Geopolitical nightmares of the Middle East
BY MATEIN KHALID khaleejtimes
1 February 2007
THE geopolitics of the Middle East has mutated into a lethal sectarian virus, as Shia and Sunni militias slaughter, bomb and maim at random in Iraq, Pakistan and now Lebanon.
The ancient wounds of Kerbala and the Ottoman – Safavid sectarian wars that engulfed the Middle East for centuries have now reopened in a region where war, to borrow Von Clausewitz’ words, is just diplomacy by other means. The demagogues, zealots, princes, dictators, warlords, terrorists, secessionists and theocrats in the Middle East are now on a collision course to Armageddon, towards a Sarajevo style endgame to all the interlocking, incidentiary web of alliances, rivalries and ethnic hatreds that could well plunge our region into generations of bloodshed.
The axis of evil lies in the heart of the pitiless assassins, who view the world through the prism of a pathological fanaticism and an existential paranoia lubricated by their Great Power patrons who are turning cities from Beirut to Baghdad, Gaza to Kirkuk, Mosul to Karachi into slaughterhouses, Francisco Goya’s surreal hells on earth. Iran tests its Zelzal and Fajr – five missiles in the Dasht-i-Kavir, the USS John Stennis and its carrier strike force sails to join the USS Eisenhower and the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. American combat troops in Iraq are given a hunting license to kill Iranians, the US Treasury tightens the draconian financial sanctions that bought down the Afrikaner apartheid regime in South Africa. Patriot missile batteries and killer submarines with nuclear warheads are deployed within the Gulf of Hormuz. The countdown to the fourth Gulf war has already begun. As in 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1988, 1982, 1990 and 2003, history is moving fast forward and the Middle East is once again convulsed with the prospect of war.
Iraq is the flashpoint for the imminent regional war. Three years after Saddam’s statue was toppled in Baghdad’s Firdous Square, Iraq has degenerated into yet another failed Middle Eastern state, with Sunni jihadi enclaves in Anbar and Diyala provinces matched by Shia statelets in Basra and Najaf, a de facto sovereign Kurdistan, a Baghdad gutted by multiple civil wars and an unpopular American military occupation that barely controls events in the Green Zone. Murderous insurgents, jihadists, mercenaries, warlords and terrorists have replaced the thuggish Baathist dictatorship the United States overthrew in 2003. Iraq’s pain has only been exploited by the cynical spymasters of Damascus and Teheran, whose agents have funded militias, smuggled arms, financed massacres, instigated sectarian violence, done their best to derail George W Bush’s imperial adventure in Mesopotamia, as have foreign Sunni jihadists and local Baathists from the Sunni Triangle.
The Turkish Armed Forces, who fought a bitter guerilla war in the 1990’s against the Kurdish secessionists of the PKK, are on alert and carrying reconnaissance missions into northern Iraq. There is an anti–war consensus reminiscent of Vietnam in Washington as the sons and daughters of Middle America return home in body bags. Even General David Petraus calls the situation in Baghdad “dire”. Lebanon’s elected government is on the verge of collapse as Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in the Levant, challenges the power status quo in Beirut. Gaza and Somalia are the new failed states of the Arab world, mired in civil wars between Fatah and Hamas, the invading Ethiopian Army and the Mogadishu warlords. Sunni and Shia terrorists murder each other in mosques and streets in Iraq and Pakistan. Egypt’s military regime, with an 85 year old President, faces replacement by the virulently anti–Western Muslim Brotherhood. Hashemite Jordan, home to an Iraqi refugee tide, has lost all hope for an Israeli–Palestine settlement. The Pakistani military junta faces civil war in Baluchistan and the prospect of a Pakhtun insurrection against General Musharraf’s pro-West regime. The Oslo/Madrid peace process is dead, a cruel joke of the past as the IDF is poised to strike Hezbollah and Iran’s nuclear assets. Saudi Arabia and Iran have escalated a regional arms race, with ballistic missiles and nuclear proliferation the new reality in the Gulf. The Armageddon clock has begun its fateful tick-tock in the Mideast.
The Pax Americana in the region, whose apogee was Desert Storm, the liberation of Kuwait, Clinton’s Camp David peace accords and dual containment policy in the Gulf that failed to box both Baathist Iraq and the Ayatullah’s Iran, is now history. Bush rolled history’s dice in Iraq and has now irrevocably lost the gamble. America will never again dominate the politics of the Arab world, the Levant and the Gulf, as it did in the 1990’s. Hezbollah, Hamas, the failure of the White House’s democracy project, the violent jihadi and sectarian warlord challenge to allied Arab regimes, Israel’s Likud–Kadima disengagement from peacemaking, the gory images of Arabic satellite TV and the Internet all spell doom for Pax Americana. The unmistakable imperial ambition of Iran, expressed across the centuries from Cyrus the Great to the Sassanid Shapur, Shah Abbas to the Pahlavi Shahs, to be the new gendarme of the Gulf, boosted by international black markets in arms, terror and uranium centrifuges, coupled with China and India’s quest for oil, is a classic template for war.
The twilight of empire has always proved traumatic in the Middle East. When the Mongols sacked Abbasid Baghdad in 1258, when the Ottoman Sultan succumbed to the Arab Revolt in 1917, when France abandoned Algerie Francaise in 1962 and Britain withdrew from its Arabian colonies after Suez, Yemen and the 1968 sterling devaluation, rival pawns in the geopolitical chessboards in the region escalated the calculus of violence at once.
It will be no different this time. When America withdraws from Iraq, the Shia–Sunni schism will tear apart virtually every state in the Arab east, Pakistan and Iran. Lebanon and Palestine could become mere geographic expressions like Somalia and the Republic of Iraq. Terror, sabotage of oilfields, palace coups, massacres, ethnic cleansing will metastasise into a permanent, cancerous “arc of crisis”. It is fashionable to be anti–American, with good reason, in today’s Arab milieu. But remember the ancient Persian sage. “Never wish too badly for something. You may just get it”.
Matein Khalid is a Dubai based investment banker