What do Russia, the Syrian regime, and terrorists have in common? These are the three major oppositional entities with regards to the Syrian situation, and they have all had clear goals and principles guiding their actions over the past two years. Of the players on the Syrian stage it seems that the Obama Administration is the only one without a script, and at the moment a favorable outcome for American interests appears less and less likely. I’ve heard the phrase “put himself in a box” over four times in the same number of hours referring to President Obama – and that’s on CNN! It’s time to take a step back and examine where each of the three anti-American players are coming from, and it becomes clear how each party involved has benefited from a consistent vision.
Ohhh Russia. Always acting up, thinking it’s still the Cold War! The Cold War is over! Haven’t you heard!?
The most aggravating part of the 2012 Presidential Campaign was the ridicule Mitt Romney received for calling Russia our greatest enemy. Oh Mitt is so out of touch! Doesn’t he know the cold war is over? It’s such a shame both Mittens and Putin think we are still in the Cold War! Newsflash: the Cold War never ended. It has merely changed landscapes, and a common occurrence in cold warfare is proxy wars that have dizzying complications. Not convinced? Russia is currently arming Syria, and has been for decades, while the United States has been arming Israel and Saudi Arabia for decades as well. The fact that the Saudis–a staunch oil-for-weapons ally since the end of WWII–are arming Syrian rebels with our weapons apparently obscures our involvement enough to ignore it.
The truth is, Russia has a lot to gain by supporting Syria, and I believe having a sense of practicality in assessing her long term situation is extremely important. Russia has been trying to regain power in the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Russia is not going to be slowing down economically beneficial arms sales to Syria any time soon. However, merely continuing the economically beneficial support of the Syrian Regime is not the overarching goal of Russia in this conflict. Perhaps the most important facet of Russia’s current power structure is exactly what TCC editor David Giffin touched upon in his article “Syria: The New War for Oil”, and it regards the new oil pipelines being built through the Middle East. To put it succinctly, two pipelines are in the works, one that threatens Russian power and one that does not.
David was very astute in emphasizing Russia’s stake in this conflict, but it is actually more important to Russia than just the profits from a new oil pipeline. You see, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has still been able to benefit from the enormous amount of pipeline infrastructure the Soviet Union built in their heyday. All of Europe runs off natural gas and oil delivered by these pipelines through Ukraine, and it just so happens that this is Russia’s most powerful asset. To put it in perspective, even England felt the effects of Russia shutting down her pipelines.
Russia is not afraid to shut these pipelines down for political/economic reasons; the second shutdown in Ukraine was conspicuously on the heels of President Bush backing Ukraine for NATO consideration, and (don’t worry!) Putin even made sure to cut off gas on the coldest night of the year. It is their ace in the hole with regards to exerting power in Europe, and as David points out it is all in danger of going away if the Qatar pipeline circumvents Russia and goes directly to Europe.
Putin and the Russians have been acting for the past two years to preserve the power they wield over Europe with their pipelines, they have continued a highly profitable 60 year old relationship with the Syrian regime, and kept to the policy of a weaker America is a stronger Russia. That is their script, and with the renewed offer to sell weaponry to Iran – moments after Barack Obama’s speech – I would say they haven’t missed a line.
Assad’s Syrian Regime
Syria’s script requires an understanding of the formation of Syria as a nation, and without getting too bogged down by history, let’s just say that European powers once again drew borders that made little sense with regard to ethnic/religious considerations. Sunni, Alawite, Druze, Christianity, and Judaism are all religions that inhabit Syria’s borders. To further complicate matters, not all the Sunni’s are Arab (some are Kurds), and Alawite/Druze are spinoffs of Islam that are viewed as aberrations. The Assad/Syria military power structure is primarily Alawite, which with 20% of the population is in the minority.
So what is the point? Bashir al Assad has a lot more at stake right now than just his immediate personal situation, and yes I am talking about the sectarian bloodbath he is saying is imminent upon his removal. If you consider the acts of oppression by Assad’s Alawite regime, the hatred among the fighting extremists for Alawites, then his position at this moment has to be contemplating the extermination of his people. Even if we consider that Assad doesn’t care about Alawites in Syria, it is hard to imagine the entire power structure – their families and friends – not caring about their collective fate. Consider that it takes a lot more than just one person, Assad, to launch a chemical weapons attack. No doubt the Syrian regime has their collective backs against the wall – even the Alawites who have gone to the opposition won’t be safe – and sadly the use of sarin gas was simply the next line in this tragedy.
The term Al-Qaeda has become so much of a blanket statement we use to describe all extremist fighters in the Middle East because keeping track of the various groups and affiliations is dizzying. Al-Nursa is the largest group in Syria right now but I’ll just call the whole group “the bad guys”. In a five hour teleconference with his constituents Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) explained the facts he could divulge from three classified briefings. According to the facts presented in these briefings, there are 22 million people in Syria, 100,000 are fighting against the Syrian Regime, and 20,000 of them are bad guys. While extremist fighters are in the minority, they are better trained, better equipped, and more committed than the average opposition fighter.
Rep. Rigell described the opposition forces as “almost like neighborhood groups that arm themselves and fight for a while,” and the evidence backs up what he told his constituents. Reuters released an article which highlighted an electrician who armed himself and created a band of almost 2,000 fighters. Unfortunately, they are now disbanded because hardline extremists came in and threatened violence. Furthermore, when contemplating complete success with arming only the good guys, it is uninspiring to learn that many opposition fighters are more committed to another Islamic dictatorship than to building a democracy.
The extremist fighters that have invaded Syria are sticking to their plans and convictions with stunning regularity in comparison to similar situations such as Libya. Unfortunately, their system makes it extremely hard for the United States to maneuver with the same speed an alacrity as they did, say, during the opening stages of Afghanistan. It is a script honed by the extremists throughout the last three years of the Arab Spring, and it would foolish to not recognize the disadvantage it places upon the United States.
So where are we?
As a reminder, we are the United States of America, and we are still the sole world superpower. After examining these groups we can be so thankful for the way this country was founded and built. We are not a collapsed super power, pettily holding once-satellite countries hostage with the threat of freezing to death. We have many religions and ethnicities in our country, but we aren’t dependent on a totalitarian dictator to keep us from a bloodbath.
So why are we in the current quagmire of strike or no-strike, war or no-war, ultimatum or maybe no-ultimatum? Why are commentators who ideologically support our President saying he “is backed into a corner” or “put himself in a box?”
The Obama Administration has not had a consistent ideology in foreign policy for five years, and we must recognize that our opponents have benefited from having a consistent goal/vision (no matter how evil or opposed to ours it may be). At this point I would like to reach out to my ideological detractors and consider the bizarre nature of this Administration’s foreign policy decisions. Our president was elected to office condemning drone strikes, has quietly expanded drone strikes, and then leaked a kill list to present himself as tough on terrorists in the 2012 election. The official policy was to not ask Congress if America can go to war in Libya but now the policy is to ask Congress if we can go to war in Syria. We are willing to give Egypt fighter jets and billions of dollars, but unlike previous administrations we don’t use this influence to promote American interests. This has led in part to the further destabilization of Egypt. I would be remiss to not mention that our previous Secretary of State with a permanent eye on 2016, Hillary Clinton, has played just as large a part in all this as President Obama.
My fellow American reader, with a heavy heart I have come to the conclusion that the only possible rationale for the decisions that have led to our current weakness with these anti-American entities and in the Syrian situation in particular is:
The Obama Administration has been making moment to moment foreign policy decisions for purely political reasons.
So as Americans, we find our country in the midst of the tragedy that is Syria while our Administration not only forgets it’s lines, but hasn’t even drafted a script. And now the spotlight is on us.
Taylor Smith | Belmont University | @taylorsmith11_5