Saturday, December 05, 2015


"While he wants to show that Turkey will pay a price for the shooting down, Mr Putin is certain to be aware of the risks of an escalation in Syria. Now may be the time to convey discreetly to him that if Russia does not enforce a ceasefire on the Syrians and Iranians, the US will have no choice but to help create a safe haven. Mr Putin has little interest in shoring up the Syrian opposition — and he knows a safe haven on the Turkish-Syrian border will enable anti-Assad forces to grow increasingly unified, meaning the costs of propping up the regime will rise and his own ability to be the arbiter of the Syrian future will fall. But a safe haven would respond to the European need to stanch the refugee flow, and to the Turkish, Saudis, Emirate and Qatari interest in stopping the toll being inflicted on Syrian Sunnis. US allies could take on appropriate roles: European air forces helping enforce the no-fly area; Turkish forces providing protection on the ground; Gulf Arab states funding the infrastructure. President Barack Obama has resisted the idea of a safe haven. But if he wants a ceasefire to produce the “big transition for Syria” that John Kerry, US secretary of state, believes it will, Russia must do what only it can: impose it on Mr Assad and the Iranians. With Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, declaring Moscow will co-operate on Isis only if we “respect the sovereignty and the prerogatives of the Syrian government”, no one should take that as a certainty. Given that our options will narrow in the absence of a ceasefire, Mr Obama must find a way to exercise leverage in Syria — and be willing to threaten, and if need be to take, a step he has resisted until now".
Dennis Ross, "Success in Syria depends on influence in Moscow". The Financial Times. 1 December 2015, in
In recent months there has been a growing crescendo of criticism of the American Administration's policy towards the war in Syria. And while a good number of those critics are the 'usual suspects', id. est., people of a Conservative or neo-Conservative ilk. Recently though, more and more of those critics come from those foreign policy specialists belonging to the President's own party. Or in the case of Dennis Ross, was a high-level advisor to the American President. In keeping with this recent trend and then some, was a talk given at the Lotos Club (of which I am a member) by the former CIA Near Eastern specialist, and former high-level National Security Council staffer in the Clinton Administration dealing with the Near & Middle East. Later of course he acquired fame or (if you prefer) infamy by his outspoken advocacy of a policy of overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2002-2003. Albeit, he stated fairly early on, that his approached differed from that to be eventually adopted by the Bush regime. The following are some of the verbatim and other comments made by Pollack. I must add that I found the event extremely impressive as well as informative. While I did not agree with everything that Pollack said, I cannot gainsay the fact that Pollack is an extremely cogent and intelligent advocate for a particular course in American and Western policy. It is a course which I for the most part agree with. With all that being said, here are some of the comments made by Kenneth Pollack at the Lotos Club luncheon on the 1st of December:
In his twenty-six to twenty-seven years dealing with the Neat & Middle East, matters "never looked worse". And that it appears that things are "headed for worse" to come. As per Pollock, it is an erratum to look back to the Sykes-Picot treaty to conjure up reasons for the current difficulties facing the region. The regions problems date back to the types of regimes which came to pre-dominate after the two colonial powers, Britain and France relinquished imperial rule (1945-1958). Au fond the current crisis facing the region is the breakdown of the post-imperial state-system. A system which was based upon oil revenues (or in the case of regimes like Jordan and Egypt stipends), Cold War financial assistance married to a highly autocratic political system. All three of which were embedded into a 'very traditional social structure'. This system began to show signs of weakening in the 1980's and this accelerated in the 1990's. With the 'Arab Spring' being the culmination of this twenty-five year trend.
The problem of the Arab Spring was the those opposed to the old regimes were unable to establish a new order of any sort. With the partial exception of Tunisia, the end result of the events of 2011, were either a re-assertion of the forces of the old regime (Bahrain, Egypt) or the creation of failed states (Libya, Syria and Yemen), which has in the case of Syria morphed into a "full-blown inter-communal civil war". With the ongoing conflagration perhaps spreading beyond Syria and Iraq into Turkey and perhaps the Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that civil wars of the type now raging in Syria and to an extent in Iraq tend to be both bloody and long-lasting. The example of Afghanistan, which has been undergoing civil war since 1978 being all too likely to repeat itself.
As per Pollock the withdrawal of the United States from actively endeavouring to 'manage' the region is also a major problem. The policy of the current administration, which Pollock labels: 'incremental escalation' is 'not working'. Pollock being brutally frank is stating that: "Obamaa's [the American President] policy is stupid". Russian policy in comparison makes absolute sense. Pollock feels that rather than the current American policy, or a policy of complete or near complete abstention, that what the situation calls for is a policy of American and Western overt and full-scale involvement: diplomatic, economic and military. As he puts it, with the right tools being employed: "there are answers to the Near Eaat". That the region can be turned around, `a la Western Europe after World War II. That the risks of non-intervention outweigh the costs of intervening. In his concluding remarks Pollock stats that he is views the current situation of Saudi Arabia with grave concern. That its current "bombing campaign [in Yemen] is worse than useless". That "Saudi Arabia has no business being in Yemen". That the country has a serious economic (and thus social) problem looming due to the continuing low price of oil, which is hitting the fiscal situation of the country badly. And that this is coupled with a problem with the succession to the current monarch King Salman.


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