Sykes-Picot II

The first President Bush asserted the right of the US to come to the defense of Kuwait when Iraq invaded it in 1990. His reasoning was simple and clear; the invasion was a violation of the Westphalian state order that has sustained sovereignty of nations since the 17th century. It would fall to his successors to violate this very same system under various pretexts. President Clinton ignored it under the “Right to Protect” in the Balkans. The second President Bush violated it to bring democracy to Iraq. President Obama violated it in Libya, also under the “Right to Protect” and in multitude of other places to hunt down terrorists who inflicted harm on US citizens.

President Putin of Russia has outdone all four American Presidents by emulating their contradictory actions within the space of two years; first under the pretext of protecting Russian ethnics in Crimea, and then under the pretext of protecting Syrian state sovereignty and persecuting a war on terrorists who harmed Russian citizens. Putin’s actions seem a burlesque of the American precedent only because of the authoritarian nature of the Russian system; but they are no more deadly and far less expensive. The point is that moral outrage is of little value here. The Levant has turned into a Minoan Labyrinth for great powers (US), former great powers (Russia) and shambling actors (Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia).

This could turn out very badly, even worse than the current chaos, unless good sense is retrieved quickly. The most rational outcome is some sort of imposed peace, respecting current borders, recognizing some spheres of influence, leaving certain undesirable actors, such as the so-called Islamic State, out in the cold, while respecting the interests of others. The US which has shown scant regard for national borders in the last decades needs a revamped policy that considers the desirable long term outcomes in the region. None of the regional or international actors are clean of hand or pure of heart, but proposing a hard-nosed solution may finally wrestle some relief for the suffering civilians. Anything else is a prelude to madness.

— Maged Atiya


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