The Middle East: New strategic realities

After half a century of stasis, there are big new strategic realities in the Middle East

After half a century of stasis, there are big new strategic realities in the Middle East, but people are having trouble getting their heads around them. Take the United States, for example. Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State in President Obama’s first administration, is still lamenting her former boss’s failure to send more military help to the “moderate” rebels in Syria.

“The failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled,” Clinton told Atlantic magazine recently. She’s actually claiming that early and lavish military aid to the right people would have overthrown Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, while freezing the al-Qaeda/ISIS jihadis out. If only.

Clinton travels a lot, but she never really leaves the Washington bubble. There are intelligence officials there who would gladly explain to her that almost all the desirable weaponry sent to the “moderates” in Syria ends up in the hands of the jihadis, who either buy it or just take it, but she wouldn’t listen. It falls outside the “consensus”.

Yet that really is how ISIS acquires most of its heavy weapons. The most striking case of that was in early June, when the Iraqi army, having spent $41.6 billion in the past three years on training its troops and equipping them with American heavy weapons, ran away from Mosul and northern Iraq and handed a good quarter of them over to ISIS.

In fact, that’s the weaponry that is now enabling ISIS to conquer further territory in eastern Syria and in Iraqi Kurdistan. Which, in turn, is why Barack Obama has now authorised air strikes in Iraq to stop ISIS troops from overrunning Irbil, the Kurdish capital.

By now, he has also presumably abandoned his proposal of last June to spend $500 million to train and equip “appropriately vetted” Syrian opposition fighters. (They were then supposedly going to overthrow Assad with one hand while crushing the jihadis with the other.)

But Obama has not yet dropped the other shoe. A LOT of people have not dropped their other shoes yet. They all know that the whole strategic environment has changed. They realise that may require new policies and even new allies. Changing horses in midstream is always a tricky business, so the realignments are only slowly getting underway, but you can see where they are going to go.

The proclamation of the “Islamic State” in eastern Syria and northern-western Iraq has huge implications for every country in the Middle East, but for most of the great powers – Russia, the United States, China, India, Britain, France and Germany – it is almost the ONLY thing they still care about in the region. They all have Muslim minorities of their own, and they all want the Islamic State stopped, or at the very least isolated, contained and quarantined.

That means that both the Syrian and Iraqi governments must survive, and they will probably get enough outside help to do so (although it will take time for the US and the major European powers to switch sides and openly back Assad). The army of the Iraqi Kurds might hold its own against the Islamic State if it had better weapons, so it will get them (although Baghdad will not welcome a more powerful Kurdish army).

Containing the Islamic State to the north will be a simpler task, because Iran and Turkey are very big, well organised states whose populations are relatively invulnerable to the ISIS brand of Sunni fundamentalism. But to the south of the Islamic State is Saudi Arabia, and that is a country that faces some tough decisions.

The Wahhabi strand of Sunni Islam which is Saudi Arabia’s official religion is very close to the beliefs of the jihadis who now rule the Islamic State to their north. Much of their financial support and even their weapons have come from Saudi Arabia. But the rulers of that kingdom would be extremely unwise to assume that the jihadis regard Saudi Arabia’s current political arrangements as legitimate, or that gratitude would restrain them.

Nor will the long-standing US alliance with Saudi Arabia endure if Saudi ties to the jihadis are not broken. Riyadh will have to decide, and it will be aware that its oil is no longer so vital to the United States that it can have it both ways.

The Iranian-US rapprochement will continue,  and the issue of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons ambitions will be settled amicably despite Israel’s protests. Indeed, Israel may come under irresistible US pressure to stop whacking the Palestinians or the Lebanese Shias every couple of years, stop the settlement programme, and get on with the two-state deal. Washington would very much like Israel to stop alienating the people it needs as allies.

Further afield, General Sisi’s new regime in Egypt can count on strong American support, and may even be encouraged by Washington to intervene militarily in Libya and shut down the Islamist militias there. Tunisia will be the only remaining flower of the “Arab Spring”, although there has also been a certain amount of progress in Morocco. But in the heartland of the Arab world, war will flourish and democracy will not.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles on world affairs are published in 45 countries.

THINK GLOBALLY

 

Just Posted

2018 Stettler Farmer/Farmerette Bonspiel Winners

Tournament held from January 18th to the 21st at the Stettler Curling Rink

2018 Stettler Farmer/Farmerette Bonspiel Winners

Tournament held from January 18th to the 21st at the Stettler Curling Rink

Sentencing postponed in Castor triple homicide

Jason Klaus and Josh Frank will appear in court again Feb. 14th

County council writes off certain Botha accounts

Council hears public library saw 60,000 pass through doors this year

Stettler secondhand charity looks for new home

Superfluity lease not being renewed; will move by Sept., 2018

Stettler and area youth jump into curling this winter

Junior Curling Program runs Monday nights in Stettler

Back to work: U.S. government shutdown ends after Democrats relent

Short-term spending measure means both sides could see another shutdown stalemate in three weeks

Bell Media, NFL take appeal over Super Bowl ad rules to top court

At issue is a ban on substituting American ads with Canadian ones during the game’s broadcast

Sentencing postponed in Castor triple homicide

Jason Klaus and Josh Frank will appear in court again Feb. 14th

Drumheller-Stettler MLA visits Stettler County Council during January constituency break

Rural crime matters, agriculture plastics recycling and infrastructure requests brought forward

Cougar window shops at Banff grocery store

An RCMP officer spots a cougar outside an Alberta grocery store

$130K could get you on a dive to the Titanic

Hot summer ticket: $130K could get you on a dive to the Titanic off Newfoundland

UK’s Princess Eugenie, daughter of Prince Andrew, engaged

Princess Eugenie, the daughter of Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, will marry Jack Brooksbank in Autumn 2018

German nurse charged with 97 more murders

Niels Hoegel, serving a life sentence for two murders, has been indicted in nearly 100 more killings.

Most Read


Weekly delivery plus unlimited digital access for $50.40 for 52 issues (must live within 95 kilometers of Stettler) Unlimited Digital Access for one year for $50.40 Prefer to have us call you? Click here and we’ll get back to you within one business day.