A growing Middle East mess
The civil war in Syria may well be the last act in the story of the disintegration of the Middle East as we know it. The opportunity to hold the region together and to rebuild it on a firmer foundation of tolerance, freedom and, eventually, democratic stability is slipping from our grasp.
Egypt and Iran are states with long, continuous histories and strong national identities. Turkey is as well, but there is the matter of the Kurds, who are still largely unassimilated.
Every other important state is a modern construct, created by the British without regard for ethnic and sectarian differences. The results: A Bahrain that is 70 percent Shiite, governed by a Sunni monarch. Saudi Arabia was created with a 10 percent Shiite population in its richest provinces to the east. Iraq is 65 percent Shiite, 20 percent Sunni, and a mix of Kurds and others, all ruled until 2003 by an iron-fisted Sunni dictator. Jordan's population is almost 70 percent Palestinian. Lebanon is roughly evenly divided among Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. And then there is Syria: a conglomerate of Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and others, ruled by the Alawite minority.
This fragile state structure has been held together for decades by monarchs and dictators. But as the desire for freedom has spread, authoritarians have lost their grip.
The conflict in Syria is pushing Iraq and others to the breaking point. At the same time, U.S. disengagement has tempted Iraqi politicians to move toward sectarian allies for survival. If Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cannot count on the Americans, he will take no risks with Tehran.
The great mistake of the past year has been to define the conflict with Bashar Assad's regime as a humanitarian one. The regime in Damascus has been brutal and many innocent people have been slaughtered. But this was no replay of Libya. Much more is at stake.
As Syria crumbles, Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds are being drawn into a regional web of confessional allegiances. Iran envisions the spread of its influence among Shiites, uniting them under the theocratic flag of Tehran. Iran uses terrorists groups, Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in southern Iraq to do its bidding. Syria is the linchpin, the bridge into the Arab Middle East.
In response, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other neighboring powers arm and support Sunni factions. The Turks are being drawn into the conflict, desperately fearful that the Kurds will break away in Syria and push their brethren in Turkey to do the same.
But where is the United States? America has spent 12 months trying to get the Russians and the Chinese to agree to toothless U.N. resolutions to “stop the bloodshed,” as though Moscow will abandon Assad and Beijing really cares about chaos in the Middle East.
In recent days, France has stepped into the diplomatic vacuum to recognize a newly formed opposition that is broadly representative of all Syrians. The United States should follow Paris' lead. U.S. weight and influence are needed.
The breakdown of the Middle East state system is a grave risk. Iran will win, our allies will lose and for decades the region's misery and violence will make today's chaos look tame.
War is not receding in the Middle East. It is building to a crescendo. America must act.
Condoleezza Rice was secretary of State from 2005 to 2009.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Parent finds dead body in parking lot of Stanton Heights elementary school, prompting lockdown
- Son charged in dismemberment death of Penn Hills couple
- Penguins testing Fleury, Maatta, Bortuzzo for mumps
- Steelers lookahead: Chiefs’ Charles injured but remains dangerous threat
- Ex-Pittsburgh mayoral candidate back in jail
- Pitt coach Chryst expected to take Wisconsin job
- Braddock man admits to role in drug ring
- Audit: Finances put future of Philly’s historic Cheyney University in doubt
- Media attention yields no clues as to identity of woman whose head was found in Economy
- Penguins defenseman Letang having best season in new system
- Pa. attorney general charges 10 in ‘massive fraud, kickback scheme’ at PennDOT