Countries Drawn Up on a Bar Napkin
The Treaty of Paris, 1919.
After much contested and intense deliberation, the resolution of how the peace would be applied to Europe post-WWI was decided. Labored and protracted, the deliberations wore down the triad of David Lloyd George (United Kingdom), Woodrow Wilson (United States) , and Georges Clemenceau (France).
What remained was how to divvy up the Middle East. Haste made waste, as this issue of the Ottoman Empire and the Mid East was clearly secondary, and thus received attention to that degree from fatigued diplomats. Countries were constructed with insufficient regard for religious affiliation. Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds were lumped together, while oil-plentiful regions and access to shipping ports were given high priority. The great divider/unifier, religion, seemed to not carry enough weight. The future of Libya, Syria, Kuwait, Iraq, and other nations was held in the hands of the war-weary and deliberation-fatigued powers.
Today it is becoming abundantly clear that the Mid East is a kettle of fish, and those fish are religious affiliations that are centuries old. The forced and tortured borders from the Treaty of Paris, those that carved up the Mid East, have proven spurious.
The present conflicts in Syria and Iraq can be boiled down to religious differences and affiliations that are 1,400 years old. So be it, and apparently it will be ever thus. For far be it from the interests of the United States of America to risk blood and purse to blend what apparently is water and oil in that region of the world.
Countries drawn up on the “bar napkin” back in 1919 survived mostly at the hand of dictatorial power. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni but ruled over a nation mostly of Shias.
Iraq went to war against Iran, who was also predominantly Shia. ISIS is a Sunni militant group making war against the Iraqi government which is essentially Shia. Iran enters to defend those Shias. (Putin used the same age-old excuse to defend Russians in Ukraine.)
The borders of Iraq and Syria were falsely drawn and ineffectual. They survived only to this day by harsh rule and Euro/U.S. interventions.
This kettle of fish has never been a place where the United States should take a stand. Nation-building in this area of the world is an even worse idea than normal. Nation-building worked after WWII in Europe, but it has never had traction in the Mid East.
Obama is correct to stay disengaged and at arm's length. And even Joe Biden brushed up against the “broken clock is right twice a day” metaphor when he suggested that there be divisions of Shiites and Sunnis. The hard part there is “who gets what?” That may require a determination outside the bounds of diplomacy. We do not have the power to cure the problem, whatever that might be, in this corner of the world. Stay out, and rue the day we ever went in, other than to punish those who damaged us.
Now there sits our embassy in Baghdad. Obama’s disregard for what may be a much larger “Benghazi” situation is glaring. Off to fundraisers he goes, as our embassy in Baghdad wonders, “Will we get cover?”