The ambivalent “anti-ISIS” coalition, with its proxies and allies, is deconstructing as they hoped Syria would.
To briefly reiterate: following the Russian buildup of forces in Syria, we have seen the US soften its stance about Assad and Syria’s future. These are baby steps perhaps, but they are first steps, so they are significant. Adults of the world should rejoice. In the last week, US officials have backed off on long-held principles of policy, and thereby have been accused by neo-cons and hawks of withering before a Russian advance. More concretely, after many delays, the US took up Russia’s offer for military-to-military contact to forestall dangerous encounters between the two forces in Syria, and, most significantly, the US administration has granted an opening for Assad to stick around, as he is going to whether they like it or not. This constitutes a major shift from their previous position whereby Assad had to be removed first. The contorted justifications for this policy hinged on identifying the secular Assad, the Alawite married to a Sunni, as the cause of Syrian sectarian terrorism.
What evidently precipitated the US shift was the growing tide of reports about a Russian military buildup in Syria, but what made the somewhat foggy Russian facts-on-the-ground so concretely effective was that they were framed by careful diplomacy, common sense, and international legal precedent. What stymied the West in its imperial tracks was Putin’s plain offer for collaboration against terrorism, and his obviously legitimate backing for a long-time ally against those terrorists.
The US shift is extremely significant for its allies and coalition partners, and will force the intransigent to alter their course too. But to an extent, several allies already have been pulling the US towards a Russian opening akin to that made with Iran. At the same time, Russia, using carrots and sticks alike — and common sense — has been peeling off other US allies and Syria coalition partners. This has been occurring for weeks and months, and now is starting to bear fruit. Certainly, with the US shift, we will soon hear more about the backstories. Some following posts will discuss a number of coalition partners and US allies, among them Germany and Saudi Arabia, who are more openly dealing with the Russians, and diplomatically urging the US to do the same.
This policy shift also effects a sidelining of the war parties amongst coalition governments, including the US. General Allen, Obama’s “ISIS czar”, who had arranged with the Turks the construction of a “buffer zone” in northern Syria, has now resigned, no doubt in disgust, but officially for family reasons. Obama, it seems, has reined in the most egregious hawks with the Iran deal, and also is playing somewhat sensibly in regard to Russia’s presence in Syria so far.
Has Obama conspired to turn US sovereignty over to Russia, as hardliners cry? Hardly. The game is global. NATO just decided to ship 20 more nukes to Germany, and the Pentagon is preparing new war plans for battles with Russia in the Baltic, so all is not lost for warmongers. They may still pray the mad General Breedlove (strangely Strangelovian), acting head of NATO forces in Europe, will act on his alarming words.
Turkey, which also will be a major concern in these posts, is NATO’s southern spear eastwards. It is among those with most to lose with the new Russian influence in the region. Erdogan, or the Turkish military elites driving him, has tossed aside a precious carrot offered last year by Putin, the Turkstream pipeline, and bet the house on the US-led coalition’s goals of deconstructing Syria, overthrowing Assad, and garnering influence through occupation or proxy governments. Israel, we will see in my next post, finds itself today in a similarly unenviable position, having rejected its Russian carrot. We will be watching events in Turkey closely, especially as they head for elections November 1.
Iraq, where Turkey has been bombing the PKK repeatedly, is for the moment out of the fight, but it is obvious that many in Baghdad sympathize with the new coalition of the truly willing: Russia, Syria, Hezbollah, and Iran. Any pretensions Turkey had to projecting its military might into Syria, to follow up on fleeing Kurdish terrorists, or to protect the tombstone of Shah Suleyman, must now be off the table, at least if rational minds prevail. For the moment, it seems they have, in the US, where Mad Men abound, and in Israel, which is led by one. That cooler heads have momentarily prevailed seems sealed by Kerry’s back-off and blink, as well as Netanyahu’s humiliating visit to Moscow in the past few days. The latter will be the subject of my next post.