A Bottom-Up Solution to Cross-Border Conflicts: The Case of the Middle East and ISIL
The outbreak of another Western-led military conflict in the Middle East is widely viewed as unwinnable. It is also viewed as counterproductive because of its potential to help its target, ISIL, the anti-Western fanatical social movement, recruit new volunteers in its crusade to topple Middle East regimes.
My view, as a political scientist, is that none of the players currently involved can bring peace or stability to the region. The "perpetual war" the protagonists appear to be unleashing is more likely to cause even more human suffering and displacement in the region on a scale previously unimaginable.
It is also my view that the failure of Middle East regimes to create functioning democracies that accord fundamental civil and political liberties to their populaces has created a barbaric monster born of hatred and rage for the regimes and their Western allies. ISIL's leadership is using its misrepresentation and misappropriation of Islam to recruit aggrieved and in certain cases mentally deranged individuals to its cause, instigating them to commit acts of barbarism not only in Iraq and Syria but throughout the world.
Since war is not the answer, and the majority of the regimes involved do not have functioning democracies enabling their citizens to govern their countries, what I and many others foresee is perpetual internecine warfare among the players until the entire region is devastated. The only solution I can envisage to preventing this region-wide quagmire of human misery is the bottom-up technological solution that I propose below. First, let me explain why I believe it may well provide the only possibility for ending the conflicts and bringing peace to the region and the world.
Past as Prologue
When I was a graduate student at Columbia University many years ago, a fellow student I greatly admired was an Armenian who was born in Iran and educated in the UK and U.S. He was already an expert on Iran, the Middle East and international affairs. He breezed through the course on Soviet politics we both took from Zbigniew Brzezinski, who later became National Security Advisor under President Carter. I followed Ervand Abrahamian's distinguished academic career over the years and what I have gleaned from his work is that interference by Western powers in the region is a primary cause of the current Middle East debacle.
The pivotal interference, which set the stage for the religious, ethnic, cultural and political conflicts that now plague the region, was the 1953 orchestration of the overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, by the United States and the United Kingdom. The precipitating events were Mossadegh's moves to nationalize Iran's oil industry because he had concluded that the Western powers that were controlling it were not fairly sharing with Iran the revenues they were generating from Iranian oil. The U.S. role in the coup was acknowledged in 2000 by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (See CNN report, "In declassified document, CIA acknowledges role in '53 Iran Coup".)
Western powers replaced Mossadegh's government with the oppressive regime of the Shah, which denied Iranians fundamental civil and political liberties. The regime's actions led to its own overthrow in 1979 by a movement of Islamic fundamentalists allied with a whole range of popular groups that established the Islamic Republic ruling Iran today.
(Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Texas Congressman Ron Paul alleged during the 2012 Republican presidential primary debates that "the reason why Iran has resorted to becoming a theocratic dictatorship was because of the CIA backed coup in 1953.")
The Real ISIL Back Story: Oil
While I do not claim to be a Middle East scholar, I do think it can be argued that Western interference in the internal affairs and functioning of Iran's nascent democracy in order to control its oil, is exemplary of the disruptive role that Western powers have been playing in the region particularly since World War II, but also earlier when the Western powers broke up the Turkish empire and redrew the map of the Middle East and the boundaries of the countries in the region after the end of World War I. Their actions affronted nascent Arab nationalism at the time and continue to do so.
They have played this role in close cooperation with their Middle East allies among the oppressive oil rich regimes from which these Western countries derive the lion's share of the oil needed by their domestic economies and military establishments. I tend to agree with those who assert that these relationships have transformed the entire region into a cauldron of popular discontent and misery that has led to the current conflagration with ISIL, one that is unlikely to be ended by an aerial bombing campaign and may even be aggravated by it.
I find it especially paradoxical that one of the reasons the West has given to justify its renewed military intervention in the region is the barbaric tactics of ISIL in beheading its enemies. For one of the West's primary allies in this new Western-led war is Saudi Arabia, an oppressive monarchy that regularly beheads its own citizens and cuts off their hands after trials that fail to involve any semblance of due process.
I also find it ironic that the apparent precipitating factor behind U.S. intervention appears to have been ISIL's capture of Iranian and Kurdish-controlled oil wells. Given the continued dependence of the West on Middle East oil, ISIL's seizure of oil wells threatened vital interests affecting Western economies and energy needs. This would not have been the case if any significant progress had been made to shift Western economies from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy and thereby pre-empt threats to the flow of Middle East oil that might threaten their economies -- and, I might add, the profitability of the financial interests that reap the lion's share of benefits from them.
The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back: Denial of Civil and Political Rights
Which gets me to the another major reason why I think the current line-up and conflagration among these players in the Middle East is more likely to aggravate the conflicts than resolve them, and why I believe the technological solution my team is proposing is the only way to solve them.
Virtually none of the regimes involved, Western as well as Middle Eastern countries, have fully functioning democracies enabling their populaces to ensure their governments meet their needs first and foremost rather than the needs of special interests like the oil and gas industry. These governments, by and large, are run from the top down by elites and lawmakers who all too often put the needs of special interests that are their financial benefactors ahead of those of their constituents.
What these relationships also demonstrate is the ease with which democracies can be crippled in countless ways. Special interests, particularly in the U.S., have no difficulty buying votes with their campaign contributions. U.S. political parties and issue groups cavalierly rig elections through gerrymandering, suppressing and falsifying the vote, and by dividing voters into hostile camps on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity and language.
The buying of votes is particularly salient with respect to the energy industry. It is why the U.S., in particular, is so dependent on fossil fuels that it keeps interfering in the Middle East instead of switching to renewable energy -- despite dire warnings of their disastrous impact on the environment, including President Jimmy Carter's prescient warning back in the 70's that it was imperative to protect the nation's security by overcoming U.S. dependency on fossil fuels from the Middle East. Instead of heeding his warning, the oil and gas industry has used its political influence to bind Western economies even more closely to fossil fuels than ever before, as evidenced by widespread government-authorized hydraulic fracturing, known as "fracking".
Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in oil, gas and coal companies continue to dwarf public and private investments in renewable energy companies. The fossil fuel industry is the most profitable in the world and it channels significant funds into electoral campaigns and lobbying activities. Elected officials raise large amounts of money from the industry to fund their electoral war chests, which explains their feeble interest in passing legislation promoting the shift to renewable sources of energy.
A Bottom-Up Technology Solution
My view is that what is required to quell the conflagration with ISIL is not bombs but a technology that circumvents special interests and empowers voters to put an end to their domination of Western political systems. Our solution relies on advanced web technology to generate bottom-up solutions enabling voters everywhere to elect governments that will ensure enough jobs paying living wages are available, together with safe and secure dwellings, food security, adequate health care and education.
It could be argued that today's illiterate masses whose advancement has been held back by lack of access to schooling cannot use this technology. But I think that the best way for them to become literate is through technology that enables them to teach themselves. Smartphones, for example, have the potential to enable previously uneducated masses to learn everything they need to know about living in the modern world -- including how to exercise their popular sovereignty.
Smartphones enable even small children to go online to influence their relationships and environments. They are low cost learning tools that will soon be in the hands of everyone in the world. They will allow people to follow every move of their governments, quickly take the reins of their governing institutions, and re-invent them as they see fit with the aid of the web-based platform for re-inventing democracy I describe below.
So the first thing that can and should be done is to ensure that everyone in the Middle East has a smartphone and the digital connectivity they need to use their phones. They should be provided whatever educational supports they need to figure out what is going on socially, politically and economically, preferably from their families, friends and peers, as well as how to get involved in electoral and legislative processes.
Once the millions of ordinary people trapped in the ISIL quagmire are digitally-empowered to have a say about what is going on, they can take even greater advantage of social media than ISIL -- and combat ISIL by creating their own personal communication networks, locally, regionally and transnationally. They can use their smartphones to forge a path to peace by building their own voting blocs and electoral coalitions to elect governments that will serve their needs, using my international team's re-invent democracy platform when it is up and running.
In the meantime, on the substantive front, what the West should be doing instead of conducting fruitless bombing campaigns is to work with its allies in the Middle East to build multi-faceted infrastructures providing the indispensable essentials, starting with jobs but including the immediate accord of the civil and political rights that Middle East populaces must have if they are to be able to elect governments that will meet their needs and enable them to fulfill their aspirations. The U.S. government should cease to provide any foreign or military aid to any Middle East country that does not put in motion effective programs for distributing smartphones and meeting the essential needs of their populaces. The diversion of the money now being squandered on bombs would more than suffice to achieve these objectives.
In fact, the best way to stop ISIL in its tracks is to give hope and jobs to the billions of young people around the world who have lost hope of obtaining the jobs they desperately need to survive, or of controlling their governments so they can oust repressive governments and divisive sects, groups and parties that have caused the cataclysm in the Middle East. Once these jobs start materializing, ISIL and its fellow traveling terrorist groups will no longer be able to recruit new members to conduct the suicide bombings, subway attacks and beheadings that are occurring and being planned around the world either directly by ISIL or by copycats acting alone.
Pushing Back against the Push-Back
Clearly, the elites that control these governments are not going to go in this direction voluntarily, especially the "military-industrial complex" first identified by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. (See Neil Irwin's recent New York Times article on the "global crisis of elites".) The terrorist threat that surfaced in the attacks on 9/11, spawned by Western exploitation of the Middle East, has enabled the complex to expand the scope of its operations into virtually unfettered state-sponsored cyber-surveillance. It has now extended its reach to include the militarization of local, state and regional law enforcement agencies using over-sized recycled military equipment and technology.
Post 9-11 restrictions on freedom of speech, assembly, movement and due process have transformed Western post-industrialized countries into 21st century versions of police states. Virtually every move and every thought of every citizen is secretly surveilled, databased and shared by defense, cyber-security and law enforcement agencies throughout the world.
Given these set backs to democracy, I think our most promising alternative is to focus our attention on the re-invent democracy technology developed by my international team because of its capacity to facilitate bottom-up consensus building by voters across the political and ideological spectrum to resolve crises and conflicts like those in the Middle East that existing governing structures are clearly incapable of resolving.
In brief, it is designed to enable voters across the political and ideological spectrum to connect with each other online to create entirely new voter-controlled governing structures. It utilizes advanced information technology applications, electronic data processing and artificial intelligence to enable like-minded voters to connect to each other online to build online voting blocs and electoral coalitions by using bottom-up agenda setting, consensus building and voter-controlled political organizing tools. These tools enable virtually unlimited numbers of people, within and across borders, to join forces to resolve conflicts occurring within and across borders.
Anyone can start a voting bloc or coalition, and invite anyone they wish to join together to set common legislative and policy agendas, as well as develop peace plans and proposals for solving domestic and transnational problems, crisis and conflicts. Blocs and coalitions can pressure incumbent lawmakers and policy makers to enact their agendas, or they can replace unsatisfactory incumbents with their own slates of candidates pledged to enact their agendas.
The technology resembles a "complex adaptive system" in that it creates networks of interacting, consensus-building blocs and coalitions. It motivates voters, blocs and coalitions to continuously reach out to prospective new members and set more inclusive and popularly appealing agendas because they must do so if they are to grow large enough to win elections. The technology empowers them to collectively set common agendas consisting of an unlimited number of legislative and policy options. It enables all bloc and coalitions members to discuss, debate and vote on agendas and solutions to problems, and update the agendas and solutions as they see fit, and as needs arise for doing so. Only by involving increasing numbers of voters in reconciling divergent views and objectives into common agendas and common slates of candidates can they grow large enough to win elections.
This capability enables them to leap frog over the ideological, religious, ethnic and cultural divides that are the raison d'etre of the vast majority of political parties and communally-based groups that seek to expand their power at the expense of their opponents. The members of voting blocs and coalitions using our re-invent democracy platform can set their own agendas free of the partisan constraints of existing parties and issue groups. By creating transpartisan agendas and transpartisan electoral bases that cross partisan lines, they can grow larger than any single party or issue group or constellation of parties and groups.
The Re-Invent Democracy Platform In Action
With respect to the current conflagration in the Middle East, as well as the failure of the far too many democracies to serve the public interest, I would like to present the following arguments. From a technological point of view, it is no longer necessary for large numbers of people to be governed by small numbers of lawmakers, parties, factions and splinter groups that either disregard grassroots needs and priorities or do not know what they are or care to find out what they are. Digital devices like smartphones can empower the members of voting blocs and coalitions can oversee their elected representatives and policy makers at every step along the way from setting priorities to enacting and implementing legislation and policies. They can intercede when necessary to overcome stalemates and address new problems, crises or conflicts when they arise, consulting their membership to build consensus around new and updated agendas and priorities.
In addition, from a technology point of view, we no longer have to allow modern elections to be reduced to meaningless rituals and charades in which candidates camouflage their track records and priorities with false assertions and empty promises, while engaging in non-stop character assassinations of their opponents.
The reason we can prevent these rituals and charades is that voters can use our platform to take control of elections. They do not have to choose among candidates already on the ballot they disdain because they can form their own online voting blocs and coalitions that can run and elect their own slates of candidates to enact their own agendas. Because of their capacity to build winning blocs and coalitions with electoral bases that outnumber those of any single party or even coalition of parties, interest groups, etc., they can immediately focus on the legislation and policies they want their elected representatives and governments to enact, without waiting around passively to see what existing parties and groups choose to do without consulting them.
Let's take the case of Egyptian elections and parliamentary actions after the uprising of the "Arab Spring". Egyptian voters' choices of policies, parties and candidates were limited by the existing line-up of official parties and constellations of interest groups, with the military and other armed groups and militias hovering in the background. Once the new premier was elected and the Muslim Brotherhood became the dominant governing group, it proceeded to rewrite the Egyptian constitution virtually in isolation, according to reports, to reflect its own ideologies, religious commitments and political goals, and direct parliament to do likewise.
Such a partisan approach differs from that of Iceland when the country was rewriting its constitution after its financial meltdown. Those charged with drafting the new constitution invited and received direct inputs from Icelandic citizens and 250,000 Icelanders voted in an online referendum in favor of approving the constitution. (See "Icelanders approve their crowdsourced constitution.")
In contrast, Egyptian voters who had participated in the Arab Spring movement to obtain civil and political rights found themselves virtually powerless to get the legislation they needed to address their immediate basic needs. Unemployment was at record levels with no relief in sight. The shortage of housing, coupled with the unavailability and unaffordability of basic amenities like electricity, created a series of crises that the Morsi government proved incapable of surmounting. Desperate Egyptians lacking levers of control over their government took to the streets -- only to be met with unparalleled repression from the country's military establishment even for a country in which extreme forms of repression have been the norm for decades.
Morsi's government was ousted and Morsi and his followers were thrown into jail. What we would call "kangaroo" courts sentenced hundreds of them to death without effective due process. Observers allege that this counter-revolution was one of the root causes of the emergence of ISIL because many activists concluded it was pointless to try to avail themselves of so-called democratic processes when they were unable to use them change the status quo even when masses of people found themselves in dire straits.
If our re-invent democracy platform had been available to Egyptians, the parliament would have been controlled by transpartisan self-organizing voting blocs and coalitions controlled by the people. They would know how to build consensus among themselves to make parliament work because they would have already gained experience in building a consensus around legislative and policy agendas in order to form their blocs and coalitions in the first place.
Moving on to a bottom-up solution to a cross border conflict, any Palestinian or Israeli could team up to use our re-invent democracy platform to start a transnational voting bloc or coalition around any initial peace plan or agenda they choose to set. In order to increase the membership and ultimate voting strength of the bloc or coalition to a critical mass needed to influence legislation and policies, they would have to continuously reach out to prospective new members to engage them in negotiating revised agendas and formulating revised peace plans. Bloc and coalition members would have to compromise in order to gain the electoral strength needed to sway the actions of incumbents, or oust them and replace them with lawmakers pledged to enact their agendas and peace plans.
Once the transnational blocs and coalitions achieve a critical mass in terms of electoral strength, their members can then form blocs and coalitions within their own boundaries that could either compel incumbent lawmakers and policy-makers to enact the agendas set by their transnational blocs and coalitions, or run their own candidates to replace them in up-coming elections.
I am quite convinced that our platform stands a better chance of enabling Palestinians and Israelis to develop peace plans acceptable to majorities of their respective electorates than the leaders on both sides and the military provocateurs that find one excuse after another to reign terror down on both populations. By so doing, they could remove one of the primary sources of the conflagration unfolding in the Middle East, one that continuously roils indigenous populations and convinces far too many activists that violent confrontations are their only option.
I tend to agree with observers and critics who argue that the emergence of ISIL is the result of Western interference in the region, combined with the divisive and inflammatory influence of the repressive Maliki regime that replaced Saddam Hussein after his toppling by the U.S. subsequent to its invasion of Iraq. Again, you have the problem that the internecine rivalries among Shiites, Sunnis and a host of other groups were insurmountable politically because of the use of technologically obsolete, hyper-partisan electoral processes to select the members of what remained a divided, conflict prone government in Baghdad. The use by the Shiite-dominated Maliki government of inhumane tactics to continue its historic feud and power struggle with the Sunnis, especially the unemployed members of Saddam Hussein's army that had been disbanded by the invading U.S. coalition, when combined with the psychological fallout from the demise of the Arab Spring in Egypt, led to the emergence of ISIL.
Again, the widespread human suffering and despair of the Iraqi people caused by decades of Western interference and Western support of the repressive Maliki regime made it virtually impossible for Maliki to create a loyal fully functional Iraq army, especially after Maliki's harsh and even torturous treatment of Sunnis who had been in Hussein's army but were thrown out of work when it was disbanded.
Iraq was just as rife with internecine conflict as it was before the U.S. invasion, but the failure of the Maliki government to reconcile the diverse interests and groups that remained set the stage for the emergence of ISIL. Now that a new war has broken out with this back drop, I find it difficult to see how anyone can believe or argue that anything other than more suffering and despair will be the result, bombing or no bombing. Nor is there reason to believe that future elections, if any can be held, will be able to create functioning governments that serve the interests of the people. Even if the repressive Assad regime in Syria were toppled, and the current coalition government in Iraq remains in power, resort to traditional electoral and legislative processes would probably still lead to the creation of undemocratic top-down governments snarled and stalemated by internecine conflicts within and across borders.
Even coalition governments like that recently established in Iraq do not provide a promising recipe for governance in the public interest when they continue to compel the electorate to choose among those already in power and embedded in deep-seated, long standing conflicts. It would be preferable to empower the people to circumvent them by using our re-invent democracy platform to build consensus within and among their own transpartisan voting blocs and coalitions to elect new representatives to enact new transpartisan agendas.
If this is not the case, I fear that the death and destruction caused by renewed, full-scale Western interference and bombing will have just the effect sought by ISIL. It will increase ISIL's capacity to mislead and attract new volunteers to join their fight in the region as well as commit violent acts outside the region inside the Western countries they abhor.
To contrast these grim prospects with the sole alternative I know of -- a web-based technological alternative that can be implemented immediately -- I have written this article to invite interested parties around the world to seriously examine the potential of our democracy re-invention platform. Our team believes this global platform is the only solution for resolving domestic and cross border crises and conflicts. It will be just as effective in developed as well as developing countries because it has the potential to make future Western interference in the Middle East unnecessary by curbing the domestic influence of special interests. In both arenas, it takes democracy to new levels of popular participation and responsiveness to the needs of people at the grassroots, as well as to new levels of civic empowerment for political organizing, conflict resolution and consensus building.
I would also like to take this opportunity to invite interested parties to explore possibilities for joining with my team to get the platform up and running as quickly as possible to leverage its potential to prevent the ISIL quagmire in the Middle East from engulfing the rest of the world. For more information on the platform and our global democracy building strategy, see reinventdemocracy.net and reinventdemocracyfoundation.net.