The Middle East: There
in no more a complex space on earth right now. And its stress
is bleeding outward - the effects of which are continuously drawing
other war actors into the widespread armed conflict that is still
centered in Syria.
has almost become a secondary story as the war theater has filled
with so many combatants with such an extreme and convoluted web
of political and economic interests that ISIL's branding has been
almost diminished to a sub plot at current - all the while their
operations are expanding effectively into many other geographies,
fueled in part their by skillful use of electronic online technologies.
At the same time, their adherents are growing in number - fast,
and everywhere. In short, they still continue to win, despite
their position as David fighting an army of Goliaths.
The conflict that
started in the Middle East is fostering adverse affects throughout
the world. It is applying pressure in a ripple effect across markets,
supply chains, travel routes, government budgets and has begun
to exponentially escalate social tensions almost everywhere, and
on any level.
At a time when a
transition of superpowers is silently underway with a thick conveyor
belt of politicking to claim assets in a world that has again
taken to the redesign of borders (think South China Sea, Kuril
Islands, Crimea, Moldova/Transnistria, Syria/Iraq/ISIL, Nigeria/Boko
Haram, Israel/Palestine, etc.), and a global debt problem so far
beyond any plausible resolution, the pressure our world is under
will lead to massive catastrophes anywhere and everywhere - Africa,
Europe, America, Asia and the Middle East itself, of course.
Compounding and fueling
this stress with considerable negative energy is the media. Especially
mass media whose news stories see lots of eyes and where the consistent
flow of something less than objectivity is published, people are
moved and influenced by the negative-laced sentiment. We'll use
the case in point where approximately 350 well publicized Islamic
extremist terror attacks (about 1 per day across the entire planet)
have claimed the lives of some 4,500 people so far this year (2015).
Although atrocious, these number of deaths are fewer than half
the number of people that died in
driving accidents (10,076) in the US in 2013.
These accidents are
every bit as traumatic for their suddenness and their grotesqueness,
but they don't get nearly the same dramatic media coverage and
thus these horrible incidents don't move people to react in the
same way. Terrorism is great news, and it drives the decisive
actions of governments to commit thousands of soldiers, and billions
of dollars to engage in the further destruction and negative influence
of the Middle East as a whole - and this 'ripple effect of violence'
disease is spreading with Europe the most recent geography to
be enjoined. Its effects are materializing as angry protests,
deep polarization, divided politics, border fences in free migratory
zones and new constitutional powers designed to filter policy
to specific ethnicities.
What is now most
bothersome in the Middle East - and now Europe - is that all of
the strategies have become reactionary. We see virtually no proactivity
which flatly means we're merely treating symptoms; we're not doing
much to prevent the infection from ever happening, or healing.
This is in part because the house is on fire, in part because
resources are thin and in part because politicians have constituents
screaming to act right now to stop the terror.
If we can identify
one positive trend, at least in theory, it is that we have not
seen any snap military response to the downed Russian warplane
on November 24 - yet.
has been metered so far as mostly political, and all external
stakeholders are seeking to mitigate stress at this point. The
downside here is that the 'free pass' has been used. This conflict
will likely not tolerate another incident of this nature and this
theater is so filled with pressure that any incident, even honest
error, will likely ignite a full-scale conventional war (with
some remote risk to escalate into limited nuclear applications)
where every current participant will have to choose definitive
sides - a true horror scenario on a global scale, but now within
the realm of possibility - nay probability.
What counters further
the dim ray of hope and what really underpins why this conflict
is so dire in its prospective outcome is the nature of the relationships
of these involved in the war.
Just a few examples:
" It has become
clear by now that Turkey has been supporting ISIL through the
supply of arms, logistics, and commercialization of its oil products
- likely since the advent of ISIL. All the while, Turkey is a
NATO member that is fighting ISIL (supposedly) and ISIL is fighting
the Assad regime in Syria. How can this be possible?
" For many months, the Assad regime in Syria has been buying
oil products, namely fuel, from ISIL so that it can fuel its jets
to bomb ISIL. ISIL buys weapons, recruits soldiers and finances
its operations with these sales - and the circle continues. How
can this be possible?
" The US supports various 'moderate' opposition groups that
are fighting Assad and ISIL concurrently. It has been proven that
many of these US financed fighters have jumped ranks and joined
ISIL with US supplied weapons to fight the US coalition.
" Everybody opposes Assad except Russia who is supporting
his regime. All the while, everybody that opposes Assad is coordinating
attacks against extremists together with Russia who is concurrently
attacking the US coalition backed opposition fighters. How is
" The US is launching air attacks against ISIL from the same
air base (Incirlik) in Turkey that Turkey is using to propagate
air attacks against the PKK/Kurdish fighters. All the while, the
US has worked together with the Kurds as the ground forces in
the fight against ISIL. How is this possible?
All this clearly
indicates a total loss of society's healthy judgment to plan for
a sustainable future - in the Middle East, or elsewhere - where
plenty of other problems are waiting to be solved (economies,
finance, poverty, climate change, water/food scarcity, structural
reforms, etc.), without all of these man-made social disasters
mentioned above. There is no external force that tells any of
these war actors, to get up in the morning, pick up the gun, and
start shooting and killing other fellow humans - yet, everyone
is following the beat of the war drums - hypnotized, mesmerized
and fanaticized. To watch this entire scenario from an outside
perspective is truly horrifying and shocking.
Arab reticence about
tackling ISIL is not primarily about military might. The Saudis
and Emiratis have powerful air forces bought at vast expense from
western defense contractors, though both are now busy fighting
a war in Yemen, its rising human toll overshadowed by the larger
conflict in the Levant.
The Gulf states are
pursuing contradictory policies; on the one hand there is this
official undertaking to fight ISIL, but at the same time they
are involved in a struggle against what they view to be the Shia/Persian
domination of the region. They want to be seen to be helping their
allies but they are deeply concerned about domestic perceptions
- they don't want to be seen to be fighting Sunnis. It is a very
difficult situation for them.
suspicions of Iran have worsened considerably since July's landmark
nuclear deal with Tehran, not because the deal is inherently bad,
but because of the fear it supposes upon them - and some Saudi
behaviors that infuriate Iran, such the Hajj disaster in Mecca
in September, arrests of Saudi princes on drugs and abuse charges
Angeles house party).
These events anger Iran as they feel the House of Saud is a poor
steward of Islam's holiest real estate in Mecca and Medina.
Ambivalence in Arab
capitals also reflects fears of growing domestic sympathy for
ISIL and al-Qaida, in the absence of any political reform in the
bleak aftermath of the Arab spring, in monarchies and republics
alike. People remain disillusioned, as promises of reform have
not been fulfilled, nor has life improved. Hence, this is the
reason we still see very high levels of social tension across
the region that is being dealt with in exactly the same manner
- suppression by force and/or increased social welfare programs
that are wholly unaffordable with the passing of every day oil
prices remain below $100.
We are seeing terrible
polarization that leaves no middle ground - across government,
society and amongst intellectuals. There is no room for another
opinion. It's 'us versus them,' Shia vs. Sunnis and Persians against
Arabs. The disease has not been tackled, ISIL is a symptom of
decades of tyranny - the root cause is not being addressed.
In private many people
do defend ISIL - not necessarily their brutality, but they try
to justify it in one way or the another. They say: 'OK they've
killed a few people, but look how many Syrians have been massacred
by Assad or Shia militias or Palestinians by Israel or Iraqis
by western intervention.'
everywhere take precedence over regional ones. Turkey insists
it backs the fight against ISIL but seems more concerned to contain
its Kurdish enemies at home and across the borders in Iraq and
Syria. Iran talks of its commitment to fight "tafkiri"
terror - more authentically its codename for Sunni extremists
- while keeping Assad in power and maintaining its dominance in
As long as the rift
between Iran and the Saudis is so wide, they won't join the same
coalition. The second impediment is the Assad question. Unless
that is tackled, you won't be able to mobilize Sunni forces -
either Syrians or other Arabs.
So is there a
solution in the larger context?
We have a bona fide
and rapidly escalating global crisis. It will not go away without
certain people agreeing to move beyond their grievances, otherwise
large swathes of our world might just fight to the death.
There is one necessary
first step forward - two principle players that must connect and
agree peace; Saudi Arabia and Iran. As improbable as this sounds,
it is a necessary part of the solution to stop this escalation.
Without this one act happening, this war - a world war - will
likely only end after a bloodbath of global proportions. And what's
worse is that this cycle will begin all over once the war has
ended because those involved can no longer fight. The hatred will
not have been solved, nor addressed.
Is it too late?
In last month's issue
of our Middle East Situation Report, we stated that the Middle
East could still save itself by agreeing to take its problems
into its own hands, but that this ability could be eliminated
if a larger actor became too vested. With Turkey's downing of
the Russian Su-24, this opportunity may have been missed as Russia
will retaliate - and it has already invested billions in its regional
Having said that,
and although we know by first hand 'on the ground' accounts by
Latakia residents that the Russians are making land reclamation
gains against extremists in Syria, this war will be longer and
more costly than they can afford.
What about the
Russia did not join
the war in Syria to keep extremists from its borders. It joined
for economic reasons - the same as all of the other participants.
In fact, we will
tell you that Russia feels it needs these wars now for economic
reasons that weigh-in well beyond the war itself. Although the
myth about war being good for the economy has been effectively
debunked, its not so bad for corrupt nations who are expert at
operating in black markets.
For Russia, its economy
is flagging with the prospect that its principle commodity in
fossil fuels is diminishing in demand and will, sooner than later,
see it quickly demand that its economy diversify to offset flagging
oil and gas sales - the same as all the Gulf states.
The entry of Russia
into the Syria war made it a world war and the attachment of the
now conflict between two global titans that were completely uninvolved
just a few months ago is evidence of the seriousness of what is
now in play. Not just are they involved in the Syria war militarily,
they have now spurned their own conflict. Tornadoes, begetting
tornadoes; something that happens in exceptionally rare firestorms.
The Turkey/Russia conundrum is exactly this - a firestorm.
With the Turkey/Russia
showdown, there is considerable risk for both.
For Russia, one of
the greatest threats is the prospective loss of its shipping lane
from the Black Sea through the Bosporus and into the Mediterranean
and beyond. It will defend its access to the Bosporus at any cost
as it has no choice if it is to survive its economic spiral underpinned
by unthinkable low oil prices (trading in the $36's as of 12/8/15),
western sanctions and a ballooning war expense with troops and
equipment in two theaters (Ukraine and Syria). So important to
its economy is the Bosporus that Russia would likely explode the
entire waterway rather than see the Turks close it down to Russian
waterborne traffic. If the Russia/Turkey impasse turns military,
Turkey has the right to restrict Russian passage. This would be
the equivalent of 9/11 for Russia.
To this point (early
December 2015), Putin and Russia are winning the post-Su-24 downing
handily. There strategy has been swift, calculated and has continued
to place greater pressure on Turkey. As this conflict is simply
another (so far) political war beyond the Syria military war,
its implications are far greater should it turn military, too.
Putin has long been
testing the resolve of NATO countries and this is the event to
stress test that accord to its maximum
and he is. It is something
of a blessing in disguise for Putin, whereby he must truly be
careful what he wishes for should NATO decide to stick. Understanding
this, we can bet that Putin's continued actions will be not only
to corner Turkey/Erdogan, but also, carefully, to see how far
it can get NATO to bend before breaking.
Turkey, on the other
hand, has lost its international esteem perhaps faster and further
than any other country so globally well respected just a three
short years ago. What happened?
If we compare Turkey
and Russia from a leadership standpoint, both are led by strong,
unflinching dictatorial-types who are each bent on seeing the
return of their respective countries to their former empire days,
Putin to Mother Russia and Erdogan to its Ottoman glory days.
And this is where this conflict becomes all the more dangerous
as both are likely to sacrifice pragmatism for ego. And with the
Su-24 incident, one of these two, if not both, will have to take
a damaging uppercut and be bloodied if there is to be an avoidance
of a second war on top of the one in Syria.
Both in recent years
has been viewed as being of the most powerful individuals on earth;
Putin today and Erdogan just a few short years ago. Either weay,
both are elder statesmen on today's world stage, akin to a Muhammed
Ali/Mike Tyson fight.
At the end of the
day, this conflict is brewing in a pressure tank sitting atop
a really hot fire and is the likely trigger point for a massive
world war, particularly as both (more Putin thus far) ratchet
up the rhetoric against the other almost every day while each
test the other's resolve.
Where'd this all
As we have maintained
since May of this year, the Middle East leadership vacuum is what
has allowed this conflict to proliferate beyond control. In fact,
we correctly predicted each sequel of deterioration of this conflict
space in each month of our reporting.
truly wants this conflict, and worse, nobody can afford it. Therefore,
a leader from the Middle East must rise above all and become a
unifying voice. Somebody MUST get Riyadh and Tehran together and
get them to understand what will happen if they cannot agree to
Not only will millions
of people die - and we are clearly and unquestionably on this
trajectory - but the monarchies will all disappear, except for
the Islamic State whose caliphate that will rise from the ashes
of this war. So what governments will disappear? House of Saud?
Gone. Sultan Qaboos? Gone. Assad? Gone. King of Jordan? Gone.
The royals in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain? All Gone.
wants this war at this stage, except for the Islamic State, or
whatever the next global Jihadist Movement might name itself.
Until the world can
transition away from hydrocarbons to power our existence, everyone
will be held hostage by ultra-violent extremists who will control
oil in their new caliphate. And so what does our world look like
through these glasses? We know what this world looks like. It
is carefully described in their handbooks.
Therefore, it is
now time for the Middle East to unite behind common leadership
to lead the Middle East back to peace, and prepare for an economically
valuable future beyond oil revenues.
Sadly, neither will
this happen, nor will anyone in the entire Middle East believe
that it is even possible. In fact, with Russia's active entry
into the Middle East war game, all hope is nearly gone for such
bold solution. Therefore, the next masters of the Middle East
will be - in spite of all efforts to the contrary - the Islamic
State or its equivalent successor.
For what its worth,
the bombing of ISIL by all of these new Syrian war participants,
to include Russia, France and most recently the UK is purely symbolic.
These governments are all fully aware that their military involvement
will not defeat Jihadism, much less deter any terror attacks anywhere.
Moreover, it will
not stay contained in the Middle East. This united movement will
be fueled equally from both sides - Shia and Sunnis - and it will
spread globally; in fact, it already has, and it will further.
Where common sense and focus on a better and sustainable future
could not bring Shia and Sunni behind a common goal, ultra-violent
jihadist currents will do it for them - unfortunately, most current
leaders in the Middle East will by then no longer in power to
give it a peaceful ending.
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