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  • Posted August 19, 2014 by
    Innisfil, Ontario
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    The New Thirty Year War

    History repeats itself- the only change is change of protagonists and jargaon. The Thirty Years' War was fought from 1618 until 1648 between Protestants and Catholics and political struggles between the Holy Roman Empire and other powers. It ended with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The rivalry and destruction brought famine and economic hardship to all of Europe. Some pundits are arguing that MENA may be entering a period of long-term instability with no end in sight. The expansion of the Islamic State, the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli violence, and the arc of instability across Africa may see several decades of upheaval and change. Are we in the beginning of such a period of time? The answer is yes.
    When General William Tecumseh Sherman burned the city of Atlanta in 1864, he warned, "I fear the world will jump to the wrong conclusion that because I am in Atlanta the work is done. Far from it. We must kill three hundred thousand I have told you of so often, and the further they run the harder for us to get them." Add a zero to calibrate the problem in the Levant today. War in the Middle East is less a strategic than a demographic phenomenon, the resolution of which will come with the exhaustion of the pool of potential fighters. Sherman's 300,000 at that time and the Caliphate's Three Million now balance
    The key to the issue of a new Thirty Year War – from 2014 to 2044 – is searching for the common denominators. Clearly religion, terrorism, and proto-state formation are the greatest factors. Quite recently, the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia declared Benghazi an “Islamic Emirate” after claiming to have taken total control of Libya's second largest city, seizing military barracks with rockets and ammunition. The official spokesperson of the extremist group told local Radio Tawhid that “Benghazi has now become an Islamic emirate.” The announcement makes for the creation of yet another Islamic state-let in the MENA region including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra intends to form an Emirate in Syria in the near future.
    Of course, there have been other Islamic Emirates announced in the past notably in Afghanistan, Egypt, Gaza, and Iraq before the Arab Spring. But there seems to be a new urgency—and opportunity—to create these alternative state-lets.
    The Middle East is a region wracked by religious struggle between competing traditions of the faith. But the conflict is also between militants and moderates, fueled by neighboring rulers seeking to defend their interests and increase their influence. Conflicts take place within and between states; civil wars and proxy wars become impossible to distinguish. Governments often forfeit control to smaller groups - militias and the like - operating within and across borders. The loss of life is devastating, and millions are rendered homeless.
    Well and good: I predicted in 2006 that the George W. Bush administration's blunder would provoke another Thirty Years War in the region, and repeated the diagnosis many times since. How does one handle wars of this sort? In 2008, I argued for a "Richelovian" foreign policy, that is, emulation of the evil genius who guided France to victory at the conclusion of the Thirty Years War in 1648. Wars of this sort end when two generations of fighters are killed. They last for decades (as did the Peloponnesian War, the Napoleonic Wars and the two World Wars of the 20th century) because one kills off the fathers in the first half of the war, and the sons in the second.
    The emergence of Emirates based on Salafist-Jihadist thought is a troubling development. Although these emirates illustrate the collapse of governance across a broad expanse of territory, endangering lives, creating chaos, and forcing the evacuation, deportation, arrest, and even execution of those not “inclusive” of the new “regime”. There is also other attributes at play: the mosaic of ethnicity, tribes, religion, and secularism that are at war with each other on multiple levels that allows Salafi-Jihadists to come to power. According to an Arab official, these Emirates are an alternative state structure that excludes everyone but the pious. But there are other more subtle attributes that make these states—Emirates—more dangerous for the entire region.
    Salifist-Jihadist Emirates are the wave of the future in the turbulent areas of the MENA region. The events in Libya, specifically in Benghazi, are the most recent manifestation of an Emirate experiment and it is important to connect the dots on Emirates formation. Of course, some may question the creation of the Islamic State as part of this effort. The announcement of the Islamic State by “Caliph Ibrahim” on the first day of the Holy Month of Ramadan this year is not related to the events in Libya directly but is instead part of the evolution of the Jihadi-Salafist universe that are recognizing that now is the time to announce proto-states. These proto-states build alternative government structures and are attractive recruitment tools across the region and beyond because they offer “a new vision”. Such emirates could erupt on the Sinai Peninsula and in Houthi controlled areas of Yemen in the coming year or two.
    The ongoing warfare between Hamas and Israel may ebb and flow but there continues to be major trouble on the horizon. Israel’s ongoing Gaza operation means that Israel is now completely surrounded by threats. Not only will Islamic Jihad, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Popular Resistance Committees, and the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades not give up, but they will continue to attempt to kill as many IDF personnel as possible through terrorism. To the north, east, and south, Hezbollah, the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda affiliates are all threatening to Israel—mostly in terms of separate agendas. This threat to Israel not only takes the shape of Hezbollah-backed, Iranian Quds, Syrian troops but also the Islamic State and the groups attempts to penetrate Jordan. While ISIS tried once already to enter Jordan, there will likely be future attempts that will be used to draw the Israelis into Jordan as well as the United States due to existing security agreements between Amman, Tel Aviv, and Washington, D.C. The result may be an unholy mess, one where the IDF will not want to be engaging enemies on all fronts—and a threat that seems to have no end in any reasonable amount of time.
    This new Thirty Years War has its origins in a demographic peak and an economic trough. There are nearly 30 million young men aged 15 to 24 in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, a bulge generation produced by pre-modern fertility rates that prevailed a generation ago. But the region's economies cannot support them. Syria does not have enough water to support an agricultural population, and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of farmers into tent cities preceded its civil war. The West mistook the death spasms of a civilization for an "Arab Spring," and its blunders channeled the youth bulge into a regional war.
    The way to win such a war is by attrition, that is, by feeding into the meat-grinder a quarter to a third of the enemy's available manpower. Once a sufficient number of those who wish to fight to the death have had the opportunity to do so, the war stops because there are insufficient recruits to fill the ranks. That is how Generals Grant and Sherman fought the American Civil War, and that is the indicated strategy in the Middle East today.
    It is a horrible business. It was not inevitable. It came about because of the ideological rigidity of the Bush Administration, compounded by the strategic withdrawal of the Obama administration. It could have been avoided by the cheap and simple expedient bombing of Iran's nuclear program and Revolutionary Guards bases, followed by an intensive subversion effort aimed at regime change in Teheran. Former Vice President Dick Cheney advocated this course of action, but then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice persuaded Bush that the Muslim world would never forgive America for an attack on another Muslim state.
    The occupation of Iraq in the pursuit of nation building was colossally stupid. It wasted thousands of lives and disrupted millions, cost the better part of a trillion dollars, and demoralized the American public like no failure since Vietnam – most of all America's young people. Not only did it fail to accomplish its objective, but it kept America stuck in a tar-baby trap, unable to take action against the region's main malefactor. Worst of all: the methods America employed in order to give the Iraq war the temporary appearance of success set in motion the disaster we have today. I warned of this in a May 4, 2010 essay entitled, General Petraeus' Thirty Years War(Asia Times Online, May 4, 2010).
    Across Northern Africa, is an arc of instability rising where religion and insurgency plays a major, seemingly unstoppable role. The nexus of piracy, terrorism, drugs, and transnational crime are turning the entire northern part of the continent—including the Sahel and the Maghreb, into a wide arena of instability. Terrorist groups and trans-regional criminal organizations are benefiting from the remnants of the pirate economic model from ransom to illegal trade to launch attacks against governments and civilians thereby hurting state stability in a number of different countries from Kenya, Nigeria, Yemen and North Africa. In the Horn of Africa, Al-Shabaab continues to enjoy the freedom to organize, train and access logistics, including weapons and munitions, attacking at will both soft and hard targets in Somalia and Kenya. Weapons supplies for Al-Shabaab are increasingly coming from Yemen and Libya where arms and ammunition transit due to weak border controls and internal upheaval. In addition, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea is considerably different than piracy off the coast of Somalia where more states are under severe duress.
    Poor governance in Nigeria has produced insurgent-like activities, which have in turn produced piracy including groups such as Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), Niger Delta People’s Volunteer Force (NDPV), Boko Haram, Ansaru, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Transnational organized criminal networks seize on this chain of instability for political and economic gain and spread their operations throughout West Africa. When combined with the upheaval of the Levant, then it is clear that that there is a wide arena of grievances that will afflict the region for years and perhaps decades to come.The great field marshal of the Thirty Years War of 1618-1648, Albrecht von Wallenstein, taught armies to live off the land, and succeeded so well that nearly half the people of Central Europe starved to death during the conflict. General David Petraeus, who heads America's Central Command (CENTCOM), taught the land to live off him. Petraeus' putative success in the Iraq "surge" of 2007-2008 is one of the weirder cases of Karl Marx's quip of history repeating itself first as tragedy second as farce. The consequences will be similar, that is, hideous.
    Wallenstein put 100,000 men into the field, an army of terrifying size for the times, by turning the imperial army into a parasite that consumed the livelihood of the empire's home provinces. The Austrian Empire fired him in 1629 after five years of depredation, but pressed him back into service in 1631. Those who were left alive joined the army, in a self-feeding spiral of destruction on a scale not seen in Europe since the 8th century. Wallenstein's power grew with the implosion of civil society, and the Austrian emperor had him murdered in 1634.
    Petraeus accomplished the same thing with (literally) bags of money. Starting with Iraq, the American military has militarized large parts of the Middle East and Central Asia in the name of pacification. And now America is engaged in a grand strategic withdrawal from responsibility in the region, leaving behind men with weapons and excellent reason to use them.
    There is no way to rewind the tape after the fragile ties of traditional society have been ripped to shreds by war. All of this was foreseeable; most of it might have been averted. But the sordid players in this tragicomedy had too much reputation at stake to reverse course when it still was possible. Now they will spend the declining years of their careers blaming each other.
    Three million men will have to die before the butchery comes to an end. That is roughly the number of men who have nothing to go back to, and will fight to the death rather than surrender.
    ISIS by itself is overrated. It is a horde enhanced by captured heavy weapons, but cannot fly warplanes in a region where close air support is the decisive factor in battle. The fighters of the Caliphate cannot hide under the jungle canopy like the North Vietnamese. They occupy terrain where aerial reconnaissance can identify every stray cat. The Saudi and Jordanian air forces are quite capable of defending their borders. Saudi Arabia has over 300 F-15′s and 72 Typhoons, and more than 80 Apache attack helicopters. Jordan has 60 F16′s as well as 25 Cobra attack helicopters. The putative Caliphate can be contained; it cannot break out into Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and it cannot advance far into the core Shia territory of Iraq. It can operate freely in Syria, in a war of attrition with the Iranian backed government army. The grim task of regional security policy is to channel the butchery into areas that do not threaten oil production or transport.
    Ultimately, ISIS is a distraction. The problem is Iran. Without Iran, Hamas would have no capacity to strike Israel beyond a few dozen kilometers past the Gaza border. Iran now has GPS-guided missiles which are much harder to shoot down than ordinary ballistic missiles (an unguided missile has a trajectory that is easy to calculate after launch; guided missiles squirrel about seeking their targets). If Hamas acquires such rockets – and it will eventually if left to its own devices – Israel will have to strike further, harder and deeper to eliminate the threat. That confrontation will not come within a year, and possibly not within five years, but it looms over the present hostilities. The region's security will hinge on the ultimate reckoning with Iran.
    Overall, the pieces are all in place for a new Thirty Year War. The groups operating from Mali to Iraq are slowly turning into one overarching network of communication, duplication of objectives, subverting economies and governments, and rallying portions of the trans-regional populations—specifically youth-- to turn against their elected leaders, regimes, and clergy. The fighters who are in today’s killing fields will be tomorrow’s leaders of radical, violent groups who share one goal in common: State meltdown. State meltdown will continue to be a phenomenon for the foreseeable future unless there are strong, robust efforts to fix these problems now before the next five years elapse or the following 25 years will be extremely traumatic for the entire world economy and supply chain networks. So instead of the “old” Thirty Years War mostly confined to Europe, the “new” Thirty Years War will be global. The contingencies for such a new war need to be planned now.
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