Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Iran & Saudi Arabia: A Festival of Proxies

Douglas Murray over at TheSpectator outlines what with each passing week starts to come more clearly in to view; the Sunni and Shia are not going to take a break in a rising spiral of escalation in their unending centuries of conflict. You will read "Iran" and "Saudi Arabia" but what you need to hear is "Shia" and "Sunni";
Some years ago, before the Arab ‘Spring’ ever sprung, I remember asking one top security official about the region. What, I wondered, was their single biggest fear? The answer was striking and precise: ‘That the region will clarify.’ That is a fear which now appears to be coming true.
Part of what is encouraging this is the fundamental internal weakness in the birth of most of the nations at the center of conflict of the latest phase, Iraq and Syria. Almost a century later the world continues to suffer from the awful Treaty of Versailles where the best and the brightest set the stage for generations of conflict;
The Middle East is not simply falling apart. It is taking a different shape, along very clear lines — far older ones than those the western powers rudely imposed on the region nearly a century ago. Across the whole continent those borders are in the process of cracking and breaking. But while that happens the region’s two most ambitious centres of power — the house of Saud and the Ayatollahs in Iran — find themselves fighting each other not just for influence but even, perhaps, for survival.
the first from al-Qa’eda’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS], the second from the Free Syrian army [FSA]. ‘You apostate infidels,’ says the first. ‘We’ve declared you to be “apostates”, you heretics. You don’t know Allah or His Prophet, you creature. What kind of Islam do you follow?’ To which the FSA fighter responds, ‘Why did you come here? Go fight Israel, brother.’ Only to be told, ‘Fighting apostates like you people takes precedence over fighting the Jews and the Christians. All imams concur on that.’
Combine the sloppy map making of Versailles along with built in sectarian and ethnic friction - there is no simple path to the way things were. In reality, there is probably no path at all.  The events of the last half decade lead me to believe that this will have to be resolved the old fashioned way, through blood and iron.

Feeding off their own apocalyptic traditions, the whole region is regressing to a Game of Thrones all-against-all free for all.

What is the non-Muslim world to do? At this stage of the game, probably the best thing is to contain and shape the edges. Support the least/worst - and accept good allies as opposed to trying to create perfect allies out of our own vanity.

The major Shia power is Iran. The major Sunni (Egyptians will have to pardon me for a bit) is Saudi Arabia. For the past few years, they have ratcheted up their proxy wars in Yemen, Syria and other places. The last week as see more fuel throw on the fire;
First, one man's execution spurred sectarian protests and violence in the Middle East. Now, it appears to have sparked a serious diplomatic rift.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Sunday that his country is severing ties with Iran. Iranian diplomats in Saudi Arabia have 48 hours to leave the country, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters.

The two countries have long been at odds, but Saudi Arabia's execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr Saturday kicked off a new round of sparring between them that analysts say could mark a dangerous shift in an already volatile region.

"I think you're going to see a period of very harsh rhetoric, and the cutting of diplomatic ties comes at a very bad time. ... This is Saudi Arabia saying, 'The gloves are off,' " said Bobby Ghosh, a CNN global affairs analyst and managing editor of Quartz.
Three Sunni-led countries joined Saudi Arabia on Monday in severing or downgrading diplomatic ties with Iran, worsening a geopolitical conflict with sectarian dimensions in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

The diplomatic protests from the three countries — Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates — came as Iran accused Saudi Arabia of using an attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran two days earlier as a pretext for diverting attention from its problems.
Back to TheSpectator article;
From the outset of the Syrian uprising, it was inevitable that Iran would weigh in on the side of its client in Damascus. Indeed, so desperate were the mullahs in Tehran to do everything they could to protect their own interests that they even put up with protests at home from people starved of basic supplies complaining about their own government pouring millions into Syria’s civil war.

But the next step was just as predictable. Saudi Arabia, which fears Iranian influence spreading any further than it has already throughout the region, began to back the opposition. Starting cautiously, in recent months that caution has retreated and Saudi is now supporting groups as close to al-Qa’eda-linked forces as to make little difference. Desperate measures, certainly. But for the Saudi leadership these are desperate times. Though it is a battle that has been brewing for decades.
Let's stop the review there. Let's talk about what we should do.

Contain in two ways.

We have two things to contain, first ourselves, then second their culture.

For ourselves, we need to be very clear headed about where our interests are and what the American people will support. We need to contain our desire, and the desire of others, to have the USA fix their problem for them.

Our interests are always to promote stability ... but the American people want stability on the cheap. If we cannot/willnot/shallnot have 19-yr old Americans on every street corner, then we will have to shape where we can and not let stupidity or ego cause us to do things that could lead to involvement in places no one wants it to go. 

We cannot force stability on the cheap, but we can help shape it. Shape it by supporting relatively modern forces like the Kurds, the Jordanian monarchy, the Egyptian military, and even relatively unsavory but better than the alternative strongmen like, yes, Assad. If we won't, then get out of the way of others who will do what needs to be done like the Russians.

War is a dark room. If you only step in a bit with one hand on the door and only one foot in - you can usually back out if needed. If you jump in screaming ... well ... that usually does not end well. Airstrikes and limited ground forces to support our allies doing the hard work on the ground? That is the right move. Combat brigades engaging as maneuver units? No, we tried that. Doesn't work with the numbers, ROE, and political support we have at home. Even if we did, it still would not work.

What is dangerous to our national interest are those sects who are not content with killing their neighbors, but want to kill internationally. That is the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. Those also happen to be Sunni. That doesn't make us Iran's ally, we just are fighting the same people. That is what the balance of our shaping needs to be. Kill the radical Sunni elements, and let the others fight for what is left.

That is fine for now, but what if the Sunni/Shia battle goes larger beyond the proxy wars already being fought? Well, what other cards does Iran have left to play? Iran has strong cards.

1. Eastern Saudi Arabia is Shia. That is also where their oil is.
2. The Gulf Arab states have huge Shia populations ruled by Sunni monarchs.
3. The Hazara of Afghanistan are Shia, surrounded by AFG and IS allies who hate them from both an ethnic and a religious point of view.

Let's go through a little Course of Action exercise. Red and Blue does not work all that well because depending on which proxy war we are looking at, good in one place is bad in another. So, let's make Sunni "Black" and Shia "Yellow."

Yellow Most Likely COA: A Proxy for all my Friends - Iran will huff and puff, but will be patient. It will remove the stops, what few are left, in agitating the Shia in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. It will keep the Saudi agitation to a slow boil, but will ratchet up hard on the her edges from Bahrain to Yemen. It will see which is the weakest and will reinforce agitation in those places, looking for a cheap victory. It will make the Saudis lose face and increase their paranoia until they do something stupid against their own Shia minority. At that point, it all falls apart in a great Shia uprising in the eastern oil provinces of the kingdom. While this is going on, they double down in Syria while building their ties with Russia and China. With a feckless Europe distracted by waves of hundreds of thousands of young Muslim men let loose among their people, and a distracted America in a waning phase of international involvement following a divisive election, this is their moment and they are going to take it.

Yellow Most Dangerous COA: Last Turban Standing - The Iranians start with the Most Likely COA, but either they lose patience with it, or the Saudis decide they don't want to play. In addition to the proxy wars, conventional forces are on the move. Some other external power or powers join in on the Saudi side, Turkey or perhaps Egypt. Arabian and Persian oil not being what it once was, there is no Western existential reason to get involved. America is self-sufficient, there are other ways for Europe to get oil. With a planning assumption that the Gulf States subdued and Oman compliant, there is no problem getting oil to China. The world economy is hit hard, but is not hit so hard as to motivate anyone to want to get involved. Result; they fight it out from the Transoxiana to the Nile. That is best case. Worse case, some major power outside the area gets involved, and/or the nuclear Jinn gets let out. Eventually, they bleed each other white. Only then may we find what Douglas Murray would like;
...perhaps the region is going to descend into a complex miasma of slaughter as surely as Europe did a century ago. Either way there will be a need for a Treaty of Westphalia-style solution — a redrawing of boundaries in a region where boundaries have been bursting for decades.
That would be a Muslim solution to a Muslim problem.

Ugly, but what other options are out there that have any chance of political support in the West? We are not going to build an army of millions to liberate a people who do not want liberation, and even if they had liberation, recent history shows they don't know what to do with it. We are not going to nuke the place from orbit just to be sure either.

Finally, did you think I forgot the other containment? That is containing the culture which is creating this conflict. The instability of that region's culture is being exported. As I have mentioned before, the mainstream politicians have a narrowing window to address this problem. If they don't, the people of the West will empower non-mainstream politicians to fix it when it is almost too late.

In small numbers, there is no significant issue with taking refugees from toxic cultures - but as Europe is seeing, Muslim immigrants in large numbers do not play well with others. They do not assimilate. They do not contribute. They will cause you to become something you don't want to be, but have to be.

In addition to closing borders, they need to be sent back. Invest billions to support nations like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon with their refugee camps, but that is it. Those refugees we do take in should only be religious minorities that have no land to come back to ... or ... we could support the waring parties that do protect religious minorities, Assad and the Kurds, to take back territories that once belonged to religious minorities.

In summary, perhaps what we should do as Yellow and Black decide which COA they want, is to follow some sound advice - don't just do something, stand there.

Stand there on the edges, shield in one hand stabbing sword in another, but in general - stay out of the scrum.

A Muslim Treaty of Westphalia? Maybe. Perhaps a Battle of the North Inch would be better first.

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