Is there another way of doing things in the Middle East?

Paul McGeough sounds a note of caution in The Age (15/9) “It is not our war to rush in to fight” stating that Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Lebanon have baulked at providing military support for the U.S.-led coalition. It’s an impressive list particularly when most of the participants for this particular enterprise a European nations. Clearly the Arab nations do not think that ISIS is as big a threat to their security as the Europeans do. And clearly not as big a threat to them as it is to the Australians.

One of the worrying aspects of the lack of support for the “degrade and ultimately destroy” mission is the current refusal of Turkey to crack down on the sale of oil on the black market which is providing the funds for IS. Presumably it would be very easy to close the border to the oil tankers that are coming into Turkey. However, Turkey which is a member of NATO, has chosen not to do this.

Convoys such as this are rolling into Turkey where IS is selling oil on the black market (photo: The  New York Times)

Convoys such as this are rolling into Turkey where IS is selling oil on the black market (photo: The New York Times)

There are essentially two different approaches that can be taken to the violence in the Middle East. The first is that being taken by the U.S.-led coalition: to provide armaments and military support for the “good guys”. This particular strategy has one of two outcomes: the first is that you ensure that the good guys win (highly unlikely) or you ensure that the conflict escalates to a point where both sides are eventually completely exhausted and the civilian population completely devastated. This is commonly known as a lose/lose situation.

The other approach is to de-escalate. Cut off the supply of arms to IS. Cut off the flow of funds from oil sales. Starving the militants of oxygen in the form of money and munitions is as effective a process as killing them all and much less wearing on the local civilians. Certainly, doing this will require the co-operation, willing or otherwise, of groups of people who sympathise with the foundation of the caliphate. And this will be no small task. But neither will the “degrade and ultimately destroy” mission.

Underlying the strategy at two fundamental and necessary conditions. The first is equipping and re-energising the Free Syrian Army, presumably to the extent that it can defeat not only IS, but also the current regime in Syria.

The Free Syrian Army may need a lot of  support to become a force capable of taking on both IS  and Assad's regime

The Free Syrian Army may need a lot of support to become a force capable of taking on both IS and Assad’s regime

No one has a very good track record so far at raising the standards of local militia and providing unreliable allies with significant firepower has backfired particularly badly in the past. Think the Taliban and Afghanistan.

The second operation is the establishment of an “inclusive” government in Iraq. Such a government would embrace both Sunnis and Shi’ites as well as the Kurds who would work together to forge politically stable Iraq. You can almost hear the angels weeping. No one has yet grasped the particular nettle that Iraq needs to be partitioned if there is going to be any lasting and stable peace there.

Whichever way you look at this problem, the solutions are always going to the political ones. Ultimately, military intervention is only a stopgap in the hope that the situation can be stabilised to an extent that the green shoots of stable government can be established. Again nothing in the of immediate history of this region suggest that this will be the case.

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