“Ultimately, strategy is about getting more out of a situation than the starting balance of power would suggest, i.e. creating power. In essence, leaving aside major technological innovation, that means inducing others to pull with, rather than against the West. The choices Western leaders face will not be easy, apparent or costless. The crafting of what might be genuinely considered a grand strategy for the Middle East, i.e. one which all the major state powers support would be momentous. Such a strategy would not only require political dexterity on the part of Western leaders few if any have demonstrated, it would also require nothing short than a twenty-first century Marshall Plan for the Middle East”.
The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons
William Hopkinson and Julian Lindley-French
Alphen, Netherlands. 9 January. It is my pleasure to announce this week’s publication of my new book The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons (London: Routledge) which is, of course, brilliant and very reasonably-priced. Co-written with former senior British practitioner William Hopkinson, with a powerful foreword by General John Allen, President Obama’s former Special Envoy, the book places the current conflict in Syria in its regional-strategic and geopolitical context.
Central to the thesis is that the instability of the Middle East is as much due to interference by outside mainly western powers as inept, incompetent, and corrupt leaders in the region. The essential mission of the book is to consider what if anything the ‘West’ should do to reduce the threat the Middle East poses to itself and to others. The book examines a century of Western policy failure in the region beginning with the 1916 Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Accord.
To reinforce that narrative the book places the current struggle in Syria and Iraq in its regional-strategic and geopolitical context. The ‘demons’ are the many often small criminal and terrorist groups in the region seeking local or regional dominance. Al Qaeda and Islamic State are a relatively new phenomenon that bestride the distinction between local, regional and geopolitical with roots deep in both Sunni society and yet with systemic ambitions. As such they are the nexus between terror and geopolitics.
The dragons are the states. Even as weak states in the region struggle to survive there is also a regional-strategic struggle underway for supremacy in the Middle East between an Iranian-led grouping, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. On the surface the struggle appears to reflect the confessional divide between Sunni and Shia, but it is driven as much by Realpolitik calculations as questions of faith. The future of Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, is central to that struggle. A general Middle Eastern war cannot be ruled out, in which modern destructive technologies would be used to devastating effect.
The failed West has much to answer for. A central contention of the book is that for the first time in a century of by and large policy bungling policy the ‘West’ is now in retreat both in and from the region. This has enabled outside powers such as Russia, and to a lesser extent China, to exploit the vacuum left by a retreating West. Today, the influence of both Americans and Europeans is at a low ebb in the region. Consequently, Europe in particular has become prey for many of the anti-Western forces the region is spawning.
The retreat of the West from the Middle East has many facets. Americans and Europeans do not agree over policy or strategy, and neither are prepared to commit the resources or possibly the forces needed to change the situation on the ground. Europe is itself in full-scale retreat from geopolitics for the first time in four hundred years willing neither to defend nor secure itself, nor engage in a region strategically vital to its own security beyond iterative, gesture-prone ‘investments’. And yet, for all the West’s many failures in the region the consequent policy and strategic vacuum is not only making the Middle East more dangerous, but has led to the loss of Turkey. Turkey remains a vital actor in the region as it has been for centuries.
Ultimately, the struggle in and for the Middle East is as ever about power - big power, who has it, who does not, who can apply it and how. Therefore, the book concludes with a warning. Whilst the West is certainly part of the many problems in the region, it is also vital to any possible conflict resolution. However, any such resolution would require such policy cohesion and consistency over time and space that it would look like the kind of grand strategy not seen since the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Europe in the wake of World War Two.
First and foremost, ‘The Plan’ would need to be established on a series of diplomatic partnerships in which Americans and Europeans work together with key powers in the region to help ease the many grievances that drive the many and merged conflicts across the region. Moreover, for such a plan to work an accommodation would need to be sought with Russia and Iran, or if they prove irreconcilable, they would need to be faced down. However, no ‘intervention’ could possibly work until the terror the Middle East is spawning has been contained and over time reduced.
The book concludes by exploring four policy options all of which are stark: do nothing; organise serious humanitarian action and support; undertake serious military interventions to defeat Islamic State and impose a solution on Syria; or undertake serious military and other interventions to reshape the region. None of the above are attractive and no ‘success’ could be guaranteed. However, unless the West is willing to seriously re-engage in the region using all possible means and forms of engagement then not only will the people of the Middle East continue to suffer, but Europe and the wider world will have to face the many consequences of the interaction between the new terrorism and the new geopolitics for which the region is the terrifying cauldron.
The New Geopolitics of Terror: Demons and Dragons.