There seems to be a lot going on in the world recently. We could spend hours talking about the Bergdahl swap, or Hillary’s comments regarding domestic terrorists, or Obama’s non-comments about anything meaningful. What does Cantor’s loss in the Virginia primary do to the November election canvas? All kinds of great topics of discussion but let’s talk about the Middle East. One of my favorite topics, that I kind of ran out of steam for about the time the “Arab Spring” launched.
Since that time a lot of things have happened and they all seem to be laying the ground work for some “interesting” political landscape changes in the region. Libya has seen a regime change that may result in the breakup of the country. Syria is undergoing a civil war that will likely leave that nation shattered. Egypt keeps changing leadership on a semi-annual basis. The eastern African nations continue to be a region of lawlessness and warlords asserting their local control. Where does it all lead? That is the question that the defense analysts, and the folks at Langley and Foggy Bottom should be busting their buts to predict. Something tells me that for the most part, they are not.
Taking a look at the world’s most recent hotspot (again) we see Iraq in the news. While the civil war in Syria ground to a standstill, the hotheads there took an opportunity to exploit the constant state of tribal restlessness in Iraq. Infiltrating the country, and bringing violence to the cultural fracture points within cities and neighborhoods.
Many are saying that we should be going back into Iraq, and stabilizing the situation. There are definitely merits to that argument. But there are also risks and dangers. One of the biggest is the potential to create a state that is incapable of taking care of itself.
Many will also argue that the United States is not the world’s police force. Here too, I agree. While there are situations where morally, we should act, in many cases the crisis on the ground is best resolved by the primary participants.
Before we get too involved in my thoughts I am going to send you elsewhere for some opinions:
Allen West: Next Stop Jordan
The Guardian: Air Strikes
What should the United States government do about the situation in Iraq? Well, this is multi part answer.
First, there is the short term issue to deal with. The government of Iraq has asked for assistance. We need to act on that request. The short term solution is a combined air ground expeditionary force to influence the actors on the ground. The goal if this short term force is to stabilize the situation on the ground (best case) and if that goal is not achievable due to scale the actions of the force should be to protect American interests. In this case American interests are defined as:
1. The destruction or relocation of US military equipment left in country, or sold to the Iraqi government. Relocation of the equipment should be to the Kurdish areas of Iraq, or Turkey.
2. Safeguarding of United States citizens pending evacuation from the country.
In parallel to the above short term mission, the United States government needs to develop a specific regional policy for the Middle East and Africa. What are our economic and cultural interests in the region and how are they best served? How can the warlords of the region become willing and participants in what we see as the traditional nation states of the 21rst Century, or do we allow that region of the world to fall back into tribal collectives or city-states. Trying to put a “western civilization” template on many areas of the globe is just not possible. Even applying a common set of moral values is close to impossible but, there are economic and cultural interests that we have in the region that are of critical importance to our values and our civilization.
Mid-range goals: the mid range actions will be defined by our policy and goals for the region. For the moment our goals for the region are going to be defined as:
1. Promote the establishment of stable nation states where possible.
2. Facilitate the establishment of smaller regional or tribal states where larger nation states are not viable.
3. Establish and facilitate regional protective “alliances” to promote the stability and longevity of smaller states in what could become a predatory environment.
4. Internal issues within the smaller states are to be resolved internally. If external actors are involved in internal issues, the external actor should be influenced to leave the stage.
From an actionable standpoint these midrange goals translate into, Israel and Jordan must be protected and stabilized. Saudi Arabia is capable of maintaining their own sovereignty but the United States will stand ready to assist if requested. Saudi human rights issues is another topic altogether. Syria must be encouraged stabilize and recover, with or without regime change. Syria cannot continue to be a destructive influence on the region, the way that it has been for decades. Kuwait, is another area of interest that we will stand beside.
In my opinion, the Unites States sucks at nation building for those nations that do not have a common basis to be a nation. We are however, pretty good at small scale stabilization of regions where the population has a common cultural and economic base. It is time to capitalize on that. Here comes the hard part… Iraq needs to disintegrate. Iraq is a conglomeration of tribes and religious factions that does not work well together on a large scale. It is time to facilitate the breakdown of Iraq into a series of smaller states. Establishment of these smaller nation states, their economic viability, and standing them up to see to their own security is going to be the most difficult phases of that task.
Iran, and various other Non-Governmental organizations are the fly in the ointment. The brand of radical Islam being endorsed and exported by Iran, and various other NGOs (in this case terrorist organizations (AQI, ISIS, etc.) will work to exploit the immaturity of these new nation states through violent action. In most cases these actors do not have a “home” or any loyalty to regional or tribal groups. They are the modern day “hordes” that are working at the leading edge to destabilize cultures and nations. By inflicting incapacitating violence, and removing the leaders of a region they lay the ground work for influential religious leadership to pick up the pieces of the neighborhoods. Using the mosque, and Islam as the unifying structures for the culture this leadership furthers the concept if the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate.
The Islamic Caliphate is the long term view of the religious leadership of Iran, and their proxies. It is a goal that they have had for centuries, they are in it for the long haul. By contrast these United States of America have been in existence for nearly 238 years. We have not yet established long term and consistent policies. I am not sure that we know how to think in the same long term planning horizon as other nations. It is however something that we need to learn to do, and getting started on that goal today would be good.