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Fractured Maps and Lingering Conflicts

Fractured Maps and Lingering Conflicts

Monday, 2 September, 2019 - 12:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
A map is like a building. Its safety lies in its proper maintenance, because time can weaken it. Age attacks it. It wrinkles its features, damages its immunity and causes its fracture.

From within these fissures the wind creeps. It finds allies and enemies. New causes are added to the already existing civil wars.

Maintenance means the existence of a normal state, which looks after its citizens. It listens to them, engages them and works to improve their conditions. All-embracing institutions… a judicial system of high integrity… Security institutions operating under the Constitution…

When a country is broken, it loses its immunity. Its law is violated from within. Its international borders are breached from the outside. Transnational conflicts seep into its ideology and militias, and the map is forced into conflicts beyond its capacity.

The danger is compounded when the country neighbors fractured states. One state fuels the unrest of another, leading to a muddy and bloody landscape and convoys of dead and displaced.

The politician painted a grim picture for the coming years in this crazy part of the world. He said the countries of the Middle East needed a school, a factory and investments, but it is promised more wars and conflicts. He noted the absence of any reliable reference that could stop the fall into the abyss.

The prestige and decisions of the international organization have waned. It has become a media platform rather than a body for the protection of international peace and security. The problem is not only the inability to find solutions, it is also the inability to provide truces and time for recalculations.

He noted that the decline in the role of international legitimacy is accompanied by a very difficult international situation. In the world of the two camps, it was enough for Washington and Moscow to agree to contain any conflict and prevent its continuation.

This world took an irrevocable path. The world of the only superpower born from the womb of the Soviet rubble did not survive either.

Managing the world is a difficult task that cannot be assumed by a single force, regardless of its economic weight. New and alternative balances are taking shape. The European role has declined and the Chinese has progressed, but an international dispute-control mechanism, based on a fair distribution, has not yet been developed. The distribution should take into account the return of Russia, the rise of China and the changes that have befallen the world due to the successive scientific and technological revolutions.

The politician said the problem is that we are talking about some of the countries of the region without taking into account the profound changes that have hit their internal balances and the infiltration of regional or international players into their composition.

A routine task, such as forming a government, has turned into an arduous mission, like for example the case in Iraq and Lebanon. The world is demanding the government of Adel Abdul Mahdi, for example, what it cannot provide. It is unable to keep Iraq out of the harsh exchange of messages between Washington and Tehran. At the same time, it is unable to keep Iraq out of the exchange of strikes between Iran and Israel. Any serious attempt to keep the Iraqi arena out of these tensions will entail the country’s fall.

The lack of the Iraqi government’s immunity is an explicit reflection of the Iraqi state. Can Abdul Mahdi, for example, force the Popular Mobilization to refrain from engaging in any confrontation with Iran in the region? The realistic answer is known. The same can be said of Saad Hariri's government in Lebanon, despite differences in location and local conditions.

The truth is that we are confronted with fractured countries that have not succeeded in restoring their national unity to plug the leaks through which foreign intervention seeps through. Iraq, for example, needed US military assistance to eliminate ISIS. Were it not for the American raids, this organization would have lasted for a long time.

Powerful countries are not charities. They have interests and demands. One cannot take advantage of US power and then choose to go in an opposite direction. There are costs for such wavering choices. There is something even more serious. The eradication of ISIS has succeeded, but reports are currently circulating about the organization’s resumption of operations near Mosul and elsewhere in Anbar. The problem is that the policies that paved the ground for the birth of ISIS did not fade away with the collapse of the terrorist state.

Take the Syrian situation as an example. Russian military intervention succeeded in transforming the course of the war. The idea of overthrowing the regime is no longer viable, but this intervention has not succeeded in launching a process to end the war.

It is not simple to see that Turkey and America are establishing a “safe area” within the Syrian map to push the Kurds away from their borders. Based on a realistic approach, it is difficult to imagine Syria returning to a normal sovereign state and its armed forces deployed on its entire map without a partner, be it a state or a militia.

The delay in securing the return of refugees to their homeland provides the ground for the spread of extremism once again.

The Kurds’ feeling that their sacrifices in the fight against ISIS have never been taken into account paves the way for reactions that will soon emerge.

It was previously thought that states bordering Israel lived on the faultline triggered by the Arab-Israeli conflict. Today, this conflict is no longer the first item in the region's fears or concerns.

The Iranian influx in the region after the uprooting of Saddam Hussein's regime put a number of countries on a new faultline. The fracture of multi-national states has in turn triggered tremors that have not completely receded. The recent Israeli attacks in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, in turn, shaped a new faultline.

The Yemeni rift is clear and we have witnessed in recent days chapters indicating what could happen unless the Yemenis make a decisive choice to resort to the dialogue that Saudi Arabia has called for as the only way to address their problems and shape their future. The Houthis have become an active Iranian agent, which revealed that the crack in the Yemeni map runs deep.

Russia can live with this growing rift in maps. So can the US. And maybe some other regional states. But what about peoples who are torn apart in the shadow of fractured maps that import new conflicts and add them to lingering old ones?

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