I would like to lay down some ground-work for my understanding of the situation in the Middle East. While some statements may seem like gross generalizations, I find them to be true even though exceptions may exist.
Just so that there are no comments about my agenda, my purpose in all this is to attempt to understand what course of action would minimize the net suffering short, mid, and long-term and to support people in the US who would pursue this course. Consequently, I welcome all the information that might change my mind.
Generally, countries divide into two categories:
1) Decentralized or Western - countries where the governing body is accountable to the populace. Respect for the individual is at the core of the society. As a rule of thumb, free speech can be used to distinguish a Western society.
2) Centralized / Non-Western - the power is held by an elite largely detached from the population.
3) The Western countries thrive on social stability and economic growth.
4) The Non-Western countries contain a governing elite that is detached from the populace. This structure is very unstable requiring distraction and suppression of the populace in order for the elite to remain in power. This leads to aggression on part of the government against its people as well as attempts to create confrontation between its people and the outside world.
5) The Western and non-Western governments are not compatible with each other. It is to the advantage of the non-Western governments to create and maintain a state of conflict. The Western governments exert pressure on the non-Western governments for reform for economic, political, and humanitarian reasons with all pushing towards stabilization and integration.
6) It is to the advantage of non-Western governments to undermine the Western economy thereby reducing the pressure exerted by the Western governments.
7) Very soon WMD will become so easily accessible to non-Western governments, that it will be possible to deploy them anonymously on the Western soil by way of terrorism.
8) Consequently, if ever a point is reached when WMD can be anonymously deployed on the Western soil to the advantage of non-Western governments, sooner or later, it will happen. This is not paranoia, but economic and political reality. Thus, the question now becomes how to prevent this scenario from materializing.
9) The only way to prevent 8 is to not have situations when small groups of people have something to profit from destruction of the Western economy.
10) The only way to achieve 9 is to decentralize the non-Western governments creating accountablity to the people.
11) Politically, it would be ideal for the the decentralization to take place without a physical confrontation. This is the situation in China and is morally questionable as such an approach accepts gross human rights violations. Physical confrontation, however, is expensive, politically dangerous, and, while it might carry a lower cost in human lives overall, that cost must be paid in the short term and is consequently more painful.
12) Unlike China, prior to 9/11, the Middle East in general was not moving towards decentralization, but instead was steadily going away from integration with the West.
13) US lead an aggressive Western campaign making it clear that change must be accelerated. And if change would not take place gradually, it would be instituted by force.
14) Iraq was the first country to be decentralized aggressively. The Weapons of Mass Destruction, Resolution 1441, oil, etc. made Iraq a good start to push pro-Western reforms in the Middle East.
It should be noted that the situation get significantly more complicated due to the following factors:
A) Some elements in the Western and nominally pro-Western countries profit greatly from the old centralized Middle East and might not want to see change (France, Russia).
B) In the West, the populace is generally ignorant and due to lack of efficient distribution of information, there is a gross distortion of reality that propagates for economic and political reasons. (left media targeting left consumers, America-bashing, etc.)
There is much more to be said on the subject and, my suspicion is that each of the points above may be worthy of discussion and dissection. In your responses, please be constructive and respectful. So long as we are all interested in finding the best solution, we can all get along.