Ottoman Counterinsurgency

From adjunct professor Tim Furnish on Voices from the Hill:

American Grand Strategy seems to be going back to the future — a 19th-century one of “Great Power Competition,” that is.

This process began under Obama, ramped up under Trump, and is continuing, albeit in a less bellicose way, under Biden. There are those who would not deem it wise—especially if it were to “elevate competition itself to the guiding paradigm of U.S. foreign policy.” But the assumption, if not the geopolitical reality, is here to stay for the foreseeable future; and the former may to some extent engender the latter.

That being so, the global tussle for power among the U.S., China and Russia will likely prove particularly problematic for the already troubled Middle East, where terrorism and insurgencies simmer, and often boil over. If the U.S. is going to pursue effective polices in the region vis-à-vis those Great Power competitors, it would behoove us to learn from the experience of the last Great Power to rule the region, the Ottoman Empire.

Sixteen nations in North Africa and the Middle East were once part of the Ottoman state. Ten of those now face active insurgencies: Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Israel/Palestine and Turkey. The Ottomans confronted seven major insurrections during their 500-year reign, as I examine in my latest book “The COIN of the Islamic Realm: Insurgencies and the Ottoman Empire, 1416-1916.” Sufi groups, Celalis and Kadizadelis posed a problem in Anatolia (modern Turkey). The Druzes of Syria gave the Sultans headaches. Yemen’s Zaydis were a multigenerational mutiny against the imperial center. The Wahhabis sought to oust the Ottomans from Arabia, and ultimately succeeded. And the eschatological Mahdists did the same for Sudan. Not all of these anti-Ottoman groups have analogs in the modern Middle East. But the Kadizadelis, Zaydis and Sudanese Mahdists certainly do. Before drawing lessons from these conflicts, some background is in order.

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