“Donald Trump campaigned on a promise to withdraw from the region. Since the election, he has launched cruise missiles at Syria, entered into more comprehensive commitments toward Saudi Arabia and its allies, and escalated America’s confrontational rhetoric vis-à-vis Iran”.
The defeat of ISIS won’t bring peace to the Middle East. Rather, it is likely to open a new chapter in the region’s bloody history – one no less dangerous. This seems almost certain because the region is unable to resolve internal conflicts on its own, or to create anything like a resilient framework for peace. It remains trapped somewhere between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Western powers are hardly blameless. The US is the most significant contributor to today’s regional turmoil. The second Gulf War caused a regional catastrophe, resulting in sustained destabilization of the Middle East as a whole and helping to place Iran in a position to expand its influence. After the Islamic State’s demise, the next chapter will be open, direct confrontation between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran for regional dominance. So far, this long-smoldering conflict has been pursued under cover and mostly by proxies. The two global powers active in the region have already clearly positioned themselves in this conflict, with the US siding with Saudi Arabia and Russia with Iran. Any direct military confrontation with Iran would set the region ablaze, greatly surpassing all previous Middle East wars. Another destabilizing factor is the reopening of the “Kurdish question.” The Kurds have proven reliable fighters against ISIS and want to use their new clout to make progress toward an independent state. For the countries affected –Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran– this is a casus belli, as it affects their territorial integrity. Given these unresolved questions and the escalation of the hegemonic conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the next chapter in the region’s history promises to be anything but peaceful.