- Peace Garden: The Shias are coming

The Shias are coming

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Real Challenge From the 'Shia Crescent' is a very cogent analysis of the situation in the Middle East.

There is little doubt that a new political-religious fault line is developing in the Middle East. The Sunni Arabs are worried about the emergence of an Iran-Iraq nexus over the long run. These are two important countries, and their potential cooperation would at least challenge the Sunni dominance of Persian Gulf-Levant affairs. Assuming that the regime of Bashar al-Assad stays in power, Syria will also become a part of that nexus, since the ruling elite of Syria is Alawite, which is a Shia sect.
In the post-9/11 era, when Arab self-esteem is much damaged as a result of the conquest of Iraq, when the Bush doctrine continues to hang as Damocles' sword over the head of Syria, when the Arabs see their religion under attack in the Western media, Hezbollah's gutsy and plucky decision to confront the Jewish state has, rightly or wrongly, become a source of considerable cheer.
The Sunni Arab states are wary of the long-term spill-over effect of this particular development, especially regarding Iran's ability to exploit it for its strategic purposes in its future negotiations with the United States.
The real significance of the emerging Shia crescent is that it is challenging the strategic dominance of the United States in a manner that no Sunni state ever did. The only similar challenge to both the U.S. and the Sunni states is coming from Salafi forces. However, since no state is behind those forces, the real threat stemming from their activities has not yet jelled. The Shia crescent, on the contrary, carries with it the support of Iran and Syria. In that sense, it is more threatening than the Salafists to the traditional orientations of the Sunni Arab states. The United States appears a little wary of the emerging Shia crescent for the very same reason. It has been easier for Washington to co-opt the Sunni states. The rising Shia challenge appears to be too radical and too unwilling to be tamed.
In the post-9/11 era, when Islamic radical forces are running rampant, taking on the United States, the Arab regimes, and Israel, a potential coalescing of the Shia (or Shia-dominated) states is causing a lot of consternation among the Sunnis. That is one reason why they hope the United States will buy into scary rhetoric about how the "Shias are coming."
In reality, there is not much substance to that type of hyperbole.
When did hype ever stop us?

We toppled a Sunni (Sad Man) because we labeled him in league with Al Qaeda. We have given rise, through two elections (Iraq and Lebanon), emboldened movements of Shia power. What will we mess up next?

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