One of the central tenets of Chaos Theory is that systems, social political military organisational, demonstrate “sensitivity to initial conditions”.It’s also known as the Butterfly Effect coined by Philip Merilees who wrote Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?
What this means is that if you wish to intervene in systems that are highly unstable, small changes or differences, at the very beginning of your intervention can lead to wildly different results.
In terms of an intervention in the Middle East, this means that any given form of intervention (boots on the ground, peacekeeping troops, diplomatic negotiations) is likely to have highly unpredictable outcomes simply based on the time when the intervention begins.
In practical terms, chaos theory says that in a situation like the Middle East it is almost impossible to be certain, beyond a set of generalities, what the outcome of any intervention is likely to be.
No one would have forecast that the Western allies invasion of a Iraq would have produced a highly militarised ISIS.
There has been increasing talk after the Paris bombings of a diplomatic and pragmatic solution to the problem the civil war being waged by the Syrian government. This is certainly an improvement on Donald Trump’ssolution of “bombing the shit out of them.”
There seems to be a growing consensus that the solution to the Syrian situation would not include President Bashar al-Assad. Yet, chaos theory would tell us that replacing Assad would be unlikely to produce the desired outcome of bring peace. Replacing the man at the top will produce changes but they are likely to be very difficult to predict and highly unstable.
Simply replacing Assad is unlikely to change the political and military power of the people who are backing him
If Assad is removed, the army elite is likely to replace him with someone of very similar political views.
If you replace the whole power elite, it will be very difficult to predict, and much more difficult to control, the political factions that fill the vacuum.
And there is one other element that no one is talking about: the US funded and armed Kurdish Peshmerga.
For the Kurdish Peshmerga, the war in Syria is part of a decades long struggle for independence. Finding a political solution in Syria will be of little avail if the Kurds are not granted an autonomous homeland.
And they’re not going to be easily satisfied.
They are going to want parts of Turkey, Syria Iraq and Iran and quite large parts of that. Failure to recognise Kurdish sovereignty over these areas will make the problem of the caliphate insignificant. ISIS is currently exercising political and military control over significant amounts of territory in Syria but nothing like the territory that is controlled and populated by the Kurds.
And the Kurds will rightly feel that they deserve some recognition and reward for being the most effective fighting force in the battle against ISIS.
It’s a difficult problem and one where simple solutions, such as a regime change in Syria, are not likely to be the answer.