Handled properly, the Syrian impasse could solve major problems faced by its neighbours and the major powers who want control over their energy. Far more likely, however, is that personal and political ambitions will make things worse.
The deteriorating situation in Syria brings to mind two great American adages: “Opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one” and “If it walks, flies, quacks and lands like a duck, chances are it’s a duck”. Well, I have opinions about Syria….based on evidence, motive, opportunity and knowledge of the belief-systems and cynical geopolitics (ie, the history) involved. I’ve always thought that’s the best way to reach conclusions, but then I’m an old-fashioned bloke in a world where any deviation from the script brings accusations of stupidity and bias. However, in the country taken over many years ago by Assad’s Alhawite minority, the situation is rapidly moving from being open to interpretation to open warfare – in which, very quickly, how it all started – and who the ducks are – will soon be forgotten in favour of brainless rallying cries.
The story so far: Bashar Assad is the bad-guy gargoyle chosen by the ignorant (and sometimes cynical) western liberal elite to be The Man Who Must Go. And yes, he is a bad person; yes, he is allied to Iran and virulently antisemitic; yes, he rules by force, corruption and torture. And yes, there are far worse psychopaths (a) waiting inside the country to take over and (b) hoping from the outside for the right result in relation to their energy needs. The Clintonian State department took the decision some time back to dump the protection of Christians in the region, in favour of an alliance with what they see as ‘moderate elements’ within the Muslim Brotherhood…those that the USA believes will ‘win’ in the Middle East. Putin’s Kremlin will not tolerate another Libyan victory for the US-backed Brotherhood: powerful influence in the region is key to the protection of a home economy dangerously dependent on energy exports. The Chinese know the importance of Syrian support for the survival of the Iranian regime they back; like the Russians, they want to either keep Assad where he is…or something close to it. The Israelis detest Bashar Assad, but fear the Muslim Brotherhood: Jews have never had any difficulty telling a swan from a duck. Also, however, they would dearly love to see an isolated Iran….as would Washington. And those mystery men of Saudi Arabia hate the Iranian Shi’ites even more than they hate Jews: a Brotherhood slaughtering Saudi religious enemies all over Syria would be nice (Saudi Arabia is 95% Sunni), but the Saudi Royal Family fears the radicalism of which they know Brotherhood Islamists are capable. Being a King among radicals is not a safe place to be.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Confused? Well, most people are: but now read on, and see if it gets any clearer. Here is the News:
Russia’s navy chief Vice-Admiral Viktor Chirkov said last Thursday that a flotilla of ten Russian warships off the coast of Syria is “carrying out military exercises in the Mediterranean.” It had no intention of docking in the leased port it has in Syria; but Chirkov did confirm that the fleet is crammed full of marines….who, research shows, tend to be land-based weapons.
There are rumours (none of which I’ve yet been able to confirm with any certainty) that the Saudis are trying to strike a deal with Pakistan’s leader Pervez Ashraf to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan. A meeting between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Ashraf in Jeddah earlier this year attempted to scope out an agreed pov on the dangers in the Middle East, and the need to counter any Iranian nuclear threat. Few observers doubt that, in the past, the Saudis heavily bankrolled the Pakistani nuclear weapons programme. As some form of quid pro quo, Saudi Arabia sends its special forces to Pakistan for ‘special military training’ – whatever that means. There is some likelihood, I’m told, that Ashraf may accede to the Saudi request.
Hillary Clinton is showing signs that the deadly trio of emotions to which she is prone has taken her over completely. That triad of bigotry – liberal certainty, American ignorance about Arabism, and ruthless persistence – is showing itself in any number of ways.
Just as Clinton, Geithner and Obama decided to bet the farm on German hegemony in Europe, now she and the Black Dude are hell-bent on putting all their chips behind Sunni Muslims in general, and the Brotherhood in particular. Cop this Hillaryspeak for a piece of Zen diplomacy – as in, “I want it to happen, and so it will”:
“..it is now certain that the anti-Assad rebels have enough territory and organisation to create
[safe] areas. “More and more territory is being taken. It will eventually result in a safe haven inside Syria, which
will then provide a base for further actions by the opposition…”
The idea of a homogenous thing called ‘the rebels’ is bollocks, as she knows perfectly well. And the idea that anywhere ruled by Sunni Islamists could ever be safe for Christians and Shi’ites is just plain daft. But Hillary Rodham Clinton is more than happy to do daft if it furthers her strategy of rapprochement with a club (that the Secretary of State, the Pentagon and the White House) feel 100% sure is going to ‘win’ in the fallout from the Arab Spring: the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood.
The centre to right-wing of the Republican Party began to have serious doubts about whether Clinton knew WTF she was doing when Washington and NATO piled in with financial and air-cover support for the Libyan revolutionaries who toppled Muammar Gadaffi. The Christian Right in particular ( a very powerful interest-group within the GOP) is now becoming increasingly voluble about State’s refusal to condemn Sunni atrocities, and denialism about wholesale Brotherhood actions against non-Sunni rebel groups and Syrian Christians. Equally disturbing is that Tel Aviv has begun being truculent at best (and secretive at worst) in the face of an obvious White House bias against support for the Jewish State.
I stopped having any doubts at all about David Cameron the minute he began mouthing off about how great Recep Erdogan is, and why everyone should help “the advance of democracy” in Libya. I decided once and for all that he is a highly intelligent idiot. The latter Libyan jet-rattling was partly gung-ho jingoism (always good for Newscorp support): but even more, it represented as a whole how William Hague and the Prime Minister have gone totally native when it comes to Foreign Office ‘geopolitical strategy’.
Regular Sloggers know my view of the FCO: it is and always has been anti-semitic, leaky, completely wrong about almost everything, and a serious danger to the long-term security of Britain. It backed the French over the Versailles and Sykes-Piquot treaties, Hitler in the 1930s, Soviet Russia after the Second World War, the French over Suez, the EU over the Commonwealth, and the Americans about absolutely everything. Now in 2012, it has reverted to appeasement of a form of Nazism which – just like the original – cannot be appeased. We should all listen very attentively to what our diplomats say…and then do the diametric opposite.
Above all, however, I am now sure that the FCO stands shoulder to shoulder with Hillary the Amazon liberal.
Anyway, that’s the mix: Britain is an irrelevance, but will do whatever Washington asks. State thinks the Sunnis will win outright, the Russians, Chinese, Saudis and Israelis would prefer a status quo at best, or a stalemate at worst. Tel Aviv in particular has carefully backed any horse that looked capable of ruining the race.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
What we are looking at here is, basically, yet aother Muslim domestic that would be ignored by most of the World were it not for the predominance of oil as an energy form.
While that may read to some like a blinding glimpse of nothing remotely new, it would do all of us good to consider just how much of our species’ worst points come out when there is potentially not enough of something to go round. I italicise that word because there is actually plenty of oil to go round, but those with an interest in high prices pretend there isn’t….and they find willing allies in half-baked conservationistas: yet more of Lenin’s ‘useful idiots’.
Two developments would solve a lot of problems in the medium term. First, a model of capitalism not slavishly based on growth and output…so everyone calms down about how much oil is left. And second, full-on billions-backed research to move beyond oil as quickly as possible.
As James Delingpole et al have pointed out endlessly, all the fluffy wind and non-nuclear ‘solutions’ are not solutions at all. What the ‘nein danke’ brigade have achieved is an increased focus on the reality of oil and gas as still the only viable sources of global energy less dirty than coal; that is, exactly what the oilcos wanted as a result. The obvious solution is sitting out there 96 million miles away, and by that I don’t mean covering everything in solar panels: I mean the harnessing of that mix of rays the sun gives off, and its conversion into motive, heating and lighting power. The achievement of that aim would change everything for the better within a decade.
As it is, what we have building up in Syria is the potential for a Sarajevo moment. This will, I know, attract the usual salvo of faux-wisdom suggesting that I’m being alarmist. But naysayers need to remember that we are, at best, an alarming species. Our sense of being threatened is way beyond what we really need.
That’s not true of most people beyond a small elite. But the small elite is in the driving seat – and always will be. Their warning mechanisms are set at Sabre Tooth Tiger, even though these man-eaters died out aeons ago. Fear of something unreal causes the social neuroses and tribalisms, the alliances and the geopolitics, that are all around us 24/7. Sadly, it is also true that the other 93% still place far too much trust in those who would lead; at base, they underestimate the cockups and frontal-lobe behaviour of which these soi-disant alphas are capable. And those alphas in turn are far too cocky about their ability to control stuff. Stuff reaches a point, if care is not applied at every stage, where nothing and nobody can control it: the impending global econo-fiscal-financial crisis being a classic case in point.
The distilled, probably over-simplified bottom line emerging in recent weeks is this: the Americans, British, and Saudis are backing the Sunnis, the Sino-Russian elements are backing the Shi-’ites, and the Israelis are backing the nearest possible thing to status quo. Clinton has been taking testosterone injections, and Putin is a controlling ex-KGB macho headcase. Israel is paranoid to the point of mental instability about the threat from Iran. China is the fastest-growing nation, and the most convinced that others may try and interrupt its supply of oil. They are also owed an unspeakably obscene amount of money by the Americans…a debt which Geithner & Co keep trying to devalue. This kind of behaviour creates bad feeling, and situations in which the Karma might, for once, be run over by the dogma.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Any number of things could spark a proliferating free-for-all in that context. And yet, there is no need for any of it. Even putting aside the bollocks talked about ‘peak terrestrial energy’ by the thinly-disguised Left, for those of sound mind the solution to this impasse is obvious.
America’s shale-gas exploitation is growing exponentially. As I posted last week, North Dakota’s spectacular shale-gas turnaround is a near-miracle that could relatively easily be duplicated elsewhere. The Russian economy remains overdependent on oil exports. Both countries could therefore sit happily with a confused stalemate in Syria (and elsewhere) that kept up the feeling of oil being an energy form in short and unreliable supply: the Americans would be happy with their self-sufficiency, and the Russian economy would boom on the back of potentially high oil prices. (The Saudis too would love those high prices, and Tel Aviv would give stalemate a big tick too.)
This leaves the Chinese theoretically out on a limb. But what if the Americans agreed to guarantee oil and shale gas supplies to China as a commodity barter against unrepayable Treasury notes held by Beijing? Well, hardline trade mercantilists would argue that this would make Chinese exports even cheaper, and increase the US debt further still; however, if the energy was designated for internal infrastructural investment and hugely subsidised domestic heat and light for China’s population, everyone would win: Beijing gets a happy populace, more modernisation, and a growing middle class…while the US gets the deficit down and oil price viability.
Except that there are myriad reasons why this won’t come to pass. First up, Romney is pushing hard at North Dakota as an example of American recovery being held back by Obamite ecological regulation. Barack would lose too much face if he suddenly caved in to the Mitt view of life….and, quite possibly, an election made tighter by Europe’s financial collapse. Second, Putin will baulk at settling for anything less than his Alhwite allies staying in power. This – and his overtures to the Communist Prime Minister of Cyprus – are the two hands in which he could easily squeeze Europe’s balls with a blackmail-fuelled oil price. And third, Islam – this religion we are told time and again by some in the Western elite offers a lesson in divinity for us all – is split inexorably between moderates, radical Islamists, Sunnis and Shi-ites.
Neither Muslim schism can win: while the Islamic world is predominantly of the Sunni sect, the Muslims who live in the Middle East, and particularly those in the Persian Gulf region, are often Shi’ite. Globally, the Shia account for an estimated 10 or 15 percent of the Muslim population, but in the Middle East their numbers are much higher: they dominate the population of Iran, compose a majority in Iraq, and are significant minorities in other nations.
So the bottom-line of today’s analysis is this: it’s easy to offer bromides about Syria being just another problem that will be quietly settled in the end because everyone has too much to lose. The Alhawites, Iranian Shi-ites, and the Israelis have everything to lose – as does Putin if he fails to win the right economic outlook for Russia. And Mrs Clinton is, I suspect, already running for the 2016 Oval Office job. So be very afraid: this could all easily go spectacularly wrong.