Monday, September 22, 2014

Arming the Syrian Rebels - A bad idea

Last week the United States Senate voted to arm and train the Syrian rebels. It’s amazing to me how such an awful idea can appear the absolute right choice to policy makers. I think it’s important for not only Americans but the majority of the West to realize what it is we’re supporting here.

The Middle East and Western manipulation.

Ever since the end of WW1 Western governments have been putting their fingers in the Sykes-Picot damn hoping it won’t burst. For nearly 100 years the Middle East has been on fire moving from one war or conflict to another. It’s of no surprise that the people living in the west have rationalized this areas constant state of warfare as being due to it just simply being a highly volatile place. Western societies are so far removed from the Middle East that understanding the “Why” of the problem was never considered important.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire T.E. Lawrence suggested the Middle East be split up like so:
Lawrence’s main dealings were with the Hashemite family who were the rulers of the Hejaz. The Hejaz is in present day Saudi Arabia and contains the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Lawrence wanted to give the majority of the land to the Hashemites, but he made sure and allocated mandates for both the British and the French. You can see he was conflicted on what to do with the Kurdish lands. He marks those simply as question marks.

I truly think that Lawrence loved the Arabian lands. He really wanted to give the Arabs a kingdom that ruled over the former Ottoman areas in the Middle East. Dealing with the Hashemites seemed like the best way to go. They had direct lineage to Muhammad and were influential during the Umayyad Caliphate. Their King was ruler over the Hejaz which gave them credibility all over Islamic lands.

However, Arab tribes were highly competitive. The Sykes-Picot Agreement played off of Arab rivalries. The S/P map looked like this:

The al Saud’s would immediately rebel against the Hashemites attacking and conquering the Hejaz. As a consolation prize the British would create TransJordan to give to the Hashemites. The Hashemites were also given the Kingdom of Syria but France would renege on that deal. Again, as a consolation prize the Hashemites would be given Iraq. Syria, Iraq, and Jordan were all made up countries with made up borders. Half of them given away as consolation prizes. The Saudis would maintain their border and respect the new nation states as part of a British treaty.

A natural regional evolution.

The following map is what we’ve had since. It should be very recognizable:MIDDLEEAST_TRADITIONAL.jpg
This entire area should hold new meaning now. It should be of no surprise why after 100 years we are still seeing such turmoil. The governments of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan are all Western creations. The Middle East should have gone through a natural evolution after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. Instead, Imperialistic tampering stunted their growth.

I believe what we’re seeing now in the MIddle East is the progression that would have taken place back in 1918 if Sykes-Picot would have never happened. I think the U.S. invasion of Iraq created a power vacuum that jump started this process. Then came the Arab Spring...then came a power vacuum in Syria.

ISIS has now carved a path through the Middle East that looks very similar to what T.E. Lawrence originally promised to the Hashemites. Lets be very blunt here. We currently don’t have operational governments in Syria and Iraq. They lack the ability to project power within their own borders.
Basically you have a Middle East that is being fought over by warlords and tribes. Assad in Syria is no more than a warlord that governs the city of Damascus. Likewise the government in Iraq doesn’t govern much outside the boundaries of Baghdad.
In contrast, the Islamic State governs and projects power throughout the borders of two separate states. They have instituted Sharia law in their controlled cities. Most people don’t know this but ISIS controls oil fields that used to belong to both Damascus and Baghdad. The Islamic State sells that oil to neighboring countries….just like a typical nation state.

The Middle East now looks more like this:
The only border lines that actually mean anything are the Israeli, Jordanian, and Saudi lines. Everything else is about to go through significant change. It’s reverting back to not only tribal but clan rivalries. The Sunni/Shia differences are only a fraction of the problem. In some tribes/clans Sunni/Shia inter marry.

Arm the Syrian Rebels?

Now back to the point of arming the Syrian rebels to fight off ISIS. Does that make sense now? Do the rebels in Syria have more conflict with ISIS or with the Western created government of Bashar al Assad? Most people haven’t heard that the American and British journalists beheaded by ISIS were sold to them from a rebel group in Syria.

It is not in the National Interest of the American people to support the rebels in Syria. In the end, this will only increase ISIS’s influence not deter it. More weapons and soldiers will flip and join ISIS. Those that don’t will turn to Damascus and re-engage Assad. Eventually, the power vacuum that widens will open a door for ISIS to move further into Syria.

We have to support a policy that treats the Islamic State as an actual nation state. Now, I don’t support granting it any independant recognized status, but to fight them we have to stop treating them like Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is more like an international espionage group. They work in the shadows training “agents” to attack targets all over the world. The Islamic State is an army that is trying to influence power in a specific space. That right there, in the words of Robert Strausz Hupe, is the definition of geopolitics.

What should U.S. policy be?

To fight any other state abroad we would seek a reliable counter or check to their power. Now is the time to erase Lawrence’s question marks on his map and define the borders of Independent Kurdistan. The Kurds shouldn’t be used as bargaining chips and levers between Iran and Turkey. A strong Independent western backed Kurdistan could be the regional counter that we’re looking for. They could push on the IS from the North and diminish their foothold in both Northern Iraq and Syria. You don’t have to worry about them defecting to ISIS or turning and fighting against Assad. They’ll be defending their homeland.

We would seek to build a coalition. Not just any coalition, but a coalition of nations that have a reason to fight the Islamic State. There is absolutely no reason why French or U.S. aircraft should be bombing ISIS right now. Especially not when Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey could be doing it instead. U.S. and western direct support should be held back as a guarantee. It should not be the first strike option.

Before the President goes to war with ISIS he needs to clearly define our National Interest in doing so. There’s no question whether ISIS should be defeated or not….they should be. The question is how do we manage the situation in a way that improves the overall situation in the Middle East and aligns with the nations national interest.
We simply must reconcile the past. The West is directly responsible for the current turmoil in the Middle East. There’s no denying it. We must now admit that yes we are an empire but there are ways to fix the mistakes of the past. We can’t continue to put our fingers in the dam. We have to let the dam come down and build new infrastructure that’s not founded in deceit.