Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Geopolitics: Endgame Syria, US involvment, Al-Qaida, Uncertain future.

As the Stratfor video states the Syrian regime may be standing on its last legs. Of course the common media (CNN, Fox, MSBC, BBC etc) will report this as good news, for a variety of reasons, with perhaps some mild hand wringing about the signs that Al-Qaida is now becoming active in the conflict. But the news media will probably, actually most assuredly it will not, go into why the regime is falling.

First let's revisit Libya. The Gaddafi regime fell, and only fell, because of the West’s direct involvement in the conflict. We need to remember that prior to our involvement Gaddafis forces were poised to take the rebel held Benghazi and crush the rebellion, despite the placement of a no-fly zone by the UN and was quietly expanded to include ground targets. The rebels in Libya were a fractionalized bunch of competing interest and tribes, despite the portrayals by the media, there was no unified resistance. We are now seeing this with a weak central government unable to even ensure national elections. Libya has become the new Somalia.

This is not quite the case in Syria. There is a more centralized resistance, though I do not think it strong enough to prevent fractional infighting, it is enough that the rebels could prevail without direct intervention by the West. The US, and most importantly, the Arabs, have been funding and supply the rebels in their fight against Assad’s regime. The question is why? And the answer is that the US wants to contain Iran, which had been expanding its political influence in the region since our invasion of Iraq. The Assad regime was closely aligned to; in fact you could argue they were a proxy state of, Iran. The US is playing a game that is has for decades in the Middle East.

This has begun isolating Iran, and more importantly taken away the political initiative from them. Moreover the fall of Syria will be net losses for Russia and China as well. There are some major risks though; Al-Qaida is starting to show up in the region, which increases the risk of an islamified state being put in place. But the truth is that US has probably learned, after our fighting in Iraq, and Afghanistan, that outside of the worst third world cesspools, the amount of influence the militants will wage is probably limited. Once again with Iraq and Afghanistan being examples. This doesn't mean that Al-Qaida couldn't be successful, remember their primary goal isn't the defeat of America so much as it is the establishment of either a new caliphate or baring that Islamic fundamentalist regimes, but the US has determined that the risks outweigh the potential costs.

Now before we rail against the imperialism/colonialism/militarism/whatever of America we must take into account this; that the Arabs have a vested interest in the fall of the Assad regime. They are terrified that Iraq could fall under dominion of Iran.  And if it does, and if Assad remains in power, then there would be a crescent of nations under the sway of the Iranian regime. Even if America does nothing, the rebels would have been funded by the Arab nations and the game would largely play out the same way. In this case the US is getting involved probably to have some chips in the game to help counter any potential regional powers, and of course Al-Qaida.

Now I would prefer that the US not be involved. I think the threat of Al-Qaida is over stated. We saw how they spectacularly failed in Iraq. They had a population, a substantial minority that was unhappy with the American occupation that was willing to side with Al-Qaida. But  Al-Qaida was so brutal that they made their erstwhile allies (the Sunni tribes) the strongest American allies in the country. But I also understand why the US does so (get involved). It's not for oil, but because of a foreign policy that has been on auto-pilot since the days of the Cold War. We originally became involved in the Middle East to keep it away from the Soviets. And like so many government programs, what once might have made some sense (though that's still debatable), continues on long past the point of reason.

I don't know how involved our government is in that affair (the rebellion in Syria); it could be very little and it could be a lot. But they are most certainly involved, and the reason why is because its stuck playing a game that has long since ended. We need to remember that the Middle East isn't as important as we think it is. We get more oil from Canada alone than we do from the entire region. And the reason we became involved was that we traded our economic power, by offering to trade them money and weapons for their oil, in exchange for them to not outright align themselves with the Soviet Union. However, despite the fact that I think we could pull away from the Middle East and suffer little to no real geopolitical consequences, the fact is that we are stuck. Governments are always playing the last inning of the last game.

But that being the case, we need to also remember that we are not the only nation doing this. A country's involvement in geopolitical affairs is directly related to their ability to do so. For powerful nations like America, China, or Russia that means covert actions and interfering in the governments of other nations. For smaller weaker nations, such as Switzerland, that might simply mean laundering money for despots. This is part of the reason why I am not as dovish as other libertarians (nor am I as hawkish as neo-cons).

The idea that we can return to colonial style foreign policy is not only historically wrong, the United States did involve itself in foreign affairs from the get go such as the Barbary wars, but not realistic. I understand that circumstances will dictate action, action that I might not like, but action nonetheless. That being said, by and large, a substantial portion of our foreign interactions, Iraq, Libya, Kosovo, etc, are unnecessary and counterproductive to our long term ends. In fact the US has a luxury that most other nations do not, we can afford inaction. The US is so powerful; our dispute of the oceans and of space is unchallenged, that if our nation’s leaders were a bit wiser, they would realize that we can do nothing and be no worse off.

But keep this one thing in mind. Whether or not the US had gotten involved with Syria the end result would have been the same. Too many other nations have an interest in seeing the current regime fail.

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.