the conclusion to “Today’s Arabic Cold War”. Read part one here
Let’s look specifically at each of the players and their public and perceived agendas in Syria:
SAUDI ARABIA AND QATAR
With the fall of Egypt during the Arab Spring and Iraq after the U.S. invasion, the two superpowers of the Middle East receded into memory leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by Riyadh and Doha. These shifts in regional power have had a tremendous impact on places like Yemen and Bahrain. Sunni forces backed by Riyadh and Doha suppressed the majority Shiite population’s demand for greater rights under Bahrain’s Sunni leadership.
Now, the same forces are at play in Syria where Sunni forces are being amassed to overthrow Assad’s regime. Turkey, Iraq, and the Riyadh/Doha coalition are lending aid, weapons, and soldiers for one singular purpose: Establish yet another Sunni regime.
Iranian support for the Assad regime has tarnished what little positive reputation Tehran has had in the world. Should Syria fall, Iran would lose its foothold in the Middle East, and its vital staging area for insurgent attacks on Israel. Tehran withdrew support for Hamas after Hamas Prime Minister Ismial Haniya said, “I salute all people of the Arab Spring, or Islamic winter, and I salute the Syrian people who seek freedom, democracy and reform.” Iran was one of Hamas’ largest sources of money and weapons, but clearly, Hamas is pulling for a Sunni-Arab victory in Syria. This leaves Iran with only Hezbollah as an ally in the region, and that relationship is only serving to sour the Arab people against Iran. Should the Sunni’s score yet another victory in Syria, Tehran would need to step up support for Lebanon, Hezbollah’s base of operations against Israel and other Arab states.
Tehran has sent arms, cash, and recently, soldiers to assist Assad. There can only be one reason for this: Iran seeks to maintain some semblance of authority in the Middle East.
Iran is quickly finding itself being backed into a corner in the Middle East. Nothing good comes from backing an angry beast into a no win situation. With pressure from the United States against Iranian nuclear programs, Sunni power growth post the Arab Spring, the rise of Riyadh and Doha as power brokers in the region,and a dwindling base of operations in the Mediterranean, Iran can only come out swinging. It will not be long before the angry hornet’s nest wakes up.
Russia’s relationship with Islam and the Islamic states makes recent behavior by the United States look sainthood worthy.
One just need look at the Russian-Chechen relationship. Over a century of conquest, subjugation, and extermination have brought Muslims, mainly radical Sunni’s, seeking jihad into the region. Russia faces a ruthless Islamic jihadist movement that culminates in airport attacks and other forms of domestic terrorism. Granted, they brought this onto themselves, none the less, as Russia looks at the conflict in Syria, they only see one thing: The possible birth of yet another Riyadh backed Sunni regime.
The United States government either doesn’t understand, or, worse, care, about the impact of our involvement in Iraq and Libya and how these events upset the tenuous balance in the Middle East. For Russia, it is quite clear what happened.
The United States has left Iraq and Afghanistan a mess. Iraq has seen a Shi’ite government establish itself and link itself with Iran, but it faces staunch opposition from Sunni’s and Kurds. The Iraqi government is also spurned by Gulf Arab states, backed by Riyadh and Doha. A Sunni revolt in Iraq is inevitable, but not before more unrest, violence, and support from Saudi Arabia. For Russia, this mean yet another Sunni incursion.
Assad represents a secular leader standing firm against Islamic barbarians raiding the gates of his empire. Russians must ask themselves, if Syria collapses who or what is there to stop the barbarians from moving north toward the gates of Mother Russia? They’d seen Germanic marches into their nation, and now, the few remain buffer states on their southern border are collapsing, exposing a dangerous flank through which Islamic jihad can exact a terrible revenge on the people of Moscow.
The last thing Russia wants is the United States to support the revolt in Syria and then leave it a mess like it has done with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and leaving Saudi Arabia in control. Though relations between Moscow and Riyadh cooled in 2003, with Putin’s return to leadership and Moscow’s uncertainty as to Riyadh’s complete agenda in the Middle East, Russia can ill-afford to allow Assad’s regime to collapse.
Tel Aviv has been rather quiet on Syria.
Israel has watched from the sidelines as the Arab Spring brought infighting among its neighbors, especially in Egypt. This infighting has strengthened Tel Aviv’s position in the region. Even is a staunchly anti-Israel government is established in Cairo, its ability to inflict damage on Israel has been severely diminished. For Israel, a prolonged conflict in Syria only serves to hinder its enemies and strengthen Israel’s position in the Middle East.
More than that, should Syria collapse into a democratic revolution, Sunni retribution would swiftly cascade upon Hezbollah which has used Damascus as its base of operations. Tel Aviv would rejoice at the ending of the Damascus-Tehran axis of evil.
The real benefit to Assad’s downfall for Israel would be the isolation of Iran in the region. An Arab Cold War would increase Israel’s position in the region as an ideological war festers between Riyadh/Doha and any groups in the newly liberated states that align themselves with Iran.
Whether we like it or not, the U.S. has had a “promote democracy” issue since the late 1800s. President Woodrow Wilson created so much chaos in Mexico promoting democracy that he instigated Pancho Villa’s raids into the Southwest.
More recently, the United States has attempted to spread democracy in Serbia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. What these three nations should teach us is that after the U.S. comes in to “spread democracy” we leave just as quickly leaving the nation to sort it out for itself.
In April 2011, the New York Times uncovered the truth behind the “spontaneous” and “indigenous” uprisings that occurred during the Arab Spring: The United States had inspired them.
“A number of the groups and individuals directly involved in the revolts and reforms sweeping the region, including the April 6 Youth Movement in Egypt, the Bahrain Center for Human Rights and grass-roots activists like Entsar Qadhi, a youth leader in Yemen, received training and financing from groups like the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, a nonprofit human rights organization based in Washington.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/15/world/15aid.html?pagewanted=all)
As with all meddling by U.S. foreign policy, our role in the Arab Spring has set into motion something that Washington wasn’t expecting nor can restrain. While the idea of establishing democracies around the world may be noble, what is created may not resemble the democracy we would enjoy working with. Take Egypt for example, where the Muslim Brotherhood is taking control of the government. How does this play into a Pan-Arabian world where Riyadh is the power broker?
Our current administration has not had the best relationship with Russia, and now, we stand at a crossroads between Putin and Obama over Syria. The Russian’s mistrust American goals, and, more, distrust America’s handling of revolution in the Middle East.
The United States has taken a passive, Hamiltonian stance on foreign policy. However, a sit around and wait for things to shake out and react to it will not work. Several nations are taking active roles in the crisis in Syria, and it may be time for the United States to do the same.