the situation now
Afghanistan? Iraq? These are walks in the park compared to what potentially could go wrong with the current situation in Syria. First, it's worth re-reading my blog of July 25th, 2012 entitled SYRIA: A bad situation getting worse. Many of the the elements that contributed to the problems in the area are still relevant. Since then things have substantially deteriorated.
One thing is central, and that is that geopolitically, Syria is the hub of the Middle East, with its various ethnic factions extending their spokes well into surrounding countries. If enough hostility exists between factions in Syria, this violence will spread into other surrounding countires, upsetting their internal affairs. While it was an incorrect diagnosis to look at the domino theory for Vietnam, unfortunately that does not hold true for the Middle East.
The Syrian Kurds have been actively making trouble within the country, and the Assad government has responded to them and other rebellious factions with incredible brutality. Already we have begun to see border clashes become dangerously routine between Turkey and Syria, and the Kurdish conflict has also begun to affect Iraq internally. Syrian refugees in Jordan have added fuel to the fires of the Arab Spring in the Hashemite Kingdom causing an increased level of civil unrest in Amman.
what could go wrong with Syria
I knew that there was a lot going on underneath the surface of media reports on the Middle East, but a blog by Rashidah Derigham in the Huffington Post really caught my eye. She is the United Nations correspondent for the somewhat pro-Western, Arab nationalist Al Hayat, a newspaper of record for much of the Middle East. To say that her latest blog is scary is an understatement, as it is nearly apocalyptic in its analysis.
Operating from two scenarios of whether the US gets directly invovlved in a military action against Iran or not, and a third scenario on the existing Iranian government collapsing from the round of economic sanctions being imposed on it, Derigham says that Syria is the 21st Century version of Yugoslavia. When such an implosion occurs tearing the country apart, she says that it will have a direct adverse impact on Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq. Furthermore, the collapse of Syria will then threaten the stability of the Iranian regime. Unfortunately, her speculations take a wider reach than just this.
The presence of Al Queda fighters in Syria will eventually produce blowback in the Gulf Coast countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Dubai, and other oil-rich Sunni outposts on the Arab Peninsula. Not only that, but the unrest will eventually spread into the 'Stans, the former republics of the Soviet Union as well as Outer Mongolia in China.
Derigham sees America and NATO's withdrawal from Afghanistan as contributing factors as it is anticipated that Afghani insurgents will also move north into Uzbekistan, Tajikistan. This will necessitate Russian military involvement to defend its national interests in the new countries formerly under Soviet control. Even more worrying is the continued presence of military action between Syria and Turkey.
It makes no difference whether hostilities from Syria are being initiated by government loyalists or by insurgents in the Free Syrian coalition who are intent on drawing Turkey into the fray more. Under the provisions of the NATO charter, Turkey would have every right to declare itself under attack -- bringing American and European forces into direct military action. A significant danger to all of this is that Russia is closely aligned with the Assad government in Damascus. Thus there is the potential for a direct face-off between NATO and Russian forces. I don't have to tellyou which world war we would be of danger of getting into with that situation.
where the USA stands now towards Syria
I had a chance this morning to have a brief conversation with US Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. When I explained my reservations about current US policies, he repeated back to me the standard line of our national policy. Basher Assad is a very bad guy who deserves to go, and we are in support of Syrian freedom fighters who are trying to accomplish that. Furthermore, Russian involvement with the Assad regime in Damascus is a very bad thing, as they are merely trying to prop up the horrible Syrian government.
This contrasts with the Russian view, which is constantly articulated on Russia Today, the 24 hour English TV news channel broadcasting from Moscow. The Russian foreign government is continually complaining about the US and other powers trying to undermine the Syrian government. Above and beyond anything, the Russians are urging for a cease fire between all factions in Syria so that peace talks can get underway to stabilize the situation.
While our position as articulated by President Obama may sound noble, I do not believe that it adequately takes into account all of the dangerous variables that are at play here. The immediate danger is a Turkish plea to NATO for direct military involvement against the Assad regime. However, there is a complicating factor in US foreign policy beyond this, which are the neocons.
The ghost of Dick Cheney is alive and well in Washington, DC. There are a cabal of right wingers who would like nothing better than to see a much larger conflagration in the Middle East. Some are craven supporters of Netanyahu in Israel who believe that by battling against Syria, we can further "democratize" the Middle East, installing a puppet government in Damascus that is favorable to our way of doing business.
Others have even baser motives. They would like nothing better than to see $200+ a barrel oil, as they would be able to get even more money into their bank accounts. The fact that such a broad scale action in the Middle East against both Syria and Iran would lead to an immediate worldwide depression due to oil increases would be just more good news to them. Not only could they reap more rewards on their oil futures contracts, but massive worldwide deflation would vastly increase their capital reserves at no risk whatever. A new Middle Eastern conflagration of much larger scale than either Afghanistan or Iraq would redistribute income toward the top even more effectively than what we've seen in the last ten years.
Last but not least, let us not forget the true whack jobs. How about those people who want to see Baby Jesus land in the flying saucer so that he can convert those 144,000 Jews before all of us good guys go to Heaven? The anodyne of all of this of course are the international fighters in Syria who will be happy to fight for Allah in Outer Mongolia or France.
In case you didn't know, neocons and their fundamentalist kissing cousins are no sweethearts. And now I've given you one more reason to vastly dislike them.
what needs to be done with US foreign policy now
One of the good pieces of news is that any major US action in the Middle East is effectively deep frozen until after the election, and that gives us all enough time to lobby our elected officials to the dangers of our current shortsighted policies there.
One of the tenets of American foreign policy has been the Carter Doctrine, which is merely a rehash of the same doctrine informally established by Franklin Roosevelt shortly before his death in 1945. That is, we have a special relationship with Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries in the Middle East. And it is in our national self interest to insure that the flow of oil there continues cheaply, plentifully, and without interruption.
If American foreign policy makers keep this in their mind as their #1 priority, they might begin to understand that things are not being helped by our reflexive position of being the big swinging dick in the Middle East in all areas. Particularly with regards to Syria, not only do we have literally zero influence in that country now, but any relations that we do have are infinitely poisoned by our positions of support to Israel.
Russia has had a strong presence in Syria for decades. It still has an operating naval base at the Syrian port of Tartus, and it's long had the closest relationship with the Assad government of any other country. While Russia will no doubt do whatever it can to insure the longevity of the Baath regime and the Assad clan, surely it must know that his days are numbered.
A negotiated cease fire may buy some time for Assad faction, but I believe that realistically there is no long term future for the current regime. Therefore, Russia may very well have to see that Assad take a safe passage to Moscow to with the rest of his clan to spend the rest of their lives in exile. Once a new Syrian government is in place, the odds are overwhelming that there will be another dictatorship. However, the form of government makes no difference to greater regional stability.
As long as the Syrian government has some kind of successful transition (thanks to Russian intervention), this will ultimately be good for America. Russian involvement will maximize the chances for peace, since Russia is a trusted and honest broker between the Syrian factions. Russia will have its ego salved by being able to demonstrate its great power status as a regional peacemaker. And besides, Syria is and will continue to be a country under the influence of Russia rather than the Western powers. The status quo will be preserved.
As Alastair Cook ( a former high level British spymaster) said, the American impulse to "kick Assad's ass" is no different than the attitude we took towards Saddam Hussein, Al Queda in Afghanistan, or Mo Qaddaffi in Libya. And we have seen the results of what American ass-kicking has accomplished in all three areas. Isn't is possible that American self-interest might actually be served by letting Russia take on the heartache of trying to be great power in an area of the Middle East where they've had long influence -- rather than having the US naively following a plan to "democratize the Middle East?"
what you need to personally do
We all need to notify both the White House and our US senators, telling them that existing American foreign policy in Syria could ultimately backfire, leading us all into much bigger problems than anything before.