By: Rami G Khouri
Russia, Iran and Turkey will determine the future of Syria
As the dust settles from the Franco-Anglo-American missile attacks against Syrian targets, we find once again that narrow military action in one corner of that ravaged country may have little impact on the wider political and security picture.
The current geopolitics of the Syrian conflict is more complex and intractable than ever before because it is no longer a single issue with two clear protagonists who can be engaged in a political negotiation to end the war.
The dynamics of the military attack, in fact, clarify the intricate diplomatic dynamics that we can expect to see in the months and years ahead. The attacks on narrowly defined Syrian targets were planned carefully to avoid hitting any Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah targets, as well as Turkish assets on the ground.
The importance of these four actors – as has been proven for a few years now – is that they are all prepared to engage directly in warfare inside Syria, even if pursuing different reasons. By contrast, the United States, other Western powers and Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which have assisted rebel forces against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, have indicated that they are not prepared for prolonged direct combat inside Syria.
So, as the world continues to seek diplomatic progress towards ending the war, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Hezbollah will continue to dominate the situation on the ground. Meanwhile, the role of the West in the future of the Middle East remains in transition to an unclear destination.
A new mandate for Syria
The last two years of Russian, Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah military operations on the ground have achieved effective victory over various armed groups opposing the Assad regime. Two critical issues, however, remain.
One is the fate of the northeastern regions where Syrian Kurds now enjoy some self-rule but face opposition from both the Syrian and Turkish governments. The other is what happens to the tens of thousands of rebel fighters that belong to a mixed bag of Islamist and secular groups, now mostly encircled in a few areas in the northwest and south of the country.
Once those two issues are clarified, the pressing question of the future of Syria will have to be tackled. The Sochi and Ankara meetings between the presidents of Russia, Turkey and Iran are an important sign that Syria today is experiencing many of the same dynamics that it did 100 years ago.
At that time, British and French colonial officials shaped its existence as a new state in a new regional order that mainly suited their interests, with Turkish, Russian, American, Zionist and other players entering the fray when they could.
That external actors are once again shaping Syria’s future without taking into consideration the will of the Syrian people means that we are likely to see a repeat of the inherent weaknesses it suffered a century ago. A country that is created or reconfigured mainly according to the wishes of foreign powers, and does not allow its own people a role in decision-making, will find it difficult to achieve full sovereignty or stability.
States managed perpetually by a very small powerful elite almost certainly suffer the consequent abuse of power, corruption, development imbalances, social injustices and a sense of helplessness which triggered the Arab uprisings in 2011 and ultimately sparked the Syrian civil war.
The future role of the West in the Middle East
In the face of these immense challenges, the recent air attacks against three Syrian targets appear marginal to the larger picture of Syria’s real stresses and future priorities. The tripartite Franco-Anglo-American attacks that aimed to punish the Syrian government and deter it from using chemical weapons will probably succeed in briefly stopping the use of these barbaric instruments of war, as they have done briefly in the past.
But Western attacks on Middle Eastern targets such as al-Qaeda since the 1990s have pushed the region toward militarism and chaos.
Al-Qaeda, specifically, is bigger and more diffused today than it was 25 years ago. Weaker governments and insecurity have also provided openings for local “terror” groups and other foreign powers to act at will and spurred greater local defiance against the US and other Western powers.
Most significantly, Western and Arab states that have used proxy military and political means to “roll back” Iranian influence in Arab lands have achieved the opposite. Iranian, Russian, Hezbollah and Turkish influence in Syria and other Arab countries has grown steadily, in line with the persistent militarism of the US and other Western powers.
From Roman times to Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron and Theresa May today, these lessons keep being learned and re-learned. Only addressing the root causes of political violence in the Middle East through political and socioeconomic means will end the violence, run the dictators out of town, leave no reason for foreign powers to engage militarily in this region, and achieve peace and prosperity for its people who mostly remain helpless before their own and foreign killers.
The writer is a senior public policy fellow and journalism professor at the American University of Beirut.
Key world reactions to Syria strikes
Here is a roundup of key reactions to the strikes by the United States, Britain and France against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Russia severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military is helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement. It said it was calling an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.
China said it was “opposed to the use of force” in international relations.
It called for a political solution and a “return to the framework of international law”.
Assad’s key regional ally, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, branded US President Donald Trump, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Theresa May “criminals”.
“A year ago I gave Israel’s total support for (US) President Donald Trump’s decision to mobilise against the use of chemical weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, referring to American strikes against the Syrian regime in April 2017 after a sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town.
“Israel’s support remains unchanged,” he added.
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a statement backed the strikes, saying they “will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons”.
Nato expressed “full support for this action intended to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter further chemical weapon attacks against the people of Syria,” the alliance said in second statement.
“Chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity or become normalized. They are an immediate danger to the Syrian people and to our collective security.”
“I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement.
“We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
It accused Damascus of “crimes against humanity”.
European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that the European Union supported the strikes and “will stand with our allies on the side of justice”.
German chancellor Angela Merkel called the strikes a “necessary and appropriate military intervention”.
The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain defended the strikes as justified by evidence of a chemical attack.
“All precautions must be taken to minimise harm to civilians in any military action,” Raed Jarrar, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at rights watchdog Amnesty International USA said in a statement.
The Crisis Is Only in Its Beginning Stages
Many, including Russia’s President Putin, have asked why the US launched an illegal attack on Syria prior to the chemical weapons inspectors examining the site of the alleged chemical attack.
This popular question completely misses the point. The US attack on Syria is a clear and indisputable war crime against a sovereign country regardless of whether Syria used a chemical weapon in driving the Washington-supported terrorists from Douma. No one acted to stop Washington’s war crime. Some of Washington’s vassals, such as Germany and Italy, refused to participate in Washington’s war crime, but no one attempted to block it. The impotent UN Security Council, to which Russia is wasting its time appealing, the EU, NATO, Russia and China themselves did nothing to stop Washington’s Nazi-era war crime.
Russia said that if Washington’s attack harmed its citizens, there would be military consequences, but Russia did not protect its ally Syria from the attack.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter as Washington’s attack was carefully conducted so as to have no effect except to serve as a face-saver for Trump. Apparently no one was killed and no damage was done to anything real except to a facility in which anti-venom for snake bites was being produced.
On the other hand, it does matter, because of the perception that the American presstitutes have created that it was a great victory for America over the evil Syrian government and the evil Russian government that supports them. This perception, which the presstitutes have created with their fake news, justifies the war crime and will lead to more attacks on Syria.
It is unlikely that the UN Security Council will condemn Washington, which pays 25 percent of the UN’s budget. Moreover, the Security Council is loaded up with Washington’s vassals, and they will not vote to censure their liegelord. Putin is wasting his time taking the matter to the Security Council, unless his purpose is to prove that every Western institution is completely corrupt. As most informed people already know this, I don’t understand the point of proving the known. Putin should read Eric Zuesse’s article before he puts too much faith in the UN.
As I have written on a number of occasions, I admire Putin’s Christian character of sidestepping the beatings he continuously takes from Washington in order to save the world from the massive deaths of a world war. The problem is that by turning the other cheek, Putin encourages more aggression from Washington. Putin is dealing with neoconservative psychopaths. He is not dealing with common sense.
During the entirety of the Cold War, no US ambassador to the UN spoke aggressively and disrespectfully to the Soviet representative as Nikki Haley speaks to the Russian ambassador. During the Cold War no American president would have tolerated Nikki Haley. She would have instantly been fired.
The Russian government is captured by delusion if the Russians believe that the US government, in which Nikki Haley is Trump’s choice to be America’s spokesperson to the world, in which the crazed neoconservative war monger John Bolton is a principal influence over US military and foreign policy, and in which the President himself is under threat of indictment for wanting to normalize relations with Russia, has any prospect of avoiding war.
The best chance of preventing the oncoming war is Russian-Chinese-Iranian unity and a defeat for American arms in a regional context not worth the Washington psychopaths launching of nuclear weapons. Until Washington is effectively resisted, Washington’s European vassals, the UN Security Council and the OPCW will stand with Washington. Once Washington experiences a defeat, NATO will dissolve and with this dissolution, Washington’s ability to threaten other countries will lose its cover and evaporate.
Paul Craig Roberts is an American economist, journalist, blogger, and former civil servant. He is best known as a journalist specializing in economic affairs from an anti-establishment, liberal conservative perspective.