My thanks to Instapundit for finding this article by John Manchester on the fault lines he sees as opening in the Middle East. I will review those he sees and then a few more that may be shifting without being known about. This is the key paragraph to understanding the effect the actions taken by the US in Iraq and, unseen by most, Afghanistan, have yielded:
Before the US invasion, Iraq was the geostrategic pivot of the Middle East. All of the fault lines in the area's politics converge there. The Sunni-Shia split; the Arab-Persian split; the Ba'athist-Wahhabist split; and the Muslim-Israeli split: each of these ran through Iraq via its ethnic and religious makeup; its geographic location; and its former interests, alliances, and enemies.And each of these was held in a grim and static position at the cross-roads of the Middle East, which is Iraq. The tectonic shift, however, started with the slip in Afghanistan which went unnoticed as a status quo breaker, but would, in and of itself, yield the beginnings of wider shifts. That first rift was in the Islamic world not only between Persians and Arabs, but between the Persian and Arabs seen as traditional Middle Eastern Islamic power brokers and the multi-ethnic culture of Afghanistan. Islam can, in a less virulent form, take root in a multi-ethnic culture as witness in Afghanistan *before* the Taliban takeover. But one ethnic group was seen as being the beneficiaries of that takeover and engendered hatred from the others. By striking there, first, the US fractured that easy inroad of Radical Sunni Islam into the various 'stans in and near Afghanistan. Afghanistan had ALREADY served as a training ground and funnel point for insurrections against native governments to the north and west from Georgia all the way to Krygzstan in the east. And along the various northern routes, via the 'stans and Russia, and the southern via Iran and Azerbaijan, this spread the influence of radical Islam that was different from the Shia Iranian form. That, too, is a fault line.
So Afghanistan started the process of ending the spread of radical Islam northwards via Afghanistan and leaves Iran as the sole State sponsor of its form, which is different than the form the Taliban practiced. Many of the 'stans moved towards authoritarian regimes, when they had any government at all, to combat this, and with the flow now having to go through the Pakistani border provinces, the influx of new jihadi's is slowing drastically and the ability to maintain any sort of cross-organizational coherence is hampered by geography (rugged terrain and nasty temperature swings), ethnic differences amongst all of the different Nations and within Nations, and no small amount of xenophobia towards Arabs and Persians both of which are seen as 'lesser' cultures and peoples by those inhabiting the high mountains and plateaus of the eastern end of the arc of the 'stans. Afghanistan was the northern accumulational axis in which Arab money and power were put into training local Islamic Radicals and Islamofascists and then those were sent further to 'spread the word'.
With that access point removed the Taliban have had to rely on their tribal cousins in Pakistan, and they have shown little capability to act like anything even *close* to 'Government in Exile' or even a coherent military. The events of this spring shattered hopes that the Taliban had of actually performing a mass invasion of Afghanistan and retaking a southern province or two and, thus, gaining international respectability. The more they send in thugs, hoodlums, jihadi's and foreigners, the more the Taliban are seen as a criminal gang and not a viable government of any sort.
Likewise al Qaeda, being so closely tied to the Taliban, have suffered deep and severe losses in actually doing anything to spread Transnational Terrorism throughout the southern Nations bordering Russia. al Qaeda and Taliban had both been sighted as far west as Georgia and had run mini-training camps there, but those, being so close to the Russian Bear that could still claw badly, have suffered due to lack of skilled personnel, money and equipment. Chechnya was about the only victory in this war for them, and it has been a bloody and pestilent battle that is still being waged as a low intensity conflict. Vladimir Putin does not like what Israel has done to Beirut, but it should be pointed out what the Russian Air Force has done in Grozny amongst other places in its own battles against Islamic-backed separatists. Somehow the 10,000 dead reported in Grozny never gained the acclaim of a few innocents killed in Beirut and far more than those killed in Israel.
Without Afghanistan things are slowly quieting down in that region, and al Qaeda has had to look to India to expand its operations either with consent of the Pakistani Intelligence Services or at least with their 'blind eye' towards them. That faultline is slowly building up pressure in the region for a final Kashmir settlement, and the more that is done to exacerbate the problem, the greater the likelihood that it will slip and jar two nuclear armed Nations into war. But let us look further south, first and see that there is *another* confluence of radical Islam and Transnational Terrorism.
This front stretches along the South East Asian and Indian Ocean islands all the way to the Philippines and Oceania. Indonesia is the main haven having the largest non-Arab or Persian Muslim community on the planet and its own laid-back attitude towards *any* religion, until radical Islam started to infiltrate the region in the 1980's. Sectarian violence and the ability of 'charities' with low overhead to operate out of Indonesia has started to cause a rift between traditional followers of Islam and the radicals. This is also playing upon the ethnic problems between Indonesians and ethnic Chinese and is also of concern for the Buddhist communities of the islands. Already Indonesia has served as a central gathering point of radical Islam as seen by the notorious Hambali and his involvement with multiple bombings and ties to Transnational Terrorist groups in the region. The other nexus is the Philippines as seen with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and their terror attacks and takeovers on various of the Philippine Islands. The al Qaeda multi-hijacking of pacific passenger jets, via Operation Bojinka, was heavily weighted to the Philippines But the funding was from al Qaeda, Afghanistan and Indonesia, with operatives to be drawn from multiple organizations and possibly some help from Iraq.
These fault lines trace back to the ones opened up in Operation Iraqi Freedom by the United States. The expansion of Transnational Terrorism with Radical Islam has spread far, but the Sunni variant has gone further, but more dispersed while the Shia version stays closer to home in the Middle East and Iran. That fault line, in Iran, caused Iran to move al Qaeda terrorists further from important centers of their country and towards Iraq to 'fend off a US invasion', for all the good they would do. Iran did this to isolate the Sunni extremists and give grief to Iraq and then add in their OWN Hezbollah backed terrorists across the border and via Syria. The promise by al Qaeda and Iran was to turn all of Iraq into 'another Beirut', meaning the Beirut Civil War of the 1970's and 1980's.
What they did not expect were all of the multiple faultlines to shift simultaneously and that only the State and Transnational Terrorist fault to give way, with a bit of religion added in for extra death. The primary reason that Iraq has not gone into internal revolt or revolution against Iran is multi-fold, but a quick summary shows the fault lines:
- Religion - Iraq is Shia oriented, as is Iran, but they follow a much more moderate path given by Ali al Sistani who repudiates and, quite frankly, hates the Iranian version. This goes back a couple of generations, actually, and is a doctrinal dispute amongst different interpretations of sections of the Koran and outlook on Islam. So, those doing the simple 'a Shia is a Shia' have not confronted this fault line WITHIN the Shia religion. Indeed, there are at least three main strains of the Shia religion in Iraq and, quite possibly, MORE which leads to factionalization. Ali al Sistani, however, wants to be a *uniting figure for the majority* and NOT be a radical Iranian preacher. And it was HE that brought sense to the Shia's after multiple bombings and HE is the one that has fingered Sadr, who IS backed by Iran, to have a limited number of days left in Iraq, if not on this plane of existence. Another fault line within Iraq and the region is the ethnic Kurdish version of Islam which, while Sunni, is DIFFERENT from the Arab Sunni version to the South. And that Arab Sunni version is, itself, factionalized between Wahabbist followers of Saudi Arabia, moderate(!) Ba'athists that give mouth to the words but don't follow them over much, and, finally everyone else who has been victimized by the other two. The likelihood of ANY of these factions, even that of al Sistani, gaining control over any large portion of Iraq is minuscule. Attempts by al Qaeda and Iran to foment further terrorism there has led to RELIGIOUS resentment and hatred of them. And, as a fun bit on the side, the Assad family controlling Syria is Alawite, which has its OWN problems with the Shia and Sunni's! So trying to get some sort of Shia spread into Syria is a non-starter for Iran and for all other major sects of Islam until Assad is deposed.
- Ethnicity - First, Iraq is divided between the north and the south along the Kurd/Arab faultline. Call that a 1/3 and 2/3 division respectively for gross proportionate examination, although 20%/80% is a better rendition, but does not count in other factors. The Kurdish dream of Kurdistan is *still* operational and they are long, long, long vision players at this game of Nations. By persisting they, like the Jews in Israel, seek to get their very own State, but are willing to help those that help them and be in Nations that respect them. That said this ethnic divide goes into: Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Syria. Each of these Nations have a 'Kurdish Problem' to some extent or another. Repression is the main way it is kept in check by most Nations, save in Iraq where a decade of hard work has garnered them Peace, Security, and Prosperity. Considering their *lack* of resources, that in, and of, itself is a beacon of hope. That faultline is now shifting with the centroid of its mass being in Iraq. Uprisings have been seen in Iran and unrest starting in Turkey, but quietly there via the ballot box. Syria remains a harsh and repressive regime and is brittle to this stress. If pressure is applied on this faultline in Syria, the Nation will shatter into disorder even without the current events going on. And to the Arabs majority in Iraq, it must be well, and truly, grating to see *mere Kurds* leading happy, prosperous and secure lives by having ejected terrorists from their lands and having basic compromise amongst their own factions. Hey, if KURDS can do that, then why are this Arabs so backwards that they still squabble over these things? Because the Kurds are competent, well armed, know how to fight counter insurgency and are RUTHELESS in doing so, the idea that a Civil War would actually get anywhere without the Kurds coming down to *crush it* is worrying to the Arabs of the south both in Iraq, but also in Iran, Syria and Turkey. Start a real Civil War and find yourself having to thank the Kurds for ending it and *finally* giving up on keeping them as only provinces. A Civil War in Iraq will free the Kurds to form Kurdistan stretching from Syria to Iran and through Turkey. A tough, proud, independent and honorable people who want NONE of this Arab or 'Persian' guff.
- Familial and tribal ties - Tying into the above is the fact that Saddam deported tens if not hundreds of thousands of Shia Iraqis to Iran, and many Sunni Iraqis to other Nations. Further, tribal and familial bonds cross into Iran so that the people of Iraq have easy and first-hand knowledge of conditions in Iran. To put it bluntly, those that return from Iran want no part in it and want it ENDED. The reason so many Shia's volunteered for Saddam's War with Iran is that they saw it as a war of LIBERATION. With more filtering back across the border, they are *not* pawns of Iran, but sworn ENEMIES. The Kurds want their people liberated from oppression and so do a large swath of Shia Arabs from the Kurdish border all the way to the Marsh Arabs. Iran has only made some inroads via Sadr and into the Basra area, but they may find that having their people captured in Iraq is now seen as Foreign *meddling*. In point of fact it IS seen that way, and resented bitterly.
- Nationalism/Pan-Arabism/Transnational Terrorism - This is the political divide seen in Iraq that spreads far and wide outwards from it. Ba'athist Nationalism and Pan-Arabism are forms of Fascistic State Based totalitarianism, both looking to put populations under control of States for the good of the State. Pan-Arabist dreams were cut off at the stem, as examined here, and Saddam tried to play 'Leader of the Arab World' card, which got him hated by Kurds and Iranians and finally pointed out that the 'Arab World' is so badly admixed with cultures that it does not exist. But its noxious roots still lay rotting in the region and poison many with its political viewpoint. Ba'athism, as a closer adherent to Fascism, worked hard to eliminate internal differences in the traditional way of Fascism: death and terror. By putting a ruling elite into place that controlled the terror mechanisms of the State Ba'athism sought to export its concepts that were, by and large, non-religious based into a heavily seeded religious region. They had to confront the Wahhabi version of Islam, that is highly radicalized and supports Transnational Terrorists globally and found that any infiltration of *that* had to be quashed. Both Syria and Iraq under Saddam were highly anti-Wahabbi as it threatened State power. That said, they could work with the Terrorist arm, al Qaeda, for commonality of goals against the West. So both regimes were more than willing to train al Qaeda, and harbor them, but NOT give them inroads to spread their terrorist concepts to their populations. That is what Secret Police are FOR. But Ba'athism also had to contend with the Iranian version of Shia radicalism and Saddam wanted no part of that, while Hafez al-Assad being an Alawite, could deal with Iran and yet use Secret Police to counter Hezbollah inside Syria. Amazing how these fault lines twist throughout the region, isn't it? This butting of heads between Sectarian State Control (Shia/Sunni/Alawite) and Nationalism (Pan Arabism via Ba'athism and ethnic Persians) all fall down differently outside simple Western conceptions of religion and ethnicity.
- Finally there is the EDUCATIONAL split and differences amongst peoples and Nations as to which is the better educated. And this does not necessarily follow ethnic or National boundaries. Before Saddam, Iraq was seen as the center of learning of the Arab world. By holding onto key Shia religious areas and having a learned Shia community, the early Iraqi governments augmented this with educational systems to try and uplift their Nation. To a greater or lesser extent this succeeded and Iraqi's see themselves, rightly or wrongly, as one of the most educated people of the region and still *cherish* education. The Ba'athists crushed freedom of inquiry, slanted textbooks and gave out high amounts of propaganda instead of factual information, but Iraqis still seemed to learn enough to get accepted by overseas universities. Until Saddam came along with his WMD quest, that remained true, but *that* ended the era of good schooling in Iraq, but the heart of it is still present in the Nation. Iran has seen themselves as the step-child of Iraq and have tried to step out of that shadow in a religious sense, via the 1979 Revolution. The educational divide, however, still had the KEYS to Shia thought and doctrine in Iraq and no attempts to set up a viable alternative by Iran has succeeded. While Iran had a good educational system under the Shah, it was never seen as comparable to that of either Iraq or Afghanistan, and about on par with Pakistan and Egypt. The Saudi's have always put forth this idea of an educated elite and a foreign 'servant class' and have strictly delimited inquiry into *anything* that might go off of the State-based educational and religious system. And so the Wahhabi preachers are seen in Iraq and Iran as somewhat stilted and living in a bit of a dream world that they want no part of. Neither the Iranian Shia Revolution nor al Qaeda spreading Wahabbi tenets have gained much of a foothold in Iraq as they see themselves as 'smarter' than their Arab brethren and the Persians. In the shadows are the Kurds who have slowly built up a good educational system, instituted industrial and banking reform and have sent a goodly number of students overseas to get educated. Everyone in the region does as their Universities are pretty bad, not even on par educationally with the recently free Eastern European States.
Thus, President Bush, as I went through previously, has ALL of the Golden Keys of the Middle East *in play*. Iran and Syria depended upon the old 'tried and true' methods of getting support and it has backfired badly and is causing a seismic shock across the Middle East. Although the Static parts of this faultline are seen as holding the power, Iran and Syria, the actual shifting zones are those that can shear the Middle East into a new form and break the status quo. Iraq is still in the process of settling and its new government does *not* want to shift anything more through its people and get a new form of stability in-place. While the US may not *like* this, it is fully understandable and will actually NOT stop the shifts from happening as they are outside the Iraqi government's ability to have any stopping power over it.
The Key areas are:
Syria - a poorly armed and badly trained and maintained army in support of a fractious state that has massive faultlines shifting under it. The US proved it could take out a similar State in Afghanistan with irregular ground troops and precision bombing with only a light stiffening of US regular forces and Special Forces. Syria is in that vice grips now and the US can hold that regime accountable and dissolve it with the help of Egypt or Jordan or the Kurds and Israel. By cutting off Hezbollah from all re-supply it is trapped in a box and the Israeli armed forces can dismember it at will.That, as best I can tell, is where events currently stand. The faultlines in the Middle East are drastically shifting peoples and Nations and ALL of it is due to US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the only and final answer to these faultlines is to finally make them all erupt and end Syria and Iran and radical religious exportation by ALL States. And get a new Peace of Westphalia in place to end this insanity of endless terrorism as acceptable to any Civilized State. The Nation State has been the bulwark of freedom, liberty and hope for all Peoples, even those under totalitarian rule have *hope* to change their system to suit their people better. A World Nation is a fruitless and useless idea and that pernicious concept started by President Wilson must finally die an unmourned death.
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - The Wahabbi clerics have issued a fatwa against Hezbollah and its backers. They are deathly afraid that if the Iranians *win* or gain the upper hand, that they will take over the Persian gulf via the use of threats, intimidation and, finally, nuclear devices. Wahabbist belief DIES under that and it will not give *any* help to Iran. We can expect to see al Qaeda shifting uneasily in Iran, now, as it is eyed with gathering suspicion.
Kurds - After Israel, the most competent military folks are the New Iraqi Army and the Kurdish Militias. This third force is good enough to perform infiltration and dividing attacks, and to be a forceful ground troop when needed. While extremely irregular compared to standard US Armed Forces, they are *just* the force to break Syria into bits. With no love lost between the Kurds and the Syrians and wanting to stop Iranian hegemony, the Kurds could easily be persuaded to shift some autonomous forces into Syria and make the Iraqi Government very unhappy to be dragged into that mess. That, as they say, is how the cookie crumbles. The cookie is Syria.
Egypt - Brought into unexpected play and has made NO announcement regarding its sunken freighter. A visit by Secretary of State Rice to Egypt could signal a new opportunity to finally shift THAT faultline and rupture Syria via supporting an Egyptian invasion into Syria. The Kurds would declare independence with automatic support of their brothers and the US and Syria would no longer be a safe haven nor money and materiel pipeline for insurgents in Iraq. Egypt can now shift the entire Middle East with a bold move. Although they are not up to it, it is amazing to think that the Nation least involved with most of the goings-on in Transnational Terrorism could be the fulcrum for events.
Israel - Has now gained the strategic and tactical advantages over Hezbollah and Hamas. They can finally put an end to *both* with help and backing of the US and a bit of arm twisting by the President and Secretary of State. The actual work NEEDS Syria blocked and in disorder so that Hezbollah loses supply lines and lines of control to Iran. With that and wiping out Hezbollah as a terrorist AND political organization, the Palestinians will be faced with the ongoing ire of Israel and an Army that has just put an end to Hezbollah, Iranian influence and helped keep Syria pinned while someone *else* takes it out. Palestine, now a Nation, needs to surrender as soon as possible and get the best deal they can. The best they can hope for is some minor rump state that is totally disarmed and policed via other Arabs that do not like the Palestinians overmuch. And that is also a faultline that will finally settle over the dreams of Palestine. Make peace or become mass refugees in a new Exodus.