Recent headlines suggest that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are about to get together to fix the horrific Syrian situation, and maybe much else in the Middle East besides. The assumption seems to be that the major external powers, in this case, Russia and the USA, have the means to “solve” the regional turmoil and restore stability. Deals can be done and great power diplomacy can impose agreed settlements—just as in the past.
The recent Lords enquiry into the transformation of power in the Middle East starts from different assumptions. The picture presented to us by a long list of witnesses, old and young, and from all walks, has been that this is now a totally transformed region. It is a vast zone of shifting alliances, fragmented power centres, seething with rival militias and cells, which is simply no longer amenable to traditional diplomacy, especially western diplomacy, or to moves on the global chessboard of the conventional kind.