We don’t seem to have an end game and that is the problem. So, let’s start out right off the bat with; what should be our endgame? Iran! Iran and the Shiites vs. the Saudi’s and the Sunnis is what should be the “big picture” for us to plan for. But we seemingly, under Mr. Obama’s direction, do not seem to be focused there. I think we are playing a dangerous game in the Middle East in any event without an end game. While it is commendable to see democracy flourish in an area of the world that in many cases is in the middle ages for all practical purposes, we must also pursue that which is ultimately in our national interest.
According to NPR, the Shias are a minority and comprise up to 15% of the world’s Muslim population. They are concentrated mainly in Iran, southern Iraq and Lebanon. The original split was a violent one, occurring after the death of Mohammed in 632 AD and centered on who was to succeed him. The Shia believed that the successor should come from the family of Mohammed, thus his cousin Ali and the Sunnis believed the successor should be decided upon by the Muslim population. The Sunnis won the day and chose the successor who was to become the successor and Caliph of the first Caliphate. Ali was chosen down the line and became the 4th Caliph, but soon thereafter, the first of several wars erupted between the Sunni and Shia and they would never again unite as a singular religion.
It is my belief that not all of the current uprisings are over democracy. Bahrain is about today’s potential battleground between Sunni and Shia. If anything blows, it will be a civil war, which not only has been fought before in the Middle East, but Bahrain will be the “Arch Duke Ferdinand” for this war (The spark that set off WWI). The protesters are universally Shiites, who represent approximately 60% of the population. If it does blow, the Saudis are already there with troops and the Iranians, are cackling like crows, egging on the Shia in Bahrain to take it to the streets. The problem here is that if Bahrain does blow up I can see Iran jumping in the fray “to protect their fellow Shia”. They can look forward to the same doctrine Obama honored, and thus de facto ratified, claiming that their right to do so stems from the UN “Responsibility to Protest” doctrine that allowed us to bomb Libya.
Contrary to the administration policy on Libya that country is important to our strategic interests and hopefully that is why we are there, but I doubt Obama factored that in. His dithering was a clear sign of a guy over his head. After all, Libya is not the streets of Chicago. Libya is important to the U.S. strategically for the following reasons:
1: All eyes in the Middle East are watching our moves and then gauging their own policies against what they see us do and how we react. It is like a chess game and we need to be playing it many moves ahead.
2: We need to have a game plan to include, should push come to shove, knowing which side we are on. It clearly must be the Sunni’s as they represent 85% of the Moslem population in the world.
3: Most of the oil in the Middle East is in Sunni hands (although with surrounding populations in those towns, mostly Shia).
4: Iran is the sworn enemy of the west, sworn to destroy Israel and a rogue nation who is meddling to no good end everywhere it can.
What should we do about “boots on the ground”? Well let’s hope that Gaddafi’s forces are true to form and they will cut and run once they are attacked. But what if not, then I believe we should encourage our Arab and Western allies to install “boots on the ground” and let them do the dirty work for once. Where we do need to have “boots on the ground” and right away, is Benghazi. Those boots need to be advisers and consults from the U.S. rather than attack forces, in order to first clarify the intentions of the people fighting Gaddafi and then if we are satisfied that we are not building a bigger threat down the road, advise these groups on how to establish a new government and run it, as for forty years, they were not allowed to participate in government and will lack sufficient expertise.
We need also to step up to the plate and formally recognize this new Libyan government, as the only legitimate one in the country and reasonably arm them so they can fight their own fight. We need to do so for all the right reasons, but also because this is a Sunni nation and we want them as a friend of America and not a foe. Despite our recently past relations with Gaddafi, this dog was never our friend.
The bottom line is we need to keep our eye on the ball and plan our end game so that we are prepared to deal with the ultimate issue of the area and that is the potential flame of an area wide war or worse, whether ignited in Bahrain or elsewhere in the Middle East. Right now we need a Chess Master such as Fisher or Kasparov in our administration, as the strategies required will be complex to say the least.