The fact that the American President Barack Obama unexpectedly decided to “seek authorisation for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress”, in order to launch an attack against the Syrian government forces, is the first direct and open recognition of the limits of the American military and political supremacy, after the fall of the USSR. The denial of the British Parliament to support PM David Cameron’s plans to join the US in bombarding Damascus was a premonition of that.
The truth is that the Anglo-American plans for Syria, supported actively by France and less enthusiastically by Germany have been effectively blocked by Russia. The whole affair stands as a proof that Moscow, on the one side, and Washington along with its NATO allies, on the other, are about to reassess their relations. This means there would be frictions until the two sides find again an equilibrium position. Moscow would not allow any more that easily the repetition of what happened in Libya. China is an obvious ally of Russia in this.
Russia: With all it’s got
The European Sting writer George Pepper was quite right on 29 August when he insisted that “Russia will resist with all it’s got the US-European plans for Syria…Russia not only has a lot to lose in Syria but at the same time Moscow has the ability to effectively protect its interests there. The question is up to which point the Kremlin will choose to confront the West militarily”. Seemingly the Kremlin chooses to cross the needed grounds to rein the Americans. Some weeks’ time will show how effective Russia will prove in protecting its interests in Syria and how far is it prepared to go on that.
In Washington the problem becomes even more pressing because all the US allies in the Middle East, many Arab countries and Israel, are in various degrees disappointed with Obama’s decision. More so because it is now clear that this was a personal ruling of the American President. On top of that Obama left to be understood that even in the case the US Congress approves the attack against Syria, his decision to launch it will not be automatic.
This was pretty clear after Obama stressed that the US military chief, General Martin Dempsey, reassured him that the effectiveness and the success of the operation will not be compromised “if it is launched after one day, or after one week or after one month”. This observation clarifies that the time horizon of the attack is presently quite uncertain. Apparently this is like that, because before the American missiles are fired the US and Russia must have come to an agreement about the whole Syrian issue. It’s as if in this case the American action is totally confined by Moscow.
This is the first time after the fall of Communism that the US is effectively stopped, from doing whatever they like. In Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf kingdoms and Libya the West had it its own way despite the negative reactions from Russia and China. Now that Syria’s destiny will largely determine also the plans the US and Europe have for Egypt, Russia has reached its limits and decided it is time to put whatever it’s got on the table.
On top of that, the Russian side (that is President Bashar al-Assad’s regular army) is winning the battle on the ground against the rebels backed by the West. This development may put in danger even the Kurd establishment in the northeast, a piece of the map that is most precious for Washington. Probably this is what the Americans and the Russians have not yet agreed upon, making the ‘Syrian Kurdistan’ a dark spot that holds the whole Syrian issue in the air. Given that the Americans and of course the British and the French have ex ante excluded a ground operation, it is very difficult for the West to defend a holistic position.
More war more massacred civilians
As a result the whole affair will remain unresolved until the West and Russia have concluded an agreement on the ruins of Syria and the hundreds of thousands of its dead, massacred and poisoned civilians. It is clear that the Russians have now the prerogative on the ground and they are quite determined to fully exploit it. The negative vote of the British Parliament opened the way for Moscow to register its first win over the West after the Soviet Union collapsed. Putin will fully exploit this chance. He needs this victory badly given that Russia’s position is questioned even in Europe. The EU is about to absorb Moldova while it increases again its influence in Ukraine. Even Belarus questions Moscow’s powers.
All in all, the people of Syria, Shia, Sunni and Alevite Muslims, Christians and Zoroastrians are all paying with their lives the price of living in a part of the earth, where the big powers have not yet decided whose is what part of it.