|Dr. Jonathan Spyer|
Islamic State and the incoherence of Western policy - Jonathan Spyer, PhD
This war has come about because of some fundamental and unresolved problems inherent in the creation of the states of Iraq and Syria. Neither are historic entities. Both were carved out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire by the British and French. Disparate and incompatible populations were contained within their borders.
Once the conflict is understood in this way, its cross-border dynamics become clearer and more predictable, and the role of the West also becomes clear. Most importantly – in the core Sunni-Shia war, the West has no ally.
The Shia bloc constitutes the most powerful anti-Western alliance currently in existence in the Middle East. Among the Sunni Arabs, meanwhile, are some of the most floridly brutal organisations ever to have emerged anywhere – such as ISIS – as well as others who rank among the most ineffectual. The victory of either camp would not constitute progress in any form for the people living in the states in question.
Rather, a Western policy which seeks to mobilise allies to contain both forms of political Islam would be prudent. This would involve support for the states and entities surrounding the arena of the war – including Israel, Jordan, the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq and the Kurds of Syria.
Such a policy is unlikely to emerge until policy-makers have a clear picture of the dynamics at work. The Middle East is currently in the midst of a historic process, in which rival versions of political Islam are battling over the ruins of the post-war regional order. The outcome is not yet clear. The task is to reduce and contain the damage.