Syria maybe payback for Charlie Wilson's War, like Libya

MARTIN JAY @MartinRJay
Published 26.11.2015 01:16
Updated 26.11.2015 01:18
Civilians walk along a damaged site after shelling possibly by forces loyal to the Assad regime in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. (Reuters Photo)
Civilians walk along a damaged site after shelling possibly by forces loyal to the Assad regime in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, Syria. (Reuters Photo)

Maybe, the two actors, the U.S. and Russia, both of which claim they are working to achieve peace in the Middle East should quit producing constant strategies and leave the region alone for real permanent peace

But does Turkey have the pay in blood now for a new 'Cold War' in the making?

As Syria peace talks start in Vienna, we are reminded that the Syrian war is shifting gears - both on a military level on the ground and a geopolitical one further afield. Yet with Tuesday's downing of a Russian jet and previous attacks on Turkmens in Syria, some may say there has never been a time when to ask are we really seeing the emergence of a new Cold War - with Russia galvanizing a new quartet of power in the region, aligned to Iraq, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon. And where does that place Turkey as a NATO member?

The previously simplified status of countries in the region like Turkey, in the pre-1989 days of the Cold War, were clear. But everything is changing, particularly more recently with the Iran Deal. Turkey now is thawing its relations, for example, with Tehran whilst also looking towards the EU for a new, dynamic relationship that has never been carved out - not even with the "special status" agreement signed between the EU and Morocco in 2008.

With reports of 10,000 Russian troops reportedly arriving in Syria in recent days, coupled with numerous articles about Putin worrying that Syria will be in Afghanistan all over again, history does seem to be repeating itself.

THE FALL OF SPUTNIK

The Russian jet downed by Turkish forces is the first time in 50 years that a NATO member has struck a Russian plane and the incident has given the press in London and Washington plenty to write about. Yet it was inevitable given Turkey's repeated complaints to NATO about Russian jets crossing into Turkish airspace.

Yet despite strong words from Putin, there will be no World War III. But his comment about Turkey giving him the "knife in the back" will remind many of the bitterness still very much alive and well from the West's Cold War adversary.

It must have also run across U.S. President Barack Obama's mind as in the last few weeks we have watched TV images of Russian soldiers in Syria - images that seem like acid being poured into the open wounds of those neocons in Washington who foolishly believed in 1989 that their sponsorship of mujahidin fighters in Afghanistan led to the Soviet withdrawal there. The Hollywood movie, "Charlie Wilson's War" does an amiable job of simplifying the skullduggery of what America was doing at the time, but it is simply foolish to imagine that the Americans then pursued a gallant campaign that ousted Russian forces from a country once called "the graveyard of empires."

In fact, they didn't. The Soviet Union was already in a tailspin and retreating from Afghanistan was inevitable in the twilight period of receding empire - regardless of the U.S.-backed foreign fighters, who, numerous reputable authors have since accused of not even doing front line fighting anyway.

But that day in 1989 where the lines of tanks were as long as the eye could see must have been a sad one for Vladimir Putin who was stationed in East Germany at the time working as an undercover agent for Mother Russia.

He, like many of his generation must have vowed to avenge the U.S. for their cunning proxy war antics. Since 2012, many critics, including myself, indulged ourselves with the notion of super power pay back now being played out in Syria.

Yet that prognosis has been cranked up tenfold recently. Russia has filled the deficit left by Washington's ill-conceived plan to vet thousands of "moderate" Syrian fighters only to find almost none of them wanted to pledge to fight DAESH exclusively.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE DICTATOR

Now Russia is acting truly like a super power by recruiting reserves to fight and entering areas of Syria that the Syrian regime army feared to go. And, like a real super power it is using its leverage around the globe to bring in new batches of fighters, as rumors of Cubans being dispatched to the killing fields of Homs, Hama and Aleppo have been trumped by the latest arrival of Russian soldiers, reported to be conscripts and volunteers.

If true, it's the last slap in the face for the Obama administration, which must have struggled to keep a straight face when the president announced over the weekend that he would hunt down DAESH wherever it was. Strong words that come from a weak stomach. Not only does the U.S. president's legacy look as though it is already in tatters in the Middle East, but Cuba rumored sending its soldiers there to support the Russian troops in Syria spells out that even though the Cold War is over, its sentiments and loyalties are still very much alive.

And doesn't Turkey know it with the recent deaths of Turkmens who seem to be paying the price for Putin's Cold War fervor.

Armchair analysts point to the deal struck between Obama and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan over the U.S. air force using İncirlik Air Base in southern Turkey. Obama's aides this week must be wondering though how long that arrangement can stay in place when Turkey pays with blood for Russia's cold war score settling. At some point, Obama needs to assure Turkey that as a NATO member, it will no longer allow Putin to kill Turkmans. Period.

But the Americans have much to learn about being a super power in the Middle east, namely that it's hard to be an effective when half-cocked. And also, Turkey needs to appreciate that Russia coming late into the game was partly due to Putin's patience snapping over the Turkish air base agreement.

There are also other factors to Russia's new role in Syria. You have to go a bit further back and look at the demise of Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi and the subsequent fall of that country. In 2011 the U.N. Security Council in New York voted to enforce a no fly zone but, according to the Russians, went over the lines agreed and actually supported rebels there to oust the incumbent despot - a huge blow to Putin, who considered the mad Libyan leader as an ally and Libya and important base for Moscow. In many respects Putin - who is rumored to be funding the campaign with his own $60 billion - has shown the U.N. that he is the leader of a super power that is capable of tackling the U.N. security council head on. And winning.

Recently, David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote a lucid account in that U.S. broadsheet about the lesson that Washington has learnt from its involvement in Syria. Key would be the U.S. underestimating Turkey and some Gulf Arab states from going rogue and doing their own thing in Syria, along with also not entirely understanding the importance of al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaida offshoot.

Today, it seem the Kurds prayers have been answered as Washington now scurries to arm them - which now directly threatens Turkey's relations with Obama further, which have always been awkward at best.

But the real lesson is not found in the numerous tank graveyards of Afghanistan nor on the shores of war torn Libya - but in the eyes an angry Russian bear. Note to Obama on Syria: "Don't underestimate Putin ability to drag us into a new Cold War" although it won't be the Russian jet incident which starts it, which surely has taught Putin a lesson in crossing lines.

* The Daily Mail correspondent in Beirut and a senior writer at Newsweek Middle East @MartinRJay

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