Friday, 7 August 2015

The Expansion of Conflict in the Greater Middle East: Great Power Politics and Energy Interests.

The kidnapping of Division 30 fighters, and their consequent stated refusal to fight Al Nusra, has proved that the US insistence of their being a 'moderate' rebel 'third force' between Assad and ISIS is a geopolitical fantasy that could end in the reality of the US being drawn further and further into the Syrian quagmire.
The insistence of the Western Powers that there shall be a 'moderate' Sunni rebel force is connected to a stubborn inability to accept they cannot affect or influence events in Syria. Having been convinced they could steer the Arab Spring uprisings their way after 2011, the Western powers remain wedded to 'liberal interventionist' delusions.
For a start, the West has as allies regional powers with geostrategic ambitions and goals that over Syria contradict the stated purpose as expressed by Obama to 'degrade and destroy ISIL'. Until late 2013 and pressure from Washington, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar were bankrolling Sunni militant groups and it is reported this is still true in 2015
The aim of the Gulf states was not only to counter the extension of Iranian influence through Shia militias by funding proxy forces opposed to it. It was to rival each other; Saudi Arabia wanted to block Qatar and Turkey from installing a Sunni dominated democracy that would undermine its own theocratic state.
The US wants to get its regional allies onside but Qatar is still hostile to Riyadh, as it evident in the proxy war being fought between these contending Sunni powers over the fate of Libya and its oil. Where there are these regional power rivalries, ISIS has been able to surge and spread to take advantage of the chaos and control the oil.
The US wants to stop ISIS posing a threat to global oil supplies and destabilising the region. Yet Turkey wants to prevent Kurdish secessionist moves in Syria and Iraq spreading into its own territory while keeping the KRG onside as it is set to provide increasing supplies of oil westwards through to the port of Ceylan
The US has largely opposed the sale of oil via Turkey because this circumvents the control of the Iraqi state based in Baghdad it is pledged to defend. However, this has in practice resulted in a huge amount of oil smuggling that the Western powers have overlooked because it wants to keep Turkey onside as a NATO member
Saudi Arabia is hostile to Washington trying to use Iran and the Shia dominated south to protect Iraqi oil and prevent the conflict in the north west spreading southwards. Riyadh was opposed to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq because they were not particularly keen on the idea of 'democracy promotion' in a neighbouring state.
Saudi Arabia is supportive of the US war on ISIS so long as it keeps Iraq from collapsing. The last thing it would want is ISIS surging towards its border as blowback from their earlier policies. For the new Raqqa based Caliphate regards itself as a deadly rival that it is dedicated to attacking and destabilising.

On the other hand, Riyadh is absolutely terrified that Shia influence from Iran could be used to destabilise Saudi Arabia through supporting discontented Shia minorities within their borders, not least as many live in the key oil producing regions near the Persian Gulf and are excluded from the benefits.

That is one reason Saudi Arabia invaded Bahrain in 2012 to crush Shia protests against the Sunni monarchical state without any criticism from the West. It is why the 'international community' has remained silent about the civilian casualties caused its military intervention and destructive air strikes in Yemen. 

As Bruce Riedel points out,
'The richest countries in the Arab world are waging war and a blockade against the poorest nation in Arabia with no end in sight. For its part, the United States has committed to accelerating arms deliveries to the kingdom and the Gulf states, which helps them continue the air and naval blockade. Without the American and British regarding supply of munitions, logistical assistance, diplomatic protection in the UN and other support, the Saudis would be much constrained in the war.' 
Yet the very intervention in Yemen against the Iranian backed Houthi militias, along with Obama's drone campaign and the civilian casualties it has caused, has only deepened the chaos this land has descended into since its own Arab Spring uprising back the momentous year of 2011. The beneficiary has been ISIS.

For Washington, Saudi oil is less important with the discovery and tapping of domestic shale oil. However,retaining influence in Riyadh against China is considered a vital interest along with the lucrative arms deals it has along with other allies such as Britain which is dazzled by the Saudi oil wealth lavished on it.
Ultimately, the foreign policy of the Western Powers is based on energy interests before humanitarian concerns. The decision to give Turkey a free hand to destroy YGP aligned PKK militias in Syria and Iraq in return for using the Incirlik air base was a risky gamble that could well assist ISIS and lead to more slaughter of minorities.
Indeed by weakening the Syrian Kurds, ISIS could well push back into Kobani and take over Kurd areas again. The West may well watch as Kurds get slaughtered in the 'safety zone' Turkey and NATO are dedicated to preserving on the Turkish-Syrian border. In turn this would put pressure on the KRG to oppose Turkish policy.
President Erdogan is under threat from a rival HDP party ( including a prominent Kurdish contingent ) and the economy is not performing well. After the 2015 elections deprived Erdogan of an outright parliamentary majority, he is trying to portray the HDP as a threat to the integrity of the Turkish state itself.
For Erdogan, therefore, a 'war on terror' to rival that of Egypt's military regime in Sinai and in neighbouring Libya serves the old purpose of having a diversionary war while linking external threats to 'enemies within', a highly dangerous strategy that could trigger off a full scale rebellion within the Turkey's majority Kurdish south east. 
So rolling back ISIS is only one aim the Western Powers themselves have besides Turkey; the other is still monomanically holding out for Assad to be overthrown, not least as he is backed by Russia which wants to build up its presence in the Eastern Mediterranean and retain control over Syrian gas reserves.
Keeping Ankara satisfied is necessary to counter Russian influence in a NATO state on the Eastern Mediterranean. Saudi Arabia also hosts US military bases and which colludes with America's strategy of forcing oil prices low as a tool of global economic warfare against states such as Russia, Venezuela and Iran.

While that strategy may have helped force Iran to negotiate an end to any nuclear weapons programme in July 2015, Saudi Arabia and Israel, as well as the Republican right within the US, remain hostile to any compromise, not least as the removal of sanctions means Iranian oil and gas  is up for sale and export once more.

Whatever one thinks of Obama's global strategies, they are are based on a highly complicated diplomatic approach. But it is regarded as too 'soft' and, frankly, not forthright and aggressive enough in backing US allies by Republican contenders vying for the White House in 2016. This poses great dangers.

For a start, Republicans have advocated using US oil for export directly to undercut Russian power in Eastern Europe and to reaffirm its alliance with Netanyahu's Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel is implacably opposed to the nuclear deal as it means Iranian gas is going to be able to compete with its plans for tapping Eastern Mediterranean reserves.

In Syria, opposing Russia in a 'New Cold War' would mean greater backing and funding for the 'moderate rebels' so as to overthrow Assad. Yet it is hard to see how that would be welcomed by Israel unless Hezbollah were to be substantially 'degraded' and commitment to bombing ISIS ratcheted up. 

Israel remains poised for a strike against it in Southern Lebanon and the Republicans would support such anti-terrorist' measures as part of a broader strategy of rolling back Iranian influence, even though this would make propping up the Shia dominated Iraqi government in Baghdad even more difficult.

Moreover, an expanding proxy war across the Greater Middle East between Saudi Arabia and Iran would ultimately mean greater US military involvement in Iraq and Syria should either 
beleaguered state collapse entirely as a consequences of ISIS expanding by default as they already have in Yemen and Syria.

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