Thursday, May 30, 2013

Middle East crackup: Phony ‘nations’ to break apart

(NYP) Expect major tears in the map of the Middle East this summer and fall, as states created by outsiders a century ago finally rip apart.

“Nations” better understood as “tribes with flags” are unlikely to survive the two-year (and counting) bloodbath in Syria and the rising violence in Iraq. Or the turmoils in Bahrain and Yemen and the flood of refugees into Jordan — you name it. It even looks like we’ll see the emergence of independent Kurdistan.

The powers that be are preparing for the new Mideast realities — acquiring allies, aiding fighters and gaining influence in key hotspots. Well, most powers: America’s sitting it out.

After all, the War on Terror will soon “end,” our president tells us. And the hated Iraq war by now is a bad memory, right?

Well, watch Iraq in September.

Dore Gold, the director of the Israeli think tank the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, points out that that’s when the Kurds of northern Iraq will start fulfilling agreements (already signed) to export oil independently of the central government in Baghdad. And oil wealth is all that’s left to hold Iraq together.

About then, the Syria war seems likely to transition to partition, as the breakup of Sykes-Picot gets in high gear.

Sykes-Picot? Go back to 1916, when diplomats Sir Mark Sykes of Britain and Francois Georges Picot of France signed a secret agreement to divide the region after their nations won World War I.

The deal created national borders out of thin air, drawing lines to suit the needs and whims of the Europeans — and mostly ignoring on-the-ground ethnic, religious and sectarian realities.

The Brits and French withdrew by mid-century, replaced by Arab kings, dictators and tyrants. But the Sykes-Picot maps remained, defining the new states’ borders.

Until the Arab Spring moved from countries like Egypt and Tunisia (states not dreamed up by Sykes and Picot) to places like Bahrain and Yemen — where the upheavals triggered deeper internal religious, sectarian and tribal divisions.

Similar in-country sectarian unease had already started to undo the state of Iraq, as we left it to its own devices.

By now Iraqi Sunnis, who once held power in Baghdad, have little stake in their country (except those oil revenues, which they’re increasingly not getting their share of). While defending their own turf against the Shiite-dominated, Iran-allied central government, Iraq’s Sunni Arabs are also supporting their Syrian brethren fighting to wrest power away from the Alawites of President Bashar al-Assad. The old Syria-Iraq border is now mostly imaginary.

In fact, the Syrian war is drawing in everyone in the region.

On the Shiite side, troops from Iran and its Lebanese-based lapdog, Hezbollah, fight alongside Assad. The Saudis and Qataris are propping up the anti-Assad Sunni rebels.

Turkey (which also has Sunni allies in Syria) has meanwhile made peace with its own rebel Kurds and is now encouraging neighboring Kurds to split from Syria and Iraq.

Mid-June will bring Russia’s “peace” conference in Geneva, where all sides supposedly will agree on the region’s future. Yet Moscow plainly sees the gathering as the time to start dictating Syria’s post-war terms.

The various rebel groups and their backers won’t go along, for now, with any solution short of Assad leaving the country — dead or alive.

The fighting in Syria, then, will continue for quite a while — even as Secretary of State John Kerry puts America’s prestige behind the Russian-led Geneva conference (and even as Washington officials continue to leak “plans,” which never materialize, to enter the Syria fray.)

Armed stalement is still the most likely outcome — with a de facto breakup of Syria into Kurdish, Sunni and Allawite mini-states.

Moscow won’t mind: Assad will rule a Damascus-coastal corridor, where most Alawites live, so Russia will keep its influence and its naval base in Tartous.

Iran’s “Shiite crescent” will remain intact, too — from Lebanon through Assadistan into southern Iraq.

But Sunnis will control most of the rest of current Syria, giving the Turks, Saudis and Qataris their piece of the action. Kurdistan will be carved out of current Syria and broken Iraq.

Key Sykes-Picot borders will be gone — with Jordan likely teetering and “central” governments in states like Yemen and Lebanon largely impotent.

What are America’s interests in any of this? Doesn’t matter. By opting to sit out, we’ve basically forfeited any say in the outcome.