Steve Sailer asks:"Please remind me again: Which ones are the Good Muslims: Shunnis or Si'ites?" and "Do we really know what we are doing over there [the Middle East]?" I know it's not very dignified to brag that "I told you so." But if you read my Quagmire: America in the Middle East (published in 1992) and the more recent one, Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East (links to the two books on the left) one can figure out what's happening there (never-ending tribal, religious, ethnic, and national wars since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire) and what the U.S. should do (start a process of "constructive disengagement" from the region). Just one quote from the book in response to Steve:
The U.S. is discovering now what many outside global players have learned the hard way, that it is impossible for any actor to impose its particular agendas on the Middle East. In the Middle East everything is related to everything else; the boundaries between local, national, regional and international issues are blurred. A player with great expectations arrives on the Middle East scene, trying to make peace between rivals, spread democracy in this country or socialism in another one or attempt to use nationalist and religious banners to create a sense of unity. But such efforts are bound to result in counter-efforts by unsatisfied players to form opposing regional alliances and to secure the support of other local players and global powers. What you intended, does not always happen in a region where “unintended consequences” are the name of the game -- not an exception to the rule. As Middle East historian L. Carl Brown proposed, “just as with the tilt of the kaleidoscope the many tiny pieces of colored glass all move to form a new configuration, so any diplomatic initiative in the Middle East sets a realignment of the players.”
Hence, outsiders who want to play the Middle East game should expect to become part of the chaotic system -- not vehicles to stabilize it. The kaleidoscope has been turned after the Americans invaded Iraq and a new configuration has emerged. But as always the configuration includes similar players --- local (Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, tribal groupings) and regional (Iran, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Jordan), and comparable problems (religious and ethnic strife; national identity; outside interference) -- that is now driving the region into yet another time of chaos, this time in the Holy Land and Lebanon.