Monday, November 16, 2015

The War against the Islamic State from the French Perspective

Olivier Roy:
As President François Hollande of France has declared, the country is at war with the Islamic State. France considers the Islamist group, also known as ISIS, to be its greatest enemy today. It fights it on the front lines alongside the Americans in the Middle East, and as the sole Western nation in the Sahel. It has committed to this battle, first started in Mali in 2013, a share of its armed forces much greater than has the United States.

On Friday night, France paid the price for this. Messages expressing solidarity have since poured in from all over the Western world. Yet France stands oddly alone: Until now, no other state has treated ISIS as the greatest strategic threat to the world today.
Roy recapitulates the indifference toward the Islamic State of regional powers:
Bashar al-Assad’s main adversary is the Syrian opposition — now also the main target of Russia, which supports him. Mr. Assad would indeed benefit from there being nothing between him and ISIS: That would allow him to cast himself as the last bastion against Islamist terrorism, and to reclaim in the eyes of the West the legitimacy he lost by so violently repressing his own people.

The Turkish government is very clear: Its main enemy is Kurdish separatism. . . .

The Kurds, be they Syrian or Iraqi, seek not to crush ISIS so much as to defend their newfound borders. They hope the Arab world will become more divided than ever. . . . For the Kurds of Iraq, the main danger is seeing a strong central government emerge in Baghdad, for it could challenge the de facto independence of Iraqi Kurdistan today. ISIS stands in the way of the creation of any such power.

The Shiites of Iraq, no matter what pressure they face from America, do not seem ready to die to reclaim Falluja. They will defend sectarian borders, and will never let Baghdad fall. But they are in no hurry to bring the Sunni minority back into Iraq’s political mainstream; if they did, they would have to share power with it.

For the Saudis, the main enemy isn’t ISIS, which represents a form of Sunni radicalism they have always supported. So they do nothing against it, their main enemy being Iran.

The Iranians, for their part, want to contain ISIS but not necessarily to destroy it: Its very existence prevents the return of the kind of Arab Sunni coalition that gave them such trouble during their war with Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Then there is Israel, which can only be pleased to see Hezbollah fighting Arabs, Syria collapsing, Iran mired in an uncertain war and everyone forgetting the Palestinian cause.

In short, no regional player is willing to send out its forces, bayonets at the ready, to reclaim land from ISIS. And wars are not won without infantry.
But Roy also explains that the Islamic State has few other options for expansion. Only within Syria and Iraq can it post as the defender of Sunni Arabs, the main source of its legitimacy and support.

Which leads me to think again that the simplest solution would involve redrawing national borders, breaking up both Iraq and Syria to create two new states, one for Kurds and one for Sunni Arabs, its capital perhaps at Mosul. Both western diplomats and Middle Eastern governments have long resisted this option as opening a Pandora's Box of border questions, but without changes in borders it is going to be very, very difficult to find any resolution to these conflicts.


G. Verloren said...

Borders historically have been organic things. Trying to impose rigid inflexibility into a system of borders that is straining to reshape itself at every turn is an exercise in frustration, if not also in futility.

Left alone, the situation will end up redrawing the borders anyway, at least in fact if not in law. Why not save a bunch of trouble by redrawing the borders sooner rather than later? They'll actually change LESS that way.

Unknown said...

One problem is redrawing the borders won't be enough. To make this solution work, there would also have to be population transfer, to resolve the fact that the different ethno-religious groups are intermixed. With population transfers will come deaths, dispossession, weepy poems about the lost ancestral lands, and a sense of victimhood.

pootrsox said...

A lengthy but I think absolutely brilliant summation of what ISIS wants, intends, is based upon, etc etc.

G. Verloren said...

Populations can be convinced to move, rather than forced. If Kurdistan were to suddenly officially exist, I'm certain countless Kurds would gladly move.

So long as some half-decent compromise could be hammered out, any failures of drawing new de jure borders would still be better than letting de facto borders unofficially redraw themselves. It's like the difference between conducting a controlled demolition and letting a teetering building just collapse on its own.

Unknown said...

G., I think your scenario is _at best_ optimistic.