Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Old Westerners Drew Bad Borders--Let's Draw Better Borders for Them?

To get peace, the world should redraw the borders of Iraq and Syria to make a state comprised of northeastern Syria and western Iraq? Let's discuss this idea.

First of all, ignore the map in this article which seems to draw a slightly greater Kurdistan from Iraqi territory with some but not all Kurds of Syria added in.

Second, isn't redrawing the old borders exactly what ISIL (with the Islamic State) has done?

On to the issue:

The problem boils down to this: Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone. Iraq is not one people, but rather three peoples: Kurds, (minority) Sunnis, and (majority) Shiites. Syria is also three peoples: Kurds, (majority) Sunnis, and (minority) Alawites/Shiites, who protect the Christians and other religious minorities.

None of this should surprise any student of modern history. Both Iraq and Syria are artificial states and ethnically divided societies created out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

I'd like to quibble that the problem is different peoples. The problem is that there are people willing to kill based on ethnicity and religion. Or are Belgians slaughtering each other in the streets these days over their sharp ethnic divisions? Should Iran (with a bare majority of Shia Persians plus minorities) be broken up now to preempt similar slaughter?

But I will stipulate that right now, ethnic and religious differences are the basis of the conflicts' various factions.

So what to do?

John Bolton, a former US ambassador to the UN and senior fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, has a good idea: create independent states for the Kurds and Sunnis after the defeat of IS. A "Sunni-stan", he argues, could be a bulwark against the Iran-backed regimes in Damascus and Baghdad. ...

A new Sunni state that comprises north-eastern Syria and western Iraq would not be a Jeffersonian democracy. It might even contain remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime. But this is a region, as if we need reminding, where alternatives to secular military or semi-authoritarian regimes are scarce. A "Sunni-stan" would help obliterate IS by giving disillusioned Sunnis a state of their own to strive for, while keeping in check Iran's regional ambitions. Not perfect, but better than meaningless UN resolutions about states that no longer exist.

Ah, the solution is for outsiders to draw different but better borders!

This is where the mismatch between article and illustration comes in. The author cites Bolton as wanting a new state for Kurds and Sunni Arabs, which would stretch from northwestern Syria to northeastern Iraq. How much further south you want to go to include Sunnis would be a big question. You'd have to add in Anbar province in Iraq and large chunks of Syria outside of the Alawite core region in the far west.

And you'd still leave lots of Sunni Arabs outside of this new state, preserving sectarian divisions.

And you'd have non-Kurds and non-Sunni Arabs in the new state.

And battles over whatever borders are redrawn.

And with Saddam's boys part of ISIL, how would we stop this "Sunni-stan" state from becoming an Islamic State 2.0 in time?

Also, how does Turkey--with their own large Kurdish minority--feel about this and what about Kurds in Iran?

But the author does not back the actual Bolton plan. He proposes a new state based on northeastern Syria and western Iraq.

This leaves out Iraq's Kurds altogether and leaves out a lot of Syria's Kurds.

And again it leaves out lots of Sunni Arabs in both rump Iraq and rump Syria.

And the border issue remains.

Oh, and if Iraq's Sunnis get their own state, without any potential allies to counter the Shias (and with the borders broken once setting the precedent) within Iraq, expect Iraq's Kurds to declare independence.

I'd note Turkey and Iraq again--and the new Sunni-stan with its own Kurdish minority.

Seriously, wherever you draw the borders in any scheme, there will be people on the wrong side of the border. Will there be massive ethnic cleansing to match people to borders?

And then you just have inter-state fights over natural resources placed on the wrong side, eh?

Are we having (different) fun yet?

The worst part of this is in the geopolitical side it is supposed to address. This redrawing of borders wouldn't check Iranian regional ambitions--it would enhance them.

Remember, Iran just needs western Syria in friendly hands to be able to directly confront Israel and to funnel support to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

And Iran just needs to dominate the Shia portion of Iraq from the center down to the Kuwait border. That pushes their missiles closer to Israel and gives Iranian land forces an avenue to Kuwait and points south on the western shore of the Persian Gulf.

The fact is, with purer Shia states left in western Syria and central/southern Iraq, there would be fewer domestic actors to act as counter-weights to the Assad Alawite regime and the pro-Iran radical Shia elements in Iraq. This approach actually throws rump Syria and Iraq into Iran's hands.

But somehow a landlocked state composed of the least economically productive regions of Syria and Iraq will be a counter-weight to greater Iranian influence in rump Syria and rump Iraq?

I'll stick with Sykes and Picot, at this point. Better the Devil we know, I think.