Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Should the USA Push To Partition Syria?

For the last five years, the country of Syria has not really existed.  Instead, there have been zones including one controlled by the Shiite/Alawaite ethnic group with Assad as its leader, one controlled by the Sunni terrorists of ISIS, one controlled by the ethnic Kurds (who are also Sunni Muslims), one controlled by the non-ISIS Sunni rebels, and some other small areas that have no clear control.  The shifting size and shape of these zones is the major legacy of the civil war that has raged all this time.  Some time in the next year, the ISIS zone ought to be completely overrun, and the terrorists relegated to hit and run attacks that will kill and maim people but not give ISIS any territorial control.  At that point, will the three zones reunify into Syria once more?  The simple answer to this question is a big NO.

The Kurds have been trying for the last century to get a country of their own.  They are the largest ethnic group in the region which has been denied a country.  Kurds are a major minority in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.  If the Kurdish regions of those countries were to join together, Kurdistan would be a major power in the region.  It would also most likely be a friend of the USA as the Kurds have been for the last fifty years.  Now that the Kurds rule a significant chunk of Iraq and Syria, it is hard to imagine the group giving up that control.

The Alawaites in Syria have ruled for nearly the last fifty years.  The Assad family led this small group which has only about one-eighth of the population into total rule over the majority Sunni population (roughly three-quarters of the people.)  The Alawaites will want to keep their control, but absent ongoing support from Russian and Iranian troops, there is no way that the Alawaites can retain much of the country other than parts of the Mediterranean coast.  If the Alawaites continue to assert control over the Sunnis, a continuation of the civil war is inevitable.

The Sunnis in Syria are the overwhelming majority, and they have pushed through the civil war to regain control of their homeland.  Nothing short of Sunni control is going to satisfy this group.  These people have seen nearly a half million of their fellow Sunnis murdered by the Assad regime, and they have watched millions be made into homeless refugees.  They want peace, but they also want to control their own destiny.

Partition of Syria into three regions would solve much of this problem.  The Kurds could have the northeastern region near Turkey where they already are in control.  The Alawaites could have parts of the Mediterranean coastal region.  The Sunnis could have the remaining portion of the country.  It is a recipe for a lasting peace.  It would also, most likely, lead to a migration of each group into its own area, thereby greatly reducing ethnic and religious strife.

The problem with this plan would be convincing each group to accept it.  The Assad regime used to control the entire country, and it would be loathe to give up the dream of reestablishing such control.  Were Russia to promote such a partition, however, it would leave Assad without an ally of major importance.  Russia would likely be satisfied so long as the port of Latakia (where Russia has a naval base) and the region around the Russian air base remain in Shiite/Assad control.

On the other hand, Iran would likely fight against this plan.  The Iranians want a road between Iran and Lebanon that they totally control.  If the Sunnis took control of the eastern three quarters of Syria, they would be hostile to Iran and would thwart the Iranians goals.  If Russia stayed neutral, Iran would be likely to carry the burden of supporting Assad alone.  On the other hand, were the Russians to push for partition, the Iranians would not likely be able to keep the Assad regime in power.

Other regional players would also have strong views on this plan.  Turkey would like to see a Sunni nation to its south, but it would find the establishment of a Kurdish country intolerable.  The Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians would all be very happy to see the Iranians kept from establishing their land bridge to Lebanon.  Israel would also be happy to see a partitioned Syria with none of the pieces having the strength of the whole and with Iran being denied its land bridge.

From an American perspective, partition would be a good result.  It would weaken Iran.  It would remove a flash point with Russia.  It would reward the Kurds who have been our most faithful Muslim allies in the region for decades.  It would also create conditions under which radical Islamic terrorism is least likely to flourish or grow.

Hopefully, our State Department is contemplating this problem.  It will not be a simple matter to achieve, but it is worth the effort.

No comments: