It’s a mad, mad world out there — so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the Mad Tweeter is running our world here.

The Middle East has long been an anarchist’s dream, but in recent weeks it’s been even more chaotic than Trump’s White House.

Let’s start with the Syrian civil war. A few days ago, the US shot down a Syrian aircraft operated by the government of Bashar al-Assad. Russia, of course, is on Assad’s side, seeing his continued presence as key to whatever remains of its influence in the Arab World.

So Syria is creating the possibility of a direct US-Russian confrontation. But wait: at the same time, Russia and the US are allied in Syria in the fight against ISIS.

Expanding the picture slightly, NATO is on board with US objectives in Syria. Well, not all of NATO — we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies have just initiated a blockade of Sunni Gulf neighbor Qatar, a former friend, ostensibly for supporting Islamic extremists. Saudi Arabia, of course, going back to 9/11, has been the key instigator, and funder, of extremist Islamic groups. Its Wahhabi version of Islam, a throwback to the Middle Ages, has been spreading across the Arab World on the backs of Saudi petrodollars.

Qatar, caught in this misbegotten squeeze-play by its fellow Sunni Arabs, has been forced to align itself with Iran, the leader of Shi’ite Muslims in the Middle East. Iran is the biggest supporter of Syria’s Assad, whose Alawite religion is an offshoot of Shia Islam.

NATO member Turkey, Syria’s neighbor to the north, with its population of 75 million, overwhelmingly Sunni, has decided to back Qatar and its Shia friends, Syria and Iran, because — back to the Syrian civil war — of the strength of the Syrian Kurds, Sunnis, in their fight against Assad.

The US doesn’t really have a dog in the Saudi-Qatar fight — except that we’ve long been supporters of oil-rich Saudi Arabia; and that we have an air base in Qatar, our only base in the Persian Gulf, where some 11,000 Americans and NATO soldiers are based. Someone obviously forgot to tell Trump about that base in Qatar: he came out vociferously in favor of Saudi Arabia — where we have no bases — and, true to uninformed form, actually boasted of initiating the unfortunate conflict.

Turkey, which has long been a proponent of overthrowing Assad, is now not sure it wants to see him gone. Virtually all of the Syrian side of the lengthy Turkish-Syrian border has been taken over by Syrian Kurds. Assad and his Alawite/Shia government are bad news for Ankara, but Kurds are worse.

Or at least some Kurds. In northern Iraq, Iraqi Kurds have carved out an autonomous state, supported for years by money earned from unhindered transit through Turkey of oil from the fields the Iraqi Kurds have commandeered from Baghdad.

An independent Kurdish state on Turkey’s southeastern border, just across from the 15 million or so Turkish Kurds that have long been seeking autonomy, or even independence, would seem anathema to Turkey. But Iraqi Kurds are preferable to the Iraqi Shia government that rules in Baghdad. Baghdad’s Shia government — in power, you remember, courtesy of the US military — is of course clearly aligned with Shi’ite Iran, the US’s bete noir in the Middle East, its strategic goal the creation of a Shia arc from Tehran through Baghdad, then Syria into Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon.

 


The enemy of my enemy is still my friend? Not in today’s Middle East. Russia is our enemy, and so is Assad. And ISIS is their enemy but is surely not our friend.

How about: my friend is my other friend’s enemy. In the Syrian civil war, our strongest and most successful ally against Assad are the Syrian Kurds, but a Kurdish autonomous state in northern Syria, which is where the endless war is heading, would be totally unacceptable to Turkey. The down-the-road result of a successful alliance between the US and Syria’s Kurds may ultimately be an attack by Turkey, our NATO ally, against our Kurdish allies in northern Syria.

And just a few days ago, our arch-enemy Iran, for the first time, launched a missile attack in eastern Syria against our arch-enemy ISIS.

At the same time that Saudi Arabia is out to wreck its neighbor Qatar, it’s undergoing the potentially most dangerous internal shake-up since its founding over 100 years ago. The youthful — he’s 31 — deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was just bumped up to crown prince by the current king, his ailing father, at the expense of his cousin, the generation-older ex-crown prince.

If the notoriously secretive Sa’ud royal family — some estimate there are well over 10,000 of them — doesn’t coalesce behind the young upstart, it could result in serious unrest in the kingdom, ultimately paving the way for even more Islamic extremism.

Meanwhile, on the fringe of the Arab World, Donald Trump is promising to add a few thousand more troops to the 10,000 or so we still have on the ground in Afghanistan, where the Taliban in the last decade faced off well over 100,000 American soldiers. The Taliban has continued to survive over the years with support from our erstwhile friends in Pakistan. A couple thousand more troops to end the US’s longest war?

It’s a deteriorating world out there — without even considering a nuclear-armed North Korea.

And what passes for the adults on the scene are led by Donald Trump.

Is it a surprise that not a few international commentators have wondered if the US wouldn’t gain by retreating altogether from involvement in the Middle East?

But let’s end on an upbeat note: yesterday, Trump sent his son-in-law Jared Kushner to the Middle East to negotiate a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, as they celebrate 50 years of ongoing conflict. Seeking peace between the two, Kushner follows in the footsteps of Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Bill Clinton — to name a few. Kushner’s previous international experience has consisted of negotiating real estate loans with Russian bankers.

Maybe next week he’ll send daughter Ivanka to Damascus to work out an end to the Syrian civil war.