The Middle East is a mess. If that’s news to you, you’ve been living under a rock.
Roughly 80 million people live in the Levant — the region comprising Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. According to the UN (whose numbers are suspect), there are about 5 million “Palestine Refugees,” about 5 million displaced Iraqis, about 10 million displaced Syrians, and some still-displaced Lebanese. Roughly one out of every four Levantines is stateless, displaced, or a refugee.
The region’s people have shed the artificial national identities assigned them a century ago in favor of their ancient ethnicities — Sunni, Shiite, Arab, Kurd, Yazidi, Christian, Jew, Alawite, Druze, etc. It’s thus no surprise that the governments in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut are largely notional; none of them control the territories they allegedly govern.
Jordan, the sole Levantine country without minorities, has nevertheless had to invest in building a sense of national identity among its people. Israel is far too timid to annex Judea and Samaria, which is just as well because leaving it disputed helps the UN keep the Arab-Israeli conflict alive. Gaza is a basket case that appears beyond help.
Two of the major powers framing the region — Turkey and Iran — have expansionist, imperial ambitions. Sunni and Shiite Islamism both run rampant.
We Americans are fortunate to live far enough from this mess to ponder what it all means, what we’re supposed to do about it, and why we’re even involved. Those questions become louder when, as now, the apparent ripples of an American decision yield grisly tales and pictures.
Here’s an answer — not just for America, but for the world. The only way to stabilize the Levant is to redraw international borders and resettle ethnic populations:
Embrace Kurdish independence in the north.
Enshrine Alawite rule along the Syrian coast.
Consolidate Christian populations into Lebanon.
Reduce the Arab population of Israeli-controlled territories.
Promote self-determination for the Druze (and perhaps several other small groups).
Welcome Sunni Arab dominance of the region’s interior.
A new ethnonational map that incorporated these goals would promote widespread minority self-determination, minimize humanitarian crises, enable a focus on welfare and development, bring stability, and serve critical American interests.
There’s only one problem: It won’t happen.
It won’t happen because there’s no support for such a program outside the region — and it’s unclear how many within the region would welcome it (other than those getting massacred at any given moment). I’ve written about these ideas in detail, as have (perhaps) dozens of others, so believe me when I say that we’re outliers.
Our ideas have negligible traction among foreign policy professionals, the punditry, and the political class. The UN would label any steps taken in positive directions criminal and illegitimate. Even many who appreciate the merits of the new map recoil in fear of being defamed for promoting imperialism and/or ethnic cleansing. The cost in American military and diplomatic commitment in the face of international rejection would far exceed anything the public is willing to support.
Perhaps a better map will emerge if the region reaches a state of exhaustion comparable to Europe, 1945. Barring that, the Levant will remain mired in anarchy, atrocity, and terror until some strongman consolidates power and crushes dissent.
Which leads to the next question: Given that the world is unwilling to let the problem be fixed, how engaged should the U.S. be in regional affairs?
Some seem to favor an indefinite military presence large enough to make the U.S. a power within the regional mosaic. That posture might preserve some American interests, but the cost would be steep — a steady stream of casualties, alliances with unsavory characters, and deep American fingerprints on numerous atrocities — all in the name of an unclear goal.
Others advocate a small military presence that serves as a tripwire. That might protect some American interests at a politically palatable cost. At least, that is, until someone called the bluff and sent the entire American contingent home in body bags. (It appears likely that President Trump’s removal of the small American force from Kurdistan prevented precisely this outcome).
President Trump apparently prefers to maintain no permanent military presence, support regional allies as they promote objectives that serve both their own and American interests, and apply economic and diplomatic pressure to discipline rogue actors. That will certainly minimize American costs while promoting a plausible approach to preserving American interests.
Which brings us back to current events. The Turkish campaign against the Kurds is the sort of tragedy that’s baked into the post-Ottoman map. The forces adamantly opposed to redrawing maps and relocating populations thus own the atrocities inherent in their rigid worldview. Don’t blame President Trump for keeping Americans out of the bloodletting.
It’s not a pretty conclusion, but he appears to have selected the least bad available option under the circumstances.
Bruce Abramson is the President of Informationism, Inc., a Senior Fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, and the founder of the American Restoration Institute. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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