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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 12/31/16

The Syrian Chimera and The Queen of Hearts

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Message Gary Busch

The Russians and the Turks have announced that there is a ceasefire in the war in Syria. The truce, brokered by Russia and Turkey has the support of the Iranians, the Assad government and some, but not all, of those who are trying to overthrow the Assad regime. The distinction of who is and who isn't included in the ceasefire is the volatile element of the equation. The Russians say all but Daesh and the Al-Nusrah Front are included but Syria says the Free Syrian Army (FSA) units which work with the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham ("Front for the Conquest of the Levant") which succeeded the Al-Nusra Front when it split from Al-Qaida in July 2016 are not included in the ceasefire. The Turks have also excluded from the ceasefire the FSA units which work with the Yakenin Parastina Gel (The People's Protection Units (YPG) which is almost entirely Kurds.

After the first hours of the ceasefire the Syrian Army bombarded some of the Damascus suburbs against those whom they deemed excluded from the ceasefire. The Russians and the Turks used air strikes over the territory around Al-Bab which the Turkish forces are attacking to try and prevent the Kurds from controlling the territory of the new "Rojava" (Kurdish State) along Turkey's southern border. This Turkish and Russian attack on the FSA and the YPG units near Al-Bab have brought them up against the FSA and YPG units armed and trained by U.S. Special Forces. Any attack on these forces is likely to cause U.S. casualties and may provoke a U.S. air response on the perpetrators (similar to the accident which saw the death of several Syrian soldiers carried out by the U.S. when they tried a bombardment on the YPG). In addition, the Turks have demanded that the Hezbollah soldiers from the Lebanon, led by the Pasadaran (Iran's Revolutionary Guard), be removed from Syria in two weeks; it is unlikely to happen.

The thought that this ceasefire will last and that the mooted peace negotiations due to take place in Astana will arrange a peace treaty in January is difficult to believe. It is a Queen of Hearts approach to the question." "Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." (Alice in Wonderland). This group of peacemakers resembles most the Chimera, a fire-breathing monster having a lion's head, a goat's body, and a dragon's tail. In the story the Chimera terrorized the people of Lycia until their king asked Bellerophon to slay her. Bellerophon called in Pegasus, the winged horse, and brought the Chimera down from above. There is a very good chance that as the new Chimera turns on the FSA and YPG units in Al-Bab and Manbij to gratify the Turks there will be an aerial response from the West to protect them and create a no-fly zone.

The fight against Daesh and Raqqa will continue by all sides. There is no Western advantage to interfering with the progress of the Russian-led Chimera as long as it leaves the FSA and YPG units alone. There is even less of an interest in participating in any of the talks or negotiations. The creation of a Russian-Syrian ceasefire is a tremendous victory for U.S. policy.

The world's media is engaged in bemoaning the fact that this is a victory for Russia and Putin. It is anything but. The recent rapprochement among Russia, Turkey and Iran over Syria and their creation of the Chimera is the door to their impoverishment. Yes, they met in Moscow without the UN or the U.S. and may cobble together a peace plan. The simple question is "How are they going to pay for it?" These are three nations with severe economic problems. unable to raise much credit in the international market and are now responsible for Syria. Two are subject to sanctions and the third is imploding into a rogue state under a demented autocrat. None has the money or ability to repair and reconstruct Syria. The oil industry in Syria is in tatters. There are three economic basket cases looking to repair a devasted and irreparable Syria.

The Russian air and naval operations are costing hundreds of millions of dollars. These are additional costs to the four and a half-million dollars a day they are paying for their Crimean-Ukrainian operations. The Russian budget is being cut back again and the impact of these cuts on the Russian population is growing and noticeable. The Iranian currency, like the Turks, is in free fall and the re-entry of Libya into the oil producing market bodes ill for any sustained revenues from the OPEC cutbacks. Moreover, the current price rise has regenerated the U.S. shale industry and the number of active rigs has tripled since October.

It is inconceivable how it will be possible for the Chimera to rebuild the shattered cities, roads and oilfields of Syria. Even more difficult will be the need to feed all the refugees and displaced persons inside Syria and those returning. The Syrian GDP in 2015 contracted by 5.3 percent and an additional contraction of 3.3 percent is forecast in 2016. Inflation in 2015 surged to about 38 % and about 42% in 2016. The unemployment rate is estimated at about 58 %, up from about 10 percent at the beginning of the conflict. The Syrian Pound continued to depreciate in 2016: between January and mid-August, moving from SYP 395 to SYP 530 per USD. The Syrian Arab Republic normally relies heavily on food imports, amounting to almost half of the total domestic consumption Now, much of the most fertile lands and the oil industry is beyond the control of Assad and the Syrian Government. Road transport is badly damaged and many fuels must be imported. As of August 2016, food insecurity conditions were especially acute for an estimated 592 000 people living in 18 besieged and hard-to-reach areas, where food supplies are extremely limited and the population largely relies on food assistance. If the Russians liked Afghanistan they will love Syria.

The Syrian War has been the start of the Sunni-Shia conflict that will trouble the region for the next decade and Russia now finds itself with military responsibilities which it cannot afford or sustain. Even more foolishly, the Russians have opted to support the Shias. The U.S. does not have a dog in this race. The Saudis and the Gulf States can fend for themselves and Egypt, while friendly towards Russia, can't support the Russians as long as the Russians support Iran and the Shia. There should be dancing and celebrations at Foggy Bottom at a victory of their policy of averting their eyes. abjuring moral responsibility for the massacre of Aleppo, and doing very little except bombing the infrastructure of the North and degrading Daesh. This is a good result and no one (except the displaced Syrians and the disappointed Kurds) should be unhappy.

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Dr. Gary K. Busch has had a varied career-as an international trades unionist, an academic, a businessman and a political intelligence consultant. He was a professor and Head of Department at the University of Hawaii and has been a visiting (more...)
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