The political map that emerges from the current turmoil in the Middle East can’t be predicted with any certainty, but it will be the result of close to a century of transition, former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell said Saturday.
Mitchell took time out from a celebration at Hadlock Field in Portland, where the Boston Red Sox’s three World Series trophies, including the 2013 edition, went on display, to talk about global issues.
A Waterville native and Bowdoin College graduate, Mitchell, 80, called the Obama administration’s policies in the Middle East “reactive” but stopped short of pronouncing the recent strife in the region as any better or worse than in the past.
Mitchell, a Democrat, served for nearly 15 years in the Senate, including six as the majority leader. He went on to broker peace in Northern Ireland under the Clinton administration and tried to do the same as the U.S. special envoy for the Middle East between 2009 and 2011 in the Obama administration.
Mitchell said Saturday that whether the Obama administration takes an aggressive stance in the Middle East or a softer approach, it will face criticism from all sides because the issues facing the region are so complicated.
He said the conflicts in the Middle East can be traced back to World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire.
“That was followed by a fragmentation and the creation of new countries such as Iraq and Jordan,” said Mitchell.
Mitchell said the turbulence has been fueled by historic hostility between Arabs and Persians, Israelis and Palestinians and by hundreds of years of tensions between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam.
“These are clearly intensifying and will play out in many of the countries in the region,” he said.
The rapidly growing populations of Middle Eastern countries – a region where economic conditions have stagnated – also have contributed to the political unrest, Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the United States continues to seriously underestimate the importance of tribal clans and family relationships in the Middle East.
“Allegiance to the nation, which is primary in the United States, is secondary” at best among people in the Middle East, Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the United States should do all it can to support moderate forces in Egypt, which on Saturday marked the third anniversary of the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
He said Syria presents a complicated situation for Obama, who stepped back from threats of military intervention after reports came out last year that it had used chemical weapons.
Mitchell said the one thing Obama can be certain of is criticism for whatever action he takes.
“Hopefully the current effort to bring about a cease-fire is the proper course,” said Mitchell.
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