement, though belated, and followed by the Kosovo intervention as another positive example of outside intervention.

Gulan: How do you describe the Mr. Trump administration’s foreign policy with regard to the Middle East?

P.Martin: One could characterize the Trump administration’s policy on the Middle East as confused and unpredictable. We see this most especially on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and in the Gulf.

Gulan: How consequential the reshuffling of Trump’s administration is worldwide and with regard to the Middle east particularly?

P.Martin: It is not clear because the administration has often made statements and then contradicted itself. For example on North Korea, President Trump said he would not talk to Kim Jung un and then later announced a summit between the two. In Syria the Trump administration responded to one use of chemical weapons and ignored others.

Gulan: Can we say safely that the nuclear deal with Iran is hanging in the balance taking into account the hawkish stance of both Mike Pompeo and John Bolton against Iran and the deal?

P. Martin: It is unclear whether the new team will be willing to take on the many defenders of the nuclear deal among its allies and in Congress, academia and former officials.

Gulan: If efforts where to be intensified for reshaping – renegotiating- or rescinding the nuclear deal, what would be the implications of such a move?

P.Martin: Iran has indicated they will not renegotiate. There is a real concern among those who study and live in the Middle East that terminating the nuclear deal will lead to nuclear proliferation in the region.

Gulan: Another interesting and consequential event is the change undergoing in Saudi Arabia, to what extent this country is willing or able to pursue a more forceful regional policy and aggressively pushing back against its main rivalry, Iran?

P.Martin: From a system level analysis you would expect Saudi Arabia to pushback what they see as hegemonic moves in the region by Iran. You see this for example in Syria and Iraq as well in Yemen. The competition between the Saudis and Iranians has elements of both power struggle and sectarian rivalry.

Gulan: What is your expectation for the future of the Middle East in terms of worst and best case scenarios?

P.Martin: We should expect continued instability and turmoil in the region.

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