You hope that nations, like individuals, can learn from previous experiences to not make the same mistakes and overlook similar, sometimes almost exactly the same, circumstances when they appear in a different theater. Unfortunately, nations are just as prone to upset you and repeat the same errors and miss the same opportunities time and again. The United States is doing exactly that in Syria that they did in Iraq. Just as in Iraq, the United States searched for some Sunni allies who were not aligned with al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremists and completely ignored the one group of Muslims who had cleared their areas of extremists of both stripes, Sunni and Shia, and were conducting their affairs in a civilized and orderly manner. Eventually the United States discovered these wonderful people who were quietly going about their lives living as normally as is possible in a country ravaged by internal warfare. They mostly kept any bad influences clear of their area through the powers of their volunteer militias and even went so far as to take in those Christians who were fortunate enough to have fled with their lives from the oppressive and murderous Islamists who were persecuting them for their religion.
These wonderful peoples were a group who were used to being on the short end of deals ever since the British cheated them out of their promised lands after World War I when Britain, France and Italy divided up the ruins of the Ottoman Empire between themselves presumably to set up new nations based on mostly whims of the colonial powers. The British had promised the Kurds that their homelands would be returned to them as the nation of Kurdistan. This idea stood well until the discovery of oil in the areas which would be included as the northern provinces of Iraq as the British had an agreement with the King Faisal to exploit their oil wealth for their backing of his rule. The Kurds were actually cheated from every front as their promised lands ended up being split with the largest part going to Iraq and smaller sections being granted to Syria and Turkey. All of these arrangements were conducted for the benefit of the European powers who had made a few too many contradictory promises to the native populations during the fighting of World War I and this eventually, along with other mitigating factors such as oil, led to a number of those promises being compromised or entirely reneged upon when push came to shove after the war ended. As anybody who follows recent events and researches the histories knows, there were a lot of people whose promises of territory found that compromises and arrangements made many of the guarantees become broken promises and they received only a partial amount of what was originally promised or even received nothing at all as was the case for the Kurdish populations who found themselves without a homeland and under the rule of people who were more likely to have been adversarial than allied with their interests.
The United States between the State Department and the Department of Defense are still seeking a Sunni group which is not tied to al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist group to back in the fight to depose Syrian Dictator Bashir al-Assad. The group they initially had chosen has lost most of its fighters and are currently being further decimated by both the rebel groups attached to al-Qaeda and/or the Muslim Brotherhood or other extremist alliances as well as those forces backing al-Assad which include the remaining Syrian military, IRGC forces from Iran and Hezballah from Lebanon. This leaves the Free Syrian Army as almost a non-entity in the continuing fighting. Still, in the northeast parts of Syria the Kurds have accomplished something very similar to what their brothers managed in Iraq, an area under the control of Kurdish militias where civilized life goes on and the area is kept free of al-Qaeda and other Sunnis rebels as well as Syrian forces allied with al-Assad. These Kurds had almost completely staked out their territory and have defeated the al-Qaeda groups which attempted to wrest control away from the Kurdish forces but were defeated. The State Department is claiming that the Kurds are allied with al-Assad which is why they refuse to deal with them but the Kurds point out that they have a truce with al-Assad which is what allows them to concentrate on keeping their region cleared of al-Qaeda and other Islamist rebel forces. They further point out that Secretary of State Kerry and the rest of the United States government officials concerned with Syria talk more often and have deeper relations with al-Assad than do the Kurds. They claim they simply wish to be left alone to take care of their own needs and that a truce with al-Assad serves that purpose.
The United States is currently watching as in Iraq everything they had accomplished is quickly going up in smoke. The one remaining area of stability in Iraq is the northern Kurdish controlled areas where normal lives relatively free of suicide and car bombings. It would be in the interest of the Kurds and the United States and possibly the world to finally make good on the promise broken by the British after World War I and form the nation of Kurdistan out of the northern territories of Iraq merged with the Kurdish enclave in northeastern Syria. Such a move would strengthen both communities and would likely prove to be an oasis of stability and peace in a tumultuous region. The United States could sponsor the Kurdish nation being installed into the United Nations, an idea that should receive general approval especially in the Security Council. It would serve to have an example of what can be attained if only the people decide to put their welfare before their tribal alliances and hatreds. Establishing Kurdistan might even serve to wake the warring factions to the idea that their continued warfare will only serve to fracture and destroy the lands eventually to the point that the winner will inherit a wasteland which is virtually worthless and will take two generations to simply rebuild, providing they can go two generations without returning to internecine warfare, something which does not appear possible judging from the immediate picture. So, to the United States, do the righteous thing and unite the Kurdish areas and give the Kurds their long ago promised homeland, establish an oasis of civility and allow and aid the founding of Kurdistan now.
Beyond the Cusp
The past quarter of a century has experienced a world going through some seismic political transformations, some more surprising than others and some completely expected, but solely in hindsight. The first major quake on the political landscape was the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolving of the Warsaw Pact. In hindsight the collapse of the Soviet Union made complete sense and seemed like it should have been expected, yet it was not. The dissolving of the Warsaw Pact was the great opportunity for the Western Nations, especially those in NATO, but it ended up an opportunity lost. Admitting Poland into NATO, reuniting Germany, and accepting slowly some of the central Eastern European nations into NATO was an obvious move. What was the missed opportunity was the acceptance of the farthest Eastern European nations into NATO which was an opportunity lost. Yes, it would have required effort in order to secure these nations as democratic and free in the Western model but that was doable. Instead President George H. W. Bush wasted his efforts attempting to woo Russia to join NATO as a subservient secondary power to the United States and probably Britain and Germany as well if not France and others. Russia was never going to sit on the same side of the table as their arch enemy since the end of World War II because there was simply too much history of bad blood between the West and the remnant of the Soviet Union’s heart, Russia. Still, the United States pumped billions upon billions of dollars into Russia thinking there would be something to show for their investments and there has been, a stronger Russia than had they been left in the cold until they agreed to play nice and make a fully and long lasting unipolar world. Instead we have a rescued Russia now challenging a listless and inattentive United States that has been bumbling around on the world stage without any true direction seemingly pilotless. The United States is doing exactly what President Obama said they would do, “leading from behind”, which is a sophisticated way of saying following and letting the world dictate to the United States rather than actually fulfilling her role as the world superpower. By the time President Obama leaves office, assuming he does, the United States will be disregarded by China, Russia, and very probably a nuclear armed Iran which will hold hegemony over the oil states in the Middle East.
The other major seismic change was the originally named Arab Spring which we and others eventually saw to call the Arab Winter. The path that resulted from the uprisings against the dictators starting in Tunisia and progressing through Egypt, Libya and on had been earlier demonstrated when in 1979 under the watchful eye of President Jimmy Carter when Iran threw off the dictatorial Shah and installed an Islamist government which was even more oppressive than the Shah had been. The only difference was that these were Sunni countries and not Shiite countries so the Muslim Brotherhood rose to power. Thus far none of the nations that experienced a transformation as part of the Arab revolts has returned to a peaceful life free from terrorism, shooting wars in the streets and general mayhem disrupting everyday life. The worst of these is obviously Syria followed by Yemen, Libya and on through Egypt and Tunisia. Egypt may be the only one which may be spared an Islamist dark ages as the people rose up a second time and the military took that opportunity to execute a coup, whether anybody cares to call it by that name it was still a coup. Tunisia may be the next nation to throw off their Islamist rulers that usurped power in the elections after the revolution as the people in Tunisia are still rising up demanding the government address the weak economy and the rampant poverty resulting from poor governance. Tunisia bears watching and if any nation desires to do the right thing, perhaps some assistance before the secularists are beaten down by Islamist fascists could enable changes towards a more liberated society and the improved economy such might facilitate. Libya has devolved into tribal warfare which shows little signs of waning. Iraq is being consumed by a Shiite-Sunni war with Iran and the government of Iraq fighting against al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood forces in the resumption of an ancient struggle for the heart of Islam. Syria, well, Syria is Iraq on steroids with such violence that whoever wins will not really win much as much of Syria has been utterly destroyed and it will be months, likely decades, before Syria will be capable of even the slightest of an economy. Meanwhile Afghanistan has been courting Iran as a replacement for the United States which Afghanistan is contemplating removing unceremoniously after the next elections. Currently Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai is holding United States President Obama hostage demanding he will sign the continued American military presence only after the election implying that the Americans need to assure Karzai wins reelection. Fortunately there was little if anything that could have been done politically to alter the results as the Muslim Brotherhood was the only organized political force existent within the Sunni nations. The Shiite nations all fall under the sway of Iran which will likely start sewing unrest in Shiite majority nations and areas such as the Northeast Saudi oil fields once the disasters in Iraq and Syria are concluded and they have tested a nuclear device in order to protect their efforts from outside interferences.
There is unrest currently rocking Kiev particularly and the Ukraine generally over President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to cancel a deal to integrate Ukraine with the European Union under duress from Russia’s Putin threatening to cut trade relations and other threats in order to hold on to the former Soviet possession. This is a direct result of inaction by the Western nations, especially the United States. The Ukraine has been available to incorporate into NATO if the other NATO countries had been more flexible, agreeable and afforded the Ukraine and other central Eurasian nations that were freed with the fall of the Soviet Union. There is plenty of blame to spread over the long list of Presidents of the United States who dropped the ball which include George H W Bush, William Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama. The European Union does not get off without some culpability as they have not exactly bent over backwards to assist the Ukraine entering the European Union. This may be the final chance to provide the Ukraine with an exit from under the thumb of Putin and Russian influence. Making demands that the Ukraine must meet including political changes is not facilitating an easy transfer from Russian orbit to joining the European Union. The path from Soviet possession to democratic governance was particularly difficult for the Ukraine and other former Soviet possessions. Especially Georgia, which attempted to break free and join with the West, only to be left hanging as Russian tanks rolled across their border reestablishing Russian influence using aiding the breakaway South Ossetia Province as their reason for invading Georgia. Just add Georgia to the list of countries that attempted to gain freedom only to be left hanging helplessly before Soviet style tactics employed by ex KGB Russian President Putin. Will the Ukraine be the next notch on Putin’s gun belt? The unfortunate answer is that it is very likely as there is nobody in the West who appears ready to do anything to intervene and provide an alternative to caving to Russian pressures. Yet another opportunity squandered. History will possibly call this the quarter century squandered that allowed whatever conflicts that will result to the lack of vision by Western leaders who were blind to great and fleeting opportunities.
Beyond the Cusp