Chaos in the Middle East: The best explanation of what is happening now and we can expect to happen for decades

by James DiGeorgia,
from Uncommon Wisdom,

Yesterday, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS, or ISIL) declared its new name is the "Islamic State." It also named a new leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to assert the group's power against al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri. One could say the battle lines have been drawn. But the truth is, they are being redrawn. And that means the neatly drawn national boundary lines of Northern Africa and the Middle East are collapsing.

These borders were dictated by the colonial powers of Great Britain, France, Belgium and Italy in the aftermath of World War I ... and reinforced by almost five decades of the Cold War that followed the Second World War. And so, it was only a matter of time before these pivotal days arrived.

Back to the (Map) Drawing Board To fully understand the chaos now taking place throughout Northern Africa and Middle-East, one has to recognize the arrogance and ugly truth behind it. And that is, these artificially drawn borders — dictated by foreign powers and maintained by stark religious divisions —are in fact exacerbating the sectarian and religious conflicts in these regions. Over the past 90-plus years, these artificial borders have been enforced by repressive, pro-Western secular dictatorships. Leaders and governments who owe their entire legitimacy to foreign powers. In other words, the religious and sectarian identities that have governed these regions for the majority of the last several hundred years do not recognize or support these borders. Not surprisingly, religious rebellions and civil wars have been squashed over the last century by these dictatorships and monarchies. Those leaders possess increasingly sophisticated weaponry thanks to the United States and its allies, for the sole purpose of guaranteeing their survival by violently suppressing the religious identities of their populations. Middle East Unraveling: A Recent Timeline These foreign-sponsored dictatorships in Africa and the Middle East began unraveling in the late 1970s with the Iranian revolution and Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan. Suddenly radical Sunni and Shia Muslim religious groups had entire countries from which they could freely build military, political and religious power. U.S. foreign policy shifted after the collapse of the Shah in 1977, and Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late '80s, to containment. Our nation's support of Iraq during its war with Iran was a part of that containment policy. Supporting Saddam Hussein's Sunni dictatorship vs. the radical Shia government in power in Iran served America's interests to weaken both. This policy of containment started unraveling further when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The West's influence and control over Saddam Hussein had evaporated. Within a few short years, Sunni extremists had attempted to blow up the World Trade Center and were actively blowing up U.S. embassies and consulates in the 1990s. The death of containment came with al-Qaeda's attacks on 9/11.

U.S. policy shifted from containment to direct military engagement with the launch of Afghan invasion in 2001 and Iraq invasion in 2003. Now after more than a decade at war, large areas of the Middle East and Northern Africa have become perpetual war zones. What's Happening in the Middle East Today With the exception of Iran and the new military-backed government in Egypt, the "status quo" authority structure (i.e., long-backed by the West and former Soviet Union) has collapsed in Iraq and Syria. And now, the entire power structure of the Middle East and North Africa may be collapsing as people in these regions refocus their religious and ethnic identities. Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and a few dozen other sectarian groups — many radically Islamist — are in life-and-death struggles against one another. The power vacuum created by the exit of United States and allied forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan is now exposing the two inescapable realities. Unless the U.S. and its Western allies are willing to spend another few trillion dollars — and are willing to establish full-time occupying military forces of between 500,000 and 1 million troops in Iraq and Syria — we will not be able to impose both pro-Western governments and the borders drawn more than 90 years ago. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and large areas of North Africa are embroiled in regional religious civil wars for seven centuries. Those are not likely to end in our great-grandchildren's lifetimes, much less ours. It's time to let go of the doctrine of democratizing the Middle-East. Democracies don't work in this part of the world. We need to go back to our post-World War II, pre-Jimmy Carter Middle East policy of fully supporting, financing and arming the old-fashioned secular dictatorships. Just like the ones that currently exist in Algeria and Egypt and the Persian Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Morocco, Dubai, Jordan and Tunisia. These authoritative governments have much a better chance of surviving thanks to their massive patronage systems, strongest educational-exchange programs with the West in the world — and, yes, their repressive political controls. These surviving dictatorships and monarchies also don't allow sectarian divisions that exist in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan to flourish. What to do about Syria, Iraq, Iran and ISIS There are an awful lot of experts offering solutions to dealing with the widening war in Syria and Iraq. The most-intelligent solution being offered in my opinion in dealing with Iraq was the enclave policy touted by Vice President Joe Biden almost a decade ago during the Bush administration. Biden's proposal was essentially to encourage a three-state solution for Iraq. It would allow the three principal sectarian and ethnic groups of the country — Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds — to govern their own regions of Iraq within a loosely constructed federation. This would be radically different, and frankly better, approach to the current Shia-led central government. The problem of course is while this might have worked in 2004, the rise of ISIS and the many radical Islamists splinter groups makes such a solution impossible. Al-Qaeda, ISIS and radical Shia and Sunni organizations are NOT looking for a political solution. These radical groups are fighting a 700-plus-year-old religious war that will not be settled diplomatically. In addition, who would we support when … All the radical groups despise us and want to destroy us!

Radical Sunni and Shiite Islamists are both sworn to destroy not only Israel and the United States but also Judaism, Christianity and every other form of religion that exists. These radical Islamist radicals on both sides follow the belief that infidels (like you and I) should either be killed outright or be forced to convert to their form of Islam — or die. If we support the Shiite majority in Iraq, we would be siding with Iran and Syria's Bashar al-Assad, who are both closely allied with terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. All of which present a serious threat to Israel. If we support Sunni interests at this point, we are in reality supporting al-Qaeda and ISIS, who have made it clear they will murder as many Americans, Israelis and Europeans as they can. While there were fewer than 14,000 ISIS fighters at the outset of this latest push from Syria into Iraq, the Sunni majority in Iraq is supporting them with tens of thousands of volunteers now armed with abandoned Iraq army hardware. It's an impossible choice; it's a regional religious civil war that is becoming more-impossible by the day. As it stands, these opposing radical groups are going to kill one another ... and anyone who gets in their way. In my view, we should allow the Iranians to entrench themselves in Iraq and Syria for the next few decades, dissipating and degrading their military and economic resources and fighting forces. After all, the more these two heinous groups battle each other, the fewer resources they have to focus on attacking U.S. and Western targets. For our part, the U.S. should reconsider ... Constructing three new next-generation aircraft carriers capable of positioning offensive air power anywhere in Northern Africa and Middle-East. Modernizing and increasing the numbers of battleships, destroyers, missile cruisers and nuclear-powered submarines. Further developing drone technology that will enable remote fighter and bomber pilots to hammer forces on both sides with both small drones and actual aircraft when they endanger U.S. and Western interests. Training/equipping several battalions as rapid stick forces that can get in and out of hot zones quickly. Eliminating Iran's nuclear and Intercontinental Missile programs via repeated bombings and cruise missile assaults. Violating Syrian and Iraqi air space is no longer an issue. The chaos taking place should provide us ample opportunity to strike at will.

The thing is, we really don't need a drop of oil from Iraq or Iran. There's no oil in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

First, this conflict is going to last. Don't think in terms of a few years; think in terms of the next few decades. Second, expect the price of oil to remain artificially high. Expect supply interruptions from oil producers in North Africa and the Middle East for as long as the turmoil lasts — basically for the next few decades.

ISIS, al-Qaeda and other radical terrorist groups will target the oil exports of moderate Sunni governments as well as Shia sources of oil in Iraq. This means we are very likely going to see WTI crude (the U.S. benchmark) above $120 a barrel and Brent crude (the global benchmark) over $150 barrel.

We could also see sudden surges as high as $200 a barrel as the result of one-time terrorist attacks.

You can already throw out current analyst expectations for most productive oil & exploration stocks. The vast majority of Wall Street is still betting that the price rise in oil over $90 a barrel is temporary.

If I'm right about the steady rise of WTI and Brent crude to $120 and $150, respectively, over the next few months ... virtually every Wall Street analyst's earnings estimates for oil producers are going to be beaten ... perhaps quite handily.

The chaos in the Middle East and Africa is going to eventually force our lawmakers in Washington to change U.S. laws that currently prevent U.S. oil and natural gas companies from exporting their production. Given the urgency of the threat to Iraq's oil supplies, if Congress doesn't act before the end of this year, President Obama will likely continue to attack the problem by a series of administrative edicts and executive orders — justifying his decision to act as a matter of national security.

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