- (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
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)
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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