A modest proposal to end the Syrian civil war and destroy the Islamic State

And modest, of course, it will be, involving cooperation on a scale not seen since World War II.  But to genuinely destroy the Islamic State and end the regional crisis that fuels it, one must think big.

Diplomacy has been tried in the past, but diplomacy tends to fail when equally matched powers are unwilling to give ground.  For all intents and purposes, every force within the Middle East is capable only of influencing and protecting portions of the region; even the United States has proven unable to impose a solution.  This has produced a stalemate, and between the partitioned spheres of influence these outside forces have left no-man’s-lands. Within those no-man’s-lands, predictably, the madmen are king.

Now, in the wake of Paris and the downing of a Russian airliner, geopolitical forces are converging that may well make international cooperation possible.

And if the great powers are serious, this is one plan they may consider.

  • The region cannot become stable if all sides insist on morality and justice before peace; in order to achieve a lasting truce, many war criminals must go free.
  • The Armageddon-haunted relationship between the United States and Russia must be leveraged to the hilt, since both sides know that to fail could well mean a nuclear war.
  • Meanwhile, virtually every power in the region must be forced to act responsibly, with some, like Iran, giving up influence, while others, like the Gulf states, forced to take on more responsibility, and still others, like Turkey, forced to do nothing.
  • Finally, while the Islamic State may readily be defeated on the ground, its ideology can only be destroyed by reforming Sunni Islam, starting with reestablishing the office of caliph in a way that would closely mirror that of the modern pope.

So, step 1: Understand peace is more important than justice.

The Balkan Wars, not World War II, is the model to follow here.  There, in the 1990s, outside powers were willing to make deals with many a devil to establish a cease fire and then a permanent peace.  It’s been remarkably successful: Bosnia has seen no new killing fields.  That’s partially because elites at the time with blood on their hands felt they could stop fighting and survive.

Messy, but Bosnia is at peace.

For Syria, this means accepting the Assad regime, if not Assad himself, for the short and medium term.  Other rebel groups, as well as Shi’a militias in Iraq, will also enjoy impunity in exchange for peace.  To have credible threats of war crimes trials hanging over the head of any given faction – minus the Islamic State, who is a special exception – will only cause that faction to fight to the death, with their foreign backers supporting them along the way.

Only the Islamic State, with its total absence of allies, can be wiped off the map: everyone else, with the debatable exception of al-Qaeda’s affiliate, has powerful backers that won’t let them die off readily.

Step 2: Realpolitik between Russia and the United States.

Key to a permanent solution will be the two former Cold War rivals.  The U.S. will have to reconcile that only it has the power and influence to impose a peace on the Sunni rebellion and to destroy the Islamic State.  Loath though the U.S. to fight yet another Middle Eastern ground war, the alternative is a forever festering Islamic State willing to strike the U.S. itself.

But with Russian forces in Syria, it cannot hope to occupy the whole country; all the better, since that’s not a good idea.  Rather, the U.S. will accept Moscow as the guarantor of Assad-ruled Syria, with the U.S. given responsibility for the rebel Sunni hinterlands.

In exchange, Russia must ditch the notion that it can trade cooperation in Syria for control of eastern Ukraine.  As the bombing of its airliner shows, it has a direct stake in destroying the Islamic State, too.  Syria is no longer a pawn on its chessboard, but is a new metaphor entirely: an Islamist zombie slowly lumbering to Moscow.

NATO Operation Joint Guardian
Russian and American troops in Kosovo understanding that to shoot one another is to cause nuclear annihilation.

Once done, the two will have to leverage the incredibly dangerous nature of their relationship to impose a realist-based solution.  Both already know full well that to cross one another’s paths could spiral to a nuclear war.  That knowledge keeps Russia troops from shooting American ones and vice versa; as cease fire lines are established and Syria is informally split up, Russia and American troops must solidify anywhere where the demarcation lines are unclear. They will have the weight of Armageddon upon their shoulders to make them behave.

Step 3:  Russia and America must rein in their allies.

Russia must force Assad, Iran, and Hezbollah to cease offensives.  While Russia doesn’t have the influence with Tehran that it does with Assad, Iran will be more likely to go along with such a plan knowing that the Assad regime will remain in power for some time to come, and that to resist could alienate Russia.

To keep the peace, America must ensure its Gulf allies starve any recalcitrant rebels of supplies.  During the interim before a formal cease fire was signed, the Assadists and Russians might be allowed to strike back at any bitter-enders along the front lines, but that’s only until the next step was completed.

Step 4: America and its Sunni Arab allies go on the offensive against the Islamic State.

The ideal of using the Kurds is great, except that the Islamic State is Sunni Arab, and the Kurds are not ready to occupy Arab territory.  Instead, a combined force of Egyptian, Jordanian, and Gulf Arab troops will sweep into Syria into designated zones.  While limited Russian forces stiffen the Assad lines, the other coalition will have free reign to move into the rest of Syria and Iraq.  Each force would be backed by U.S. airpower and special forces; if necessary, regular U.S. units would be on the frontline.

Since the Islamic State is a weak conventional force, such an invasion would rapidly roll on Raqqa and annihilate IS as a territorial force.  That would be a huge blow to its ideology; the Kingdom of God that cannot defeat infidels in the open would look all the more bankrupt.

Islamic State forces are well-organized but badly equipped; against a modern army, they will lose.

It would be key that captured territory not be occupied by Kurds or Americans.  Instead, America’s Sunni allies, led by the Gulf states, would keep the peace; the UAE’s forces, for example, have a good track record of peacekeeping in Afghanistan.  Jordan and the Gulf states would be the best choices: many of those soldiers are still tribal and have links to the very tribes now supporting the Islamic State.  They’ll be able to cut deals of much better use than a UN or NATO-led force; its to them that the job of occupation should fall, with the U.S. providing the firepower to win battles but not occupy towns.

Instead, U.S. troops would, in small numbers, be deployed to friendly Free Syrian Army towns that might be shelled by a cheating Assad.  With U.S. troops in harm’s way, the stakes would be much, much higher, and Assad much less likely to try to use last-minute violence to change the game in his favor.  The Russians would have incentive to keep him and his supporters under control; should they prove uncontrollable, Russian troops could replace them on said frontlines.

The alliance would rapidly converge on Raqqa and drive the Islamic State underground, with U.S. forces withdrawing to avoid an anti-American insurgency and Arab troops patrolling the newly conquered territory.  Since none of these Arab forces come from democracies, they’d also be able to limit the movements of journalists; that’d be key to avoid yet another round of rebellion, since U.S. missteps, widely reported in both Iraq and the U.S., fueled the insurgency during the American occupation.

Step 5: Redraw the map without redrawing the map.

Much fear is involved in recognizing that both Iraq and Syria don’t work.  But the Bosnian formula found a way to get around that: federate broken states.

With the Islamic State driven underground, both Iraq and Syria would have to be heavily federalized.  Syria would be split into an Assad-run rump protected and guaranteed by Russian power; a Sunni Arab autonomous republic made up of occupied Islamic State territory and what remains of the FSA guaranteed by the U.S. and its Sunni Arab allies; and a Kurdish autonomous republic that would still technically remain part of Syria and would not be allowed to merge with Iraqi Kurdistan.

The plan for Iraq and Syria is relatively solid, though the actual borders will be a lot messier.  (Source: Geocurrents.org)

Iraq would also be broken up three ways: an Iraqi Sunni republic and a Kurdish republic in the north would have vast autonomy from a Shi’a-led central government in Baghdad.  In Iraq, the autonomous republics would be protected by the U.S. and the Sunni Arab alliance.

Iran could be given a sop in Syria; limited Iranian troops could protect Shi’a holy sites and pilgrims.

Turkey would be kept out of the whole affair: instead, Turkey would clamp down on its borders and stop the flow of fighters to the frontlines.  Turkey couldn’t be trusted not to fight with Kurds, nor, long term, can Turkey be trusted not to try to subvert both Syria and Iraq back under its influence.  Instead, Turkish power would remain in Anatolia.

Step 6: Address the need to reform Sunni Islam.

A major hurdle to reforming Sunni Islam, and thereby ending jihadism, is that there has been no central Sunni religious authority since the caliphate was abolished by the Turks in the 1920s.  This has allowed any idiot with a microphone (and today a webcam) to claim religious authority over all Sunni Muslims.

So after destroying the Islamic State and driving it underground, a new caliphate must be established, elected by the Sunni ulema.  Thankfully, Sunni tradition keeps the election of the caliphate relatively democratic.  In a neutral city (Tunis comes to mind), Sunni scholars could converge to elect a new Sunni caliph.  Representation would have to be worked out, but population proportion seems to make the most sense; that would also guarantee that the Saudis, whose poisonous brand of Islam gave birth to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, wouldn’t have undue influence.

After, the caliphate would need to be given their own Vatican City: a city-state where the caliph would be free to focus on religious rather than temporal politics, but would be grounded by the management of a city-state enough to avoid radicalizing.  The city that makes the most sense is Mecca: Saudi Arabia is awful at managing it, and Mecca is too important to Islam to leave to such wretched authority.  Saudi Arabia will hate that, but by the time a caliph is chosen, the House of Saud may be so unstable it won’t have much of a choice anyway.

That city-state would be protected in the near-term by UN peacekeepers staffed by Muslim troops from around the world.  A joint Russian-American force could also be utilized if absolutely necessary, but because of the sensitivity of the holy city, Muslim UN peacekeepers would be best.

An independent Mecca ruled by a ulema elected caliph would do almost everyone massive favors (minus the Saudis, but who cares what they think).  (Source: Telegraph.co.uk)

This caliphate would moderate Sunni Islam over time by providing a central religious authority to sort out the many messy issues regarding doctrine.  Rejectionists would exist, of course: they have since the beginning of Islam.  But a caliph free to speak their mind and guarded by the UN would have more religious authority to combat extremism.

And should a caliph ever be an extremist themselves, removing them wouldn’t be difficult.

Not particularly modest, but perhaps workable.

Rapid geopolitical conditions are converging that will force everyone to recognize their current strategies of attrition aren’t working.  The Islamic State is far too dangerous to allow territory; it must be destroyed sooner rather than later.  This will require cooperation unseen since 1945; that may bode well for the rest of the world, since a rapprochement between Russia and America is in everyone’s interests.

While China, India, and other major powers might volunteer power, none of them are necessary to the success of said venture: simply having them vote favorably in the UN would be enough.

But most of all, the world must aid the reformation of Sunni Islam.  It cannot wait until Islam suddenly becomes unfashionable, as Christianity has in Europe; instead, it must work with what’s there, and Sunni Muslims need a central voice to guide them out of the darkness of Qutbism.

So, what do we think?  Find holes and let’s plug them together.

A proposal must be open to criticism: have at them in the comments.




17 thoughts on “A modest proposal to end the Syrian civil war and destroy the Islamic State

  1. Lovely ideas; but the bastardized Arabic in the heading image bothers the hell out of me, so I’ve made a corrected version for you: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-0gc1vf4A8VMURrVFAtRGwyX0U/view?usp=sharing

    1. British,American,French and Russian bastards like to draw maps, bomb innocent people and kill millions in the act of committing common robbery. Oil is cheaper now as most of it has been stolen. The idiot writing the above bullshit is an arrogant bastard and I wish him a painful death in common with the million people killed in Iraq. The bloodshed and mayhem caused by the US and Britain in the Middle East is never shown on their channels, but Wikileaks opened the eyes of many people to the sadistic,perverted killings that these bastards are responsible for.

      1. You seem to think that only British, American, French and Russians do such things, and would do such things. The powerful always take what they want; that’s the nature of having countries. If you don’t like the situation, I’d recommend working to get rid of countries rather than thinking you can find a moral one among them.

        I also assure you, people are fully aware of the damage the U.S. has caused in the Middle East. This is a key reason why Americans are quite hesitant to use any of their power to fight the Islamic State; the belief is they will only make the situation worse.

        That being said, let’s not pretend that the bad guys on the ground in the Middle East were invented by the West. They are merely taking advantage of the chaos.

        Moreover, Syria is an Arab problem, created by Arabs, and most likely to be solved by Turks and Iranians.

  2. Pingback: Modest Proposal to End Syria’s Civil War, Destroy Islamic State | Atlantic Sentinel
  3. Interesting ideas especially with reforming Sunni Islam. However, I wonder whether electing a puppet Caliph will do the trick since the office is traditionally associated with political power over the Muslim “dominion”. Also, I doubt the zealots in Saudi (and I don’t mean the royals) will agree to give up Mecca anytime soon as they might read it as an American plot.
    I would stop at forming a legitimate fatwa issuing council of Ulema based in Medina – initial capital of Islam and slightly less sensitive.
    After that, I would seriously work on solving the Palestinian – Israeli conflict. Jerusalem is equally as holy to the Muslims and it is to the Christians and Jews. The concept of suicide bombing probably started with the Palestinians. People all over the Muslim world – while maybe horrified in the beginning – started accepting (and maybe encouraged) this form of violence as an acceptable means to defend what they see as a just cause when all else fails. With time, of course, this got abused and distorted. Without solving this issue, unfortunately, there will never be peace in the Middle East.

    1. I think you’re right that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has elevated the position of Islamism as the sought-after solution to all of the Arab world’s problems. A two state solution, and soon, would end that festering, but for rather selfish reasons both the current Palestinian and Israeli governments seem to have no interest in that.

    2. The problem is that Israel continues to illegally occupy Gaza, as well as refuse any diplomacy with Hamas, even though Hamas is a direct product of the Israeli occupation.

      Also, I believe it was the Lebanese who first used suicide bombing as a form of modern warfare (although suicide bombs have a history stretching back hundreds of years).

  4. I didn’t realize there was a central figure (caliph) in Sunni Islam. Why did the Turks abolish this position? Obviously the Ottoman Empire had collapsed with the end of WWI and there were some incredibly ignorant and colonial decisions being made in redrawing boundaries in the middle east. How, and who, redraws these new borders? I realize that tribalism and ethnicity is the key, but with the internet and social media having such a major cultural and political impact (Arab Spring) and the current wave of refugees moving all sorts of people in all kinds of directions is it even possible to isolate historic homelands? After all redrawing Palestine after WWII has left its own mark.

    TLB in Phoenix

    1. The Turks abolished it because they wanted a secular government, and the Ottoman Sultan had also been the Caliph of all Sunnis. In order to have a clean break with the past, they got rid of the position.

  5. The biggest problem I can see is in trying to establish a new Caliphate, Saudi Arabia might have too much influence in the election as it would be the one to cede territory to form the new religious city-state, and get a Caliph elected that was of the Hanbali school of jurisprudence, which was the one that the Wahhabist/Salafist grew out of.

    However, I would fully support that, and if the spirit of the Amman Message was extended to unify the four (five?, if we include the Zahiris) Sunni madhhabs under one caliph and the caliph were to recognize the Ibadi and Shi’a as also legitimate Muslims, sectarian conflict might (maybe) slow down a little.

    But hey, things haven’t gotten better since the Amman Message so, well, who knows?


    1. I agree that Saudi influence in a new caliph election would be dodgy at best; it would be one of the trickiest areas to iron out, though if it could be done well, it could, as you point out, start the road to ending sectarianism.

  6. I agree with the commenters above: it is hard to imagine the Saudis giving up Mecca without a fight, given the money and prestige it brings to them. And the Haj there is probably only likely to get even more hugely massive in the future, if globalization continues. Bringing back the Caliph is a very interesting idea; most people don’t realize just how recently there was one, they think it was centuries ago rather than in the 1920s, within the lifetimes of many people who are still alive today. But there are big challenges there too, obviously. Would, for example, the Caliph be an Arab? How would the Turks feel about the seat of the Caliphate not being in Istanbul? Would the Caliph reach out to Shiites? Sufis? How “modern” would the Caliph be? Could there maybe even be a woman Caliph (or Pope) one day? What would the Caliph say about treatment of Muslims in countries like India, China, and Russia? What if the Caliph was assassinated? It would be cynically politicized just like the Pope has been, where, for example, you had a Polish Pope picked during the Cold War presumably to undermine the Warsaw Pact, and now an Argentine “liberal” Pope picked presumably to undermine the Evangelical revolution in Latin America and the spread of modernistic social values throughout much of the Christian world in general. Maybe it would be better to just abolish the Papacy, rather than reinstitute the Caliphate. But maybe not! Interesting article, good work.

  7. Pingback: The Geopolitics That Allowed Turkey to Down a Russian Jet | Atlantic Sentinel
  8. Pingback: Viewpoint: Four Elements of a Root-Cause-Based Counterterrorism Strategy | Pine Tree Republic

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