Syria: the endgame?

There are so many twists and turns to this tale. If the pun may be pardoned, Obama is now between Iraq and a hard place

by Robin Mitchinson on 28 August 2013 11:54

Why would Obama attack Syria? There are at least three reasons. The first is that he has gained a reputation amongst many Americans of being a foreign policy-lite wimp who will go down as another Jimmy Carter.

The second is that if he does nothing the Iranians will know that they can carry on their nuclear programme without the prospect of US intervention. They will be laughing all the way to the reactor.

The third is the prospect that a show of US weakness will shift the balance of power in MENA (Middle East, Europe, North Africa) towards Russia and China.

A particular difficulty? To discern Obama’s war aims. ‘Regime change’ is unlikely to be on the agenda. Change to what? There is no sign whatsoever of a Government-in-waiting, but plenty that extreme Islamic militants are waiting to exploit to the full the coming chaos.

The objective may be to demonstrate that the use of chemical weapons is going too far, and Assad had better get back to killing people in large numbers by more respectable means.

We must wait and see what the UK government will do. Public opinion is solidly against any British intervention, but so it was with Gulf 2. As 4 out of the last 5 Prime Ministers have at least one war on their CVs, perhaps Cameron will follow suit. In his position as Peace Envoy in MENA, Blair is calling for war, of which he has a lot of experience.

The two countries that have the most to lose and gain are Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both of which have the military capacity to see-off Assad in short order. Why are they not doing so? Success for Assad will be success for the arch-enemy Iran. Saudi in particular must be very concerned about overspill from the Sunni-Shia civil war (which is what is really happening throughout Islam).

If the pun may be pardoned, Obama is now between Iraq and a hard place. Many US foreign military adventures in the past 50 years have ended in failure, and some have made matters worse. The use of chemical weapons was his ‘red line’, a phrase that he must now be bitterly regretting. A ‘line in the sand’  would have had more resonance with the American people, preceding, as it did, a military defeat.

Where will it all end? Assad has no future. Unless he stays in power forever, he will probably be killed, either by an internal coup or through losing the war. If he survives there will be an ICJ (International Court of Justice) arrest warrant out for him. It will be a case of ‘no hiding place’ – unless, of course, he is given asylum by Russia or China.

My guess is that Syria, a mish-mash of a country created when the British and French carved up the Ottoman Empire, will fragment into its ethnic and religious components. It will be years before there is any return to relative normality.

And an afterthought

When Israel took out Saddam’s nuclear facility it was roundly condemned, not least by the US. When Saddam killed thousands of Kurds with nerve-gas, it was business as usual for the West.

It’s a funny old world.

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