I should preface this by stating that I do not believe this would be the best option for the Muslim World or the greater MENA region. I think that there are better ways to solve many of the problems in the region, which include terrorism, the expansion of Islamism in both the West and the secular states of the area, and the persecution of Christians and other minorities. However, as a thought experiment, many of the issues surrounding the Muslim World, and even issues between and involving Western States, could potentially be solved by completing the system of Ba’athism and giving Bashar al-Assad dominion over the whole of the Middle East North Africa region.
To the average Western audience, I’m certain that this seems both bizarre and laughably wrong. I can already hear the scoffs- but this is a more serious suggestion than one may first believe. From the perspective of International Relations, this is actually quite sane. My personal beliefs regarding MENA are somewhat unorthodox and based in my Catholic faith, which I don’t seek to convince you of in this blog post, so I’ll attempt to argue for this from a reasonably centrist perspective rather than purely my own.
One criticism I’m certain I would hear should I ever verbally present this idea to someone is that of instability- Assad has spent the last half-decade barely holding his country together, and one highly doubts that much would change if his beleaguered regime were to be thrust into a position of administration over the whole of his region. Firstly, one must realize that the greatest threat to total and human security in the Middle East is not intranational conflicts, but rather, international wars. The Syrian Civil War has been bloody, with perhaps 400,000 soldiers and civilians killed total. The Iran-Iraq War, meanwhile, cost perhaps double that number of Iranian soldiers alone to perish, according to official Iraqi estimates. When the number of civilians and Iraqi casualties is added to this sum, we find that over 1.1 million individuals perished as a result of this conflict- over 275% as many as died in the Syrian conflict. Also, consider the ramifications of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, causing the UN to issue an embargo of the former nation that, according to 34-year UN administrative veteran Denis Halliday, amounted to a genocide. The New York Times reported that perhaps 576,000 children died as a result of starvation from these actions.
That leads into my next counterpoint to the issue of instability- one could ask, “Well, why wouldn’t Assad’s government be warlike? Certainly, if Saddam could build the fourth largest military in the world and invade his neighbors, why not Assad, given all of Alexander’s empire?”
Assad would never be able to do this because he would constantly be bogged down with local bruhahas and peacekeeping. The administrative demands of such an empire would be vast, and the sheer military presence required to prevent any serious outbreaks of separatism would make mounting a foreign invasion impossible. Additionally, his only real targets for invasion would either be countries where brutal wars are currently ongoing, such as Sudan and Somalia, where a foreign intervention for the purposes of bringing about lasting and serious order would likely be a positive change regarding human security. One topic that many in the US are concerned about is Israel- wouldn’t, despite all we’ve mentioned before, there still be the possibility of war between such a large state and such a small, relatively isolated nation? No. Coalescing all political authority in Assad would firstly greatly reduce the possibility of in invasion of Israel- such a war in the modern day could really only be fought covertly, as Israel would be able to and arguably would be justified in threatening a nuclear blast on Assad’s home and capital should they be outright invaded. Additionally, the sheer size and mere possibility that the whole of MENA’s armies may rush across the Israeli border in a way never before seen, truly under one banner, would not only greatly deter Israeli aggression, but also, perhaps finally bring Israel to the negotiating table over such issues as the Golan Heights and Palestine. Now, one may object- “Assad wouldn’t be able to invade, but could call every unit around to respond to an invasion? What gives?” Well, a number of things, including the fact that an Israeli invasion would be the Platonic ideal of a “rally around the flag” moment, and that the international community, including the USA (as evidenced by President Trump’s current tone on Israeli settlements and policy, and similar statements from Macron and others) would quite likely not support such an action. Politically, a democracy (no matter how draconian) like Israel could not justify a traditional invasion against such a large state to their voters when they could only get away with such minimal intervention in the depths of the Syrian Civil War, even after the first reported use of chemical weapons by Assad.
Now, we’ve agreed that the state will never be stable in the way that, say, the United States is stable. This can and likely would be a generally good thing, but of course, this all leads into the next issue- “With instability, people are going to want to leave! Forced from their homes- how many refugees will there be now?”
There will be no better impetus for the European Community to actually create a meaningful, permanent solution to the refugee solution than this serious political change. Firstly, the practice of dictators like Erdogan of Turkey of condoning migration for political gain would have to be seriously addressed with a persona non grata like Assad in charge. The political ramifications of this, in addition to the drastic change in circumstances, would likely cause many nations including the growingly Islamo-sceptic France of Emmanuel Macron to actively support helping migrants in their own country or neighboring countries.
Speaking of the West, this sort of thing would very likely solve a number of issues facing the West politically. For example, despite their current state of alliance, the goals of these countries would invariably begin to clash. These would be two petroleum-centric states who desire similar spheres of influence and occupy territory incredibly close to one another. While Russia has previously been able to make friends with states like Syria and Iran, who perceived a need for protection and were grateful for the assistance provided by Russia, Russia would no longer be able to act as a powerbroker for such a large state with undoubtedly serious aspirations. They would naturally disagree, forcing the area into a multipolar balance of power situation, where the US and Russia could be forced to settle their differences regarding such things as NATO and Ukraine for their collective good. The same goes for the US and the EU- there would certainly be a more pressing reason for nations like Germany to cede to Trump’s military spending demands if such a state existed just across two straights.
Again, I don’t support this as a solution to the issues of the Muslim World. However, if one purports to value human security and stability in the region, then it’s intellectually honest and frankly almost necessary to hold or at least consider this as a hypothetical solution. Obviously, this is a pipe dream- I don’t believe this is feasible in any way, and hardly believe that this is possible. However, I only seek to describe the results of such a thing, and after considering the implications from the perspective chosen, there is reason to suppose the expansion of Assad’s dominion to be a very good thing.