Thursday, June 09, 2011

Battles in Syria. We can guess what the Saudis are doing. What is Turkey doing?

From the beginning, when anti-regime forces ambushed a patrol of Syrian soldiers and killed several, it has been clear that there is organized probably foreign support for the Syrian disturbances.

I would say the most plausible explanation is that the Saudis are writing checks for a program designed in or by the United States on Israel's behalf. A determined minority can make a country ungovernable, but they wouldn't be able to govern it either. It is unclear what proportion of Syria's population opposes the Assad regime, but there is no pro-Western majority in Syria.

Israel/US/Saudi's best case is 2005 Iraq. I really hope that is not accomplished. I don't think there is enough information available to say much more on that.

Turkey is interesting though. Turkey hosted a conference of anti-Assad forces and the most recent flare ups are along Syria's border with Turkey, not with Jordan and Lebanon as before.

I'm not sure where it comes from, but it is a dangerous policy. Turkey's fundamental strategic objective is its own territorial integrity and the primary threat to that is Kurdish separatism. The US flirtation with de-facto independence for Iraq's Kurds was a primary factor in bringing about the breech in relations between Turkey and the US/Israel that has not been fully repaired.

If Assad goes down, it will be in a way that empowers Syria's Kurds to pose a threat to Turkey analogous to that posed by Iraq's Kurds.

More information will become available and we will see where this is heading. If Turkey makes an enemy of Assad over this US/Israeli/Saudi program it will be the type of mistake I would not have expected Erdogan, whom I consider maybe the most talented active politician in the world, to make.

1 comment:

Lysander said...

Hi Arnold. Great to see you posting again.

I wish I knew what is happening in Syria. Here is my best guess.

1) I don't think Assad enjoys broad popularity by any means. I suspect he is probably more popular than Mubarak was, but that isn't saying much. He is certainly at least as brutal. And if he personally is modest in his living, his cronies are not. Granted, he is not a western stooge. It is not entirely clear whether he would personally refuse such a role, or was just holding out for a better price.

2) I do not think the protesters are angry with Assad due to his foreign policy. Any legitimate Syrian government will have to try to regain the Golan and Iran and Hezbollah will remain their best chance. But that doesn't mean they like him domestically.

3) Saudi Arabia will definitely want to reconstruct a government in their image should Assad fall. But I'm not at all sure they can succeed. Money only gets you so far.

Also, while they hate Assad, his fall would pose serious risks to Saudi rule. His overthrow, so soon after Ben Ali, Mubarak and Salah would pose a threat to other regimes, especially Jordan and possibly Saudi itself.

4) I think the US and Israel would like to see Syria break up, but I'm not sure. An unstable Syria that fires rockets at Israel on a regular basis does not sound like a very pleasant prospect (from their pov.) Still, it might be preferable to a semi democratic Syria that enjoys international recognition while pursuing the return of the Golan. However...

5) The most serious threat for the west is Iraq (not even Iran.) It's potential oil production is estimated at 11 million barrels per day. That would make Iraq much wealthier than even Saudi Arabia. How it uses that wealth remains to be seen, but if they choose to use it to expand their own influence in the region at the expense of Saudi, then I can't see that sitting well with Washington or the west in general.

Hence, an unstable Syria with a Salfist base can make common cause with the Sunnis of Iraq to try their best to destabilize the current government.

That may be the US/Israeli/Saudi plan for Syria. Whether that was the plan from the beginning or whether they will try to make the most out of events beyond their control is an interesting question.