'Good-bye to Sykes-Picot' and all that?
"Isaac Chotiner: How else do you think the borders of the Middle East might change? Oliver Roy: There is a real possibility of territorial changes, although nobody, except the Kurds and some Israelis, advocate such changes. But the paradox is that the agents of changes are not the people who want such changes! The main drive for changes is not the assertiveness of new entities but the collapse of the old national constructions. The main factor that could lead to a reshuffle of borders is the widening of the new strategic fault-line in the Middle East; the divide between Shias and Sunnis. The first thing would be to have a true independent Kurdistan in Iraq, because of a collapse of Iraq first; Syria might collapse too, but except Kurdistan we will not see new nation-states with precise borders, but vague zones of influence with fluctuating boundaries. The collapse of the existing nation-states will in turn weaken the international borders, even if they are not redrawn. The border between Iran and Iraq and the border between Turkey and its southern neighbors will be de facto open. Goods, people, and weapons will move more easily. IC: Do you see the Sunni/Shia rift as getting worse? Has it ever been this bad? OR: The rift has little to do with religion as such. It seldom became a geostrategic issue in history, except when Iran turned Shia in the sixteenth century. During the twentieth century there was no rift at all until the Iranian-Islamic revolution. The rift has been a consequence of the Iranian Islamic revolution that has identified Iran with militant Shiism, and it entailed a religious radicalization of a Sunni fringe (the so-called "Salafis") that has been encouraged by Saudi Arabia both for religious reasons and for thwarting the growing Iranian influence in Afghanistan, the Gulf, and Iraq. And the rift is growing, because the mutual distrust is growing. Shias in the Gulf are systematically perceived as an Iranian fifth column, something they were not seen as in the past. The Shia-Sunni divide is a war through proxies waged by Iran and Saudi Arabia. But while the Shia axis is relatively coherent (Iran, Hezbollah, Assad and to a lesser extend Maliki), the Sunni front is utterly divided and has no common objectives. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has just destroyed the main Sunni bulwark against Iran, with two consequences: the solidifying of a de facto independent Kurdistan, the secession of a large Sunni populated area in Northern Iraq that shifted from Baathism to Jihadism and straddles the border with Syria. Saudi Arabia, instead of allying itself with the mainstream Sunni organizations (like the Muslim Brothers), wants to crush them, while it supported for decades the very radicals that are now taking the lead in Pakistan, Iraq, and Syria. Thus Iran is the great beneficiary of the collapse of the dominant order built between 1918 and 1948, with a minimum engagement on the field. Isaac Chotiner, "What in God's Name Is Going on in Iraq? An Expert Explains: An interview with Olivier Roy". The New Republic. 16 June 2014 in www.newrepublic.com.
"As we approach the centenary of the First World War, one of its legacies, the Sykes-Picot agreement between Great Britain and France on the future of the post-Ottoman Middle East, finally looks to be unravelling. There will, of course, be no formal interment of an imperial diktat long resented throughout the region. In practice Syria and Iraq will continue to have their flags and seats at the United Nations but not much else, aside from capital cities and sectarian support limited to their core constituencies, the Alawaites of Syria and Shia of Iraq, with residual Christian backing....The international community, including the UN, needs to wake up to this ominous development. In the immediate post-colonial order dictated by Sykes – Picot strong states prevailed in the Middle East. That era is fast disappearing".Lord Williams of Baglan, "Goodbye to Sykes-Picot? The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 17 June 2014 in www.chathamhouse.org The that the organizers (if 'organized' is a mot that one may employ in connection with the Bush regime's invasion of Iraq) of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, are according to the Financial Times, making a comeback in the public sphere. As per the FT, former American Vice-President Cheney, former America Deputy Secretary of Defence Wolfowitz, and former Iraq Proconsul, Jerry Bremer have all re-emerged and or climbed out from under the rocks where they have been hiding low these many years, to argue that the current situation in Iraq requires the active intervention of American forces and that it is the current administration which is at fault in allowing the ISIS rebellion to break-out by withdrawing American forces at the end of 2011 1. What is one to make of these statements? While I am not in the least enamored of the current American Administration and or its policies in various places in the world, it is difficult to follow the logic of these Bush regime arguments (if one may employ that word to describe what is being said). Firstly, as Olivier Roy aptly notes, it was the American invasion of Iraq circa 2003, an invasion which had no geopolitical logic of any sort, other than some type of forlorn ideological crusade, which destroyed the dominance of the Sunni in not only Iraq, but also in the greater Near and Middle East. The destruction of a eighty plus years old equilibrium in the region and in Iraq has still not sorted itself out as of yet. And, indeed as Lord Williams of Chatham House notes, the work of destruction as it relates to the tottering of various Arab State apparatuses appears to be continuing before our very eyes. With perhaps the traditionally Western aligned Kingdom of Jordan as the next potential domino to commence tottering 2. And it may perhaps be that it will take another twenty years to reconstruct another, stable equilibrium. Whether and how that re-establishment will occur is almost impossible to predict at this time. And while it is imperative the Americans and the West prevent ISIS from forming some regional base or bastion for international terrorism, per se, there are not many other direct American and Western interests at play in the current situation in Iraq. Something which one may argue is also the case in Syria. In an ideal world or in a world which had a traditional, hegemonic, Great Power `a la the Ottoman Empire or the Pax Britannica, et cetera, one if not both conflicts would have been settled by forceful, outside intervention. Such is not at all possible with the American hegemon. Especially now that it is (allegedly) in 'decline'. Whether the latter is true of not, the America is many things, but a traditional, hegemonic Great Power it is not. Never has, never will be. This may be a good thing, or a bad thing, but unfortunately it is an empirical and historical fact. 1.Geoff Dyer, "Bush acolytes use Iraq crisis to defend their records". The Financial Times. 18 June 2014, in www.ft.com. 2. "Analysis: Jordan Could Be the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant's Next Target". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 17 June 2014 in www.stratfor.com.