Since the start of October, the Russians have become a driving force in battles in Syria and the wider region. Before that, they had been playing an undisclosed role on financial, intelligence and operational fronts.
The result was that, for the first time, the Syrian regime and Iranian forces that are leading multinational militias, were able to reach a breakthrough in several combat zones. Intentions of escalating the war became clear; however the American and Egyptian foreign ministers were still convinced that the Russians had good intentions based on the multiple talks held in Europe and Moscow.
The problem no longer lies in decoding the Russian intentions, because their actions speak louder than words. The problem now lies in understanding the intentions of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry; does he also want to get rid of the moderate Syrian armed opposition, which is not allied to ISIS or al-Nusra Front? Will they finally admit to having intentions of accepting that Bashar al-Assad stays in power?
Two wars are currently being waged in Syria; one by the U.S.-led coalition targeting terrorist organizations - ISIS and al-Nusra Front - and another by Russia, which is bombing opposition groups. The result is that Assad and the Iranians are now raising their flags on the areas “liberated” by both the U.S. and Russia.
At the same time, the Russians and the Iranians are encouraging the armed Turkish Kurds to hit Turkey, and thus starve and isolate the Syrian opposition.
The Americans and Russians are actually helping the Assad regime and its ally, Iran, in their interventions. They are pushing the pro-Iranian forces in Iraq to wage a war on their behalf and liberate areas seized by ISIS.
Washington’s policy would have been logical and acceptable, if there was a political solution to the conflict that mirrors military operations. Nevertheless, it is now doing the opposite: weakening the political solution by 'cleansing' certain areas in Syria for the benefit of the Iranians and Russians. Can anyone explain to us how this is logical?
In the beginning, Washington’s stance was reasonable and acceptable: Sending American troops to fight two terrorists groups, ISIS and al-Nusra, because of their growing danger in Syria and Iraq after the displacement of Yazidis in Iraq, the capture of the city of Mosul, the targeting of the Kurdistan region and the horrific death scenes. This stance had a broad supportive response from most international political forces, including regional forces.
However, it's now time to reevaluate this goal as the Russians and Iranians are exploiting the situation; they changed the rules of the game and attempted to create different results. Indeed, sectarian policies are originally the cause of all thus chaos; the practices of the previous government of Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq against Sunni moderates brought ISIS in and allowed it to seize one third of Iraq. In Syria, the ongoing operations by regime forces and their Iranian allies, which led to the death of more than 300,000 people, brought “jihadists” to Syria from all around the world.
We can understand why Iran is doing so; it is seeking to impose on regimes that are allied to it in order to control both Iraq and Syria.
However, we cannot understand why U.S. policy reduces these multiple crises to one subject: terrorist groups. Even if the American troops managed to defeat thousands of terrorists, how will they be able to protect a scorched land so as not to let them back in? And how will they be able to prevent terrorists from undertaking future recruitment operations targeting the millions of Sunnis who were displaced by the Syrian regime forces, as well as the Iranian and Russian forces?
The newest variation is that it is no longer possible to have a political solution in the coming Vienna negotiations; the Russians and Iranians want it to be a surrendering session; to kill and trap the moderate Syrian opposition and threaten the countries that support the opposition.
As long as the Russian project seeks to impose a political solution by force, by appointing Assad and handing the region over to Iran, Arab states now have a duty to change its methods of supporting the opposition by increasing arms, something that has always been limited due to international hopes for a political solution that brings together all Syrians in a single ruling project.
Achieving balance at the negotiating table can only be done by consolidating support to the opposition. Without this, it would be better to save time and hand over the task to the Iranians, transfer the negotiations to Tehran and assign Iran with task of ruling Syria. At the same time, countries in the Middle East and Europe will have to receive many more millions of people fleeing from Syria and Iraq because the region will never be stable again.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 1, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.