Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Middle East Strategy Update

Anyone who's played any multi-player strategy game -- Risk, Diplomacy, you name it -- once or twice understands a very basic principle of geostrategy: isolate and defeat one enemy at a time.  Do not take on multiple enemies at once.  You will lose.

The Middle East is a complex place, but if you want to simplify the situation, you can see there's more or less four sides: Israel, Turkey, the Sunni bloc led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia bloc led by Iran.  (I previously blogged about this balance of power here.)

The Saudi / Sunni bloc and the Iran / Shia bloc are bitterly opposed.  They have proxy battlegrounds all over the place: Iraq, Syria, and Yemen are the big ones.  Israel is frequently allied with the Sunni bloc; Turkey tries to play both sides.  (There's also the Kurds, largely on their own and despised by all).

ISIS, the current world leaders of Islamist Terrorism, are Sunni.  Ergo, they are de facto allied with Saudi Arabia and the Sunni bloc, even though officially they're persona non grata.

Just in case you're unclear on this point: ISIS just attacked Iran, in the Iranian capital, Tehran.  It was considered a signature "victory" for ISIS.  So in case you were under the impression that all Muslims are "in this together", disabuse yourself of that notion.

The Trump administration has come down hard on the side of the Saudi / Sunni bloc.  James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, is hell bent on getting after Iran.  The Trump admin just sold $110 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.  So it would appear that the Trump administration is solidly on the side of the Sunni bloc.

At the same time, the Trump administration is trying to defeat ISIS -- backed by Saudi Arabia, and the enemy of Iran.

Now, let's discuss Qatar.  First take a look at this handy map:

See little Qatar down there?

OK.  Qatar, like many a small state in history, attempts to deal with its large, powerful neighbors by playing both sides.  It facilitates the export of Sunni terrorism, to buddy up to the Saudis, but it also stays on good terms with Iran, just across the Persian Gulf (incidentally, in case you didn't know, Iran was historically known as Persia).

Critically from the American point of view: the United States maintains a sizable military base in Qatar.  You will notice that the US is not located on the map above.  If America wants to project military power in the region, it must do so from bases located in willing countries in this region.  Countries like Qatar.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni bloc nations, determined that Qatar is too Iran-friendly, has very recently moved to completely isolate the country.  Astoundingly, Donald Trump has gone full-bore in on this isolation.  In fact, he's taking credit for it.  

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” [Trump] wrote in a midmorning post. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!” (New York Times)

Just a reminder: the US relies on its base in Qatar for military operations in the area.

As with many other things, it would appear that Donald Trump does not know what the ---- he's doing:

“The Saudis played Donald Trump like a fiddle,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former intelligence analyst who advised Mr. Obama and now works at the Brookings Institution. “He unwittingly encouraged their worst instincts toward their neighbors.” (New York Times)

Emphasis added mine.

Pass this off as preening Democrat sour grapes arrogance if you like, but from the outside perspective it sure does seem that Donald Trump is doing the Saudi / ISIS / Sunni bloc's bidding.  This stance should get two thumbs up from ISIS. 

Will Qatar fold, and cut off relations with Iran?  It's quite possible.  However, it's also possible Qatar will badly resent this move, and be driven deeper into the embrace of Iran.  It's also possible a coup will break out against the current government.  It's possible the US base in Qatar could be endangered -- if not immediately, in time.

It seems that Donald Trump and James Mattis would love to get their war on against Iran, and they may indeed.  If they do, Iran will shift to defending itself, and will be forced to take the pressure off ISIS.  ISIS will flourish.  It's that simple.  

The global terrorist attacks since September 11, 2001 have been committed by Sunni extremists, not Shiite extremists.  A war with Iran will be a huge boon to this group of people, and is likely to prove an even costlier debacle for the United States than our war against Iraq was, especially given that the Iranians have proven themselves in combat when defending their homeland.  A war against Iran is a war only Iran can win.

In my opinion, we should bury the hatchet with Iran and destroy ISIS, even if it pisses off the Saudis.  Or, I suppose, we can bury the hatchet with ISIS and attack Iran, a position I would find sickening morally given ISIS's brutality, but nevermind.  Either way, let's pick a goddamn side.

Donald Trump in Qatar recently.  Why did he even bother visiting?

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