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Articles on Syria after 2012
The center of the new world order
Articles on Syria before 2012


  • (february 2012) The center of the new world order: Syria. The Syrian regime of Bashir Assad is the last remaining of the secular despots of the Arab world after the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The rest of the Arab world is in the hands of "enlightened" kings/sheiks/sultans that somehow have better weathered the "Arab Spring" or is in the process of becoming democratic (Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria). The various kings/sheiks/sultans have historically been more likely to ally with the West than with Russia or China (and certainly the most hypocritical in their condemnation of Israel). The democracies of the Arab world are inevitably more attracted towards the West than towards Russia and China (that also tend to support the despots until the very end). Therefore now Syria appears to be the last bastion for Russian and Chinese influence in the region. Once Syria falls to the opposition, Russia will be completely estranged from the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA) in a way that has not been seen since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Couple it with the loss of the Caucasus, and, from Russia's viewpoint, this looks like a geopolitical debacle of historical proportions. One can easily argue that it's been mostly their own doing: if they had joined the war against Saddam Hussein, if they had supported the Arab Spring, and if they had sided with the Arab League against Iran, today Russia would not be so isolated as it is in the region.
    China's feelings are probably even more hurt. After all, China is the emerging superpower. However, its influence is hardly increasing. The whole of Southeast Asia leans strongly towards the USA, no matter how much of its trade depends on China. Even Myanmar, the last military dictatorship in the region, is now opening up to the USA (the director of the CIA is scheduled to visit the military regime). Where the USA is losing influence (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq), China gains none (it actually gains more worries because those countries are more likely to support than to fight an anti-Chinese insurgency in the Chinese far west, that is mostly Muslim). Where China loses influence, instead, the USA gains. China has become the world's second economy but it has gained no significant influence in the main oil region of the world. It probably views the fall of Assad in Syria as yet another missed opportunity.
    The regional powers in the Middle East (that project power beyond their borders) are Turkey and Iran. Turkey has taken a tough stand towards Assad, siding more and more openly with the opposition. Obviously Turkey must see the civil war in Syria as fundamentally different from its own internal war against the Kurdish separatists (that has spilled over even into Iraqi territory and killed scores of Kurdish civilians) and the dictatorship in Syria as fundamentally different from its own internal censorship (this very website www.scaruffi.com and millions more are banned in Turkey, a country that still denies the Armenian holocaust). Turkey's influence in the region has risen tremendously since the Iraqi war and the Arab Spring: most of those new democracies are looking up to Turkey as a role model in creating a democratic Islamic state; and Turkey is happy to play such a role model because all those countries used to be part of the Ottoman Empire when it ruled from Tunisia to Iraq. Consciously or subconsciously, Turkey feels that this is a historical chance to reconstitute that vast spheere of influence, in which case it would even beat the old decaying bankrupt European powers at their own (neocolonial) game. Turkey is upset with Assad's obstinacy precisely because Syria borders on Turkey, and therefore is de facto a buffer between Turkey and the region that could become Turkey's political, economic and cultural satellite.
    Iran, on the other hand, is adamant that the protesters are agents of Israel and of the West, and is standing shoulder to shoulder with Assad. The reason is purely geopolitical: Syria is the main ally of Iran, and it is the natural geographical conduit for Iran's weapons to Hezbollah (in Lebanon) and Hamas (in Palestine), its two proxies in its holy war against Israel. Iran has, of course, its own problems with a covert nuclear program that has become the target of all sorts of Western plots (from the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists to public discussions of possible preemptive strikes against Iranian facilities). If Iran were not a theocracy so obsessed with reconquering Jerusalem from the infidels, it would have long abandoned Assad, who is neither a Shiite nor a good Muslim. (Iran is Shia Islam, the rest of the region including Syria is mostly Sunni Islam, and the two consider each other apostates). Instead Syria is crucial in Iran's strategy: without Syria, it might lose Hamas (that in fact is already trying to settle its differences with Fatah and is talking to Jordan about relocating there) and Hezbollah. The rockets that those two groups received from Iran are Iran's life insurance, otherwise Israel would have struck Iran's nuclear facilities a long time ago. There is little else that restrains Israel. If Syria falls to a less friendly regime, Iran would have to develop an eastern strategy (towards Afghanistan and Pakistan) instead of a western one in order to avoid complete isolation.
    Russia and China are torn: they make money by selling weapons and equipment to Iran, and China also needs all the oil it can get. On the other hand, neither can really hope that an Islamic theocracy can become a sincere friend of an atheistic regime (China) that is occupying Muslim lands (the Chinese far west) and of a Christian Orthodox power (Russia) that has massacred half a million Muslims in Chechnya. They both value a friendship with Turkey a lot more, and Turkey is probably resentful that they (not the USA or Europe) are opposing its plans to overthrow Assad.
    The Arab League wants Assad to fall because the Arab streets demand so. However, most of the members of the Arab League are kings, sheiks and sultans. They have been much better at expanding the rights of their citizens (and at quelling the uprising in Bahrein with the tacit approval of the USA) and therefore at preventing the spread of the Arab Spring to their countries. However, Assad is unlikely to be the end of the story: if and when he falls, it is unlikely that the Arab Spring will suddenly die out. These movements tend to morph for decades before reaching maturity and stability.
    The way Assad falls is likely to determine the future of several of these players. Iran, Russia and China would appear to be the natural losers. The Arab League might claim to have played the role of moral arbiter. The West and Israel will certainly rejoice if Assad is replaced by a more business-like regime, and be terrified if it is replaced like in Egypt by a Muslim mob. The way it goes will impact dozens of capitals around the world.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    Articles on Syria before 2012

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