The Great Game: Power Politics or Free Play?
I haven’t seen anyone summarize all this quite so well.
The “Great Game” being played in the Middle East with Syria and Iraq as the center rings bears a superficial similarity to the power political maneuverings of the dominant European states in their African and Asian periphery during the 19th century. There is a somewhat closer resemblance to the Spanish civil war in the mix of multiple local parties, external powers, and ideological militancy. Yet, what we are witnessing today is quite different in some crucial respects – adding to our confusion in trying to make sense of the plot. Complexity and confusion reinforce each other. That is true for the actors themselves.
One gets the distinct impression that most of the leaders involved in this imbroglio don’t know that they’re doing. The obvious exceptions are the Islamic State and al-Qaeda/al-Nusra who gain advantage from the others’ maladroit, contorted flailing about. One could add Assad to the category of the knowing and witting. Among external parties, Putin stands out as the one rational actor with his feet on the ground and his head on his shoulders. The rest seem bereft of clear judgment and steady policy. Why?
Before trying to answer that question, let’s remind ourselves of how disjointed and incoherent those leaders have been. The United States overshadows all others in terms of its potential influence, readiness to engage by various means, and the diversity of links it has with other protagonists. Washington, would-be script-writer and casting director, has entangled itself in those multiple lines of connection. The obscurity of its objectives, beyond the fantastic expectation that everybody else will conform to the twists and turns of American thinking (and actions), has compounded its intrinsic dilemma. That is one of squaring circles, reconciling the irreconcilable, and experimenting with combustible mixes of “hard” and “soft” power. It hasn’t helped that no one in Washington has seemed to be in charge. When you don’t know where you’re going, any – and all – routes will get you there. So try them all – simultaneously.
The United States wants Assad out; it wants to crush the Islamic State; it wants to prevent al-Qaeda & Assoc from coming to power in Damascus; it wants to keep Saudi Arabia and its young turbo-charged de facto leader Mohammed bin-Salman happy and smiling in its direction; it wants to curb Iranian influence throughout the region and wishes for the death of the Islamic Republic; it wants to keep Tayyip Recep Erdogan happy and smiling in its direction; it wants to satisfy all of Israel’s desires; and it wants to teach Putin a lesson that will force him to crawl back into his lair instead of making believe that it’s 1973. It wants to keep its bases in the Persian Gulf plus new ones in Iraq and Syria (against the will of its sovereign government) – even though the latter will act as irritants that generate the very enemies and instability that they are meant to deal with – the perfect closed feedback loop. All this is a tall order for a squad of foreign policy novices, dogmatists and dilettantes. And all the more daunting given that the only locals sympathetic to the United States (the Iraq government of Haider al-Abadi and the secular moderates in Syria) are weak reeds to lean on.Ohio Barbarian, mmonk, bbgrunt and 1 otherPeace Patriot like thisIt ain't the things you don't know that hurts you, it's the things you know that ain't so.
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