The Grand Bargain—An Alternative to Chaos

Could the Middle East get worse? Yes, it could. As bad as the fallen dominoes are currently (Syria and Iraq) without leadership at all levels (local, regional and international), the Middle East could escalate into an oil-field inferno. The next dominoes to fall could be the direct involvement of Iran and Saudi Arabia. The first victim of this war of oil giants would be Wall St. But the second victim would be Main Street, USA, and then the dominoes would start to fall all over the world. To quote ex-President Bill Clinton: “It’s the economy, stupid.” Is it any wonder the Secretary of State keeps talking about military air strikes to roll back the Sunni uprising? The Obama administration has finally woken up. It appears they’ve discovered that, without some kind of security guarantee to establish a regional balance of power, the Middle East vacuum created will be filled one way or another.
At least it appears that way on the surface. Don’t forget that ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) has had the support of both the Saudi and Turkish governments. Both are allies of the US. Either the Obama administration agrees with the policy of these two allies, or Washington has been caught off-guard. Whichever the case, the policy has been seriously flawed. In order to roll back Iranian influence, the al-Qaeda offshoot was employed by US allies (with or without Washington’s knowledge) to spearhead the disintegration of Iraq. The strategy is to bleed Iran slowly by opening up a second front. With the global sanction regime still firmly in place, more Iranian men and materials would have to go into Iraq, while the Syrian front still costs Tehran dearly. Not a bad strategy, if you believe that ISIL will play ball. So has Obama tilted to the Sunnis? And if he has, then is the current Kerry diplomatic mission a neat little subterfuge? But more importantly, will ISIL play the ballgame that Saudi Arabia (and perhaps Washington too) envisions?
So many important questions, and yet so hidden are the answers. One can only wonder what’s going on in the minds of the different Shiite leadership centers. In Iraq, the most important voice for sanity is not a political figure. But make no mistake, the views and intentions of the spiritual leader of the Iraqi Shiites is a crucial element in any political solution to the Iraqi dilemma. Whenever the Grand Ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, speaks, the majority of the Iraqi Shiites listen. And the Grand Ayatollah has indeed spoken. He has spoken as an Iraqi, as a citizen of a democracy which wants to keep the country united and whole. His voice is a great step forward, but now it’s up to the politicians. Elections were just held, and a new government has yet to be formed. But whoever leads that new government, deep changes in the structural balance between Sunnis and Shiites must be enshrined in the new government’s coalition agreement. Only then can the local body politic begin to be healed.
Presumably that’s what the Kerry mission has been all about. But in Tehran, a different Ayatollah has his doubts. For the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the disintegration of Iraq has its headquarters in Washington, DC. With an American nod and a wink, the Iranian leadership sees a Saudi tail wagging a US dog. After all, the US had used al-Qaeda terrorists before — in Afghanistan during the 1980’s to defeat the Soviets. Decades later, the US had double-crossed Tehran in the early years of the Afghan War, when Iran aided American forces to overthrow the Taliban. Remember the US defeated the Soviets with a proxy terrorist army and then promptly disregarded the future of Afghanistan after the Soviets were defeated. This action left a huge power vacuum only to be filled by the Taliban. Meanwhile the terrorist proxy used by the CIA (and called the Afghanistan “freedom fighters”) moved back to Saudi Arabia and reconstituted themselves as al-Qaeda. It wasn’t long afterwards that the same “freedom fighters” attacked New York’s twin towers and the Pentagon itself in Washington DC.
Well, in Iranian eyes, the US is once again up to its old dirty tricks. Maybe they’re right and maybe they’re wrong. I don’t know. But what I do believe is that whoever is behind the current expansion of the Syrian War into Iraq has now gravely miscalculated. The region is now out of control and only an internationally sponsored Grand Bargain can provide the security architecture to halt the impending escalation. ISIL can’t be trusted. We are all now precariously perched on a slippery slope which could lead to a total Middle East war and global economic chaos. Without a sane solution to the Middle East balance of power vacuum, events will continue to drive all the players toward the cliff. If the US has given the Saudi ISIL initiative the green light, they could never admit it to their American public. But regardless of whether or not they initiated the policy, the policy could only lead to further chaos. There are political solutions to both Syria and Iraq, as well as a deal to be made over the Iranian nuclear program; but this can now only happen within the context of a total regional solution.
But because the region is in turmoil, only the UN Security Council can initiate the appropriate Grand Bargain. With the US, Russia and China ready to put some “skin into the game”, something might get done. But a Grand Bargain can only work if and when the US acknowledges that it can no longer go it alone in the Middle East. It needs partners not to permanently enter the region, but on the contrary, to help the US to withdraw without leaving the region in chaos. The US must begin to be honest with itself; it can no longer afford to be policeman to the world. The multipolar cooperative moment in world history has arrived as an alternative to chaos.
So what would a UN-sponsored Grand Bargain consist of? I humbly resubmit my own 14 point plan.
1. A Zone of Peace shall be established among the states of the Middle East and Persian Gulf, so that trade and navigation may move uninterrupted.
2. All foreign navies shall be banned from the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea.
3. All foreign air forces shall be denied the right to bases throughout the Zone of Peace.
4. No state in the Zone of Peace may attack another state.
5. If such an attack should occur, the permanent members of the UN Security Council would automatically come to the aid of the aggrieved state, and points 2 and 3 would become temporarily suspended.
6. If such an attack should occur, the states within the Zone of Peace would come to the aid of the aggrieved state.
7. Only sovereign states and constitutionally instituted autonomous regions would be allowed to possess military equipment. Extra-territorial militias would be outlawed.
8. The Zone of Peace should not allow for nuclear enrichment facilities. Only civilian nuclear capacity would be allowed. Enriched materials must be strictly brought in from outside the Zone of Peace and correspond to amounts necessary for only civilian applications. The reprocessing of plutonium would be strictly prohibited.
9. All states in the Zone of Peace must recognize and have diplomatic relations with all other states.
10. All states in the Zone of Peace must sign the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty), and negotiations for a Middle East Nuclear-Free Zone must begin after all states have finalized mutual recognition.
11. All states in the Zone of Peace must respect the human rights of their citizens.
12. All states in the Zone of Peace shall pledge their allegiance to a non-hegemonic regional structure, and states within the zone will also pledge NOT to conspire with other states for the purpose of such hegemony.
13. All states within the Zone of Peace must strictly abide by the rules (to be established) for the equitable dispensation of all regional hydraulic resources.
14. The resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shall be decided through negotiations, without resort to coercion. The negotiations should be based on the English translation of UN Security Council Resolution 242. Genuine compromise and goodwill must become the principles upon which these negotiations rest.

About the Author
Steven Horowitz has been a farmer, journalist and teacher spanning the last 45 years. He resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. During the 1970's, he lived on kibbutz in Israel, where he worked as a shepherd and construction worker. In 1985, he was the winner of the Christian Science Monitor's Peace 2010 international essay contest. He was a contributing author to the book "How Peace came to the World" (MIT Press).