This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"And Then All Hell Broke Loose": Understanding the Mess in the Middle East

Rapid population growth in the Middle East, generating in particular a large youth population, has been one of the main underlying reasons for the current mess in the Middle East. But demography needs a spark to set it off, and Richard Engel lays that out in his new book "And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades in the Middle East." Over the years, my wife and I have always perked up our ears when Engel has been on TV as the Chief Foreign Correspondent for NBC News. He seemed consistently to be digging into what was really going on, and then telling it like it is. Now, he has laid it out in a book that is a very insightful memoir of his genuinely amazing reporting from the Middle East for the past 20 years, with an academic-style review of the history of the region. There are lots of good quotes in this book, but here is a particularly good one:
The Middle East I knew under the big men [going back to 1996 when he first arrived in Cairo] was angry, oppressed, and rotten to the core. I like to think of the Middle East back then as a row of decaying houses that looked ornate, impressive, and sturdy from the outside but were full of termites and mold. Like hollowed-out trees, the states that looked strong from the outside could be toppled by a slight push. President George W. bush gave them a hard shove. Through six years of direct military action, by invading, occupying, and wildly mismanaging Iraq, the Bush administration broke the status quo that had existed since 1967. He knocked over the first house. In the years that followed, Obama, elected by a public opposed to more adventurism in the Middle East, broke the status quo even further through inconsistent action.
President Obama encouraged uprisings in the name of democracy in Cairo, turned his back on Mubarak, supported rebels with force in Libya, and then wavered on Syria. Red lines were crossed, Promises were broken. Trust was lost. The combined impact of Bush's aggressive interventionism and Obama's timidity and inconsistency completely destroyed the status quo. The United States didn't create the Sunni-Shia conflict: it began over a millennium before the Declaration of Independence. The United States didn't create ISIS; its brand of backward intolerance and violence has been a part of wars in the Islamic world since the earliest days of the faith and helped found modern Saudi Arabia. The United States isn't responsible for giving the Kurdish people a state or denying them one. Although everyone in the Middle East tends to blame Washington for everything from car bombs to the weather, the United States isn't responsible for the woes of the Middle East. but like old houses that were barely standing, Washington's actions and missteps pushed them off their foundations and exposed the rot within, unleashing the madness of the Iraq war, the bloodbath in Syria, Libya's post-Gadhafi anarchy, and ISIS.
Those insights, and many more within the book, help us to understand headlines like those from today's NYTimes: "Migrant Arrivals to Europe This Year Top 110,000, Up Sharply From 2015."

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