Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The guys saying Iraq and Syria don’t exist are writing a recipe for a general war (14)

Daniel Serwer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of Righting the Balance, who blogs at www.peacefare.net and tweets at @DanielSerwer: "Conceding on this point would be a major concession to the Islamic State that would be unwise and completely counterproductive if we want to defeat it. If eastern Syria and western ...

Wikimedia Commons/Sammy.aw
Wikimedia Commons/Sammy.aw

Daniel Serwer, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of Righting the Balance, who blogs at www.peacefare.net and tweets at @DanielSerwer:

"Conceding on this point would be a major concession to the Islamic State that would be unwise and completely counterproductive if we want to defeat it. If eastern Syria and western Iraq break off from their respective states, there will be precious little to prevent IS from dominating the resulting "caliphate," which would have few resources but big ambitions. Most of Iraq’s oil is in its southern "Shiastan." The Kurds would control most of the remainder. Syria’s eastern oil fields are declining rapidly. The caliphate would be a mostly desolate, non-viable rump Sunnistan with ambitions to capture Baghdad and Damascus, which are the historical capitals of past caliphates. It would also be a haven for international terrorists.

The result would be a war of all against all to determine the borders of the caliphate and other states emerging from Syria and Iraq. The Kurds would likely want part of northern Syria and possibly part of Turkey as well. Kurds in Iran would want to join any sovereign Kurdistan. Turkey would oppose such a "greater Kurdistan," as would Iran. Saudi Arabia would be unhappy to see the formal emergence of Shiastan on its border (it already regards the Iraqi government as such). The Alawites in western Syria would seek to collapse the Lebanese state and incorporate much of its Shia-controlled territory. The Alawite state would be a firm ally of Iran and Russia.

The notion that this process can be managed to American advantage is nonsense. We saw what a comparable effort to redraw boundaries to accommodate ethnic differences did in the Balkans in the 1990s. The chaos emerging in the Levant would be many times worse, and far worse than anything we have seen happen so far."

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1