Backing a strong horse

To paraphrase Osama bin Laden, it feels as if Turkey and Egypt are backing the strong horse in softening their opposition to Syrian President Assad (and Russia). This New York Times article has the details. 

For those without the time or inclination, the article essentially says that in the face of a strong and apparently determined Russian intervention in Syria, and a weak Obama Middle  East policy, Turkey and Egypt are softening their opposition to Syria, whereas once they were both staunch opponents.

What the article doesn’t say is that the Turkish and Egyptian leaders—both strongmen with decreasing democratic credentials—are fickle, compared to the much more strategic vision of the Saudi leadership, which is maintaining its opposition to Assad, because of Assad’s principle backer, Iran.

That fickleness is interestng, because both might come back to the American fold, should the latter start showing some spine (and results). And, come 20 January, that might happen. 

And that, to me, is the reason the Syrian and Russian onslaught in Aleppo has ramped up so significantly in the last few weeks; both want tangible and irreversible gains in the key city before Trump takes power. What this indicates is that Russia is actually apprehensive of a Trump presidency (well, aren’t we all?!). Many of the naysayers have stated that Trump and Putin will get along famously (or that Trump will let Putin do what he wants in the Middle East and Europe—which is ironic, since that’s what Putin has been doing during the Obama Administration!) 

I’m no fan of Trump, but the Russian actions in Syria show that they’re worried. I bet they’ll be a significant calming of the Aleppo situation or or immediately before 20 January.

The demise of the West (was inevitable)

Charles Krauthammer (such a good name!) has written an obituary for the West’s preeminence. 

The autocracies are back and rising; democracy is on the defensive; the U.S. is in retreat. Look no further than Aleppo. A Western-backed resistance to a local tyrant — he backed by a resurgent Russia, an expanding Iran and an array of proxy Shiite militias — is on the brink of annihilation. Russia drops bombs; America issues statements.

What better symbol for the end of that heady liberal-democratic historical moment. The West is turning inward and going home, leaving the field to the rising authoritarians — Russia, China and Iran. In France, the conservative party’s newly nominated presidential contender is fashionably conservative and populist and soft on Vladimir Putin. As are several of the newer Eastern Europe democracies — Hungary, Bulgaria, even Poland — themselves showing authoritarian tendencies.

And so it goes. While I’m no fan of Bush or Obama foreign policy (and Krauthammer is wrong to suggest this started with Obama), I think he’s a little too harsh on the West. For most of the history of the Westphalian system (and, indeed, the world), numerous powers of differing influence and objectives have competed amongst themselves. The Cold War was unusual in that there there two super powers, which appeared to create stability (though consider five Israeli wars between 1948 and 1973, the Egyptian intervention in Yemen, the Yemeni break up, the Lebanese Civil War, the coups in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, the Black September in Jordan, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the Iran-Iraq war – what have I missed? – and that’s just in the Middle East – things weren’t that stable).

With the break-up of the Soviet Union, there remained only one power – that was unprecedented. But nature abhors a vacuum and it was inevitable that numerous powers would rise to challenge the US. The money and blood it would take to prevent this happening would be too much for any democratic country to bear. That’s my two cents.