Best Defense

Do Iraq and Syria no longer really exist, and should that be the basis of revising U.S. policy? A roundup (2): You betcha

"The Iraq and Syria that we knew will be no longer. So what does that mean?"

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Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally appeared on October 21, 2014.

Derek Harvey is a retired Army intelligence officer who is the Director of the Global Initiative on Civil Society and Conflict at the University of South Florida. He served several years in Iraq:

The Iraq and Syria that we knew will be no longer. So what does that mean? I am thinking about how this will play out but I think Joel Rayburn has developed at least one path forward — rump Iraqi and Syrian states with a Kurdish and multiple Sunni Arab stateless.

I am thinking that what we have in Lebanon may be the direction we are headed in Syria, namely a relative balance of power among groups that are essentially neutralizing the central government and the Lebanese Armed Forces. In effect, we will see ethnic and religious-based organizations with their militias dominant in specific geographic areas. The national governing bodies do not have much real power. Lebanon can be seen in some ways as a façade state with powerful militias and sectarian interests really running things. It is possible that we will see the same evolution in Syria and some areas of present-day Iraq.

Baghdad has struggled long before this current crisis to exert its control over much of the country, whether the direct challenge of the KRG or the lack of interest/fear about Nineveh/Mosul, Anbar, Salah al-Din, and elsewhere in the Sunni areas. Maysan and Basra are fairly independent even though they are Shiite. The contests at the provincial level are most important in many ways in the Shiite south. Joel’s book highlights much of the intra and inter-sectarian/ethnic political competition that many missed. It is still key.

Perhaps ungoverned from the capital (e.g. Yemen and Sanaa or Lebanon and Beirut) are the pathways forward for Syria and Iraq but with these areas “governed” by warlords, tribal confederations or ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, or others. A devolution — the boundaries will not matter much as they don’t elsewhere — e.g. the Sahel region, Boko Haram, and others. Perhaps these boundaries will reflect the reality of the core identities — identities that matter and can be sustained with today’s technology and globalization.”

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

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