Both Russia and China have decided to move on with life and leave the Syrian killing fields open to the brave lads — or idiots, depending on how you look at life — from Turkey, United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Russian and Chinese assessments are strikingly similar, namely, that a civil war has commenced in right earnest and the outcome of it, if at all, will only be known in the fulness of time.
Even an experienced and wise Arabist like Evgeniy Primakov would hesitate to hazard a guess
what all is going to happen. So, it is now primarily a Turkish-American joint venture with the working capital coming from the sheikhs in the Persian Gulf. Both Russia and China have estimated that the US and its coalition of the willing all along wanted to kill the Kofi Annan mission and were only buying time to transform the Syrian rebels into a fighting force, and now they think that objective has been realised.
A strongly-worded editorial in the People’s Daily
has hinted that Russia and China will not be party to any Western move to legitimise a military intervention in Syria via a United Nations Security Council mandate. Which means, the West faces a Hobson’s choice. Of course, Washington will know this is a trap.
The point is, it is going to be a trap — this kind of proxy war developing in Syria which may be fought inconclusively for months, if not years. The ‘regime change’ is supposed to be a quick, in-and-out operation for it to be cost-effective. Or else, the events might spin out of control, as they did in Iraq.
This is exactly what a prominent Russian expert foresees happening — Yevgeniy Satanovski, president of the Middle East Institute in Moscow. Unfortunately, his interview appearing in Osobaya Bukva
(August 6) is in Russian, so let me reproduce some excerpts in crude translation (Russian humor doesn’t lend itself to translation):
A. Annan Mission: “[Kofi] Annan was a conscientious intermediary who found himself in a totally no-win situation where it was impossible do anything… Civil wars are not ended by international intermediaries… he had no chance from the beginning. So, when he saw what was obvious to everyone, being a bureaucrat, he decided to quit before the blame game began.”
B. Western military intervention: “Before sending in the troops, you have to figure out how to take them out — how much losses you can take, whether you can take out the air defence system or not, and so on. This is quite an expensive, extremely costly enterprise. Those troops will be attacked with chemical weapons, among other things. The regime has already warned clearly, and it did the right thing by warning.”
“What kind of a madman would start a war in an election year? Besides, three words differentiate President Bush and his neocons from President Obama — Nobel Peace Prize… If there is a war with Iran, it can be attributed to Iran’s nuclear programme or its aggressive behavior. But a war with Syria? Why? Well, in this world anything can happen, but the chance [of Western military intervention in Syria] is minimal.”
C. Bashar regime’s prospects: ” A serious civil war is under way there which is actively fostered from outside. So, there is also an information war which constantly projects that the regime is about to fall. But all of this has nothing to do with the reality.”
“The terrorist groups’ offensive on Damascus has failed. The rebellion in Aleppo have been cut short… The attempt to open a corridor from the Turkish border to Aleppo so as to bring in armaments have been thwarted. The border with Iraq is controlled by the Kurdish peshmerga who are Bashar’s allies… Clearly, Bashar will use these opportunities and show the utmost toughness. That is, if Turkey strikes him, Kurds will strike Turkey in the rear.”
“How can Bashar’s position be really so bad? It may not be brilliant, considering the aggression supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the Western community. But it is much better than Muammar Gaddafi’s position… Besides, he has learnt from the Libyan war. And he will defend himself to the end.”
“A significant proportion — the backbone — of the opposition consists of al-Qaeda people brought in from outside Syria but ultimately, they cannot be in unlimited numbers… Whereas, you have about half a million people serving the Syrian security forces, out of whom one-third are hardened military personnel. And even if there are 20000 deserters, what is the regime’s problem? It can sit it out perfectly well.”
To my mind, American policymakers aren’t such duffers as not to know already what Satanovski explains. No wonder, France is probing how a meeting of the P-5 at foreign minister level could be convened in end-August. The West needs Russia and China in
somehow. Again, secretary of state Hillary Clinton is doing the smart thing
to divert her aircraft from the south of Africa to Turkey before returning home.
The US needs to make sure Turkey doesn’t chicken out. After all, Turks have a fairly good intelligence apparatus, which would know this could turn out to be a quagmire for Turkey. Turkish PM Recep Erdogan, too, being an astute politician, would know that even Islamist commentators who generally warm up to him are feeling gloomy about the roller coaster ride of the Turkish foreign policy
. The point is, the Saudis and Qataris (and the West) can cheer from the sidelines, but it is Erdogan who has to bell the cat.