Syria and the Balance of Power

Foreign powers and proxies

In the age of republics Turkey and Iran have transformed their old political structures bringing in a new dimension for acquiring greater influence in the muslim world. The race now is between two republics instead of two empires.

The difference between the two republics is that while Turkey is secular and democratic with a soft Islam approach Iran claims it is Islamic and democratic leaning towards hardliners. It is also observed that Turkey is the only muslim member state of NATO and is generally not considered to be anti US whilst Iran is pro Russia and has no diplomatic relations with the US.

The ruling elite and the common people don’t always share the same vision for allies and friends. For eg, Baathist rulers of Damascus are closer to the Islamic republic more than they ever were with Iraqi Baathists in Baghdad. During the US war in Iraq refugees flooded Iraq’s western border where they were quite well received by Syrians. Again, as the civil war currently rages refugees from Syria are flooding the Turkish and Iraqi borders. Syrians commonly will be more comfortable in Turkish or Iraqi lands rathe than of Iran.

Between the people of contiguous countries there exists a logical cultural, religious and linguistic sharing which would be the natural basis for state relationships. Middle-eastern countries’ policies however are often questioned whether they truly reflect the peoples’ collective desire for bonding or are they acting as proxies for foreign powers. It is often the case that a country in the US camp is generally not hostile towards Israel and vice versa. A regime change carries the hope that Syria would move away from the Russian camp and into the US camp making Israel more secure.


Balance of Power

In the Arab Spring of 2011 the Al-Khalifah family, Bahraini ruling dynasty, was nearly overthrown by an uprising had it not been for Saudi forces which came to rescue the royalty from its citizens. The massacres in Bahrain were no different from the one in Syria today except that the international community had sided with the ruling dynasty instead of the people. Bahrain has also been a naval base for the US Navy’s 7th fleet.

The fact that the revolution in Bahrain failed does not, and should not, imply that Bahrainis have forgotten the bloodshed and are now happy to be once again under the old royals. The horror of massacres lives in a nation’s memory for generations as repeatedly seen in the history of nations.

The burning issue for Gulf Arabs is the possibility of uprisings and revolts against the ruling dynasties. The possibility of monarchs fall raises the prospect of a radically anti western government taking over and fundamentally altering the balance of power in the region. That should also be Israel’s biggest concern which is a key security point for the US.

The promoter of change in the current balance of power is arguably Iran supported by some other non NATO countries. Hence Iran and its partner Syria are natural targets for the current power holders and their allies abroad.

The only muslim country and NATO member with a powerful army which can set things right for the continuation of the existing balance of power is Turkey. Military intervention in Syria will most probably drag in Iran, Russia, NATO and possibly Israel and China into the conflict.

The balance of power in the region will not change unless the Iran-Russia alliance moves away from Syria. That will not happen unless the top brass of the Baathist regime have been replaced by a popular government which also depends on the peoples’ desire to be liberated.

Justice and Freedom

In the Persian Gulf it looks like the fear of another country falling into the Iranian camp is more dangerous than supporting a popular struggle for freedom and justice. On that premise there are three broad groups with regard to the Syrian uprising.

Firstly, there is the pro interventionist group which are clustered close to each other in the Persian Gulf. Their worst nightmare is the rising power of Iranian ideology amongst their shite citizens which can one day dislodge them from power. These states are against any change in their own societies whilst they advocate for external intervention to change Syria. Interestingly, these states do not move when Palestinian blood is shed but are deeply touched by the cleansing in Syria. They are also important US-NATO partners in the regional strategy.

Then there is the pro Assad group all of whom have fixed their regional ambitions in Syria the heart of Arab modernism. They don’t want regime change and will oppose any western intention to intervene militarily. These countries are also non NATO countries.

The third group comes from the Arab street. They don’t want war and they definitely don’t have any sympathy for dictators like Assad. War, they say, will probably split the country into 2 or 3 separate independent states which will be a permanent source for future conflicts.

Alawite, Sunni and Shite Syrias would be a catastrophe in terms of unity and strength for the most strategic Arab country. Earlier, Iraq was practically divided into 2 states, a shjite-sunni Iraq and a semi autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan following Gulf War I and II. The victor in these divisions is the evil concept of sectarianism and racism amongst common folks.

Arabs were not destined to be ruled by iron fists. Their culture tells any reader of history how fiercely independent they always have been. Arabs now believe they can make a change and they need every help they can get for liberating their societies.

People don’t war politicians do, goes the saying. In case of war the greatest casualty will be the loss of innocent lives which had nothing to do with any of this regional strategic game. But freedom and liberty comes at a price. Are the Syrians collectively prepared to pay that price?

However the only way for changing Syria is by prevailing the collective will of the people over dictatorships. The armed struggle, may be argued, came too early too fast in Damascus. The revolution has to be fully home grown and non militant if it wants to succeed.