However, what I really wanted to do was to give you this bit of fascinating analysis:
THE NEW ERA
By Peter Zeihan
As students of geopolitics, we at Stratfor tend not to get overexcited when
this or that plan for regional peace is tabled. Many of the world's
conflicts are geographic in nature, and changes in government or policy only
rarely supersede the hard topography that we see as the dominant sculptor of
the international system. Island states tend to exist in tension with their
continental neighbors. Two countries linked by flat arable land will
struggle until one emerges dominant. Land-based empires will clash with
maritime cultures, and so on.
Petit vs. Grand Geopolitic
But the grand geopolitic -- the framework which rules the interactions of
regions with one another -- is not the only rule in play. There is also the
petit geopolitic that occurs among minor players within a region. Think of
the grand geopolitic as the rise and fall of massive powers -- the onslaught
of the Golden Horde, the imperial clash between England and France, the
U.S.-Soviet Cold War. By contrast, think of the petit geopolitic as the
smaller powers that swim alongside or within the larger trends -- Serbia
versus Croatia, Vietnam versus Cambodia, Nicaragua versus Honduras. The same
geographic rules apply, just on a smaller scale, with the added complexity
of the grand geopolitic as backdrop.
The Middle East is a region rife with petit geopolitics. Since the failure
of the Ottoman Empire, the region has not hosted an indigenous grand player.
Instead, the region serves as a battleground for extra-regional grand
powers, all attempting to grind down the local (petit) players to better
achieve their own aims. Normally, Stratfor looks at the region in that
light: an endless parade of small players and local noise in an environment
where most trends worth watching are those implanted and shaped by outside
forces. No peace deals are easy, but in the Middle East they require
agreement not just from local powers, but also from those grand players
beyond the region. The result is, well, the Middle East we all know.
All the more notable, then, that a peace deal -- and a locally crafted one
at that -- has moved from the realm of the improbable to not merely the
possible, but perhaps even the imminent.
Israel and Syria are looking to bury the hatchet, somewhere in the Golan
Heights most likely, and they are doing so for their own reasons. Israel has
secured deals with Egypt and Jordan already, and the Palestinians -- by
splitting internally -- have defeated themselves as a strategic threat. A
deal with Syria would make Israel the most secure it has been in millennia.
Syria, poor and ruled by its insecure Alawite minority, needs a basis of
legitimacy that resonates with the dominant Sunni population better than its
current game plan: issuing a shrill shriek whenever the name "Israel" is
mentioned. The Alawites believe there is no guarantee of support better than
cash, and their largest and most reliable source of cash is in Lebanon.
Getting Lebanon requires an end to Damascus' regional isolation, and the
agreement of Israel.
The outline of the deal, then, is surprisingly simple: Israel gains military
security from a peace deal in exchange for supporting Syrian primacy in
Lebanon. The only local loser would be the entity that poses an economic
challenge (in Lebanon) to Syria, and a military challenge (in Lebanon) to
Israel -- to wit, Hezbollah.
Hezbollah, understandably, is more than a little perturbed by the prospect
of this tightening noose. Syria is redirecting the flow of Sunni militants
from Iraq to Lebanon, likely for use against Hezbollah. Damascus also is
working with the exiled leadership of the Palestinian group Hamas as a
gesture of goodwill to Israel. The French -- looking for a post-de Gaulle
diplomatic victory -- are re-engaging the Syrians and, to get Damascus on
board, are dangling everything from aid and trade deals with Europe to that
long-sought stamp of international approval. Oil-rich Sunni Arab states,
sensing an opportunity to weaken Shiite Hezbollah, are flooding petrodollars
in bribes -- that is, investments -- into Syria to underwrite a deal with
While the deal is not yet a fait accompli, the pieces are falling into place
quite rapidly. Normally we would not be so optimistic, but the hard
decisions -- on Israel surrendering the Golan Heights and Syria laying
preparations for cutting Hezbollah down to size -- have already been made.
On July 11 the leaders of Israel and Syria will be attending the same event
in Paris, and if the French know anything about flair, a handshake may well
be on the agenda.
It isn't exactly pretty -- and certainly isn't tidy -- but peace really does
appear to be breaking out in the Middle East.
A Spoiler-Free Environment
Remember, the deal must please not just the petit players, but the grand
ones as well. At this point, those with any interest in disrupting the flow
of events normally would step in and do what they could to rock the boat.
That, however, is not happening this time around. All of the normal cast
members in the Middle Eastern drama are either unwilling to play that game
at present, or are otherwise occupied.
The country with the most to lose is Iran. A Syria at formal peace with
Israel is a Syria that has minimal need for an alliance with Iran, as well
as a Syria that has every interest in destroying Hezbollah's military
capabilities. (Never forget that while Hezbollah is Syrian-operated, it is
Iranian-founded and -funded.) But using Hezbollah to scupper the
Israeli-Syrian talks would come with a cost, and we are not simply
highlighting a possible military confrontation between Israel and Iran.
Iran is involved in negotiations far more complex and profound than anything
that currently occupies Israel and Syria. Tehran and Washington are
attempting to forge an understanding about the future of Iraq. The United
States wants an Iraq sufficiently strong to restore the balance of power in
the Persian Gulf and thus prevent any Iranian military incursion into the
oil fields of the Arabian Peninsula. Iran wants an Iraq that is sufficiently
weak that it will never again be able to launch an attack on Persia. Such
unflinching national interests are proving difficult to reconcile, but do
not confuse "difficult" with "impossible" -- the positions are not mutually
exclusive. After all, while both want influence, neither demands domination.
Remarkable progress has been made during the past six months. The two sides
have cooperated in bringing down violence in Iraq, now at its lowest level
since the aftermath of the 2003 invasion itself. Washington and Tehran also
have attacked the problems of rogue Shiite militias from both ends, most
notably with the neutering of Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia, the Medhi
Army. Meanwhile, that ever-enlarging pot of Sunni Arab oil money has been
just as active in Baghdad in drawing various groups to the table as it has
been in Damascus. Thus, while the U.S.-Iranian understanding is not final,
formal or imminent, it is taking shape with remarkable speed. There are many
ways it still could be derailed, but none would be so effective as Iran
using Hezbollah to launch another war with Israel.
China and Russia both would like to see the Middle East off balance -- if
not on fire in the case of Russia -- although it is hardly because they
enjoy the bloodshed. Currently, the United States has the bulk of its ground
forces loaded down with Afghan and Iraqi operations. So long as that remains
the case -- so long as Iran and the United States do not have a meeting of
the minds -- the United States lacks the military capability to deploy any
large-scale ground forces anywhere else in the world. In the past, Moscow
and Beijing have used weapons sales or energy deals to bolster Iran's
position, thus delaying any embryonic deal with Washington.
But such impediments are not being seeded now.
Rising inflation in China has turned the traditional question of the
country's shaky financial system on its head. Mass employment in China is
made possible not by a sound economic structure, but by de facto
subsidization via ultra-cheap loans. But such massive availability of credit
has artificially spiked demand, for 1.3 billion people no less, creating an
inflation nightmare that is difficult to solve. Cut the loans to rein in
demand and inflation, and you cut business and with it employment. Chinese
governments have been toppled by less. Beijing is desperate to keep one step
ahead of either an inflationary spiral or a credit meltdown -- and wants
nothing more than for the Olympics to go off as hitch-free as possible.
Tinkering with the Middle East is the furthest thing from Beijing's
Meanwhile, Russia is still growing through its leadership "transition," with
the Kremlin power clans still going for each other's throats. Their war for
control of the defense and energy industries still rages, their war for
control of the justice and legal systems is only now beginning to rage, and
their efforts to curtail the powers of some of Russia's more
independent-minded republics such as Tatarstan has not yet begun to rage.
Between a much-needed resettling, and some smacking of out-of-control egos,
Russia still needs weeks (or months?) to get its own house in order. The
Kremlin can still make small gestures -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin chatted briefly by phone July 7 with Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad on the topic of the nuclear power plant that Russia is building
for Iran at Bushehr -- but for the most part, the Middle East will have to
wait for another day.
But by the time Beijing or Moscow have the freedom of movement to do
anything, the Middle East may well be as "solved" as it can be.
The New Era
For those of us at Stratfor who have become rather inured to the agonies of
the Middle East, such a sustained stream of constructive, positive news is
somewhat unnerving. One gets the feeling that if the progress could hold up
for just a touch longer, not only would there be an Israeli-Syrian deal and
a U.S.-Iranian understanding, the world itself would change. Those of us
here who are old enough to remember haven't sensed such a fateful moment
since the weeks before the tearing down of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And --
odd though it may sound -- we have been waiting for just such a moment for
some time. Certainly since before 9/11.
Stratfor views the world as working in cycles. Powers or coalitions of
powers form and do battle across the world. Their struggles define the eras
through which humanity evolves, and those struggles tend to end in a
military conflict that lays the groundwork for the next era. The Germans
defeated Imperial France in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, giving rise to
the German era. That era lasted until a coalition of powers crushed Germany
in World Wars I and II. That victorious coalition split into the two sides
of the Cold War until the West triumphed in 1989.
New eras do not form spontaneously. There is a brief -- historically
speaking -- period between the sweeping away of the rules of the old era and
the installation of the rules of the new. These interregnums tend to be very
dangerous affairs, as the victorious powers attempt to entrench their
victory as new powers rise to the fore -- and as many petit powers, suddenly
out from under the thumb of any grand power, try to carve out a niche for
The post-World War I interregnum witnessed the complete upending of Asian
and European security structures. The post-World War II interregnum brought
about the Korean War as China's rise slammed into America's efforts to
entrench its power. The post-Cold War interregnum produced Yugoslav wars, a
variety of conflicts in the former Soviet Union (most notably in Chechnya),
the rise of al Qaeda, the jihadist conflict and the Iraq war.
All these conflicts are now well past their critical phases, and in most
cases are already sewn up. All of the pieces of Yugoslavia are on the road
to EU membership. Russia's borderlands -- while hardly bastions of glee --
have settled. Terrorism may be very much alive, but al Qaeda as a strategic
threat is very much not. Even the Iraq war is winding to a conclusion. Put
simply, the Cold War interregnum is coming to a close and a new era is
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