The world has no shortage of clever people. And, despite the many obstacles in their way, many of them do rise to positions of power and influence where such skills can be put to good use. Unfortunately, overcoming the obstacles to political success where real power over their fellow citizens can be exercised, requires skill in subterfuge, dissimulation and appeal to the masses. Principled idealists need not apply. The sole exception of Mahatma Gandhi was our product of incompetence at the colonial office, who made a pig’s ear of dealing with Indian nationalism.
The present eyeballing going on between America and several other Powers is being over-egged by a handwringing Western media where tabloid sound-bite journalism has pretty much taken over the asylum. While the airwaves spotter with numbers of refugees/ deaths and/or Chemical/ suicide atrocities, the real story of how the power game is played seems to escape “serious| commentators like the BBC or NPR, let alone agenda-pounding dingbats at Fox, Breitbart or the Murdoch empire.
But even fraught International situations like the Middle East lend themselves to rational explanation of the players’ motives which would go a long way to diminish the chance of world War III. Arabs in general are a proud people—but one that has been pushed around by colonial powers (Britain, France, Turkey) for centuries. That they would have a chip on their shoulder, even without the state of Israel appearing (re-appearing?) In their midst, seems understandable. And That they should have lost the civilisation-leading enlightened in science and social structural of the early caliphs is a loss to all concerned. The siege mentality that characterises Israeli attitudes to their modern equivalents.
Where is it just that bipartisan divide, a lifting of lapels and banging your head by Objective outsiders might solve things. But into the mix comes Shia versus Sunni, who are abrasive in differences as Protestant (once?) was from Catholic. The Truly sad part is how regional powers exploit this for their own ends. Hence Saudi Arabia fights a proxy war in the Yemen, balanced by Iran’s support for Assad in Syria. There is little incentive for either to back off because they perceive this as a chance to increase their regional influence and train the troops, with no real down side.
There is no downside because, though the cold war is technically dead, the so-called Great Powers assume a right to middle and use their veto to castrate any attempt by the UN to act as anything more serious then PC Plod. Despots know this. From Papa Doc Duvalier to Robert Mugabe, they knew they could economically rape their countries three ways from Sunday and know they were to insignificant for anyone who could do something about it to care.
Assad’s Syria ought to fall into this sad fraternity. But geography played its hand. For centuries, Russia has suffered being landlocked. Trapped by the Kattegat and the Bosphorus, generations of Russian admirals have hungered for a warm water port. Having equipped Assad’s dad with hundreds of clanking T-72s to use against the Israelis, the payback started during the 1970s when Tartus became a major port servicing warships of the Soviet Union’s Fifth Mediterranean squadron. One civil war broke out, Assad’s desperation for Russian support meant not only was the base expanded to handle nuclear-powered and equipped ships but a complete modern airbase was established at Khmeimim with two 3,000 m runways.
Which gives Russia more than a passing interest in Assad’s future. It may know make much sense too the sensitive Western public that a half million dead, millions of refugees and use of band chemical weapons can suit any rational leader. But this deadly Game is not being played by Fabian Society rules. Assad knows he can do as he likes to win because Russia needs him and will keep an impotent UN off his back. They also check any serious intervention by the US.
Russia, on the other hand, is a Grand Master at this global game. They knew from the start they had a free hand in Chechnya, Crimea and Ukraine. Een the Americans have neither the reach nor the strength to intervene there. Russia has always been pragmatic and relentless in pursuit of their aims. When, during World War II, Stalin was cautioned about offending Catholics, his rejoinder was : “And how many divisions does the Pope have?”
So they will be back Assad to the hilt, because it suits their purpose. Every ambassador and spokesperson will calmly assert no chemical weapons were used, spread disinformation that it was a British plot and play up the illegality of anyone else’s intervention, such as the raid on April 13th. But just because they come across as stony stonewallers, do not think them dumb. They will run rings around Trump’s ever changing circus of newbies.
For it is not just at chess that the Russians produce Grand Masters. Despite much huffing and military puffing from Britain, France and the US, it is not they who are gaining ground in the Middle East, nor even, for all its victories, Assad’s rotten regime, but the Russians.