Middle Eastern powder keg

The post I put up here yesterday was not optimally organized. That’s one problem of having to work over a very slow internet connection… Anyway, the latter half of it included some observations about the precariousness of the geostrategic situation all the way from Lebanon to Afghanistan that I think are worthy of having their own separate post. So here, lightly re-edited, they are (again).

What I can say, just sitting here with my eyes and
ears open and thinking about this complex region of the world, is that the
regional situation seems fairly dangerous and potentially explosive. One
reason is that all the competing forces are suddenly so deeply intermingled
all the way from here to Afghanistan…

Lebanon, as I’ve noted here before, has for long been a battleground between
its two kmore powerful neighbors, Israel and Syria, both of whom tend to
view what goes on here as pretty much a zero-sum game. Allied to Israel,
of course, you have the US, which has its own extremely schizophrenic relationship
with Syria… So here in Lebanon, you have a very tense situation over the (Syrian-motivated)
extension of Pres. Lahoud’s mandate for a further three years. Plus, the Security
Council’s passage of Resolution 1559 which called for a quick withdrawal
of Syria’s remaining forces from here plus the disbanding of Hizbollah. Plus,
the ugly escalation of Syrian or Syrian-inspired moves like the assassination
attempt against Marwan Hamadeh ten days ago…

Personally, having watched the Syrians’ moves here for 30 years now, I’d
say they’re acting as if they’re feeling extremely spooked and edgy… I
mean, prolonging Lahoud’s term was really unnecessary and stupid. It
was almost bound to provoke a backlash here, and as many Lebanese have said,
the Syrians could have found a dozen other presidential candidates just as
willing as Lahoud to dance to their tune, so why bother with the whole extension
business at all?

Okay, so why might the Syrians be spooked and edgy? Perhaps because
they have the US army sitting along their very lengthy eastern border with Iraq,
and many leading US political figures still openly urging “regime change”
in Syria as the next step? Plus, they also have the Mossad undertaking
anti-Hamas assassination actions in the heart of downtown Damascus and thus
majorly spooking the regime. The Israelis killed one Hamas guy there
not so long ago; and yesterday the Syrians said they’d smoked out a second
cell of Mossad-directed agents who were planning to kill the overall Hamas
head Khaled Meshaal… Oh, and let’s not forget the admitted presence of
some Mossad people with the Kurds in northern Iraq, and the Syrian regime’s
huge concerns about attempts to mobilize their own Kurdish population against

Lots of reasons for unease, fear, and perhaps a resulting tendency to general
overreaction there, I’d say…

Okay, moving further east we then have Iraq. Do you think the Americans stretched out like sitting ducks throughout the country are feeling uneasy and fearful, and prone to over-reaction? I’d
say so!

And then, moving further east still, Iran. Reasons for unease, fear,
and a tendency to overreact? Absolutely! Remember, the Iranians
have the US forces boxing them in from both Iraq and Afghanistan– and also,
from the Gulf, and also, of course poweful forces inside the Bush administration still baying for regime change there.

And finally we come to Afghanistan. Certainly not the most peaceful and stable of places these days…

I’d say this whole line of countries looks poised on the brink of an explosion,
and any outbreak of additional ternsion anywhere along the whole line could set off a really damaging chain reaction.

This kind of geo-strategic intermingling of mutually hostile forces,
plus the failure of the US to really sit down properly with the Syrians and
Iranians in an effort to de-escalate and sort everything out, looks inherently
unstable. (And of course, as always, it’ll be the weakest countries
that get hit the hardest and hurt the most.)

In the IHT today, by the way, I saw a really good article about Iran
by Gareth Evans and Karim Sadjadpour of the International Crisis Group. I
tried to find a digital version of the text on both the IHT website (which
sucks, frankly) and the ICG site. But it wasn’t on either when I looked.
So let me quickly here just type in a couple of the better bits:

The debate in Washington is no longer whether the United States
can help [a democratic and stable] Iraq shape Iran, but whether it can stop
Iran from shaping Iraq…

Among Iranians, diffuse hope that the United States could improve their lot
has gradually given way to widespread skepticism. As a Teheran resident
told one of us: “When we look at what’s going on in Iraq, or Afghanistan,
it seems that the real choice is not one between democracy or authoritarianism,
but between stabuility and unrest. People may not be happy in Iran,
but no one wants unreast.”

… Today, with vital U.S. interests at stake in terms of Iraq, Afghanistan
and global nonproliferation, Iran is playing a central role in each and the
United States isn’t talking to it about any… [T]he United States
will need to put aside its illusory dreams of regime change, overcome its
deep-seated trepidation over a bilateral dialogue and engage Iran in a coherent,
sustained and comprehensive manner.

I almost couldn’t have said it better myself.

3 thoughts on “Middle Eastern powder keg”

  1. Any reason to leave out Pakistan and the Caucasus? In terms of Afghanistan, Pakistan is extraordinarily important, and vice versa. Possibly Pakistan is getting used to dealing with Afghan refugees and militants (their tactic with the latter seems to involve shipping them to Kashmir, so they’ll make trouble for India rather than for Musharraf). But it’s certainly a major issue in Pakistani politics, and the regime there is a long, long way from being stable.
    As for the Caucusus, there’s a long list of hotspots – Nagorno-Karabakh, Ajaria, Abkhazia, and of course Chechnya. Perhaps there’s less danger of trouble in the Caucasus spreading out into the wider world, given the lower populations and weaker militaries of countries there?

  2. Whoah, Dan. I think you can make the case for Pakistan quite easily. I think the Caucasus is very interesting to throw into the equation, especially with the Kurdish populations in Northern Iraq, Eastern Turkey. Then involve Iran in the mix up there, follow Nargorno-Karabakh up to Georgia where things are getting pretty tense (there are some articles, one from Le Monde Diplomatique linked from my blog and some linked in the comments also about Georgia) and of course Chechnya is a mess and increasingly Ingushetia and Ossetia are messes also. I think when we include the Caucasus the interesting factor becomes Turkey, which wants to tighten up relations with Europe, presumably a “stabilizing” factor. I don’t know. Things are scary.

  3. Thanks to both of you for those thoughts. Yes, I agree that this whole (extended) chunk of the world looks very scary indeed… I was just taking things along more or less one straight line of it.
    I’ve just finished reading “Bush at War:, and the terrifying, major conclusion I draw from its is the ease and recklessness w/ which the Bushites have thought about, planned, and gone ahead and done major geostrategic re-fashioning in this whole region. The instability and suffering that have ensued seem not to have worried them one jot… Very depressing.

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