President Putin of Russia has peddled his anti-ISIS coalition throughout the Sunni Arab world but to no avail. Neither Saudi Arabia nor any of the Gulf states, Turkey or Jordan seem interested in propping up Assad and his backers in Tehran. Meanwhile the non-ISIS, non-al-Qaida opposition in Syria insist on the Geneva One communique as the basis of talks for a political settlement. The US is all rhetoric, but maintains the opposition’s demand that Assad must leave as a pre-condition to any political discussion. Although this US position appears to be wavering. While Russia insists that without Assad and his government, chaos on the level of Iraq or Libya will surely ensue, as the forces of extremism will simply take over the country.
But what if the US and Russia could find room for a compromise? They could start by insisting that the missiles in Lebanon, directed at Israel and supplied by Tehran, be dismantled and their resupply be blocked. In other words, the US and Russia could construct a complete western Iraq and eastern Syria no-fly zone to prohibit the movement of men and material from Iran into the Syrian civil war and beyond, into Lebanon. This no-fly zone would be accompanied by a firm US-Russia commitment to ensure that any political transition in Syria must involve all the legitimate opposition (including reasonable Islamist factions) as well as the Assad government itself. The US and Russia working together, and with the entire UN peacekeeping apparatus, could ensure that the war remains stalemated; that extremist factions are hunted down and destroyed; that all minority communities are protected; and that only negotiations are the way forward.
The future of Syria and Lebanon must be established within a democratic framework and free of any regional hegemonic designs by Iran or anyone else. Without the exclusion of Iran from the political process, any hope of progress is simply impossible. The Sunni Arabs must be convinced that at the end of a transition, Tehran will not be in control of puppet-states in Damascus and Beirut. Until such a time, any individual US or Russian plan to either destroy ISIS or prop up Assad will be doomed to irrelevance. Only by working together, and through the manpower reserves of the entire world (the UN), can Russia and the US succeed in their efforts to destroy all the terrorists, and that includes Shiite terrorists as well as Sunni.
Russia will find out soon enough what a quagmire Syria has become. By its unilateral actions on the ground, Moscow has bitten off more than it can chew. It’ll take a lot more than a few battalions and thirty-two planes to take back Syria for Assad. But Putin will soon realize that even a cream puff like the current US president cannot afford to remain a paper tiger in the face of such unilateral Russian action. The US, England and France have not completely abdicated their role in the Middle East. A no-fly zone in eastern Syria and western Iraq can be accomplished without Russian agreement. In the aftermath of the nuclear deal, the Free World is now being tested by Russia and Iran. Washington, Paris and London cannot afford to fail this test. For if they do, it will be clear to everyone in the Middle East that Russia and Iran have surpassed the West and the so-called Free World has become leaderless. This must not become the legacy of either Obama, Hollande or Cameron.
But in order to compromise on Assad’s role in the transition, the Western powers are going to need Russia to let loose of its tacit alliance with the terrorist regime in Tehran. Once this is accomplished, all risk of a great power confrontation over the skies of the Levant will be ended. For make no mistake, Putin has risked a lot by challenging the West in such a brazen and uncoordinated manner. The Ukraine was directly on his border and not a part of the NATO alliance. But Syria, Iraq and Lebanon involve the future of many long-standing American, English and French friends within the region of the Middle East. Are these nations going to sit back and simply allow Iran and Russia to control the situation on the ground without some sort of push back?
Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have many differences among themselves, including the unsolved question of Palestinian rights, but on one thing they are all united — Iran must not become the sole regional hegemon. Israel would probably be open to the movement of Egyptian troops through its territory in order to advance a southern front against a Russian-Iranian alliance in Syria. This is a real possibility if Washington, London and Paris fail to challenge Moscow and Tehran over the future of Syria.
Now the whole world is watching as events in Syria spiral haphazardly toward even greater destruction as the permanent members of the UN Security Council face-off in the Middle East. The entire edifice of the post WWII international structure is once again being tested. Both sides claim international law to be on their side. But international law (like beauty) is usually in the eyes of the beholder. The UN had repeatedly failed as an institution within the bi-polar structure of the 20th century. Now within the strained and financially bankrupt confines of a unipolar 21st century, a new paradigm for international cooperation struggles to be born — multi-polar and anti-nuclear international peace.
Yes! For the first time in the history of international relations the goal of all nations must be peace! The world’s ecological and economic challenges are so demanding that any paradigm other than peaceful cooperation spells disaster for humanity as a species. This is not hyperbole or simplistic idealism, but the true state of the world’s human biological condition. Either we all learn to live together or we’ll fail to address the extreme ecological challenges facing the younger generations. Politicians worry about their respective nations, and rightly so. But unless politicians begin to see the condition of their nation within a planetary wholeness, the land based agricultural system upon which humanity resides will fail. Soil, water and climate are the vital home of plants and humans. There is nothing else. Neither money or power will suffice. Gold cannot be eaten and weapons cannot be drunk. In this new age, our politics must reflect our biological condition. Only those who understand science and/or believe that mother earth is a holy creation can possibly understand.
Russia understands. It is not a soulless materialist civilization and it certainly is not without an understanding of science. Islam and Judaism understand as well. Secular western modernity prides itself on factual proof, individual uniqueness and the primacy of human rights. There are no major contradictions in any of these outlooks. In the West natural law theory (the basis for democratic norms) has a Divine author. In the Middle East and Russia, the author of history is the same. In the name of peace, let the age of empire and war become a thing of the past. To be a great power in the 21st century means to understand that we live in a time of great ecological and economic peril. Let us not compound that peril with worn-out international relations paradigms. Either humanity advances morally or it will succumb to the many disasters of coercion and force. The Middle East must be recreated and that will certainly require great power cooperation.
Iranian threats against all the nations of the region and specifically their genocidal threats against Israel mean that the so-called Islamic regime in Tehran must be isolated. A US-Russia compromise on Syria would be a good start.