Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On Syria and Western Involvement

In response to the following editorial on the mess that is Syria:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/by-giving-up-on-syria-us-hands-kingmaker-role-to-putin/article28747502/

I wrote the following:

I will politely disagree with a couple of points at the end:
the U.S. is also undermining its own role and influence, not to mention the reputation of all those associated with its ramshackle coalition against IS.
US (and Western) credibility in the Middle East has been dubious to non-existent since Bush II decided to invade both Afghanistan and then Iraq. Our own country’s decade of “loudspeaker support for Israel” wasn’t exactly helpful either. Fundamentally Western interventions in the region have repeatedly created the adversaries we find ourselves facing a decade later. In Afghanistan during the 1980s, western powers funded the Mujahideen, which ultimately gave rise to the Taliban and then al Qaeda. The shadows of war in Iraq (in particular), the unwillingness to call out Israel’s use of white phosphorous against the Palestinians, and the heavy-handed way the Americans conducted themselves in both Iraq and Afghanistan gave rise to ISIS.

The second point that the article alludes to, but quietly sidesteps is the reality that Russia in general has long standing social, cultural and economic ties with the Persian Gulf region in particular, and the Middle East in general. Russia has always been a more natural ally for the Arab states than the western european powers. There are long (as in centuries old) standing ties and connections at all levels. I might personally think Putin is a rather nasty piece of work, but in terms of credibility and understanding of the region, Russia has long had a far more subtle, nuanced understanding than Western powers. 

I’ve argued this before, and I will continue to do so. Western interests in the region are purely trade related. We would do well to focus on those issues, and step out of direct military intervention. Provocations from the likes of ISIS are like a teenager trying to poke an adult into giving a reaction. If we react, they win - their propaganda machine makes huge gains from the heavy handed interventions we’ve used in the past. It’s much harder for them to use the Russian interventions in the same way simply because of the connections into Russia that go back centuries. The Western powers represent the “unknown”, and thus easily demonized, factors. To date, ISIS’ provocations amount to rendering unstable the puppet government that Bush II set up in Iraq and capitalizing on the “Arab Spring” destabilization of Syria.

Putin will be a pain to deal with, but in some ways, Russian leadership represents the bridge between western interests and Arab interests from a diplomatic perspective. Russia has strong cross-cultural connections with both regions. It is perhaps time to work with Russia, and use that to develop a trade-centred approach to the region instead of trying to intervene militarily in the geopolitical mess.

No comments: