Blood and Treasure in the Middle East

The crossroads of the global oil trade lay principally in a tiny strip of water called the Persian Gulf. Here no less than eight(8) countries Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain; export their highly prized light sweet crude through this small channel of water. And though most are friendly countries, one; Iran, is an outright enemy of the United States. With Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons possibly coming to a head in the near future, the safety and reliability of this pristine waterway comes into question. And with the strait of Hormuz separating the Arabian peninsula and Iran by just fifteen miles it becomes all the more urgent to guarantee the safety of the resources which run through it. In short, a strategic answer is needed to address the amount of resources emanating throughout the region.

Action should be taken before a crisis breaks out in the region that would disrupt global oil supplies and place a heavy burden not just on the U.S. economy but  the global economy as a whole. The options are few. However as of today (9/1/13) The Arab League just endorsed a western backed “solution” to the “Humanitarian Disaster” in Syria. The Syrian civil war which is entering its third year of strife and has claimed in excess of 100,000 lives through both conventional and chemical weaponry. This situation (Syria) on its face may not seem like the most prudent place for America to flex its military might, after all Iraq is Syria’s next door neighbor. Syria also has competing factions in it who are all vying for a stake in a post Bashaar al-Assad Syria. These parties include the Al-Nusra front, a hard line Islamist faction that is de facto Al-Qaeda branded; the Kurdish peoples of the north who already enjoy a level of autonomy which they have not seen in decades; and the Free Syrian Army numbering up to 80,000 strong which has General Idris as its de facto leader. There are also the Al-Assad supporters or ultra royalist as I like to call them that are the Baath party of Syria, and at their most hardcore are Fedayeen, and Hizbollah willing to become human shields to protect the al-Assad family, and Damascus at all cost. Not the most welcoming of situations. And though this may seem like a desperate situation that perhaps America should not stick its nose into considering the brutality of the Iraq war, it is these very things that cause me to suggest that the stakes are simply too high for not only the future of peace and stability in the Middle East and north Africa (MENA), but also the energy security of the United States and its allies, and it’s not without precedent.

Iraq war 1991

In 1991 George H. W. Bush was president of the United States and Saddam Hussein had just invaded Kuwait taking control of 1/5th of all oil in the world. George H. W. Bush wanted to act immediately, unilaterally, and without congressional approval but showing jurist prudence he consulted with congress before successfully repulsing Sadaam’s invasion of Kuwait, a U.S. ally. Iraq is invaded but  Sadaam is not toppled signaling a policy of deterrence rather than regime change. The war was over in less than 100 days with minimal casulties. However in a sign of miscommunication between the northern Iraqi Kurdish community and the United States an uprising is began with the hopes of establishing a unified autonomus Kurdish state. The U.S. withdraws and  Sadaam gases his own people in one of the worst chemical weapons attacks of the latter half of the 20th century. This act does not go unnoticed by the congress of the United States, as the Kurds to the north, and Shiites to the south are soon thereafter, through an act of congress, protected from Sadaam by a no-fly zone.

Iraq War 2003

After the attacks on the world trade center on 9/11 Afghanistan is soon thereafter invaded by the United States toppling the government of the Taliban and sending the perpetrator of those heinous acts Osama Bin Laden fleeing to Tora bora. In the 2003 State of the Union address to congress,then President George W. Bush; singles out Iraq, Iran, and North Korea an “Axis of Evil”. Soon thereafter Iraq is again invaded with this time the main goal of preventing Sadaam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or any of its allies. Regime change is also one of the goals and is completed in a matter of weeks after the start of the war in March 20th 2003. The oil ministry is captured relatively quickly in the outbreak of war by American and coalition forces and soon the southern Iraqi oil fields resume energy production for Iraq though not at full capacity. Ominously though soon after the toppling of Sadaam an al-Qaeda led Iranian backed insurgency begins in earnest for what would last a total of eight years. Some would say that it still continues under the banner of a group calling itself al-Qaeda in Iraq. This war along with the still lingering war in Afghanistan would sap much need blood and treasure from the United States with very little to show for it. Until May 2011 when Osama bin Laden (OBL) is finally killed in a compound outside of Abbotabad, Pakistan that he shared with his immediate family. It should be noted that several positive things came out of Iraq as well: a brutal dictator was executed along with his sons ending a reign which stretched across several decades. The Iraqi people were finally able to choose their own leaders in a representative democracy. And two key important things happen in the world of oil transit, two pipelines were built which stretched from the oil rich cities in the north of both Kirkuk and Mosul. These pipelines would extend to in the case of Mosul; Jordan and a port city in Israel, and the Kirkuk pipeline stretched to a port city in Turkey. Both of these pipelines end at the Mediterranean coast avoiding Syria completely. Keep this in mind when we begin to talk about the idea of pipelines in Syria later on.

Syrian War (2011- )

In Syria the “Arab Spring” began to take hold in early 2011 initially as peaceful protest. However soon after a deadly crackdown the mostly Sunni majority took up arms against the Alawite Shiite ruling minority and began to fight back. This back and forth continues to this day and as of the writing of this paper (9/21/13) there is an agreement between al-Assad ally Russia, and the United States to compile and eventually destroy all of Syria’s accounted for chemical stockpiles. The United States has introduced a resolution at the U.N. which would “Hold Syria to account” should the weapons not be destroyed by mid 2014 as per scheduled. This agreement doesn’t shouldn’t be construed as an out for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who has murdered tens of thousands of his own countrymen using conventional and chemical weapons. And as Secretary general Ban Ki Moon was recently quoted as saying, Assad should be “Held Accountable” for these monstrous acts. Also on the agenda it seems that Iran has initiated a charm offensive and has suggested that talks over a cease fire could possibly take place between Syria and the free Syrian army (FSA) in Geneva, Switzerland. This and more is really all incumbent upon how backroom discussions go at the U.N. this coming week when President Obama will address the U.N. It’s also rumored that president Obama will meet with newly elected president of Iran Rouhani if the temperature of the room is to his liking.

Syrian Blood and Treasure (2013)

These developments should not in any way negate what could be a boon in Syria for the West and the revolutionaries fighting in Syria. Namely the construction of a pipeline in Iraq oddly enough that connects to the two pipelines mentioned earlier from the southern oilfields to Mosul and Kirkuk pipelines. Then furthermore pipelines could be constructed from the Kirkuk pipeline into Syria and through what will almost assuredly be an autonomous Northern Syria bordered by turkey in the north and the Euphrates in the south.  This pipeline would them make the final connection to the Syrian port city of Latakia in the north and complete the journey of the oil by land. By diverting the oil from Kuwait and Southern Iraq from the strait of Hormuz we would gain a strategic upper-hand since then gradually less and less oil would be moving through the Persian Gulf.

The lesson is this: a diplomatic settlement in Syria should at this point in the discussions be the favored outcome. The blood and treasure already spilled and expended in Syria makes it imperative that Assad understand that the people of northern Syria have the right to exist in a state of perpetual peace much as he was use to before the civil war began to rage. The revolutionaries of the FSA must now come to the table of peace and quietly begin the discussion of a free North Syria while the iron is still hot. The consequences of a free and fully functioning northern Syria would ripple throughout the Middle East and North Africa with a cadence not seen since the death of OBL.

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