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Herbert London: The Syrian War Goes Global

Prior to World War I alliances across Europe created an environment in which one event, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, could set in motion mobilization of forces that led inexorably to conflict. It was as if this was a natural and inevitable slide into the abyss.

Recently Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the establishment of U.S. bases east of the Euphrates River was a provocative act that “could lead to World War III” Erdogan noted that this deployment is an attempt to offset Russian and Iranian influence but, in his judgment, does nothing to stabilize the region.

At the same time, the Turkish dictator – often accused of bluster – brought his country one step closer to war with Greece over disputed islands in the Aegean Sea which were once part of the Ottoman Empire.

Prime Minister Francois Holland of France condemned Russian and Turkish meddling in the Syrian conflict. For Holland, the issue in Syria is not the survival of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad, but “world order” disrupted by Russia’s growing influence in the Levant. Now the issue is “how to respond to Vladimir Putin, not how much to respond to… Assad. The West must realize the true scope of the danger.” Moreover, Holland also harshly criticized Erdogan for attacking allies of France in Afrin, the Kurdish enclave in northwest Syria, suggesting that Turkey has betrayed its role as a NATO member.

Then there is Saudi Arabia’s leader, Mohammed bin Salman who warned against the “triangle of evil” in Syria. (Turkey, Iran and extremist organizations). He also noted the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in countries like Turkey with the ultimate goal of a new Caliphate. The Turkish invasion in Afrin named “Operation Olive Branch” – a clear Orwellian inversion – has led to 300,000 citizens deprived of water and other basic needs. Big battles in Afrin are still to come and are likely to be as destructive as anything seen in Raqqa or Aleppo.

Recently Russian officials threatened the U.S. noting they will not hesitate to respond should the Trump administration launch fresh strikes against the Syrian army. Although there is some ambiguity in this threat, there is no question the Russians are leading ground and air operations to prevent an Iranian takeover of the Damasus area thereby protecting their control over the Assad regime. Nonetheless, the war is slowly evolving into an operation against the Russian backed Iranian axis in Syria. Clearly the Russian position is complicated by its desire to protect Assad and at the same time contain Iranian imperial ambitions which may collide with Russian regional influence.

Where this will end is anyone’s guess particularly with imminent escalation planning. The collapse of the agreement over the so-called de-escalation zone in southern Syria raises all kinds of issues including Hezbollah reinforcing its troops near the Israeli border. Russia was supposed to safeguard the deal, but is either unwilling or unable to do so with the Iranians seemingly influencing Russian judgment, rather than the reverse.

To make things even more complicated, in the area adjacent to Israel a branch of ISIS has seized territory and is intent on expansion. Yes, the Middle East is a quagmire.

This attenuated war of at least seven years has cost more than 500,000 lives, left 1.5 million disabled and has displaced more than half of the 11 million in the population. At this moment there isn’t an end in sight. Should there be a direct confrontation between the U.S. and Russia that goes beyond an engagement of regimental forces, scenarios of the past might well apply. That is a fear worth noting.

Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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