Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Middle East Balancing Act

MADRID – The recent gains made by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) confirms that, more than a decade after the war in Iraq began, stability in the Middle East remains on a knife’s edge. ISIS – with its transnational commitment to a caliphate that encompasses vast swaths of territory from western Syria to central Iraq – exemplifies the interrelated nature of the challenges facing the region, and the threat it poses highlights the urgent need for a new framework for action in the Middle East.

ISIS began as an affiliate of Al Qaeda, following America’s invasion of Iraq. Though it was expelled from Al Qaeda last February for, of all things, its excessively violent tactics, it has thrived, finding fertile ground for expansion in a civil-war-ravaged Syria and among Iraq’s Sunni population, which is increasingly alienated from the country’s Shia-led government.

Iraq’s location on a major fault line between Sunnis and Shia – whose sectarian rivalry has become the main axis of confrontation in the region – has been a source of instability in the country for decades. The collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime led to a surge in sectarian violence, except in the northern region of Kurdistan, which enjoys considerable autonomy vis-à-vis the central government in Baghdad.

But Iraq’s current travails are the direct result of the war in neighboring Syria, where ISIS has claimed thousands of lives. Moreover, the rise of ISIS will have repercussions far beyond Iraq’s borders, as the organization competes with Al Qaeda to lead the global jihad – a competition that will undoubtedly involve violent efforts by both sides to demonstrate their anti-Western bona fides.

ISIS’s rise underscores the urgent need for fresh, creative diplomacy in Syria that can break the deadlock both on the battlefield and in the negotiating room – a challenge that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s recent electoral victory has deepened. New negotiating parameters are also needed to resolve the conflict in Iraq, reach a peace settlement between Israel and Palestine, and, ultimately, establish a stable balance of power in the Middle East that reconciles the influence of Sunni Saudi Arabia and that of Shia Iran.

America’s unwillingness to use the kind of “coercive” diplomacy that it did in the past makes such a framework all the more urgent – not to mention difficult – as it changes the way that regional actors view the United States. For starters, the West’s decision not to intervene directly in Syria, particularly after the official exposure of the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons, has diminished confidence in the US among its traditional allies, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Moreover, Saudi Arabia, along with other Sunni countries, doubts the wisdom of negotiating with Iran, fearing a normalization of relations with its regional competitor. And the failure of the most recent round of Israel-Palestine peace talks, spearheaded by US Secretary of State John Kerry, has underscored America’s inability to lead the peace process alone.

Clearly, the US cannot stabilize the Middle East without help; it needs a wide range of actors to commit to this goal. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami has recently outlined a new peace paradigm for the negotiations between Israel and Palestine, in which the participation of actors like the European Union, Russia, and key Arab countries would facilitate the rise of a truly international solution. This paradigm should be extended to the Geneva negotiations on the Syrian civil war, with countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, and Egypt assuming a greater role.

Of course, involving regional powers could complicate already-muddy negotiations further. The goal must therefore be clarity and equilibrium. Only with a balanced negotiation process, guided by regional and global actors, can a stable balance of power in the Middle East be achieved. If the regional balance of power is not introduced into negotiations, any future conflict – however small – could spread rapidly, with unimaginable consequences.

An inclusive framework of conflict resolution in Syria is particularly critical today, as it would establish a precedent for cooperation among regional powers, especially Iran and Saudi Arabia. International negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program have provided some reason for optimism, which could lend impetus to efforts in Syria. But, again, success there would require the commitment of key regional and international actors.

While it is true that international powers have their own troubles – from Europe’s concerns about Russia’s new foreign policy to China’s territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas – it is in their interest to take an active role in addressing chronic instability in the Middle East. After all, disorder there is a serious threat to their security, with Europe at risk owing to its geographical proximity and countries like China and India facing the prospect of energy-supply disruptions.

The Middle East has been a source of volatility and violence for far too long. With a new, creative approach and a strong commitment from countries worldwide, a stable regional balance of power can and should be achieved once and for all.

Read more from "The Middle East Meltdown"

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    1. CommentedPeter Wong

      “…official exposure of the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons”

      Reports from the U.N. identified the trace elements of chemical weapons, and confirmed the use of them in several areas but never identified the ones who used them.

      The major problem the U.S. faces is its inability to monitor and manage the various countries (leaders) in an equable and unbiased manner. The U.S. uses intimidation and force when dealing with countries who do not share their views and wields foreign aid like a weapon; handing it out to gain favor of those it wishes to secure and threatening to withdraw it from these same countries that anger it.

      Regional conflicts have occurred over the millennium globally and will continue regardless of the powers that be. Most of them will be resolved amicably between the countries involved without outside interference. The problem is the inability of the U.S. (or others) to resist interjecting themselves into the conflict.

      The regimes of Hussein, Qaddaffi and Assad, may be authoritarian and harsh, but they provided stability in their countries for the majority of their population and the countries achieved relative success from an economic standpoint. The chaos in Iraq, Libya and Syria is a direct consequence of the foreign policy of the U.S. and the future of all three is in doubt.

      I do not see a favorable conclusion to the issues at hand in Iraq centered on our current policy.

    2. Commentedhari naidu

      Javier is asking for stability and a new balance of power in Middle East to resolve the Sunni-Shia civil war. I would suggest it’s a pipe-dream of a strategy - at best.

      Recall the 30 years war in Europe between Catholics (Vatican financed Army) and Protestants. How did it end> Peace of Westphalia. (see Wikipedia source below)


      Date: 1618–1648

      Location: Europe (primarily present day Germany)

      Result: Peace of Westphalia

      Protestant princes allowed to continue religious practices.
      Habsburg supremacy curtailed
      Rise of France and the Bourbon dynasty
      Rise of the Swedish Empire
      Decline of feudalism[1]
      Decentralization of the Holy Roman Empire
      Franco-Spanish War until 1659
      Substantial decline in the power and influence of the Catholic Church

      ISIS (like Al Qaeda ) is a CIA product; and, according to Christopher Meyer, Former British Ambassador To Washington: (Source: Daily Mail Online)

      No Mr Blair. Your naive war WAS a trigger for this savage violence, writes CHRISTOPHER MEYER, Ambassador to the US during Iraq War.
      Iraq may cease to exist as a sovereign state due to current ISIS threat
      ISIS has driven through the US trained Iraqi army 'like a knife through butter'
      The country is on the verge of total civil war between Sunnis and Shiites

      Who is financing ISIS?: Saudi Arabia and Qatar (Gulf State).

      The fact, however, is that violent jihadists have something to do with Islam in the same way that the crusaders or inquisitors had something to do with Christianity: They are violent fanatics of a major religion whose mainstream is peaceful. These fanatics will be rightfully dealt with not when they are dismissed as paid agents, but when they are understood, analyzed and challenged as genuine believers of a radical theology.
      Read more:


      ISIS and Crusaders are being linked together to form a historical thread to religious warfare in Middle East.

      Where will it all end? Me thinks it won’t end with another Peace of Westphalia. The culture and context is invariably different.

      It will only end when (1) Sunni’s or Shia forces resolve their ancient religious conflict; (2) one of them is (finally) eliminated.

    3. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      I fully agree with the writer that a completely new framework is needed.

      But before we can build something new we would need to take an honest look into the mirror and accept that what we have been so far was not only "honest mistakes", but it was outright destructive, and every time a new "allied intervention" took place a situation worsened.

      Basically since the two world wars the Western manipulations in the Middle East created such an unbalanced foundation that directly led to the total chaos observed today.
      Even today, even after the very clear disaster the last "allied solutions" caused in the region there are renewed "war cries" from senior figures urging the Western nations to reengage in the region through military interventions, simply following knee-jerk reactions and ulterior motives as if we had no previous precedence and negative experiences.

      The first step of any new framework would be a "complete restriction", a stop of any self-calculated, and subjective interference from the US and allies, allowing the "dust to settle", working for a temporary cease fire so true negotiations could take place.

      And the negotiations, as the article suggest have to involve all the directly involved parties around the same round table at the same time.

      There is no question based on history, personal, national, cultural and religious differences, hatred such negotiations will start in an explosive manner, they will break up, will be interrupted initially.
      But it is a normal, and natural process since humanity has never tried to solve problems in a "circular manner", trying to rise above inherent and learnt differences, blind hatred to find common points opposing parties can build on.
      So the equal, mutual round table negotiations, without "peace brokers" have to restart and continue as long as it takes for that mutual, common point to appear.

      Today we simply have no other options.
      First of all we evolved into a globally interconnected and inter-dependent world where there are no local problems, any explosion, war could spread worldwide in a completely unpredictable and volatile manner, not to mention the political, economical and financial implications.

      Moreover we are running out of time, all over the world extremist, raw "barbaric" forces are gaining ground, spreading like wild-fire as a result of the deepening crisis and desperate helplessness.

      There are no "Global leaders", Global policemen", more or less important nations in an integral system we exist in today.
      we entered the age of circular, global problems which require circular, global, mutually complementing negotiations and solutions.

      On the other hand if we can make such circular, mutually complementing cooperation function, and we can extend it to all parts of our global life, finally we can have a foundation for a safer, and sustainable future for all of us.