We have seen in the news a disturbing trend at these hotspots: 1) Boko Haram using deception by pretending to be government soldiers to gain security access to and kill government supporters and soldiers. 2) Syrian Sunni hard-line militants seizing and holding territory both in Syria and Iraq, battling moderate Islamist fighting groups, the Assad regime, YPG Kurdish militias, AND Shiite-dominated Iraqi government forces effectively. 3) The Pakistani Taliban attacking government facilities in major cities without a decisive response. 4) Weak Yemeni, Somali and Kenyan government forces under siege by Shiite Houthi, al-Qaeda, and al Shabaab factions. 5) Mali remains precariously on the verge of more violence. 6) Libya embroiled in infighting between Islamist and secular factions.
Did 13+ years of American war against terrorists create any positive outcomes? Or did the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan unlocked Pandora’s Box and have launched a whole generation of young muslim men and women into a mindset of using harsh religious views and violence to take control of a life that has been hijacked by decades of societal corruption and immobility?
America could not have caused all these conflicts to spiral out of control. In these regions more muslims are fighting against and killing other muslims than they are fighting Westerners or Christians. These wars of ideology over infidelism and warlordism is a matter between the sects of Islam and their world views of modern life, of secular consumerism and populism versus social conservatism and morality. And yet the use of violence have ruptured the communities and silenced the debate over the proper way to live in the muslim world. The lack of economic opportunities have now been eclipsed by a total lack of human safety. The militants and insurgents scream out to fight for human dignity while they detonate indiscriminate bombs and act out punishments according to laws that were created centuries ago before modern human knowledge. They fight, as they say, against injustice of oppression and mass murder by dictators and regimes, yet their answer is a regime of their own ever so cruel and bloody hands.
The Sunni militants are responding to the rise of their Shiite rivals in Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, and in Iraq. The only solution is the establishment of a pan-Arab Sunni Caliphate able and willing to challenge this broad alliance of strong heretics. They see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, and the Gulf States as too comfortable in their wealth and power to face the affront to their beliefs. In fact these regimes tolerated the Shiite bloc and thus have lost legitimacy. But America and the West needs them to have stable energy, which is why these militants hate America and the West. Western capitalism is holding Sunni power back, and have given their religious enemies strength to challenge their claims to supermacy. The struggle for power is about the ability to influence life over a billion muslims. In Pakistan the Taliban is concluding their military conversation with the United States, and soon direct its attention towards both Iran and the Pakistani secular establishment and army.
The United States has realized that the militants have a new enemy they desperately want to fight, more than Western devils oceans away, they see an existential threat in the rise of Shiite states much more than the meddling of a receding superpower. The breakaway of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) from al-Qaeda’s anti-American message and their quick rise to power, their formidable fighting abilities and organization, shows that the genie is out of the bottle. But the threat to global security, thus American and European security, is far more potent now than ever.
Should the Islamic Emirate of the Levant be established both in Syria-Iraqi realm, and the return of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to prominence, Iran will suddenly find itself with Sunni enemies on two of its borders. Their reaction will be to accelerate their development of nuclear weapons. The Saudis may next be toppled, for the Caliphate will seek to overthrow them and take control of the holy lands to further extend their own legitimacy as rightful rulers of Sunni muslims.
Can the Western world endure a massive regional war between the sectarian muslim states and have disruption of their energy supplies? Military interference have already failed to extract positive results, and the expense in treasure and lives have yielded nothing for the United States. American global interests in the Middle East are centered now on preventing the Caliphate from being created, as their Saudi and Israeli allies will be under great threat. But how should America protect its own national interests?
Natural Gas and electric vehicles. If American oil dependency is quickly weened, our dependency on the Saudis will diminish greatly. While European and Asian economies will remain at further risk from the failure of the Saudi and Gulf states, America can seize this opportunity to create markets for our alternative energy options, and so can Russia do the same – to be the providers of energy for Europe and Asia. There is an opportunity for a true era of Russo-American global hegemony through this upheaval.
Let the Muslim sects fight it out. This is a generational and existential conflict that has been long delayed. The religious carnage and possible sectarian genocide is unavoidable and no longer preventable. Unless, the moderate secular muslims take a firmer hand in suppressing the militants, but that only will give rise to more strongmen and dictatorships and bloodshed will occur anyway. Caught up in this is Israel, whose existence will be threatened by a unified and powerful aggressive muslim Caliphate on its border with the military might to do great harm to their population. Israel would have to fight, perhaps even preemptively against both the Hezbollah and Assad regimes first, but then against the militants that would overthrow the kingdoms whom Israel has peace with and acts now as buffer states. It would be interesting to see a Saudi-Egyptian-Israeli-Jordanian alliance form against the Caliphate in the next 20 years. But the Secular States vs Sunni Caliphate vs Shiite bloc would be a destabilizing scenario for global trade, as arms flows and financing would disrupt the peacetime consumption economies and the West and Russia would become arms providers to the warring parties as they already are.
The tipping point is who we will choose sides with. The Americans may end up working with the Taliban forces in Afghanistan, like the former enemies of Germany, Japan, Vietnam have become bitter enemies to friends of common foes. The Taliban, I suspect is attempting to take control of the vast Pakistani military and shift it west against Iran versus against India. The Pakistanis fear this would alter the power dynamic and give India the opportunity to expand at Pakistan’s expense. But the Taliban have a larger prize, an ideological global threat of Shiism rather than a realist threat of India. The Taliban, in my view would rather cede significant territory to India and be able to defeat Iran, than maintain the stalemate with India but lose their global religious dominance to the Shiites. The war for the heart of the muslim world is at hand, and the players better start choosing sides.
So, can the new Islamic Caliphates/Emirates be allowed to form between the fracturing of post-colonial states of Syria-Iraq, and in Afghanistan-Pakistan? The West’s long term objectives must be forward thinking, for the intensity and ferocity of this conflict, whether it becomes a limited nuclear war, must be considered before we “get out of the way” and look from the sidelines. Islamic militancy will always be a double-edged sword. The majority of muslims are young and of fighting age. Their economic opportunities are crippled by corruption and poverty. They have the motivation and desperation to seek purpose through struggle, and while the West concerns itself with a new Cold War in the Ukraine where hundreds of lives are lost, within 20 years, tens of millions of lives may be lost in the outbreak of the “Great Islamic War/Jihad” of the 21st Century. Imagine fighters from Malaysia, Indonesia, West Africa, Central Asia all sending armies of fighters into this conflagration, and the global impact against non-muslims in the aftermath.
If the West wish to avoid this dire prediction I have laid out here, and not get caught up any further in the resentment or violence against Western interference in their religious and social affairs, then only helping the secularists in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and Israel consolidate and expand their peaceful development is the only way to show these other muslims that their violence is leaving their families in worse shape than necessary. Establishment of a secular counterweight to the Caliphate, such as a stronger Kurdistan will also minimize the spread of the impending conflict. Turkey will need Kurdistan as a buffer state, and Kurdistan needs this conflict to redraw the border with Iran so it is in their best interests to become stronger through Turkey and the YPG controlled Syrian territories. This arrangement will pit the Caliphate against Iran and its allies only, and channel the war and keep the damage from spreading all over the world. When the dust settles, when enough blood is shed and the killings done, there may be peace in the land for good. The militants must first have their fill of jihad. If not there, they will seek out enemies against all over the world.
The realist argument says: Why not there, rather than here? If it cannot be stopped, at least let it be managed.