As Jonathan Spyer observes, the situation on the ground between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian GUlf has no precedent. With the exception of the quarter or so of Syrian territory still held by the Assad regime, the entire region is controlled by nonstate actors who stand at the top of the list of terrorist organizations of Western countries: Hezbollah, the al-Nusrah Front, ISIS, and Shi’ite militias under the direct control of the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps. Nearly 20 million people have been displaced, including 12 million in Syria, more than half the population. The closest comparison in modern European history is to the emergence of Wallenstein’s mercenary army as a quasi-independent power in the 30 Years’ War. That is the result of America’s foolish attempt to undo the balance of ethnic and sectarian power constructed by Sykes and Picot.
The only way to stabilize the region is radical devolution: break Iraq up into three states and Syria into two states, with international supervision and limited deployment of ground forces to counter the die-hards, e.g., ISIS. But Iran and Turkey will stop this if they are able to do so, and the P5+1 agreement with Iran empowers rather than restricts Iran’s freedom of action–so we have moved in the opposite direction. Once again, American diplomacy made matters worse rather than better.
First: The refugee problem (not to mention the problem of economic migrants from Africa and elsewhere) is an order of magnitude too big for Europe to handle. Europe will go through the motions of seeming humanitarian, but the result will be a ghastly mess.
The second problem relates to security: Europe has no possible way to screen “refugees” from war zones, to distinguish victims from their killers, or terrorists from asylum-seekers. Europe is importing some of the most dangerous and vicious people in the world without controls of any kind. We may presume that ISIS now has as many operatives in Europe as it cares to send. No good deed goes unpunished. The Germans in particular like the idea of being humanitarians rather than the other sort of thing, but will come to regret their generosity.
The situation on the ground will continue to deteriorate, as Sunnis rally to ISIS to counter the growing influence of Iran, now validated by the P5+1 nuclear deal. The radicalization of the region will spill over into Europe.