Friday, 30 October 2015

Low Prospects for Peace in Syria: The Vienna Talks, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

'US attempts to re-enfranchise Iran as a good faith neighbour after the successfully negotiated nuclear deal have been roundly rebuffed by Riyadh, Qatar and the Gulf states..“They are inviting the vultures to the banquet table. And they expect them to wear napkins and be nice to the waiters.” ( Guardian 30th October 2015 )
The Vienna Peace Talks appear doomed unless the Western Powers were to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states to desist from backing Sunni jihadist insurgents, not least militias affiliated to Al Qaida. However, the Russian military intervention has only led the Saudis to scale up their support for Al Nusra.

As a consequence ISIS and Saudi clerics have vied with each other in the ferocity of their condemnations of Russia as the oil price war between Riyadh and Moscow has had a far more severe and potentially destabilising impact on the Saudis as their oil export revenue earnings have depleted at rapid speed.

Diverting jihadist discontent outwards from Saudi Arabia on to Gulf rival Iran has been a desperate domestic expedient to stave off internal rebellions as well as to position itself as head of the Sunni jihad against the rival claims of ISIS. This has been given further impetus by the invasion of Yemen.

The Western Powers have been prepared to align with Saudi Arabia over its invasion of Yemen as a way to preserve the regional balance of power given Washington's need to coopt Iran in shoring up the Shi'ite dominated government in Baghdad militarily and so preventing the need for US troops to re-enter Iraq.

The Syria War is but one war in a general conflation speading across the MENA region. The fact that Assad is no longer going 'to go', because of decisive Russian intervention, means the Western Powers have the appalling option of either losing face over having demanded Assad go or else to align firmly with Saudi Arabia.

The temptation to swing behind a newly formed mujahadeen in Syria similar to the one that fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s would be resisted by Obama's administration. After all, it would raise the spectre of an uncontrollable and ever escalating proxy war on the border with Turkey-a NATO state.

The third option the US has would be to make plain to Riyadh that if it continues to escale the proxy war with Iran in Syria by backing Al Nusra, then that may well have consequences for the strength of the alliance with Washington and its military commitments in the Persian Gulf region.

While the Obama administration might try to put diplomatic presure on the Saudis, who are increasingly paranoid about being abandoned by the West in preference to renewed oil deals with Iran for the first time since 1979, there are powerful Saudi lobby groups in Washington that would back opposition to this in the US.

US shale oil and the Pivot to Asia strategy pursued by Obama since 2010-11 have mean Washington does not put such a premium on the old Cold War alliance system and the anti-Iranian stance that was embodied in the Carter Doctrine of 1980, that any threat to the Persian Gulf is a direct threat to the US.

That was directed at the Islamic Revolutionary regime in Iran and the Soviet Union which had invaded Afghanistan in the same year 1979. However the destabilising effects of the legacy of the proxy war in Afghanistan helped create the global jihadi threat of Al Qaida and the US being drawn into a war after 2001.

The last thing the West would want is a new Afghanistan in Syria. Avoiding that would depend on being prepared to exert pressure on the Gulf states instead of cravenly backing their proxy war strategies uncritically. Britain could well be opposed to anything that would affect trade with Qatar or the Saudis.

Britain's PM Cameron is stuck in a 1980s timewarp where 'business as usual' with the Saudis and Qatar means nothing should upset 'national interests', meaning lucrative arms deals and the inward investment its ailing finance and service sector economy needs. Short term economics could trump long term security.

So the probability of their being a breakthrough in the Vienna peace talks looks very low. Even more ominous is the real likelihood that the Syria conflict will continue through 2016 and a new Republican administration enters the White House. The chances of global conflict would then become much increased.

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