Category Archives: Arab Counterrevoltion

Donald Trump’s Brief Airborne Syrian Fling: My Fatwa for Next Year………

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President Trump has managed to gather some sort of consensus, at least within the media and among politicians, around his brief air-war fling with Syria. As usual in the initial phase of a military action, both parties and the media have managed to praise his action, in some cases for fear of looking unpatriotic or “too outlier” (fear of bullying is not confined to school children).

Soon they will be asking: what next? What? No more? Especially cable media will go through severe withdrawal symptoms, being used to some thirty years of covering (ad nauseam) non-stop foreign wars. Some are already beginning to ask the question. Then the absolute rulers of the allied Muslim countries will push him to support a “democratic” Syria (where power can be shared between the Wahhabi Salafists attached to Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood attached to Turkey’s strongman Erdogan). A claustrophobic democratic experience they would never allow their own peoples to enjoy. Apparently Trump has been listening to the potentates lately, and he seems to be impressed.

My guess? My Fatwa: sometime well before the summer of 2018, Democrats will look back and say that Trump did his Syrian fling in order to divert attention from “other” more pressing “America First” issues he could not handle. The quick disenchantment happened with LBJ, Bush (pere et fils), and perhaps others.

A one-week apparent success (meaning no American casualties) while his foes’ knives are being temporarily hidden. Foreign action trumps domestic failure, but only for a while (just ask George H W Bush who presided over the end of the Soviet Union and a swift American victory in the Persian Gulf War).
The infrastructure will still need to be dealt with, and Trump may soon have some Obama-style stonewalling by the Republican Congress on the required spending. Then there is Healthcare, then a mechanism to keep and create jobs inside the USA, then a mechanism to encourage young people to enroll in STEM education (preferably within the excellent traditional mode of a broad American undergraduate college education that we all enjoyed).

The risk is that America First may become America Later. Looks like George Dubya Bush was right: being US president is a hard job……

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The Real Enemy in Syria: Can Russia Preempt a Policy Shift by Clinton and the Democrat-Neocon Alliance?………..

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American involvement in Syria has been in a ‘trial-and-error’ mode since late spring of 2011.

Early on, the Obama administration took its cue from the Arab tribal kings and princes of the Persian Gulf, who also happen to be very close to the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (all heavy Clinton Foundation donors and all that).
The Wahhabi regimes of Qatar and Saudi Arabia saw an opportunity to spread their own intolerant version of Islamic rule and to deal a blow to a secular but repressive Syrian regime that is an ally of the Iranian mullahs. As they poured money and weapons into Syria, the early uprising shifted into a confessional and sectarian war rather than a fight for democracy as envisioned by some naive Western interventionists. This situation was made worse by the strong promotional campaign waged by the rich and powerful Salafi (and Muslim Brotherhood) movements on the Gulf.

Thus the Syrian uprising of 2011 was doomed from the start as money, weapons, and Salafi volunteers poured in through Turkey and Lebanon and Jordan. All of it from the Gulf region, although soon the Jihadis started flowing in from other Arab countries and then from Europe.


So, the early mantra quickly became: Bashar Al Assad Must Go!
Soon this shifted to a new hopeful mantra: Bashar Al Assad’s Days Are Numbered!
Or, later on: Bashar Al Assad’s Remaining in Damascus is Untenable!

Even the hapless Saudi foreign minister boldly declared (and mimicked by his Qatari counterpart) that: Assad Will Go Either by Diplomatic or Military Means! (Presumably they mean American military means since these two countries don’t have enough forces to occupy one city in Syria)


All this was bought by the U.S foreign policy establishment, especially Secretary Clinton, as inalienable gospel, part of the policy Sharia as preached and taught to the Americans by the meddling kings, princes, and potentates of the Persian Gulf region. Even as the same kings, princes, and potentates were eagerly oppressing and repressing and persecuting their own peoples. Even as they were pouring money into a military coup in Egypt which re-instated the Mubarak regime.


Pressure by some U.S. lawmakers like John McCain and Joe Lieberman (where the hell is he now, by the way) helped nudge the Clinton State Department toward the Gulf position, especially after every visit by these senators to Riyadh, Doha, and Abu Dhabi, none of them known as a bastion of democracy and freedom of expression.

Now Turkey has shifted its position. Initially it was an enabler and conduit of weapons and money and Jihadis into Syria (what I called the Erdogan Trail). But the complex Syrian war spread into Turkey itself. Even as post-coup Erdogan announced a shift in Syrian policy, Turkey has become more involved in Northern Syria. Mainly a result of gains by the Kurdish minority with American help.

Now we know that the Turks have their own Islamist/Jihadist proxies fighting in Northern Syria. All composed of Arab Jihadi fighters.

So:
Iran, Russia, Lebanon and others (including some Iraqis, some Afghanis, etc) are siding with Assad.

Part of the Obama administration is fighting against ISIS and the regime, or thinks it is. This fight is based on Arab Salafist Jihadis.

Part of the Obama administration is siding with the Kurds against ISIS and against other Jihadis. And presumably against the Assad regime.

So, at least two groups that are American supported are fighting each other in Syria.

Saudis and/or Qataris have apparently recently supplied their own favorite Salafi Jihadis with advanced American and other Western weapons. Some of these weapons, like anti-tank or ground-to-air missiles require prior approval by the exporters.

Even as the Assad regime gains ground on some fronts, like the Damascus area and Aleppo, the war becomes more complex and more intractable. Hence it is now almost impossible to structure a political solution that can stop it.

When and if Clinton becomes president, her instinct will be to expand the American military role in Syria (why else do you think all these hawks and Neocons are supporting her?). The media, what is called mainstream American media, are in their 2002 pre-Iraq War mode now. They are heavily “reporting” on regime atrocities, reviving the old WMD stories, talking about the old but now defunct “Red Lines”. The CNN network is now, as it did in 2002-2003, leading the military charge into the morass of Syria. It, and other media, are working to make a new more Americanized war in Syria as publicly acceptable as they did the war in Iraq in 2003. (FYI: the American people have not seen any uncovered Iraqi WMDs, yet).

The Russians probably know all this about the prospects for 2017. They are now solidifying and expanding their presence in Syria, possibly as a means of preempting this expected Clinton policy next year. The Russians and their allies seem to be making it impossible to establish the no-fly zones that are so dear to Democrat hawks, except maybe in the Kurdish regions which border Turkey.

A repetition of Iraq? Possibly a different version of another mistake. But who is the “real enemy” in Syria that seriously threatens the West in its own homeland: in Paris, London, and New York? That is the question that should decide expanded intervention.

Cheers

M.H.Ghuloum

 

On the Gulf: Tribal Statecraft, an Embarrassment of Poor Alliances……..

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Statecraft is not an extended form of tribalism. Its goals are different, so should its tools  Me

Too many international and regional alliances, created at too frantic a pace, are a sure sign of weakness rather than strengthMe

Saudi Arabia has been keeping its military forces active: mostly in doing large military exercises and maneuvers with invited, convinced, and bribed ‘allies’. They have been almost monthly events, all these military exercises, with promising names like Thunder of the North. May as well; given that their real southern war, like the Storm of Determination (the massive war against poor, under-armed Yemen) has failed miserably.

None of the titles given these military exercises and wars are original: they are all plagiarized from the original Desert Storm, the American name for the liberation of Kuwait in 1991 from Iraqi Baathists. As I wrote once before, the Saudi leaders and their minions are rarely, if ever, original.
The Saudis have also been very busy announcing new ‘alliances and pacts’, also on an almost monthly basis. Sometimes even the Arab (and Muslim) countries listed as part of an ‘alliance’ are reported to be surprised. Clearly the Saudis don’t believe that their “allies” need to agree to an alliance, or that they may have legislatures that need to have a say. But they must know that not all Muslim (or Arab) countries are ruled by absolute tribal princes.

The Iranians apparently realize that “alliances” are complicated things, given that they have not had many in recent years. So they seem to take them more seriously. They do, however, try to match the Saudi military exercises with some of their own. They also apparently realize that too many international and regional alliances, created at too frantic a pace, are a sure sign of weakness rather than strength. This last fact is something the Saudi princes don’t seem to understand.

Statecraft is not an extended form of tribalism. Its goals are different, so should its tools.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Obama’s Middle East Doctrine: How Familiarity Bred Contempt……..

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Familiarity breeds contempt……….

The American and Middle East media have made a lot of President Obama’s recent long interview with columnist Jeffrey Goldberg for The Atlantic magazine.

The result has been called the Obama Doctrine. In the series of interviews he complained, correctly, that much of the problems of the Arab states, especially those on the Persian Gulf, are the creation of their ruling elites. He also complained how the princes and potentates (he named Saudi Arabia) have tried to drag the United States into their sectarian campaign, and to drag him into another Gulf war against Iran. The coup de grace for the princes and potentates was his suggestion that they have to ‘share’ the region with Iran. This only further enraged the American neoconservatives, the hawks of both parties who have not heard of a new Muslim war that they did not like or encourage.

Back to Barack Obama. For years Mr. Obama has been facing a three-front war of warmongers: Gulf allies, Israel’s dominant right wingers, and American hawks in the Senate and in some think-tanks. And the lobbyists funding most elected officials. All pressing him to launch a couple of new wars of choice in the Middle East: a big one against Iran and a smaller one in Syria.

I believe that his other problem with some of the above has been partly racial. Not only with some Republican-Tea Party types at home, but also with some Arab leaders and with Netanyahu of Israel. The fact is that these Arab leaders, most of them, are used to dealing with white American leaders. Most of them have deep prejudices, even as they themselves are quite swarthy. A form of nuanced racism that lingers across the Arab world toward foreigners other than Westerners.  These potentates grew up seeing men like Eisenhower, JFK, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, even John Wayne bring order (or mayhem, depending) to countries or to towns like Abilene or Dodge City on the screen. Then suddenly John Wayne of Rio Bravo is replaced with Cleavon Little of Blazing Saddles.

It is partly psychological and partly racial. Suddenly and unexpectedly the leader of the Free World is a guy who looks to them like a neighbor or a cousin, albeit a lot smarter, more cultured, and better looking. How can you expect a Saudi king or prince or a UAE potentate to defer to someone who looks like one of his nephews, or even one of his many black servants who are barely this side of slavery? Well, much better looking and much smarter, but…….

Mr. Obama, on his part, got to know the princes and potentates well over the past years, too well for their good. Inevitably he developed a deep and healthy degree of contempt for them. And who wouldn’t? In that case familiarity was bound to work as the famous saying goes.

To add insult to injury, the failed Arab uprisings of 2011 uncovered how naked the  Arab emperors, the ruling elites, were. From the giant emperors in Cairo and Tripoli and Damascus to the little wee emperors in Sanaa and Manama. For a few glorious weeks the Arab masses pulled off the sheets to show how naked their leaders were underneath.
It was a brief spring that was followed by an even colder winter than ever. That was when the worst of them, the oligarchs, the moneyed kings and princes took over after the protesters were killed, imprisoned, exiled, cowed, or bought. They bought the Arab uprisings, from Egypt to Syria to Yemen. In fact they have bought the whole Arab League, which they now mostly own. With a couple of exceptions plus Tunisia, and Algeria.

Now, like some here in the USA, they can’t wait to go back to dealing with a “real American” leader. One who looks like the previous ones. It would be a great divine justice if they get Bernie Sanders, whom they will dislike for more than one reason and these reasons are all obvious.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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Lebanon Faces an Economic Blockade: the Other Saudi Quagmire………

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The Saudis brought enough pressure, and presumably wrote enough checks, to get most Arab Ministers of Interior at a meeting this week to vote on calling Hezbollah a “terrorist” group. Europeans only consider the military wing of it a sponsor of “terrorism”. Americans are more in line with the Saudis: everything that has anything to do with Hezbollah is terrorist, including its TV network.

This new vote does not create many problem for most Arab states. Most of them take the Saudi or Emirati money and go home. They make the occasional right noises about Hezbollah, but it is too far away and they know its focus is on the periphery of Lebanon, unlike the Wahhabi groups which are global.

But this does create an interesting dilemma for two Arab states: Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s man in Lebanon, former PM Saad Hariri, has said that negotiations with Hezbollah continue. Other politicians of the March 14 (Saudi-financed) movement disavowed that their foe, Hezbollah, is a terrorist group. Otherwise, how can they be seen to negotiate and form a cabinet with Hezbollah (which is also the largest political party in Lebanon)?
Complications for the Lebanese, no?
But complications for the Saudis as well. They have been embroiled in a war against Yemen for a year now. It is war without end, as I could have told them last year, actually I did. I had thought Vietnam proved that the most expensive weapons can’t win a foreign civil war. Apparently that period of history bypassed the princes. The deposed former ‘president’ of Yemen General Hadi Bin Zombie occasionally claims from his Riyadh hotel that Hezbollah agents were arrested in Yemen, he did so again last week. Yet he and his foreign bosses have failed to produce any such arrested Lebanese agents.
The Yemen war is easy to get out of, at some cost of losing face. They can always declare victory in Yemen and pull out. The USA did it in Vietnam, with no lasting negative effect.

Getting out of Lebanon is harder, more complex. Unlike the Houthis of Yemen, Hezbollah is a true ally and beneficiary of Iran. Unlike the Houthis and Iraqis and many Hezbollah members, its chief Hassan Nasrallah himself believes in the theocracy. It is not clear if he means that he believes in it in Iran only or even outside that country. His close Lebanese Christian allies don’t seem to take it seriously, nor do his Lebanese Sunni allies.
Still, giving the Iranian mullahs a black eye in Lebanon is an irresistible goal for the Saudis. It is a goal that seems to be moving farther and farther way from them. The Israelis have failed to do it militarily for them so far, and seem to have given up unless seriously provoked. The Americans, under both George W Bush and Obama, have declined to be drawn into the morass of the warlord-dominated shifting politics of Lebanon.
The Saudis have now persuaded their Persian Gulf allies to impose an economic blockade on Lebanon. It is not original (the Saudis are never original): they probably mean to ratchet it up, like the now-defunct Western blockade of Iran…..

And that is where it stands now………
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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King Quagmire of Arabia and his Prince Harming: One Year Later……..

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“King Salman bin Abdulaziz marks one year in power since becoming the ruler of Saudi Arabia after the death of his half-brother, the late King Abdullah. Salman was crowned as the new King following the death of King Abdullah who passed away on Jan. 23 last year. After his crowning, in a televised speech, King Salman said: “We will continue to hold on to the strong path on which Saudi Arabia has walked on since King Abdulaziz.”……….”

Strong path indeed: I beg to differ, strenuously. Controlled Saudi media have been making a lot of the first anniversary of King Salman’s reign. They always do, for every king.
This one certainly started quite different from the reigns of the three kings that preceded him. While all Saudi kings picked, mostly, their own successors from among their brothers and half brothers, Salman quickly cut to the chase. He appointed his favorite young son Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) as a crown prince to the crown prince. The crown prince himself is his nephew Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef (MBN) who, tellingly, is reported to have no male heirs.
MBS is already acting as almost a king, not even a king in waiting. He is now Minister of Defense, a very lucrative post in Saudi Arabia (and the Gulf). He has also been given a lot of powers over the economy as well. Yet the rival MBN is also powerful: he is minister of interior and controls the police, the religious police, and the domestic security apparatus.

Saudi opposition of its various stripes (Wahhabi and otherwise) claim that MBS is plotting to get rid of cousin MBN while his father the king is alive. That would leave his uncles Prince Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz and Prince Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz as possible blocks in his way.

Yet King Salman’s reign has not gone well, an understatement. The Saudis had earlier started a campaign to reduce crude oil prices with the goal of harming their Iranian and Russian rivals. That was when prices were well above $100 a barrel. They probably thought a price around $100 would be okay for their economy but still harm their regional rivals, and harm the U.S. shale industry. I opined here that this was a stupid policy and could backfire on them. It did backfire, big time, and it may end up harming the Saudis more than their rivals and neighbors. Oil reached down to $100 and kept going down. Now it is around $30, well below what can be considered the Saudi break-even point, reportedly closer to $80-$100. No firming of prices is in sight, give that more Iranian and Iraqi crude will be flowing in the near future.

Then there is the costly quagmire in Yemen, in which some of the most advanced and most lethal Western weapons are being used against lightly-armed opponents. And against unarmed civilian populations. The most advanced Western weapons also happen to be the most expensive weapons in the world to service and replenish. And they need Western logistics and guidance support for targeting. So the Saudi war in Yemen is also a Western war on a party that has never threatened the West, unlike its Wahhabi rivals like AQAP and IS.
It is a war not only against the Houthis and the Yemeni army; it is a war on the painfully-built infrastructure of the poorest Arab country outside Africa. They are stuck in Yemen with no victory in sight, but they have plenty of foreign mercenaries for hire to fight the war, mainly from Sudan, Somalia and from far away places like Colombia and Australia and South Africa. The costly self-inflicted war has come at a bad time for the Saudi budget and people, but the princes always manage to thrive financially.

Then there are the military and diplomatic losses in Syria and Lebanon. I forgot the potential coup de grâce: finalization of the Iran nuclear deal and the lifting of Western sanctions on the mullahs.

Not bad for one year’s work! Long live the king, I think………
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Tahrir Anniversary: Counterrevolutionary Revolutionaries or Revolutionary Counterrevolutionaries?……..

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The fifth anniversary of the start of the Egyptian uprising of 2011 is on January 25. Many Egyptians want to commemorate it, the military regime of Al Sisi is set against it. I read a few tweets from Cairo that clarify the maze of political group-think among certain Egyptian elites.  One of them tweeted, others also expressed similar opinions:

I am a proud supporter of the ‘revolution of January 25 and of the ‘revolution’ of June 30,  2012…….

January 25 mass protests at Tahrir Square led to the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak. June 30 protests were largely financed and engineered by Saudi-UAE and called for the July 3 military coup that returned the military regime of Mubarak to power. Under General Al Sisi (he was promoted to field marshal, promoted by himself).

It is becoming hard to distinguish between revolutionaries and  counterrevolutionaries in the Arab world, especially in the maze of Egyptian non-politics. Shows you the state of the so-calledِ Arab Spring……….

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Anniversary of an Illusion: Arab Revolutions Going All the Way……..

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Revolution: a single complete turn (as of a wheel) <The earth makes one revolution on its axis in 24 hours.> 4 : a sudden, extreme, or complete change (as in manner of living or working) 5 : the overthrow of a ruler or government by violent action.” Merriam-Webster

We are living the anniversary of what used to be called the Arab Spring, or Arab Uprisings, or Arab Revolutions. All misnomers.
Now we (most of us) know that there was no Arab Spring. But this is an old story: we all know what happened and why, but I’ll go ahead anyway.
From the beginning, the cards were stacked against their success. Local military and bureaucratic forces as well as Persian Gulf Arab oil money conspired from the outset to make them fail. Some of the early revolutionaries in places like Egypt and Syria sold out to Saudi, Qatari, and Emirati money.
The rest failed to heed the simple lessons of history:

  • When the American colonists rose against the British monarchy in 1776, they overturned all the institutions of the old state and created their own.
  • When the people of France rose and overthrew the ancien regime in 1789, they had one way to make sure it does not come back. The French revolutionaries managed to talk themselves into overthrowing all the institutions of state, destroyed them and replaced them with new ones.
  • When the Bolsheviks (Communists) rose against the Tsarist feudal regime in Russia, they made sure of the success of the revolution by replacing all institutions of state.
  • The same occurred in China in 1949, in Cuba in 1959, and in Iran in 1979.

Fast forward to the so-called Arab Spring. The Arab uprisings of 2011 failed, all of them, because they did not learn the lessons of the earlier revolutions. A revolution cannot succeed by allying itself with the old institutions of the old regime. Or by relying on repressive foreign regimes for support. The Egyptian “revolutionaries” started their uprising by praising the army of Hosni Mubarak and then by allying with it. They ended up supporting a military coup staged by the same army and financed by repressive Persian Gulf tribal ruling families. The Syrian uprising was quickly bought off by the Saudi princes and Qatari potentates, withe the Turks opening their doors for Jihadists from around the globe to get into Syria (and Iraq). Yemen fell apart, as did Syria and Libya and Tunisia. Bahrain was occupied by Saudi army and security forces, with a British military being established now.

The lesson? If you go revolutionary, go revolutionary all the way. Overthrow the old system, and rebuild a new state with new institutions an new people. Never fear to go all the way. Half-baked revolutions always fail, by definition (my definition).

Of course, the results of a revolution may not turn out as its supporters wish, but…………

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum
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Adieu Sykes-Picot? World War ISIS, World War DAESH………..

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The 1930s saw a complex web of changing European alliances that kept shifting until 1941, when the division of the wartime antagonists took its final shape after the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia and after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
After the Nazi/Fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War, at the sunset of the 1930s, the major Western powers of the time, Britain and France, signed a deal with the devil of the time, Nazi Germany.  That Munich Deal gave up a large chunk of Central Europe to the Nazis and set up the invasion of Poland. Stalin, even more suspicious of the West than they were of him, panicked and decided to make his own Soviet deal with the German devil. Hence the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of  the summer of 1939.
Thus World World Two evolved.

In Syria the alliances have also shifted over time. With the start of the 2011 spring protests, the absolute undemocratic Wahhabi Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf saw opportunities. As did influential Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood groups in these countries. They saw sectarian and strategic opportunities. As did some hawkish but perhaps gullible American politicians (McCain, Lieberman, Graham, Hillary Clinton, etc). They declared that the Assad regime is about to collapse and that they support the “Syrian opposition”. It was like the alliances of the war of 1939-1945: alliances of divergent interests among these mainly foreign groups. The common goal seemed to be to overthrow the Syrian regime, just as they did in Libya, and to bloody the noses of its allies among the dour Iranian mullahs. Then perhaps to fight among themselves over the remains of Syria.

Except that the Wahhabi elements, bolstered with Gulf money, weapons, and Salafi volunteers, soon took over much of the Syrian military opposition in-country. Their efforts were supported by the accommodation provided by the Turkish Islamist regime for Jihadists and weapons flowing through what I have called the Erdogan Trail. The local Iraqi-Syrian offshoot of Al Qaeda split from the original Wahhabi terror group and declared a Caliphate, an Islamic State stretching from west of Al Raqqa to east of Mosul. Other Al Qaeda affiliates and offshoots (Al Nusra, Ahrar Al Sham, Army of Islamic Conquest, a few other “Al”s, etc) took over what remained of the opposition assets and territory inside Syria.

The Western powers stuck to the simple narrative supplied by their Wahhabi allies in Saudi Arabia and Qatar that there is a legitimate Syrian moderate opposition fighting on the ground to overthrow the Al Assad regime and establish ‘democracy’. That these Gulf autocratic kleptocrcies are seeking to establish democracy in Syria, something they deny heir own peoples. But facts on the ground in Syria, and bloody facts in places from Sinai to Paris to Baghdad to Kuwait and Libya and West Africa have proven otherwise. The Western powers are wisely moving away now from the sectarian Syrian narrative as provided by the Wahhabi princes and potentates.

Syria is a mess created by both its regime and the fractious sectarian opposition as well as by Arab and other foreign powers. It needs a solution supported by its people, but not the outcome sought by the neighboring autocrats. That would only replace Sykes-Picot with new sectarian statelets in parts of Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. Even after the inevitable demise of this half-baked Caliphate of ISIS. It may already be too late to save the current shape of Syria and Iraq intact. Islamist Turkey, with its seething ethnic and sectarian divide might be next.
Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

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