David P. Goldman is best known for his "Spengler" column at Asia Times Online, which draws a million readers a month. He headed global bond research for Bank of America as well as other Wall Street research groups. Trained in music theory as well as economics at City University of New York and the London School of Economics respectively, he has written extensively on music, mathematics, religion, and the cultural heritage of the West, in Forbes, The Tablet, First Things, and Pajamas Media. Mr. Goldman addressed the Middle East Forum in New York on November 15, 2011.
Mr. Goldman opened his talk by highlighting the widespread disappointment with the deterioration of the "Arab Spring" into an Islamist resurgence. He cautioned that the U.S. must learn to live with instability, as nothing in its power would enable it to stabilize the Middle East, yet noted that this was not necessarily the end of the world; Ronald Reagan was able to exploit it for the national interest in the case of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Rather than focus on Islamism and its conflict with modernity as chief culprit for this instability, Mr. Goldman pointed to the massive decline in Muslim birthrates attending the growing education of women. Iranian women, for example, used to bear 7 children on average; now the rate has fallen to 1.5, with the most highly educated subgroup approaching a fertility rate of 1.0. Such an inverted population pyramid means that fewer and fewer young people will be forced to support a growing but aging populace. This is not some pipe dream of Western demographers; President Ahmadinejad himself has called the decision by Iranian youth not to have children an act of genocide against the Iranian nation.
Turkey, which also boasts a high literacy rate, including among its women, has seen the fertility rate among ethnic Turks declining to 1.5 children per woman. At the same time, Turkey's restive Kurdish population is now some 20% of the citizenry, with Kurdish women averaging 4.5 children. If this trend continues, and there seems to be no reason it will not, the inverting Turkish population pyramid will be overwhelmed by the "normal" Kurdish one, in essence creating a Kurdistan within the borders of Turkey, a situation fraught with the potential for intensified conflict.
The population decline of these two Muslim countries is to be contrasted with Egypt with its 45% illiteracy rate, and where two thirds of the population lives in rural areas relatively untouched by education or opportunities for women. Combine Egypt's burgeoning population with its diploma mill universities (producing essentially unemployable graduates), its reliance on imports for half its caloric consumption, and its draw-down of hard currency reserves and one has what can be viewed as a "perfect storm" for upheaval and potential chaos.
Besides bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power, Tahrir Square has decimated the tourist industry; the camels upon which vacationers used to ride around the pyramids are now being slaughtered for meat. There has been massive capitol flight and the generals seem to be stealing everything not nailed down. Egypt is now facing economic collapse and is in danger of becoming another Somalia, filled with starving people.
Does the impending collapse of the nation-states of the Middle East ruled by plutocrats, dictators and mullahs offer an opportunity for the West? Unfortunately not, according to Goldman.
The hard truth is that countries that feel they have no future will take extreme steps because they have nothing to lose. Tehran does not behave rationally, at least not in the Western sense, and poses an existential threat to Israel; it will use its nuclear weapons once they are developed.
Goldman's advice then is to bomb Iran and take out its nuclear capability, despite the collateral damage that will likely ensue. In countries roiled by the Arab uprisings which are slipping into Islamist hands, hostile to U.S. interests, American policy should be to destabilize them through various measures.