The 'Birth Pangs' of a New Middle East,
March 19, 2017 "Information
- You all remember former US Secretary
of State Condi Rice's notorious 2006
prediction about "birth pangs of a New
Middle East." True to the George "Dubya"
Bush/Cheney regime, Condi got it all
spectacularly wrong, not only about
Lebanon and Israel but also Iraq, Syria
and the House of Saud.
The Obama administration duly maintained
a tradition that we could,
light-heartedly, call The Sex Pistols
School of Foreign Policy ("no
future for you").
That's perfectly exemplified
by unflappable Russian Foreign Ministry
spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in
just a few sentences.
Zakharova points out how Team Obama
"didn't have a consistent Syrian
strategy in entire eight years: one day
we bomb it, the next day we don't, one
day we pull out of Syria, the next day
we go in." That's because "one branch
of government did not understand what
the other branch was doing." And in the
end "they just went ahead and dropped
all Syrian politics without seeing it
to its logical end. Then they focused
on Aleppo, but not on resolving this
situation, but solely on building
up hysteria and an information campaign
geared exclusively to the elections."
And that leads us to the adults in the
room in the Trump era, the ones that are
actually monitoring the birth pangs
of the real new Middle East: Russia.
Let's start with the recent visit
by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu
to President Putin.
infused with biblical wishful thinking,
essentially trying to seduce Putin
to ditch the strategic partnership
with Iran complete with joining the
much advertised, US-led from behind
"Arab NATO" anti-Iran, anti-Shiite
coalition featuring Israel coupled
with the GCC petrodollar racket plus
minor associates (Jordan and Morocco).
Bibi is desperate because Iran,
with facts on the ground (Iranian and
Hezbollah fighters) in partnership
with Russian facts in the air, is
actually winning the Syria proxy war
for Damascus. And whatever happens next,
post-Astana negotiations, Tehran will
keep a permanent foothold in Syria
much to the ballistic outrage of the
parallel implication is that Israel
can't attack southern Lebanon anymore.
Last month, in Tehran, I had the
confirmation that Hezbollah has now
up to 40,000 fighters stationed and/or
monitoring a maze of underground
installations ready to defend Lebanon
from everything; that's up to ten times
more than in 2006, an invasion that
resulted in a humiliating Israeli
Ther's nothing that Bibi could have
offered Putin apart from a hazy,
unsubstantiated promise to order the
powerful Israeli lobby in D.C. to soften
hysterical, 24/7 Russia demonization.
that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
gave the green light for an Iranian
naval base in Latakia, close to the
Hmeymim airbase used by Russi's
Aerospace Forces. That came
after Mohammad Bagheri, Chief of Iran's
General Staff, stressed that the Iranian
Navy would soon need bases in Syria and
Tehran sent mostly military advisers and
instructors to Syria but the Islamic
Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) also
contributed with hardcore soldiers.
Tehran, I had the pleasure of meeting
Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the
top IRGC commander and a supreme
in asymmetrical warfare, his vast
experience acquired during the Iran-Iraq
war and Hezbollah success in Lebanon
That's like meeting Marine Corps. Gen
Joseph Dunford, the head of the US Joint
Chiefs of Staff but without the pomp
and circumstance. A courteous, graceful
man, Jafari did not have time to get
into details, but other sources
confirmed that without his
battle-hardened knowledge Damascus
by now would have been in big trouble.
What Russia wants in Syria
by Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs Mikhail Bogdanov, former
ambassador in Tel Aviv and Cairo, and
now also Putin's special representative
in the Middle East, that has,
metaphorically, parted the Red Sea all
Bogdanov offered to Arab audiences a
concise guide to Russias Middle East
policy the absolute opposite of loony
US neocon regime change dementia.
compared the "tens of thousands"
of foreign Salafi-jihadi mercenaries
at war with Damascus to the Russia-Iran
military presence officially request by
"the legitimate government." He
dismissed the warped notion of Iran
exporting the Islamic revolution (that
applied to the early 1980s). He stressed
how Moscow wants some sort of US-Iran
entente cordiale with (unlikely) the
House of Saud on board. Negotiations
could be held in Moscow or elsewhere.
The Kremlin, as Bogdanov expressed it,
wants a secular Syria,
beyond sectarianism, springing up out
of free and fair elections supervised
by the UN. Predictably, his words barely
masked Moscow's exasperation
with Washington's obsession in keeping
Tehran out of Syrian peace negotiations.
And he firmly dismissed the "moderate
rebels," whose only goal is "Assad must
go" to stand trial in The Hague ("With
this goal, the war can go on forever").
And then, the clincher: "Russia wants
to abide by international legitimacy. We
are committed to the principle
of non-interference in the internal
affairs of any country, including
non-interference in our internal
affairs. We respect the democratic
process and not color revolutions."
Team Trump members might entertain the
wishful thinking notion that Moscow will
ditch Tehran not only in Syria but in
terms of Eurasia integration. Not a
chance. Yet tell that to the House of Saud.
The House of Saud spent fortunes
investing in Salafi-jihadi provoked
regime change in Syria and an unwinnable
war on Yemen conducted with US weapons
that has generated a massive famine.
Moscow might be able, with time,
to instill some geopolitical sense
into Riyadh. Once again, not a chance.
Because the House of Saud is now
convinced their best ally is President
Geopolitically cornered, unable
to shackle itself off its trademark
paranoia, the House of Saud decided
to go on the offensive, with King Salman
investing in a lavish Asian tour,
Beijing included, where he signed a
rash of deals,
and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman
actually The Warrior Prince, responsible
for the civilian tragedy in Yemen
courting Trump in Washington.
The resulting spin now rules that Saudi
Arabia will be an influential "close
consultant" to Trump on Middle East
security and economy, including the
Palestinian tragedy and the Iran nuclear
deal. No Dante circle of hell could have
provided a more perfect "birth pangs"
recipe for unmitigated disaster in a new
All eyes on the Syrian Kurds
Predictably, neither Moscow nor Tehran
was invited for the anti-Daesh meeting
of 68 nations hosted by Washington next
week. Yet another chapter of hardcore
information war; for US public opinion,
Russia and Iran simply cannot be allowed
to be perceived as actually fighting
and winning a real war on terror.
Smash Daesh is a major Trump campaign
promise. He won't do it with several
hundred US Marines with their sights on Raqqa
by the way, technically a minor
invasion, because Damascus did not
request their presence. So it's back
to Plan A, a.k.a. the Syrian Kurds.
First the top US commander in the Middle
East, General Joseph Votel, went
to Kobane to pledge Pentagon support
for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic
Forces (SDF). Then the Pentagon released
its (revised) Trump-ordered strategy
to defeat Daesh, which boils down to No
Sleep Till Raqqa.
That implies a brand new geopolitical
alignment. Team Obama especially the
CIA and the State Department was
hostage to Turkey's view of the Syrian
Kurds as "terrorists." Not Trump. And
not Bogdanov, by the way: "Why Turkey
agreed on Iraqi Kurdistan, but does not
agree to the Kurdistan in Syria? I think
that this is not their business. This is
an Iraqi affair and Syrian affair.
Syrian people and not the Russian or
Turkish state should decide."
The Pentagon is, to put it mildly, fed
up with Ankara. For many reasons:
from the non-stop purges (which get rid
of strategically placed American assets)
to the Turkey-Russia rapprochement,
inbuilt in Erdogan's threat to pivot
East for good in case Washington
supports the Syrian Kurds and/or does
not extradite Fethullah Gulen, accused
by Erdogan of being the mastermind
of the failed 2016 military coup
how about the taste of the new blueberry
cheesecake in town; Washington, Moscow
and Tehran all allied behind the Syrian
It's complicated, of course. In the
Astana negotiations, Turkey, Russia and
Iran are theoretically on the same side.
Yet Tehran backs some sort of Kurdish
autonomy in Syria an anathema for Erdogan,
for whom the only acceptable Kurdish
autonomy is for his Barzani-controlled
friends in Iraqi Kurdistan.
it's up to Moscow to strike a balancing
act trying to explain to Ankara that
there's no other way apart from Syrian
Kurd self-administration in a future
Syrian federal state. The concept is
extremely ambitious; Moscow aims to show
East and West how the Syrian Kurds, as a
real non-Islamist, secular Syrian actor,
are the perfect instrument to fight
Daesh and other forms of Salafi-jihadism.
wonder Saudi Arabia is not impressed;
fighting Daesh was never their priority.
But what really matters is that Ankara
is not convinced.
Erdogan has his total focus on the
upcoming referendum that may turn him
into a sort of Presidential Sultan. To
win decisively he must court Turkish
nationalism by all means necessary. At
the same time, geopolitically, he cannot
go against Russia/Iran and Washington
in one go.
Only a few
weeks ago no one would have imagined the
Syrian Kurds harboring potential
strategic leverage capable of turning
Middle East geopolitics linked
to Asia, Africa and Europe upside
One Belt, One Road (OBOR)
that building frenzy of ports,
pipelines, high-speed rail firmly
targets the Southwest Asia passage,
from Iran (a key hub) to Saudi Arabia
(China's top oil supplier). Syria is
also a future OBOR hub and for that
Syria must be peaceful and free of Salafi-jihadis.
In silent, discreet Eurasia integration
fashion, China supports what Russia and
Iran are deciding.
now it's much clearer who's configuring
the birth pagans of a new Middle East.
It's not Israel. It's not the House of Saud.
And it's not exactly Trump.