Syria has long been a serious concern for the U.S., primarily because of our friendship and alliance with Israel, Syria’s alliance with (and reliance upon) Iran, their support of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and our concern with the weapons of mass destruction that they possess. So, naturally, we tend to think that the overthrow of the Assad regime is a good thing for us. It probably is, although we won’t really know until it happens, and we see what comes next.
There are a host of considerations in any policy dealing with countries in the Middle East – including Syria. To begin to understand this and make sense of it (if that is possible to the Western mind), we must make a distinction among three different terms:
- Countries. This term refers to everything inside a physically defined, legally accepted border: the people, the land, the resources, etc. This would refer, for example, to Syria, Jordan, Iraq, etc.
- Nations. This term usually refers to the people inside a country, but more specifically implies that there are commonalities among those people that bind them together. For example, a common language, common religion, shared values, family or ethnic ties.
- States. The state is the legal term for the governance in a country. This is expected to be contiguous with the borders of the country, but breaks down when there are competing groups vying for control, such as is happening all over the Middle East right now. Within this term, state, are two sub-categories: de jure governance (meaning the legitimate government of a country) and de facto governance (meaning the actual governing group whether considered legitimate or not.)
With this in mind, consider the following:
1.The countries of the Middle East – virtually all of them – are not “countries” as we think of them. They are creations of the 20th Century European powers whose purpose was controlling them, not liberating them. In order to do this, most were carved out in such a way that they divided ethnic and cultural groups (or “tribes” or “families”); and therefore, created enormous internal hostility as group fought group for supremacy. And, still does.
2.Virtually none of them were or are nations.
3.Governance has traditionally been by control of one group over all others. Whenever this control has shifted, enormous upheavals have taken place with a sad loss of life where retribution by the winners on the losers has been swift, brutal and thorough. So, one can expect the same with any changes in the future of these countries.
Countries of the Middle East
The borders of the countries of the Middle East have remained remarkably intact over the past half-century in spite of the diverse and hostile multitude of nations contained therein. For the most part, the fact that they have been ruled as states by despots who were as ruthless as any in history accounts for this. Just their names still bring fear and loathing: Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi and Khomeini come to mind. Their totally ruthless suppression of all dissent kept the countries together, even though there really was/is no unified nation in each country.
Nations of the Middle East
The nations of the Middle East are far more complex, and the crucible of their viability as countries over the next decade is very much in doubt. It is considered likely by many Middle East scholars that by 2020 ad the countries of the Middle East will look nothing like what we see today. Even as this is being written, the landscape is shifting as Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Iraq, Syria, Mali and lesser-known wars (both covert and overt) continue to flow throughout the region.
No one really knows what the short-term or medium-term outcome will be. However, here is one scenario:
- Greater Kurdistan. The majority of the Kurdish nation is concentrated in specific areas of Kurdistan, northern Iraq, eastern Turkey and northern Syria. Any significant collapse of governments – or further brutal repression of the Kurds in Iraq and Syria – could precipitate the binding of the Kurds into declaring a separate greater State of Kurdistan.
- Greater Armenia. Should the Kurds make this move, it would be an ideal opportunity for the Armenian nation within Armenia, the unrecognized de facto independent Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and Turkey to declare what they have yearned for every since the Ottoman Empire wiped our more than a million Armenians in the process of creating The Republic of Turkey.
- Sunni country. The Sunni Muslim nation in central Iraq – crowded by the majority Shiites in the south and the minority Kurds in the north – is now out of power caused by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the imposition of the Shiite majority government. The collapse of Syria with its Sunni majority would make an ideal time to combine with the other contiguous Sunni areas to create a Sunni nation.
- Shiite country. This would pave the way for an alliance between the south of Iraq with Iran (although there appears to be an alliance of sorts that exists there already.) Divided ethnically (the Iraqi Shiites are Arabs and the majority of Iranians are Persians), nonetheless the religious ties that bind them together may be stronger.
- Palestinian country. There are Palestinians everywhere in the Middle East: many of them in the highest positions of power due to their intelligence, education and world acumen. Unfortunately, in vast numbers they have been virtually quarantined into squalid camps by the rest of the Arab world as pawns in the Arab-Israeli struggle. With a base in the West Bank and Gaza, and a majority in Jordan, they could be expected to take advantage of upheaval elsewhere to make a grab for statehood on their own.
And, none of this accounts for the potential mess in the Gulf States or further east to all the turmoil in the “stan” states (i.e., Pakistan, Afghanistan, etc.) if disintegration begins to roll through the region, and the chaos to be created by the extremes of Al-Qaeda and the other fanatical Muslim organizations who have shown the ability to pick up the pieces at the close of revolutions, and who have the ability to climb over the dreams (or bodies) of those brave souls who made the changes possible, to seize the reins of government themselves. This is the greatest threat: that the extremes by virtue (poor choice of words) of their cunning, organization, ruthlessness and determination will intimidate, coerce and assassinate their way to power and mobilize their followers to prey upon the poverty, ignorance and hopelessness of the masses to incite them to fanatical adherence to an ideology that will mentally enslave them in a cycle of hatred for all not like themselves.
In the center of all this – at the crossroads – sit Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. As Syria goes, so goes Lebanon and probably Jordan. And, the mix of religion and ethnics in these three countries would be a mess for an embroiled Middle East. Shiites, Sunnis, Alawites, Maronite Christians, Druze, Kurds, Palestinians, Bedouins and all the other minority sects, tribes and interests combine to make an unstable situation perfectly positioned where a struck match could light the tinderbox that could fire the whole region.
With Turkey a NATO ally, and Israel a vital interest of the U.S., and oil, etc. this is not just a Middle East nightmare; it is a world nightmare of . . . shall I say it? . . . Biblical proportions.