Middle East Redux

The eminent British political philosopher Harold Laski once said “States once founded tend to persist.”  In other words, once borders are defined, a government is established and an organizational framework exists, there is a kind of inertia that keeps the State in existence.  This says nothing about nationalism, politics, or economics, per se.  It is merely a statement of pragmatic fact.

In the wake of the so-called Arab Spring of 2010 and the subsequent uprisings in Libya, Iraq and Syria, there were wide-spread pronouncements by many (including yours truly) that these States that were the creation of the imperial powers (notably Britain and France) would cease to exist.  It was expected that they would break up into their component ethnic/religious fiefdoms (e.g. Syria into Sunni, Alawite and Kurdish and Iraq into Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions).  But, in fact now after 8 years and much bloodshed this has not happened.  Even the establishment of the so-called Islamic State, that was expected to replace parts of Syria and Iraq, has not transpired.

After fighting wars supported  by various allies these States have rebounded.  Iraq was aided by Shi’ite militias, Iran (the IRG) and the US.  Once the IS was expelled from Mosul and Anbar province, the Iraqi government re-established itself and indeed held elections.  In Syria, with the unlikely coalition of Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Turkey, each fighting for its own interests, Pres Assad’s regime has managed to survive.  Now Syria, albeit largely destroyed, is close to becoming what it originally was.

States once founded tend to persist!  The status quo ante has been restored.  Except that Israel is a beneficiary, for two reasons.  Once the leader of the rejectionists, Syria is now a shadow of its former self, and certainly is no current threat to Israel.  Similarly with Iraq.  These States have persisted against radical elements that would have certainly brought increased instability and terrorism to Israel.  It is better for Israel to have a stable Syria that is no threat (even under Assad) than a motley conglomeration of unstable pro-Western, anti-Western and Islamist enclaves.

Second, the real arbiter of what happens now in Syria is not Assad, nor the Ayatollahs in Tehran, but Pres. Putin sitting in the Kremlin in Moscow.  With his air force in situ he could, if he wanted to, determine the final outcome in Syria.  That now depends on his intentions.  If he wants to expel Iran from Syria, as Israel has requested, he could essentially force them to leave.  This would place him in a commanding role in Syria and avoid the prospects of a war on the Golan between Israel and Iranian elements.  However, he might like to complicate the situation by involving Israel, the US and others in a potential war with Iran.  Who knows his mind, certainly not Pres. Trump.