There are, it seems to me, four different, contending visions for the future of the Middle East, each based on a largely imaginary remembrance of times past and ambitions for the near to mid-term future. Each, I suspect, is based on the notion that a historical empire or caliphate should be restored, for the good, of course, of everyone in the region. Each of the historical caliphates was, indeed, great and powerful, in its own way, and, at the height of each era, the Middle East was an important, even a dominating factor and actor in global geopolitics. The four historical empires, lasting from the 7th to the 20th centuries, are shown in the maps below:
Maps show (left to right) the original, Meccan (in Saudi Arabia), based caliphate, the Persian (Iranian) caliphate, the Egyptian caliphate and the Ottoman (Turkish) caliphate.
Each of Saudi Arabia, the keeper of the holy places, Iran and Egypt, the founts of (past) Middle Eastern power and glory, and Turkey, the most recent “linchpin” power, have claims on being the better seat of the next caliphate. Their rivalries are complicated by religious (doctrinal) differences and some deeply held cultural differences, too.
Grids of Grievance
To say that the strategic situation in the region is complicated is almost trite. There are many and sundry “grids of grievance” explaining how the “enemy of my enemy is (maybe) my friend,” but many seem to ignore one key player. America, Russia, Europe, Australia and Canada, Japan and, of course, China all have vital interests in the Middle East and many countries have power ~ hard and soft ~ that they can and do “project” into the region; Middle Eastern oil is absolutely essential to much of the world. Only North America, thanks to Canada’s heavy oil reserves can be self sufficient for the next few decades.
The situation has been further complicated, for almost a century now, from the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (1928) to the arrival of ISIL (in 1999 or 2006, take your pick), by the actions of “non-state actors” in the region and around the world.
The non-state actors pose a particular challenge to those accustomed to using conventional diplomatic, economic and military tools in foreign relations. One has to have some sympathy with Prime Minister Trudeau’s feeling that there ought to be a better way (better than bombing) to deal with the constantly evolving threat.
(And I believe that the threat, from the non-state actors to our domestic peace and security, to the lives of Canadians in Canada, in fact, is very real.)
(My sympathy for Prime Minister Trudeau is lessened, considerably, by the fact that his “policy,” which, so far, consists only of an unfilled promise to stop bombing and some vague, semi-coherent mumblings, is a campaign tactic designed, solely, to cover a juvenile quip (“whip out our CF-18s“) made during a TV interview.)
I believe that the real “battle” needs to be fought, eventually, between the four contending powers, and their non-state actor proxies:
I think everyone can see that the relationships between the US led West, including Canada, and the powers, is inordinately complex, and that includes “complexities” like bombing ISIL … or not, and selling Canadian made light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia …
… everything is interconnected and everything complicates all the other things. Even though Turkey is a NATO ally and even though we have long standing and generally cordial ties with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, it is important to understand that none of the four contending powers can, in any meaningful way, be described as a friend. But then, once again, see Lord Palmerston:
Canada has interests, in the region and around the world. Serious foreign policy decisions that involve combat operations in which the Canadian military is engaged ought not to be made in response to juvenile quips made by immature politicians during a TV interview. Canada deserves better.