Best Defense

Don’t think Iraq and Syria exist? Well, you got anything better to offer? (15th & last)

Thomas Donnelly directs the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute: "If they didn’t exist, we might have to invent them; it’s hard to see what other arrangements would be an improvement, particularly considering the rise of Salafist movements and Iran’s bid for regional hegemony.   There have been, essentially, two ...

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Thomas Donnelly directs the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute:

"If they didn’t exist, we might have to invent them; it’s hard to see what other arrangements would be an improvement, particularly considering the rise of Salafist movements and Iran’s bid for regional hegemony.  

There have been, essentially, two approaches to a "post Sykes-Picot" Levant/Arabia. One is to try to create a more ethnically aligned order; with Kurdistan being the poster-child for such an arrangement. But an ethnic Kurdistan is an accident waiting to happen — a geographic anomaly surrounded by traditional enemies. Even Iraqi Kurdistan is, in large measure, a creation of Saddamist excess and American intervention. 

The other option involves subsuming unsustainable mini-states in a larger regional order — neo-Ottoman, neo-Abbasid or an Arab Sunni caliphate, with that most likely leading to something that smells like ISIS.

None of these outcomes is a geopolitical win for the United States, to put it mildly. It would also be a human catastrophe of epic proportions, involving, at the least, population movements on a vast scale, but also certainly involving a lot of killing. In other words, something morally repugnant. Lastly, I would note that "national (i.e., ethnic/sectarian/tribal) self-determination" contravenes our deepest political principles. Other than that, devolution is a great idea.

Modern Iraq and Syria are hardly historical abominations. The Tigris-Euphrates region has been a coherent "human system" for a very long time. Putting Humpty-Dumpty back together won’t be easy, quick, or fun. It is, however, the least-bad option by 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. @tomricks1

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