We don't know what it is yet... but the future is clear... that the past is history!
There will be no return to the fragile stability of even just five years ago. U.S. troops are greatly reduced in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Arab Springs of North Africa have become relatively calm (minus Libya), but their spread to Syria and Iraq have unleashed demons that have been underground -- some for as long as 1400 years. Humpty Dumpty cannot be put back together again.
The Turk Ottoman Empire held the region relatively together for 400 years until they sided with Germany in WWI, and the allies (England and France) dismantled the remains of what was left of the Empire into what became mostly colonial protectorates.
I'm not a scholar of this period, but I point out this history to remind the reader that the current "norm" is much less than 100 years old, and in many instances was transformed again and again after WWII, with divisions of land, independence to colonies, coups and changes of regimes many times, up to and including the present. The chaos we are witnessing now is the real norm of this tumultuous region!
Iraq and Syria will not return as singular states to their former borders. The ethnic, tribal and religious rivalry within those states cannot be returned to their previous tenuous, fractious co-existence. The people and their local leaders ascribe to tribal, clan, religious and ethnic loyalty -- with little or no national pride as a country in the world family (maybe Egypt excepted). Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Christians (e.g. Catholics, Maronite, Orthodox, Coptic, Protestants), Druze, Sunny Muslims, and Shi'a Muslims, are unable to share leadership or live together in peace. They are now being torn by different power centers, accenting one aspect of a tribe or a faith against the others. It is frightful and wrought with danger to be on the wrong side. The nature of the horrors need not be repeated nor documented here. Huffington Post readers and any followers of current events know that the stronger, the most extreme, the better funded and organized inflict their fury on their secular co-religionists and the ethnic and religious minorities. The West can only helplessly watch and be outraged by the atrocities inflicted on the innocent.
So what can/should the West do given these revulsions?
In my opinion, taking the history and current events into consideration, I think the West can and should do nothing to try to referee among these entities and peoples. The West will be best served if we just stand aside, out of their way and let them find a new normalcy under their own power, in their own time. To the extent that their actions and violence threaten us, we need to defend ourselves and be vigilant against their hostility toward our western, tolerant, social and secular norms.
First, we should abandon any hope of deradicalizing Iran. The West should continue and increase the economic sanctions against them -- and when and if appropriate, use military action to neutralize their nuclear weapons program. We need to make it more difficult for them to fund their many radical surrogates in the region.
Second, we withdraw from Iraq and use our forces to fortify our allies that surround Iraq, Iran, Syria and Lebanon. That means Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the Emirates, and even Kurds -- if they have control of a defined area in Syria and/or Iraq. Maybe we include Turkey among the protected if the new coalition government to be formed wants to cooperate as any NATO ally should. The Iranian Kurds remain at the mercy of Iran.
Syria and Iraq are "failed states" that should be ousted from the United Nations since their envoys no longer represent the entirety of their people or territory.
Third, we assist Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Emirates to take control of Yemen, pacify that country and give Saudi Arabia direct access to the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. This access will reduce the Saudi's reliance on the Persian Gulf and the danger of Iran choking the Straits of Hormuz, disabling them to get their oil on the high seas. In such case, maybe Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates might be able to ship their oil through Oman or Saudi Arabia too to also avoid Iran, the Gulf, and the Straits of Hormuz.
Fourth, we assist Egypt and its regional allies to become the protectorate of Libya, isolating or destroying those entities attached to Al-Qaeda or ISIS.
In my recent futuristic novel, 2039, much of this is detailed, along with the establishment of an independent Palestine alongside the Jewish State of Israel.
Search Amazon for 2039, Paperback or Kindle.