Middle East and the role of external powers

You might perhaps see it differently, but it seems that Russia is back in the Middle East, the US is quite indecisive and the EU lack any visible strategy related to region. Plus with some ongoing conflicts, Sunni-Shia rivalry and in many countries problematic economic prospects, what would be you advice for any external power looking at the Middle East? Read few comments.

Andrea TetiDirector, Centre for Global Security & Governance, University of Aberdeen

The problem is that regional and international powers are intervening on the basis of what they perceive as their own interests, not with the objective of conflict resolution, much less peace-building and transitions towards more stable societies. This is the difficulty with Russian interventions as much as American ones. Interventions with the interests of local populations in mind would aim at resolution of conflict and at building more prosperous, inclusive, and therefore stable and resilient societies.

Jeffrey VanDenBergChair, Political Science & Geography Department, Professor of Political Science, Director of Middle East Studies, Drury University

Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria adds another highly destabilizing element to a region already in turmoil. Although Russia has said its bombing is directed at ISIS, it is clear from the targeting that its intention is to bolster the position of President Bashar al-Asad, both internally and in the broader regional environment. Many analysts suspect that one of the primary purposes of Russia’s military intervention is to signal to other states who oppose the Asad regime, especially Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United States, that the Syrian dictator has full Russian support. Russia has been arguing for some time that the only way to defeat ISIS is to enhance Asad’s capacities. In this regard, Russia’s actions might bear fruit, because it seems likely that the American approach of fighting ISIS and demanding regime change in Syria can’t be sustained.

The inability of the US, Europe, Russia, and Middle Eastern regional powers to agree on a unified strategy to combat ISIS, even though all agree it is a serious threat to regional stability, is significant failure of collective action.

Fanar Haddad, Research Fellow, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore

I think that Russia is a lot more interested in securing Assad’s position than in helping him recapture lost territory much less in defeating ISIS. It seems to me that the priority is to secure his position in the areas he already controls and in the major population centres of western Syria. Neither Russia nor Assad nor anyone else for that matter is seriously trying to dislodge ISIS or Jabhat al Nusra from the territories they control. I think many are worried about a countermove from Assad’s opponents. Will the Gulf states and Turkey now escalate their support to militant groups and will this include supplying them with advanced weaponry that they have thus far refrained from supplying (anti-aircraft launchers for example)? The other concern is how Russia’s involvement will impact the various anti-Assad groups. Will this in fact lead to hardline jihadists like ISIS and JaN to further consolidate their domination of anti-Assad forces?

Michael RubinResident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Senior Lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations

That’s exactly how I see it. Neither the United States nor European Union should see Russia as some altruistic, Pollyannaish power willing to take the problem off their hands. Bashar al-Assad might seem reasonable when juxtaposed with the Islamic State, but to work with Bashar al-Assad or simply allow him to remain will become the primary engine of Islamic State recruitment. After all, had it not been for Assad’s barrel bombs or attacks on children, Syrians would not have radicalized to the extent they have.

So what would be my advice?

First of all, it’s time to stop treating Turkey as a responsible partner. Turkey has become Pakistan on the Mediterranean, saying one thing to gullible diplomats and sponsoring extremists on the other hand.

The only moderate faction in Syria now are the Kurds, and they are wholly deserving of US and European support, links to the PKK or not.

As to the broader Middle East, what’s needed is not the choosing of sides in a sectarian conflict, but rather a strategy against radicalism. It’s in the interest of both Europe and the EU to roll back extremism, whether of the Sunni variety or Shi’ite variety. Perhaps the choice isn’t to oppose Iran or Saudi Arabia, but rather to oppose both of them. There are alternate models: Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt to name a few.



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