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Levantistan and The Confederacy of Afghanistan: How Redrawing the Map Can End America’s Wars
Nation-state borders are not sacrosanct. Exchanging land for peace is always a viable option, and this could provide a solution to America’s involvement in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Although multiple solutions are available, we will focus on two: merging nations and fragmenting nations. Merging nations would entail merging Iraq with Syria, and merging Afghanistan with Pakistan. Fragmenting nations would break up the two nations into numerous smaller nations, as happened to Yugoslavia, albeit peacefully.
Merging Nations: Pros and Cons
Merging Iraq with Syria, and Afghanistan with Pakistan, would have three main advantages. First, they would allow former state-aligned insurgents to become part of the governing process. Syria is ruled by the Ba’ath Party, and the Ba’ath in Iraq played a crucial role in the formation and success of ISIS. Merging the two states would allow the Ba’ath party in Iraq to merge with the Syrian Ba’ath, and their expertise could be useful in helping Assad manage his new territory. In Afghanistan, the Paki government has been a partner with the Taliban from the start, and a merge would permit the Taliban to become a partner of Pakistan’s government. Pakistan fears India, and the possibility that Afghanistan might align with India, creating a two-front war. Pakistan’s military is the only force holding the country together, and they see Afghanistan as their strategic depth. Understanding this explains much of their conduct since 2001. Merging the two countries would merely make it official.
The second advantage is reunification of the various tribes. In Iraq and Syria, the Ba’ath Party is an Arab Nationalist party, and unification would merge two Arab states together. In the process, both Iraqi and Syrian Kurds would also be united. Iraq’s and Syria’s Christian and Yazidi populations would also support this move, as Assad and Saddam alike protected them. The Kurds desire an independent state but are unlikely to do so in the short-term. The best route for them is to be patient and wait for the mid-term, when their higher birth rates will enable them to negotiate from a position of strength. In Afghanistan, the Taliban rely heavily on the support of the Pashtun (the same people who saved Marcus Luttrel in ‘Lone Survivor’). The Pashtun are split between Afghanistan and Pakistan, as is Baluchistan. Pakistan already enjoys close relations to both the Pashtun and Taliban, and all parties would benefit from joining their territories. Baluchistan, on the other hand, is a separatist region, and would become stronger from reuniting with its Afghan territories. This has the possibility of greater disruption, but like the Kurds their best option is patience.
The third advantage is enlarged buffer zones. Iraq and Syria (we’ll call it Levantistan) would form a buffer state running from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf; an Intermarium. This would form a bulwark with strategic depth against Iranian and Turkish influence in the region. Afghanistan has always been a buffer region and joining with Pakistan (we’ll call it ‘Greater Pakistan’) would not make that go away. Instead, the buffer zone between Iran, Russia, and India would be enlarged.
The main downside to unification is nationalist feelings among the population, as well as separatist tribal movements. The Sunni Population in Iraq would likely welcome a Sunni-majority Syria to give them greater representation, but Iraq’s Shia population may be less eager to lose their majority status. Likewise, the Kurds may also feel emboldened to break free. In Afghanistan, tribal regions would be even less loyal to a central government and would prefer to resist it. Pakistan already has problems with their Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and Afghanistan would effectively be a nation-sized FATA. This risk would need to be resolved by the Pakistani government beforehand.
Fragmenting Nations: Pros and Cons
Fragmenting Iraq or Afghanistan into smaller nations along tribal-national lines would initially evoke images of Yugoslavia’s fragmentation, complete with ethnic cleansing. At the same time, it must be noted that the world acted in opposition to that breakup and insisted on keeping the nation unified. In this scenario, the world would support the breakup and be on hand to smooth out the process. The first advantage of breaking up the nations would be greater stability within each new nation-state. With nation-states aligned more closely to the nations that live within them, there will be fewer insurgencies. All guerrillas want to become the state, and ethno-states/sovereign cities can be formed, just like in Europe.
The second main advantage is that the buffer states would be weaker, and therefore less likely to start major wars. Unlike in Europe, these new nations and sovereign cities would be constantly at war with each other, but a war between two weak nations would be less destructive than between larger, stronger states. Weaker buffer states would also be less dangerous to the great powers bordering them. Violence can always spill over, and some smaller states may seek opportunities to take territory from larger states, as Bangladesh has been trying to do with Burma. Smaller, weaker states will be less bold.
One factor that can be either an advantage or disadvantage is controlling the burn. Controlling the disintegration so it does not get out of hand will be a challenge, but it can also show the world that peaceful breakups are not limited to Czechoslovakia. Likewise, the constant state of war between smaller states in these regions contains the possibility of escalation. Skillful diplomacy and Realpolitik is a must.
A definite weakness of fragmentation is great-power meddling. Iran would readily take advantage of smaller, weaker states in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pakistan may also have interests in the Pashtun or Baluchistan regions. The world remembers that WWI began over a crisis in Serbia, which was a small weak nation at the time. This would be more serious in Iraq than in Afghanistan, however.
Another weakness could be Islamist groups forming confederations. Smaller nations may set aside their grievances for safety, and Islamic terror groups may play Bismarck’s game with weaker nations.
Uniting nations, or fragmenting them, provides two viable choices, neither of which would be an admission of defeat. If America represents sovereignty of the governed, then redrawing the map may be the best option. If the map is redrawn in a manner that reflects our interests, then we can take credit and have peace with honor. The regions in question will always be violent, and so total victory will not be needed before America disengages. We cannot extinguish the fire, but we can make it into a controlled burn.