Tuesday, December 1, 2015

An Incredible, Unsolvable Mess

Finally, on the subject of ISIS, I have two excellent articles to recommend.

This one gives some cold, hard facts about why ISIS is not going to be militarily defeated.  Shorter version -- everyone hates ISIS and wants it to go away, but no one is actually willing to commit the ground troops to rule that ungovernable area, and most actors have other priorities:

  • Assad: Priority is defeating the non-ISIS rebels and holding onto power.  After all, the non-ISIS rebels border on him directly while ISIS does not.  And if the other rebels fall and only ISIS remains, then many of his current enemies will have no choice but to support him.
  • Turkey: Priority is defeating the Kurds, who want to create a Greater Kurdistan that includes parts of Turkey.
  • Kurds: They want a Greater Kurdistan.  To the extent ISIS controls Kurdish areas, they want to capture them.  They do not want to conquer and control non-Kurdish areas.  Nor do they want to see a strong central government restored in Iraq because it will want to subdue any aspirations the Kurds may have to independence.
  • Iraqi Shiites: Priority is their own power.  Might prefer to allow Sunni areas to secede than to share power with the Sunnis.
  • Iran: Priority is to dominate Iraq.  Any power sharing with Iraqi Sunnis would weaken that domination.
  • Saudi Arabia: Priority is great power rivalry with Iran.  Any enemy of Iran is to some extent an ally.
  • Israel: Priority is defeating Hamas, Hezbollah and Assad.  If Hezbollah goes off to fight for Assad instead of staying home to fight Israel, so much the better.
I should add that Israel's viewpoint is short-sighted.  Assad is no doubt an enemy, but one they can live with.  There have been no shots fired across the Israel-Syrian border since the mid-1970's. Neither chaos nor ISIS offer any such guarantee.

It also seems short-sighted on the part of Saudi Arabia.  They are supporting jihadis who have the monarchy in their sights as a target.  This article explains why Saudi Arabia is stuck in that trap.  The problem, it explains, is that the Saudi royal family's legitimacy rests on the support of the Wahabi clergy, i.e. a deeply puritanical strain of Islam, and the one that supplies most of the jihadi recruits. Since the royal family is (a) very large (too large to police effectively), and (b) not noted for its strict observance of the rules of Wahabism, it can retain the support of the Wahabi clergy only by promoting Wahabism abroad, even though the Wahabis are the main recruits the the various terrorist organizations, including ones that seek to overthrow the Saudi monarchy.  
So it's a Catch-22: The Saudi regime promotes Wahhabism in order to stay in power, but the more it promotes Wahhabism, the more it indirectly bolsters ISIS and other jihadists, who want to remove the Saudi royal family from power.
The article goes on to point out that Saudis fear democracy as much as they fear jihadism, so they not only support the spread of Wahabism, but also repressive government crushing democracy protesters, helping leave no middle ground between the tyrants and the terrorists.  And its great power rivalry with Iran (well, regional power anyhow) exacerbates local conflicts as each side arms its allies.  Some ally!

So, if I were king, what would I do to about the situation in the Middle East.  My basic answer is, my goal would not be military victory, but reduction in tensions.  Negotiated settlement between Assad and the rebels.  Any sort of brokered talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran to reduce tension and great power rivalry between them.  Unfortunately, persuading people to reach a negotiated settlement often involves temporarily ramping up the war.  And no one know just how "temporary" that will be.  And in the end, if the article on ISIS is correct then it, too, will ultimately have to be resolved by negotiations since no one is willing or able to dislodge ISIS by force.  The deal would have to take the form of allowing ISIS to govern its enclave in peace in exchange for not bothering anyone else. Such agreements have been made, even with very hard line governments.  Unfortunately, getting them to agree often means ramping up the war against them as well. . . .

No comments:

Post a Comment