The plan of the Bush administration to install democratic, secular, pro-American regimes in the Middle East is fast unraveling. It is a classic example of “blowback,” where your actions ensure the opposite of what you intended. There is the insurgency in Iraq and the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan. In democratic elections, Islamic fundamentalist parties increased their representation in the legislatures of Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Pakistan, while Palestinians and Turks voted for such parties to lead their governments. Iranians rejected a moderate, electing hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as their president. There is rising anti-Americanism throughout the Islamic world even in such secular states as Indonesia, Tunisia and Turkey. The former Soviet republics of Central Asia, whose independence from Moscow the U.S. encouraged because of their strategic location and petroleum reserves, are suspicious of Washington and have turned to Russia for support. And Israel, despite U.S. military and diplomatic assistance, failed to defeat Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In reacting to these foreign policy failures, and growing domestic opposition, a frustrated Bush administration is lashing out. Foreign critics are accused of being anti-American while domestic critics are denounced as appeasers of terrorists. The need to continue the war in Iraq is presented in near apocalyptic terms and threats are made to bomb Iran and Syria. The war itself is being continuously renamed in hopes a more menacing title will win back public support. So the war on terrorism became World War III, World War IV, and now a world war against Islamo-facism.
That such hyperbole may shape future U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East becomes an alarming possibility with the publication of the article “Blood Borders” by Ralph Peters, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, in the June 2006 issue of Armed Forces Journal. AFJ is an influential publication, which describes itself as “the leading joint service monthly magazine for officers and leaders in the United States military community ? providing essential review and analysis on key defense issues for over 140 years.” This article, therefore, is a trial balloon offering a “moral” argument — redressing unjust borders — for expanding the Iraq War across the entire Middle East.
Peters asserts that while many problems contribute to the “comprehensive failure” that is the Middle East, one of the most important is not addressed: unjust borders. He insists “a more peaceful Middle East” depends on redrawing existing political borders so they reflect the national boundaries of major ethnic groups and provides a map of what those new borders should look like. In suggesting that redrawing the map of the Middle East should be a priority of U.S. foreign policy, Peters is advocating the failed policy of Woodrow Wilson that lasting peace requires U.S. military intervention on behalf of what Washington perceives to be other peoples’ national aspirations.
The article is deeply flawed. Peters rightly criticizes current political borders in the Middle East as “arbitrary and distorted. ? Drawn by self-interested Europeans.” But his proposed new borders are equally as arbitrary and distorted, drawn solely to advance U.S. interests, which he defined in a 1997 article in Parameters, “Constant Conflict,” as “to keep the world safe for our economy and open to our cultural assault. To those ends, we will do a fair amount of killing.”
Since his proposal calls for dismemberment of seven Muslim countries and creation of a small “Islamic Sacred State” of Mecca and Medina, “a sort of Muslim super-Vatican,” deprived of oil revenues and impoverished, it confirms the suspicions of Muslims that the U.S. is at war with Islam and is intent on carving up Muslim lands. If adopted as policy, it will enrage 1½ billion Muslims, increase the influence of fundamentalism and swell the ranks of terrorists.
Furthermore, his proposal to amend existing borders “to reflect the natural ties of blood and faith” is plagued by inconsistency, inaccuracy and misunderstanding. For instance, Saudi Arabia, a country founded by Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud through military conquest, is described as an “unnatural state,” but not Jordan, whose political existence was the creation of the British government.
After condemning existing borders as “colossal, man-made deformities that will not stop generating hatred and violence until they are corrected,” the article states, “Kuwait would remain within its current borders, as would Oman.” This is all the more incongruous since his proposed Arab Shia state includes territories from Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to which Arab Shias traditionally have not laid political claims, and excludes the one territory to which they have: Kuwait.
Asserting borders should reflect “the natural ties of blood and faith,” the author proposes one state that would encompass Arab Shias, but then advocates dividing Arab Sunnis among at least eight separate states.
The article stresses the need for political borders to be redrawn to “reflect ethnic affinities and religious communalism,” then insists “one haunting wrong can never be addressed with a reward of territory: the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians by the dying Ottoman Empire.” Why not? What of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh? It is pertinent to the subject. Possession of Nagorno-Karabakh has provoked one war between Armenia and Azerbaijan and may soon ignite another. Yet, the issue of Armenia’s borders, unlike those of Azerbaijan, is excluded from his analysis.
Peters advocates independence for Pakistan’s province of Baluchistan, which has a population of 7 million, but not for the adjoining Pakistani provinces of Sindh, which has a population of 35 million, or Punjab, which has a population of 86 million. By not calling for the latter ethnic groups’ independence as well, he is violating his proposal that new borders be drawn reflecting “ethnic affinities and religious communalism.”
He calls for unification of Azeri inhabited lands in Iran with the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, but not for the unification of Tajik inhabited lands in Afghanistan with the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan.
While advocating political unification and independence for Azeri, who number between 23 million and 30 million, the author does not call for the political unification and independence of Pushtuns, who number 40 million. Instead, he proposes that the 28 million Pushtuns in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province unite with Afghanistan, where Pushtuns number 12 million but are not the majority. This contradicts his argument that borders should “reflect ethnic affinities” since nearly half the territory of this greater Afghanistan would be inhabited by non-Pushtuns.
Apply consistently his proposal for the political unification of Pushtuns inside a greater Afghanistan, and it undermines his call for a united Azerbaijan. The Azeri can achieve similar political unification inside a greater Iran rather than in a separate country. They already hold positions of authority in Iran. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is himself an Azeri.
In suggesting the Arab Sunni areas of Iraq join Syria, Peters seems unaware that the largest and most influential tribe among them is the Shammar, one of the largest tribes in the region, a tribe connected to Saudi Arabia by blood and marriage. The heartland of the Shammar is in Saudi Arabia where it also resides and where it has acquired great wealth. The tribe is linked to the Saudi Royal House through the mother of King Abdullah who was of the Shammar. If the Arab Sunnis of Iraq united with another country it would be Saudi Arabia, not Syria.
Peters writes that “the Kurds [are] the world’s largest ethnic group without a state of its own.” In fact, in neighboring Pakistan and India, alone, there are ethnic groups with populations as large as or larger than the Kurds that lack independent statehood — Marathi, Punjabi, Pushtuns, Sindhi, Tamils and Telugus, for example.
The author maintains an independent Kurdistan will insure greater stability in the region. But for the Kurds, as well as for other ethnic groups in the Middle East, tribal loyalties often supersede national identity. The two principal Kurdish political parties in Iraq, for example, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, reflect rival, tribal identities. Instead of one Kurdistan, several may emerge. If a single state is established, it may be racked by tribal conflicts. Such possibilities and their impact on regional stability are not addressed. More important, the largest amount of territory to be included within his proposed borders for Kurdistan is land taken from Turkey. There is no indication Turkey will voluntarily surrender this land which constitutes a fifth of its territory. Force would be required. The Turkish military numbers over a million troops; it is the eighth largest in the world, the second largest, after the U.S., in NATO. Since Turkey is a member of NATO it can invoke Article V which declares an attack against one member is considered an attack against all. These facts and their implications are over looked in this article.
Under Peters’ proposal for the seven Muslim countries to be politically dismembered five are U.S. allies — Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Saudi Arabia is singled out in the article as “a root cause of the broad stagnation in the Muslim world” and its “influence has been the worst thing to happen to the Muslim world as a whole since the time of the Prophet, and the worst thing to happen to Arabs since the Ottoman (if not the Mongol) conquest.” But it is this very influence the U.S. actively encouraged and exploited throughout the Cold War. Washington supported the spread of Saudi religious fundamentalism as a means to undermine secular, leftist regimes in the Islamic world. It culminated in the Muslim insurgency in Afghanistan against the Soviet installed Marxist government. The U.S. had Saudi Arabia help fund the war and Pakistan provide bases for the insurgents. Now both allies are to be amputated of territory and left as unviable, rump states. Such treatment of friends can only undermine the international credibility and influence of the U.S.
Then there are border changes for which no rational explanations are offered. Jordan and Yemen are to be enlarged at the expense of Saudi Arabia. Why? The territories they are to receive are deserts devoid of petroleum reserves. Is this a reward or a punishment?
The most bizarre proposal calls for a “Greater Lebanon: Phoenecia reborn.” Syria is to be stripped of its Mediterranean littoral and the land awarded to Lebanon. This contradicts the stated purpose of the article of creating “blood borders.” Historically, today’s borders of Lebanon constitute a Greater Lebanon. And Phoenicia was not a state; it was a loose union of city-states, whose heartland did not include the Syrian coast. Annexing this land to Lebanon would upset the demographic balance existing in the country among the various religious communities and promote political instability. Ironically, one of the consequences of this proposal is that the population inhabiting this greater, “Greater Lebanon” would be overwhelmingly Muslim and likely vote to reunite the enlarged state with Syria.
Peters concludes his article with a warning that if the borders of the Middle East are not redrawn “a portion of the bloodshed in the region will continue to be our own.” But its his proposal that will ensure greater instability and more bloodshed throughout the Middle East, while his advocacy of an imperial foreign policy, “New Glory: Expanding America’s Global Supremacy,” guarantees many of those needlessly killed and maimed, and not just in the Middle East, will be U.S. military personnel.
Joseph E. Fallon is a freelance writer and researcher who resides in Rye, N.Y. He lived in Egypt where he pursued his advanced degree in Middle East studies and has traveled to Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. He earned a masters degree in international affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs and is a member of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, Harriman Institute, Columbia University.