Syria feeds instability in Mideast

May 25, 2012


— The Middle East sometimes resembles a string of detonators wired to explode together — and this seems especially true now of Syria and its neighbors.

There is political instability nearby in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, as the Arab uprising moves through its second year. In each of these countries, the leadership maintains power in a balancing act. Only Turkey, with its triad of a strong economy, army and political leadership, seems genuinely stable.

Fear of blowing up the region — and spawning even more Sunni-Shiite sectarian war — is one reason the Obama administration has refused to arm the Syrian opposition. Officials fear that militarizing the conflict, without reliable Syrian allies or a clear endgame strategy, could produce unintended consequences much like those of the Iraq War.

Administration officials expect Kofi Annan’s peace plan will fail, but they don’t want to give up on the former U.N. secretary-general’s effort yet. Better to let the planned 300 U.N. observers travel in Syria, they reason, and perhaps encourage a new round of protest that would show that President Bashar al-Assad’s rule is doomed.

What makes this period of Arab revolution so complicated is that the new themes of liberation, culminating in this week’s Egyptian presidential election, are becoming interwoven with ancient ethnic hatreds. Analysts from Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon describe the growing tensions in each country, as these factors play out:

l Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, faces a possible breakup of his ruling coalition. The potential opposition has widened to include Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite militia leader, and Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish chieftain. Late last month, they threatened to dump Maliki unless he implemented a November 2010 power-sharing pact.

Sadr, the fiery cleric, was unusually blunt: “This state is under a form of dictatorship and we do not want it to remain under Premier Maliki.” When Barzani visited Washington last month, he is said to have warned administration officials, “I can’t live with another dictator in Baghdad.” Yet Maliki is still in power, thanks partly to the bizarre fact that he enjoys support from both Washington and Tehran. Symbolically, perhaps, U.S. and Iranian negotiators agreed on Baghdad as the site for nuclear negotiations taking place this week.

The old expression “once bitten, twice shy” may explain the Obama administration’s view of Iraq. The White House favors compromise with Maliki and the preservation of stability there, in part because it doesn’t want to reignite civil war in Iraq at the same time it is spreading in Syria.

l Jordan’s King Abdullah’s reign has been one long balancing act, between Palestinians and East Bankers, between secular modernizers and Islamist conservatives. He has been lucky that all sides support the Hashemite monarchy, even as they quarrel over how to divide the spoils. But lately, the political jockeying has grown more intense.

The king has burned through four prime ministers in 15 months, without getting agreement on an election law and other reforms. Corruption scandals have taken down three intelligence chiefs in a row, to the point that many Jordanians wonder whether the deeper problem is in the palace itself. There is growing talk about Jordan as a staging ground for Syrian insurgents — which might please Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers that want to overthrow Assad, but would add new risks for the king.

l Lebanon may be in the most delicate position of all. Under Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s policy is “disassociation” from the Syria battle. But that middle ground is disappearing — with anti-Assad refugees using northeastern Lebanon as a sanctuary, triggering reprisals from pro-Assad forces.

Mikati wants Washington’s help in keeping Lebanon from being drawn deeper into the regional turmoil, but the longer the Syria fight goes on, the harder it will be for any of the neighbors to stay out.

One wild card that could trump everything else is tribal politics. Two big Sunni tribes, the Shammar and the Dulaim, stretch from northern Saudi Arabia through western Iraq and Jordan and up into Syria. Some observers say these tribes have sworn a blood oath against Assad. If so, a decisive phase of the Syrian war may have begun.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.    


jhawkinsf 5 years, 11 months ago

The problems in Syria is that some groups inside Syria are aligned with Iran while others are aligned with groups in Iraq. And while some of those groups also have ties to groups in Lebanon, the other groups also have ties with other groups in Lebanon. Now while some of them support groups that are tied to the Palestinian Territories, others have similar ties to groups in Egypt. Of course, some of those groups have aligned themselves with radical Islamists inside Saudi Arabia, others are tied to groups in Yemen. Jordan is stuck in the middle while they all can come together by proclaiming their support for Palestinians against Israel. Except when this group does that or that group remembers something done to a family member 9 generations ago. Now I don't mean to be flippant because this all reminds me of Europe prior to WW I, when all the countries had shifting alliances. All it took for a major world war to break out was some radical killing some archduke. Europe stumbled their way into a major war and there's no reason to believe the middle east is immune from the same fate. The first step in avoiding that fate is to recognize that that fate is a real possibility. Then what is needed is continued dialogue.
I wish the region well.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 11 months ago

Maybe it is also the CIA feeding instability? Maybe creating instability?

Does anyone at the White House or any member of Congress have any idea what the CIA is doing? considering their unlimited spending privileges?

Why is the USA government allowing so many military operations throughout the largest oil region in the world?

How does spending trillions on this war effort reduce the price of oil?

How does getting thousands of our soldiers killed and killing 100's of thousands of innocent men women and children abroad make this world a more peaceful existence?

USA intelligence noted that Al Qaeda is basically non existent yet the media keeps using "Al Qaeda " to support a war effort?

$9 Billion dollars in cash lost in Iraq = what?

Between April 2003 and June 2004, $12 billion in U.S. currency was shipped from the Federal Reserve to Baghdad = what the hell?


Shane Garrett 5 years, 11 months ago

Sunni vs. Shiite reminds me of Protestant vs. Catholics it all equals years of grief.

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