‘America’s looming hangover in the Middle East’
“… Obama’s support for Syrian oppositionists reflects the same sort of hubristic thinking. His administration started backing opposition elements in 2011, not to help Syrians but to weaken Iran’s regional position and perhaps even spark the Islamic Republic’s overthrow. This proved unrealistic, for Assad’s government even today represents sizable constituencies. As time passed and Assad didn’t fall, concern that jihadi extremists gaining ever greater prominence in opposition ranks would target U.S. interests (as happened in Libya) prompted the administration to temper its stance in advance of the 2012 U.S. presidential election. Now it is returning to the imperial game, disregarding risks to both U.S. security interests and regional stability. That’s why, in contrast to his charade on the Palestinian issue, Obama put real effort during his Middle East trip into brokering a renewal of Israeli-Turkish relations — for, in Washington’s view, Israeli-Turkish cooperation could facilitate a renewed push for Assad’s removal.
Just three days after Obama’s Jerusalem speech, Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Baghdad, with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki beside him, that Kerry’s predecessor, Hillary Clinton, assured him Maliki “is going to do whatever I say.” (Maliki immediately replied, “We won’t do it.”) Though played it off as a “joke,” Kerry’s talking points for what he later described as “spirited” private talks with Maliki reflected a conviction that Washington can in fact leverage Baghdad’s compliance with U.S. demands on Syria. Kerry told Maliki that barring Syria-bound Iranian aircraft from Iraqi airspace is a condition for Iraq’s inclusion in discussions of Syria’s post-Assad future. Kerry also warned that failing to cooperate in ending the Syrian conflict on Washington’s preferred lines — through Assad’s removal — raises the danger that fighting will “spillover” and destabilize Iraq.This ignores that Maliki’s interests are profoundly threatened by Assad’s prospective displacement by U.S./Saudi/Turkish-backed opposition forces. (That’s why Maliki said that, while wanting good relations with Saudi Arabia, he will conclude a formal alliance with Iran if Assad falls.)
The most likely result of rebel “success” is not the Assad government’s replacement by a coherent, nationwide alternative. It’s Syria’s devolution into warring fiefdoms, with forces loyal to what’s left of the government battling increasingly fractious opposition militias that fight each other as much as they fight the Assad camp. Under these circumstances, Washington has no plausible claim it can stop extremist jihadis now fighting in Syria from taking their campaign for a new salafi ascendancy into Iraq. Maliki has a clear interest in seeing the Syrian conflict stop. But the only credible way this can happen is if America and others backing Syrian rebels get behind a new political compact for Syria, based on power-sharing between government and opposition. Until then, Iraq’s interests — like those of Iran, Russia, and China — lie in thwarting efforts by Washington and its partners to remake the regional balance by targeting the Assad government. That’s a recipe for prolonged carnage, in Syria and perhaps elsewhere, that smarter — and less imperial — U.S. policy could avert.”