Syria – Part 1: Russia’s motives are more alarming than Obama’s deductions
President Barack Obama seems to think that Putin wants to reconquer Syria for Bashar al Assad and then install his protégé securely to weaken US influence in the Middle East. He also deduces that Putin is trying to obtain a Mideast bargaining chip in Moscow’s struggle with Washington over his predations in Ukraine.
Obama concludes that these are lost causes and Putin will land face down in mud. Alas, things are not so simple. These suppositions contain truth but may misread Putin’s primary aims.
Putin has determined that Syria is too broken to again be glued together as an inclusive and peaceful state. He thinks that the partitioning of Syria is inevitable and is positioning Moscow for a permanent and secure military presence in one of the rump territories.
Moscow has watched the fragmentation of Iraq with intense interest and has noted along with most other countries that Washington is incapable of installing inclusive governments in countries destabilized by US and Western military interventions.
It has also watched with dismay the burgeoning growth and military effectiveness of Islamist jihadists, whether Daesh, al Qaeda or others, following Washington’s and NATO’s “war on terror” since 2001.
The justification for each American intervention contained a strong dose of good intentions designed to prevent humanitarian catastrophes. But each has exacerbated the catastrophes, as in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria.
Now the people from those catastrophes have reached Europe’s doors and present unprecedented menace to social and religious stability in almost all European Union member countries. Distant tribal wars are now internal security issues for the core of America’s staunchest allies in Europe. So Syria can no longer be left to burn.
In Putin’s view, a new system of states and borders is inevitable in the national territories of Iraq and Syria, which were cobbled together by hegemonic European powers after World War I.
In the likely new dispensation, he sees with alarm that the US has already positioned itself to have a loyal, grateful and militarist client state, probably called “Kurdistan” in northern Iraq.
There is strong political support in Washington, London, Berlin and Paris for such an outcome for the valiant Kurds who have demonstrated that they are the only warriors capable of pushing back Islamic State fighters.
Washington would have a new small, battle-tested fortress state at its disposal in Iraqi Kurdistan.
That would rile Turkey, a long-standing American ally, since Ankara is determined to prevent Iraqi Kurds from using the Syrian chaos to expand their territories into Kurdish Syria or in Kurdish Turkey.
Both Turkey and Iran will use whatever bloody tactics necessary to prevent a new Kurdistan in Iraq from destabilizing the territories along their borders that are home to Turkish and Iranian Kurds.
It is possible that the new Kurdistan acquires some slivers of Syrian Kurdish territory but the vengeful Islamic State and al Qaeda groups operating nearby will try to prevent that from happening.
In effect, the new Kurdistan in Iraq will be an embattled state that could not survive without American economic and military support.
It will have a wary Iran and Turkey to the east and north, and very violent Islamic jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State and al Qaeda to the West.
In the best scenario, the Islamic State will be ousted from Iraq but the Iraqi Sunni tribal fiefs that replace it could be implacably hostile towards the new Kurdistan. Those tribes have long disdained and even hated the Kurds, who are a different ethnic origin and follow a version of Sunni Islam that Arabs scorn.
Thus, Kurdistan will be surrounded from all sides by hostile powers. Its existence will depend like Israel on its own military prowess bolstered by American aid, which usually comes at the price of compliance with Washington’s foreign policy imperatives.