`Is there nothing you will not lie about? Do you have no shame?’ demanded a frustrated Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, accusing the three allies, Russia, Iran and Syria, of ‘barbarism’ and continuing atrocities as rebel territory fell to pro-Assad forces. While this expression of ‘anger’ clearly ignores the havoc American interventions and wars have wrecked in the past 60 years or so, its immediate significance lies in the American failure to impose its notorious ‘regime-change’ policy in Syria, the kind of which it was able to impose in recent years in other countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. But for Russian military campaign against the Western backed ‘moderate rebels’ and ISIS–the by-product of American policies in the post-American withdrawal Iraq— Syria, too, would have fallen a prey to this policy and become yet another story of destruction brought in the name of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights.’
The American failure against the combined forces of Syria, Russia and Iran directly challenges the notion of American military supremacy in the world and its ability to fulfil its security pacts and commitments with its Arab allies. Does the Aleppo-victory mean an American exit from the greater Middle Eastern scene?
While it might seem too much at this stage to suggest a potential exit, some developments have clearly shown that the century of American and Western imperial supremacy in the resource rich region is over. Defeat in Syria is not just of military nature; it equally symbolizes and effectively stamps the rise of forces which are no longer willing or weak enough to subordinate their interests to that of the West and its Arab allies.
Syria was where President Barack Obama had openly expressed the certainty to create a quagmire for his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. The calculation of the Obama administration was that the quagmire in Syria would mean a devastating setback for Putin, which in turn, would erode his grip on power and mark the unravelling of the Russian political system itself.
The Obama administration pursued in this context a multi-dimensional approach – engaging Russia on the diplomatic track to buy time for extremist groups in Aleppo to regroup and try to break the siege; taking control of Raqqa on the supply route to Aleppo; keeping up a sustained propaganda barrage on ‘humanitarian grounds’ to disorient the Russian military track – all predicated on the hope of Hillary Clinton becoming the next US president.
Clearly this administration has failed to achieve any of these objectives and Samantha Power’s remarks are only an attempt on the part of the departing president to make people forget the objectives his administration had been seeking to achieve since the time of direct Russian involvement.
While the Aleppo-victory has signalled a defeat for America and its allies, Russia’s post-Aleppo policy seems to have dealt another blow to the US’ and those of its allies’ attempts at seeking space at the negotiating table, warrant their role as ‘peace brokers’, and thereby, influence Syria’s future.
This, however, does not seem to be happening. To this end, Putin announced on Friday that he would convene peace talks for later this month, attended by Iran and Turkey but none of the Gulf states or western powers.
In a snub to Washington, Putin made clear on Friday that the initiative was the sole preserve of Moscow and Turkey and that the peace talks would be in addition to intermittent U.N.-brokered negotiations in Geneva. “The next step is to reach an agreement on a total ceasefire across the whole of Syria,” Putin said in Tokyo. “We are conducting very active negotiations with representatives of the armed opposition, brokered by Turkey”, he added further.
Resonating the same, Turkey’s foreign minister said that major realignments in regional politics can be expected in the post-Aleppo period. “We are striving to secure a ceasefire throughout the country and for negotiations for a political solution to start…For this reason, at the end of the month, on December 27 in Moscow, we will hold a tripartite meeting with Turkey, Russia and Iran.” The exclusive ‘trilateral’ summit signals the potential for strategic convergence among the three most important countries involved in the Syrian conflict.
While the surprise move does underline the growing strength of Russia’s rapprochement with Turkey and equally underscore the growing distance between Turkey and the US, it also shows how fed up Russia is with what it sees as long and pointless talks with the Obama administration over Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier this week dismissed those talks as “fruitless sitting around” and said Ankara might prove a more effective partner on Syria.
Clearly, Russia is more interested in quickly moving towards Syria’s post-war reconstructions than remain trapped in the US’ mantra of whether Assad should remain in power or not.
Russia as well as its allies are aware of the path the US president-elect is likely to follow once he assumes power on January 20, 2017. Russian policy track is in anticipation of that path and is likely to determine the final outcome to a great extent.
By acting as a broker between Iran and Turkey, who were not on the same page with regard to Assad until 2013, Russia is now aiming at creating a diplomatic understanding between these two power contenders in Syria, especially with regard to the question of the future of Kurds in Syria and the region on the whole.
What explains Turkey’s willingness to participate in the summit is the fact that its primary interest i.e., Kurds’ position in the region cannot be satisfied by remaining engaged with the US, which has been the primary source of support for them throughout this period of war. For Turkey, therefore, engagement with Russia does makes sense and appears to be a pragmatic way of re-positioning itself in the region in the wake of new developments where the US does no longer figure in as the primary balancer and power broker.
The ‘American rage’ over Syria is, therefore, a response to this tremendous failure. For the US and the EU, the fall of Aleppo, Assad`s survival, Turkey’s changed position, and most importantly Russia`s and Iran`s ascendancy represent a generational foreign policy setback—something that they certainly had not anticipated at the start of “spring” in the Middle East in general and in Syria in particular, and something they are now finding hard to reconcile with. Obama’s self-defeating interventionism has fallen and with it has fallen American glory in the Mid-east.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.