Now, as to this “regional civil war” concept. The whole notion tramples on the definition of civil war:
What is going on in the Islamic world is not a “civil war” in a single country, but a religious war spanning many nations, regions, and moreover a religious war that has been going on between the Shia and the Sunni since 632 AD, nearly 1500 years.
Anybody who doesn’t understand this doesn’t – and can’t – understand what is going on in the Islamic middle east, where the two sides in an endless religious war are locked in a deadly battle for political dominance of a region whose only real importance is the ocean of oil upon which it sits.
Iran has been Shia – and the heart of the Shia Muslim world – for nearly 600 years now
. Saudi Arabia – with its Two Holy cities – has been the heart of Sunni Islam since the dawn of Mohammed himself.
You cannot, and must not, disregard this historical fact in any analysis you do of current events in the Islamic Middle East. For instance, take Syria.
If you get your current events commentary from the MSM, you have no idea that all these “democracy” movements did not spring from the earth, pure and yearning for liberty, on their own.
The Muslim Brotherhood, the primary rebel actor in Egypt, is a Sunni organization. However, while Sunni, it regards the current rulers of the Sunni world – the Saudi Royal Family, primarily – as impious, corrupt, and discredited in the eyes of Islam. They view the ruling juntas of Egypt in much the same way – because these rulers resist the full implementation of Islam-as-governance in their nations. What happened in Egypt was more of a civil war, in that it involved political differences (based on religion) engaging in combat in a single nation. The wellspring of the initial revolt in Egypt was the fact that Egypt had become a failed state, unable to feed its own population, which was actually starving in some areas. But the “revolution” was almost immediately hijacked by the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood for its own purposes, which were the usual – the establishment of a true “Islamic Republic,” that is, a repressive, sharia-ordered theocracy opposed not only to the west and modernity, but to the corrupt and impious leadership of Saudi Arabia as well.
Iran viewed all of this with approval, especially the establishment of the Morsi regime, which threatened to be much more of a headache for Saudi Arabia than Iran, at least in the short term.
Then Saudi Arabia struck back, with sub rosa promises and support of the Egyptian military if it staged a coup and removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power. This happened. And so, after eliminating the threat of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Saudis then turned to Syria, the next thorn in their side – and an Iranian surrogate thorn to boot.
Magically, popular “pro-democracy” protests erupted in Syria. Assad struck back with the usual Baathist brutality, and within a few months a full-blown civil was was raging. And at least one element of that war was the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood among the rebels, which Saudi Arabia could not permit to succeed in overthrowing Assad. That, from the Saudi’s POV, would be simply jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Nonetheless, the Syrian civil was was viewed by the Iranians – and rightly so – as a direct threat to them. They responded with aid to the Assad regime, both by providing diplomatic cover and helping to prevent western intervention on the part of the Syrian revolutionaries, and by providing money, arms, and other forms of aid to Assad.
The response to this from Saudi Arabia was to activate the Sunni terror gangs in Iraq – Sunni, to be sure, but not Muslim Brotherhood adherents, and much more beholden to Saudi support. Those who think that the Obama withdrawal adhering to the schedule George Bush negotiated as being the cause of this current Sunni “rebellion” in Iraq are both ignorant and naive. What is actually going on here is great and long-time religious and geo-political enemies wielding various surrogates, new and old, governmental and private, as weapons in their continuing conflict.
Into this inferno, a bonfire lit off by Jimmy Carter’s acquiescence, even encouragement of the deposing of the Shah of Iran, and his spineless response to the hostage taking at our Iranian embassy (which made Iran a huge player in the Middle East almost overnight), America has stumbled and bumbled, because the leadership of the United States seems unable to understand the nature of the millennium-long conflict into which it keeps inserting itself, apparently without any useful strategies or goals, or in fact any coherent understanding of what sort of goals it might reasonably achieve.
So we come to the present. We have Egypt back in the Saudi pocket under a secular dictatorship supported by Sunni oil money. We have Iran about to achieve nuclear weapons, which changes the power calculus in the Middle East to a huge extent. We have an Iranian surrogate government in Syria fighting against a Sunni-instigated and supported rebellion. We have a Sunni-instigated and supported rebellion in Iraq waging war on the Shia governments of Iraq and Syria.
This is not a civil war, it is a regional war. At the moment it is being waged by surrogates of both of the Great Powers in the conflict, but that is the next step: Direct confrontation between those powers. Which is why the issue of Iranian nuclear weapons is so critical. Once they have them, then the Saudis will have to call in their chips and get nukes from Pakistan, which they will be able to do by virtue of having financed the Pakistani nuclear development program.
At that point, we will be looking at a direct religious and geo-political nuclear confrontation between two ruthless and unstable regional powers in the middle east.
It is almost a truism that, while civil wars are nearly the worst, bloodiest sort of wars, they pale into insignificance when compared to the demons released in religious conflicts.
We could have avoided most of this, had we taken the proper steps to protect ourselves and the rest of the world in the wake of 9/11. But for whatever reasons we did not, and now we get to reap the whirlwind.