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Aleppo, Russia and the West
Articles on Syria before 2016

  • (september 2016) Aleppo, Russia and the West.

    The Syrian civil war had many factions fighting each other, but, in a nutshell, it is two civil wars in one: pro-democracy rebels fighting for the removal of Assad's regime; and religious fanatics (mainly ISIS) fighting for the establishment of an Islamic state all over the Middle East. Assad's regime has been helped by Iran, Russia and Hezbollah (a Lebanese militia supported by Iran). Iran and Hezbollah have always been allied with Assad (in fact, Syria was the main conduit of arms from Iran to Hezbollah when Hezbollah was fighting Israel). Because Iran is Shiite, the Sunni states (like Saudi Arabia and Turkey) have supported the rebels, all the rebels. The USA and the European Union have supported the original rebels, the ones who wanted Syria to become a democracy following the "Arab Spring", the ones who are not specifically Shiite, Muslim, Christian or whatever. Unfortunately, the latter are also the harder to define and the ones without a charismatic leader.
    Aleppo, a city of millions of people, is the last Syrian bastion of pro-democracy resistance against Assad's regime. Aleppo has been bombed for months and is being finished under the eyes of the whole world by joint Russian and Syrian bombings.
    US president Obama has done little more than express his "deep concern". Just like in Ukraine, Russia knows that the USA will not dare an open military confrontation and is proceeding as quickly as possible to conquer as much territory as it can. Syria will de facto become an appendix of Russia just like Transdnitria, a piece of Moldova controlled by Russian troops, eastern Ukraine and the separatist regions of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Assad will become Putin's representative in Syria just like Ramzan Kadyrov is Putin's representative in Chechnya.
    Nobody quite knows what Obama's reasoning is, but this massacre is eerily reminiscent of the massacre due to the inaction of another Democratic president about 20 years ago: in 1994 Bill Clinton (and all of us) watched on television the genocide of 800,000 people in Rwanda. The only difference is that Syria, being in the Middle East, and being an ally of Iran and the main sposor of Hezbollah, is more strategic than the tiny central African state of Rwanda.
    Obama's priority is to avoid getting involved in any new war and to avoid any terrorist attack on the USA, i.e. fighting ISIS, not deposing dictators. It turns out that the USA got help in its fight against ISIS mainly from one country: Russia. This sounds like a Faustian deal: the USA sold its (pro-democracy) soul to Russia in order to get Russia's help in defeating ISIS. The USA has learned the price to pay from regime change in Iraq and Lybia and doesn't want to start a direct war against Russia, who also happens to be the only serious ally in fighting ISIS given Turkey's and Saudi Arabia's ambiguous attitude towards ISIS
    Despite the growing outrage over Russia's bombing of civilians, the European Union has not even slapped sanctions on Russia. Well, the EU didn't even complain after it was proven that Russia killed 200+ Dutch citizens (the flight downed by a Russian missile over Ukraine in 2014). Don't hope that the EU will do something about Syrian people. The EU never spoke out about the massacre carried out in Chechnya by the same Putin who learned in Chechnya how well his scorched-earth policies work and is now applying them in Syria.
    Turkey's priority is to stop the Syrian Kurds from becoming a major force. As much as Turkey's president Erdogan (a fanatical Sunni) dislikes Syria's dictator Assad (a moderate Shiite), he hates the Kurds even more, and has reasons to fear them more than Syria because most of the Kurds of the world live (against their will) under Turkish occupation. Turkey's president is more interested in purging the country of the opposition after the recent coup attempt, and right now has no focus left for Syria and no stomach to esclate the problems with Russia after making peace over the downed Russian warplane.
    The Sunni states (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states) that supported the (mostly Sunni) rebels against Assad have largely abandoned the rebels, probably because they are as scared of democratic movements as Assad himself is. Their real champions (and Erdogan's real champions) were proven undemocratic Sunnis such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. ISIS is widely viewed by the Arab public opinion as a legitimate Sunni movement of resistance against Iran-sponsored regimes, especially after Shiite rebels supported by Iran overthrew the Sunni regime in Yemen, a much bigger problem from Saudi Arabia's perspective (imagine if China sponsored the overthorw of Mexico's government right at the border with the USA). The Arab countries are also very fearful of the idea that the USA automatically supports anyone who picks up arms against a dictator: they are all dictatorships.
    Israel is happy because so many Sunni countries are de facto becoming Israeli allies against Assad and Iran: the civil war in Syria has completely changed the map of alliances in the Middle East, pitting Sunnis against Shiites before pitting all Muslims against the Jews of Israel.
    If the USA's main goal is to defeat ISIS, and if Obama is determined not to risk a land invasion, then maybe it is logical that the USA accepts Russia's destruction of Aleppo. There is noone else willing to help against ISIS but Russia. After all, Syria was not a Western ally: it was an Iranian vassal state. A Russia triumph in Syria would simply move Syria from one master (Iran) to another one (Russia), and a cynical Obama might calculate that it is easier to play geopolitics with Russia in multiple places of the world than play local politics with Iran in only one place of the world.
    Russia is the one that can stop this but it must have a motivation to do so, to give up on a friendly regime (Assads) that gives Russia a military base on the Mediterranean, to give up on her sudden status of major Middle Eastern power, etc. Currently there is no price to pay for Russia: in fact, the result of the Aleppo massacre is an increase in credibility around the world: everybody will listen next time Russia speaks. Russia is not even losing lives, because most of the damage is done by air bombings (Russia learned from the US campaign in Kosovo). Russia is not even afraid of terrorist retaliation because the Aleppo rebels supported by the West are enemies of ISIS and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
    If there is a solution in Syria, it would require a much bolder and more skilled diplomat than Obama or the EU. The West has forgotten the skills of manipulation and deception that it had acquired during the Cold War. In the old days of the Cold War, someone would have come up with a simple solutioin: offer Assad a golden exit strategy and, in return, ask him to publicly denounce Russia as an oppressor. Russia would lose face, Assad would become a hero of the West, Syria would become a Western satellite, Iran would be forced to cooperate with the West.
    Luckily for Obama and all the Western leaders, the Aleppo massacre is taking place while the news media are distracted by "bigger" events: Britain's referendum to leave the European Union, Donald Trump's rise in the USA, and even North Korea's nuclear tests. Some of the most tragic news stories of the year are in fact helping forge the Western strategy of tacit acceptance: the terrorist attacks in France and Belgium and the refugee crisis all over Europe are both consequences of the civil war in Syria, i.e. of the uprising against Assad. If Russia destroys the rebels in Aleppo, the Syrian civil war might come to an end or at least at a lull, and that will stop the flow of refugees towards Europe. If Assad regains control of Syria, the combined efforts of Assad, Russia and the USA are likely to deter further ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in Europe. Both problems go away if Assad and Russia defeat the rebels.
    It's a no brainer: goodbye, Aleppo.
    TM, ®, Copyright © 2016 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.
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    Articles on Syria before 2016

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TM, ®, Copyright © 2015 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.