Under the cover of Western war planes roaring in all directions and empty rhetoric about “fighting terrorism” from the mouths of global leaders who are using their states to spread terror, the Mideast political system is taking a significant turn toward institutionalized, region-wide war. If the Islamic State were simply to vanish into thin air tomorrow, it is not clear that anything would really change. Whatever the question, it seems that war is the answer.
Iran, re-established by Washington as a normal state, now has Moscow protecting its new position. Washington’s need for an anti-Islamic State partner only further consolidates Iran’s regional position. Unfortunately, Iran does not appear to be moving into regional prominence as a conciliator but as a military power – helping Iraq to fight the Islamic State and helping Assad (while utterly ignoring his barbaric treatment of his own people) to maintain his dictatorship in Syria.
Saudi Arabia has fundamentally altered its situation by moving from rich manipulator to military activist. The brutalization of Bahraini democracy activists was followed by the destruction of Yemen, and now Riyadh is eagerly moving to create a Sunni military alliance to serve both Riyadh’s nationalist and religious purposes.
Turkey has totally reoriented its foreign policy, from moderate good neighbor to Sunni/nationalist militant, aiding Syrian rebels, laying down the law to Syrian Kurds, marching around in Iraq, and generally acting like a great power.
The three great regional Muslim powers are thus for the first time in modern history all simultaneously behaving aggressively and taking considerable risks with their military forces, stirring the regional political pot in ways that are inflaming tensions, spreading violence, and provoking instability. Even without all-out Sunni-Shi’i sectarian war, the aggressiveness alone bodes ill for Mideast democracy, security, or development, and the evidence strongly suggests that Sunni-Shi’i sectarian war is exactly where the region is now headed.