Newsbud Exclusive- The Balkanization of Syria & Iraq: The Roadmap to US-Israeli Hegemony in the Middle East
We are often told that the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the war in Syria are disastrous failures of Western foreign policy. This article, however, argues that the architects of these wars were, and are, well aware of the destabilising consequences of their military efforts, and in fact, had always regarded the breakup of Iraq and Syria along sectarian lines as a desirable outcome. The millions of deaths and injuries resulting from these horrific wars, as well as the displacement of several more millions, then, are nothing more than “collateral damage” to achieve US-Israeli hegemony in the region. Viewed from this perspective, post-9/11 Western Middle East policy in retrospect is not a failure, but a success.
Part I: Partition, the only solution?
“Let’s look at the reality on the ground in the Middle East: Iraq and Syria are effectively partitioned along sectarian lines. […] In the current, chaotic moment, we see two post-imperial systems collapsing at once: the state boundaries drawn by the Versailles Treaty in 1919 to replace the Ottoman Empire […], and a U.S.-led system that kept the region in a rough balance [which has been shattered] by America’s failed intervention in Iraq. The ‘line in the sand’, as author James Barr called the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement to partition the region, is dissolving before our eyes, and the primary beneficiaries are ruthless Islamic terrorists.”-David Ignatius, member of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a 2014 article in the Washington Post
In early 2016, then US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that “it may be too late to keep [Syria] as a whole,” and that “I know that [partition] is the best way to try to end the war and it is the only alternative available to us if indeed we are going to have a political settlement.” Kerry coined the possible breaking up of Syria as “plan B,” making it sound like the proposal was a desperate move to save the peace. Both the Syrian government and the armed opposition rejected federalism, let alone partition, however, and even the Kurdish National Council strongly denounced the federalism declaration of its PYD rivals in the wake of Kerry’s statement. In addition, Maram Susli has pointed out that partitioning Syria would happen along sectarian lines instead on whether or not any particular state would be able to sustain its population. Therefore, as Syria’s scare water resources, as well as its agriculture and oil, would end up in the hands of only a small percentage of the population, perpetual war between divided Syrians would be the likely result. So, if breaking up Syria is a recipe for endless conflict between weakened enclaves and is opposed by almost all Syrians, why did Kerry brought it up? Was it just a hastily mistake in his otherwise brave humanitarian endeavour to save the Syrian populace, or are there other agendas at play?
Actually, Kerry’s plan B sounds an awful lot like the plan A of various Anglo-American policy makers, strategists, think tanks and imperialist organs. Six months prior to Kerry’s statement, the Brookings Institute argued for the establishment of Western-backed “safe zones” that would eventually develop into more or less autonomous areas. In October 2015, the author of the Brookings article, Michael O’Hanlon, specified his vision of Syrian balkanisation in an op-ed for Reuters as follows:
“One largely Alawite (Assad’s own sect) [sector], spread along the Mediterranean coast; another Kurdish, along the north and northeast corridors near the Turkish border; a third primarily Druse, in the southwest; a fourth largely made up of Sunni Muslims; and then a central zone of intermixed groups in the country’s main population belt from Damascus to Aleppo.”
From 2013 onwards, variations to this plan have repeatedly been proposed by US establishment figures, such as Henry Kissinger for instance, who in June 2013 contended that he preferred “an outcome in which the various nationalities agree to co-exist together but in more or less autonomous regions.” Interestingly, he also claimed that although he supported the expulsion of Assad, he prioritised balkanising Syria. John Bolton, another neocon war-hawk, advocated for the creation of an American-backed Sunni state, which he admitted would be “unlikely to be a Jeffersonian democracy for many years,” in an op-ed for the New York Times. This would counteract “the vision of the Russian-Iranian axis and its proxies,” he asserted, because “their aim of restoring [the] Iraqi and Syrian governments to their former borders is a goal fundamentally contrary to American, Israeli and friendly Arab state interests.”
Most proponents of balkanisation imagine a threefold partition into an Alawitestan – perhaps ruled by Assad, but perhaps not – and Kurdistan aside from a Sunni heartland. A year before ISIS declared its caliphate, Robin Wright, scholar at two Washington-based think tanks, even proposed a Sunni state crossing the Sykes-Picot border into Iraq:
“Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland. Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom. […] Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority – notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-governments protests – may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan.”
Barak Mendelsohn, in an article in Foreign Affairs – the quarterly of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) – bluntly called “Divide and conquer in Syria and Iraq: why the West should plan for a partition,” also argued for a US-backed “independent Sunni state that would link Sunni-dominated territories on both sides of the border.” Although most of the time this dramatic measure is promoted as a solution to the only recent threat posed by ISIS, disclosed DIA documents reveal that the US and their allies desired a Sunnistan based on the principles of Salafi Islam at least since 2012, prior to ISIS’s emergence. “If the situation unravels,” the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show, “there is the possibility of establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality [aka Islamic State] in Eastern Syria (Hasaka and Der Zor), and this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition [defined elsewhere in the document as the West, the Gulf countries and Turkey] want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”
For Iraq, division was of course already longer on the table. Plans to split the country into three parts have often been advocated by US officials since the 2003 invasion of the country. Leslie Gelb, president emeritus of the CFR, was the first to officially propose a three-state solution – “Kurds in the north, Sunnis in the center and Shiites in the south” – in an op-ed for the New York Times a mere eight months after the US and Britain had entered Iraq. Three years later he adjusted his plan to try to get all parties on board, reformulating it as “unity through autonomy” by way of decentralisation in an article published in the same newspaper, which he co-authored with Joe Biden, future Vice President under Obama and likewise a CFR member. Also in 2006, retired Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters outlined a map comprising a divided Iraq that circulated widely in US and NATO military circles, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice provisioned the rise of a “new Middle East” out of the ashes of Israel’s aggressive assault on Lebanon. By 2007, amid rising sectarian violence, many Anglo-American strategists and think tanks that would years later push for the balkanisation of Syria began to argue that breaking up Iraq into three statelets would be the only viable solution to the conflict their governments had created. Indeed, in January 2007, John Bolton, one of the leading architects of the 2003 invasion, stated that the US had no strategic interests in keeping Iraq united, and later that year, the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center produced a paper calling for the “soft partition” of Iraq. Interestingly, the report was co-authored by Michael O’Hanlon, who in 2015 was one of the first to call for the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria, which essentially is just a stepping stone towards partition.
Although officially the above-mentioned map for a “new Middle East” envisaged only the loss of Syria’s upper northeastern part in favour of a “Free Kurdistan,” leaked Wikileaks cables show that the US was as far back as 2006 already working on fomenting a civil war in the country. William Roebuck, at the time chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Damascus, clearly expressed hostility towards the Syrian leadership, focusing an entire briefing assigned to both Washington and Tel Aviv to possible actions to destabilise the Assad government. Aside from highlighting Kurdish complaints, he advised his superiors to coordinate more closely with Egypt and Saudi Arabia to fan the flames of sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims inside the country.
Although plans to break up Iraq and Syria into microstates based on religion or ethnicity are always presented as humanitarian efforts, they completely ignore the fact that it is Western post-9/11 policy that created much of the problems to which NATO strategists and officials are now offering self-serving solutions. In Syria, balkanisation proponents suggest that their ideas are the only solution to a civil war that has naturally unfolded after the Syrian people rose up against the dictatorial and tyrannical Assad government in the wake of the “Arab Spring” protests in northern Africa. They fail to mention, however, that rather than a civil war, the six-year debacle is actually an artificial proxy war on Syria; a war that likely would not have happened – or at least would not have raged on for so many years and killed so many people – absent 1) the financial, logistical, ideological and armaments-support that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and NATO provided from the very onset of the conflict to the armed insurgency, and 2) the influx of foreign jihadis from all around the world from 2012 onwards, who were allowed to cross the borders into Syria by the Turkish and Jordanian governments and were often trained by the CIA in advance.
 David Ignatius, “Piecing together the shattering Middle East,” Washington Post, 17.06.2014, http://washingtonpost.com/opinions/david-ignatius-piecing-together-the-shattering-middle-east/2014/06/17/e73812f8-f63a-11e3-a606-946fd632f9f1_story.html?tid=pm_opinions_pop&utm_term=.336d6cf999ef.
 Patrick Wintour, “John Kerry says partition of Syria could be part of ‘plan B’ if peace talks fail,” Guardian, 23.02.2016, http://theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/23/john-kerry-partition-syria-peace-talks.
 Sharif Nashashibi, “Is a federal Syria desirable or feasible?”, Al-Jazeera, 17.03.2016, http://aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2016/03/federal-syria-desirable-feasible-160315051734382.html; “Syria government, opposition reject federal system: de Mistura,” Press TV, 17.03.2016, http://presstv.ir/Detail/2016/03/17/456328/Syria-UN-Mistura-Daesh.
 Wladimir van Wilgenburg, “Kurdish National Council in Syria condemns federalism declaration by Kurdish rival,” ARA News, 19.03.2016, http://aranews.net/2016/03/kurdish-national-council-syria-condemns-federalism-declaration-kurdish-rival/.
 Maram Susli, “Kerry’s plan at balkanizing Syria,” New Eastern Outlook, 29.03.2016, http://journal-neo.org/2016/03/29/kerry-s-plan-at-balkanising-syria/.
 Michael O’Hanlon, “Deconstructing Syria: a new strategy for America’s most hopeless war,” The Brookings Institute, 30.06.2015, http://brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2015/06/30/deconstructing-syria-a-new-strategy-for-americas-most-hopeless-war/.
 Michael O’Hanlon, “Syria’s one hope may be as dim as Bosnia’s once was,” Reuters, 06.10.2015, http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/10/06/syrias-one-hope-may-be-as-dim-as-bosnias-once-was/.
 Paul O’Neill, interview with Henry Kissinger, Ford School (interview, New York, 13.06.2013), 26m00 to 29m05, http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZVasCE1uOf4#t=1232.
 John Bolton, “To defeat ISIS, create a Sunni state,” New York Times, 24.11.2015, http://nytimes.com/2015/11/25/opinion/john-bolton-to-defeat-isis-create-a-sunni-state.html?_r=0.
 E.g. James Stavridis, “It’s time to seriously consider partitioning Syria,” Foreign Policy, 09.03.2016, http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/03/09/its-time-to-seriously-consider-partitioning-syria/; James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, A Peace Plan for Syria (RAND Corporation, 2015), http://rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE182.html.
 Robin Wright, “Imagining a remapped Middle East,” New York Times, 28.09.2013, http://nytimes.com/2013/09/29/opinion/sunday/imagining-a-remapped-middle-east.html?pagewanted=1.
 Barak Mendelsohn, “Divide and conquer in Syria and Iraq: why the West should plan for a partition,” Foreign Affairs, 29.11.2015, http://foreignaffairs.com/articles/turkey/2015-11-29/divide-and-conquer-syria-and-iraq.
 Defence Intelligence Agency, “Pgs. 287-293 (291) JW v DOD and State 14-812,” Judicial Watch, 18.05.2015, http://judicialwatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Pg.-291-Pgs.-287-293-JW-v-DOD-and-State-14-812-DOD-Release-2015-04-10-final-version11.pdf.
 Leslie Gelb, “The three-state solution,” New York Times, 25.11.2003, http://nytimes.com/2003/11/25/opinion/the-three-state-solution.html.
 Joseph Biden and Leslie Gelb, “Unity through autonomy in Iraq,” New York Times, 01.05.2006, http://nytimes.com/2006/05/01/opinion/01biden.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&.
 Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, “Plans for redrawing the Middle East: the project of a ‘new Middle East’,” Global Research, 18.11.2006, http://globalresearch.ca/plans-for-redrawing-the-middle-east-the-project-for-a-new-middle-east/3882.
 Toby Harnden, “Death and despair amid US pursuit of ‘new Middle East’,” Telegraph, 30.07.2006, http://telegraph.co.uk/news/1525200/Death-and-despair-amid-US-pursuit-of-new-Middle-East.html.
 “French report: former U.N. envoy Bolton says U.S. has ‘no strategic interest’ in united Iraq,” International Herald Tribune, 29.01.2007, as cited in Jonathan Cook, Israel and the clash of civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the plan to remake the Middle East (London: Pluto Press, 2008), 138.
 Edward Joseph and Michael O’Hanlon, The case for soft partition in Iraq (Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, analysis paper no. 12, June 2007), http://brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/06iraq_joseph.pdf.
 William Roebuck, “Influencing the SARG in the end of 2006,” 13.12.2006 (Wikileaks, Cable 06 Damascus 5399 a), http://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/06DAMASCUS5399_a.html.
 Bas Spliet, “The proxy war on Syria,” Scrutinised Minds, 03.01.2017, http://scrutinisedminds.com/category/the-proxy-war-on-syria/.