It has been almost five years since the Arab Spring spread to Syria and evolved into the current civil war. With more than 250,000 dead, millions displaced, and a new terrorist regime gaining strength in the region, it is clear that the time has come for the world to take action. The US cannot and should not stand by on the sidelines any longer. Terrorist groups such as ISIS have emerged and are attacking (either directly or via inspiring others) Paris, Brussels, California, Russia, and Egypt (not to mention embarking on the beheading of journalists from all reaches of the globe including China). Other terrorist groups such as Al Nusra, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda are using the Syrian battleground to recruit new jihadis and gain invaluable experience which will only help them in their ultimate cause to attack the West and in particular the US.
I offer one (albeit imperfect) solution: redraw the maps of the Middle East (and in particular, those of Syria and Iraq). The current geopolitical framework in the region is the by-product of the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement made by Western powers (in particular France and the UK) during WWI. The West knew that the Ottoman Empire (whom controlled the vast majority of the Middle East) was crumbling and a power vacuum would ensue. The powers opted to divvy up the remains of the Ottoman Empire into their own spheres of influence. These new maps were drawn to benefit France and the UK, and did not take into consideration the interests of the facts on the ground. Ethnic groups who had lived a more tribal lifestyle with their own interests and ideologies were forced to live side-by-side with warring tribes, competing groups, and become subjected to Western philosophical notions of nationalism and statehood. We can see the by-product of this experience today in the Middle East and Africa.
As ISIS is attacking virtually every world power from all different parts of the world, there is a very unique opportunity for the world to unite against a common enemy. The US as a superpower should not be responsible for policing the world, however, as the US is the largest military and economic force the world has ever known, President Obama has a fundamental duty to use America’s unprecedented soft and hard power to strive for global stability and peace. For the first time in recent history, the US has the opportunity to join forces with its traditional NATO and European allies as well non-traditional partner states such as Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and other Sunni states and Shiite states to defeat a common enemy and bring about a more peaceful and stable status-quo.
This would not be easy to accomplish but it is possible, as was seen with President Bush Sr.’s response to the Gulf War. As part of a peace settlement, world powers should strive to redraw the maps of Syria and Iraq based upon the ethnic, tribal, religious, and cultural factors on the ground. Such an initiative should therefore be conducted in concert with legitimate representatives of these groups, and should not be imposed on them, but should be negotiated with them. The Kurds and Palestinians have long strived for statehood and it would not be unreasonable for portions of Syria and Iraq to be divided into a Kurdish and Palestinian state. Sunnis and Shiites have of course been warring for centuries in this region, and they would greatly benefit by being allocated their own separate territories. Yazidis and other Christian groups in the region have been horribly persecuted against and they too should be able to receive their own independent state should they wish.
This is just one example of how the land could be divided. The only remaining question would be that of the fate of Assad. While the argument can be made about uniting the world against ISIS, it is highly unlikely that Russia would support such a proposal if her interests in the region are ignored. Therefore, perhaps an Alawite state under Assad’s leadership might be the bitter pill the West would have to swallow. If this however means that one of the most brutal conflicts from the region finally comes to end, this might be justified, so long as the population on the ground would agree to continue to live under Assad’s rule (an unlikely event of course). Another option would be for Assad to step down in favour of a new Alawite leader that is supported by his people and Russia.
Such a scenario is not perfect, but it is clear that the status-quo has to change. The region is becoming more destabilized, and terrorist groups are now directly targeting Western targets including the US. While the US led airstrike campaign in Syria is taking an affect on ISIS, recent reports suggest that ISIS’s influence is growing around the world such as in Egypt and Libya and in the West. It is time for the world to take real action and come to terms that the political under-dealings of a century ago need to be rectified.