Welcome Realism and Goodbye Comfort Zones!
18 July 2016
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Few Americans and Europeans, I reckon, have heard of Wa'el Al-Halqi; and not
many Arabs have either. For those interested, Dr Al-Halqi is the Syrian
regime's Prime Minister, who announced to the media a couple of weeks ago that
'the countdown for the liberation of Aleppo' had started.
In a cult, family-based and security agencies-run regime the prime minister's
political and military influence is all but non-existent. Thus, what Al-Halqi
'uncovered' with regards to occupying Aleppo comes according to the popular
Middle Eastern maxim 'know their secrets from their little ones'. However, why
was the 'revelation' left to Al-Halqi rather than those who truly run Syria is
a serious matter!
Be it as it may, what is happening in Aleppo – Syria's second largest and the
world's second oldest city – is looking increasingly like a significant part
of the strategic conspiracy targeting Syria and the Arab world as a whole;
otherwise, why was Aleppo intentionally excluded from the Russo-American
agreement on a ceasefire that would only accelerate the implementation of the
political part of the said conspiracy. Noteworthy here is that the ceasefire
agreed by Moscow and Washington included greater Damascus and Latakia
province, which are two areas whose guaranteed 'security' is crucial to the
Assad regime's survival.
In international calculations Aleppo's fate is totally different, for various
considerations relative to all major players in the Syrian arena, the two most
1- It is Syria's closest metropolis to Turkey, where more than 4 million
people inhabited the city and its environs. Sunni Arab, Turkmen and Kurds make
up the vast majority of that region. Thus, in order to 'create' the
much-trumpeted 'Useful Syria' and separate Turkey from the Sunni Arab
geographic depth – as Iran and Russia desire – a high percentage of Sunni
Arabs and Turkmen needs to uprooted and driven away.
2- Complementing, the above, geographically and demographically, a Kurdish
strip that geographically separates Turkey from northern Syria, would insure
in the future a Mediterranean seaport for the so far landlocked 'Greater
Kurdistan' if and when Washington decides to continue Barack Obama's policy of
investing in the Kurds, hand in hand, with making Iran America's strategic
'partner' in the Middle East.
These two considerations, i.e. changing Aleppo's identity and redrawing the
map of northern Syria, seem to be the reason why the regime has launched its
onslaught on the city and its inhabitants aided and abetted by Russia and
Iran, with an American political cover. Such a situation is fraught with huge
challenges that are neither expected to weaken nor disappear, not only to the
Syrian people but also to all Arabs from the Atlantic to the Arabian Gulf.
Indeed, these challenges today spread from Morocco, where figures close to the
White House have re-visited the issue of the country's Western Sahara,
intentionally embarrassing, provoking and blackmailing one of America's oldest
African allies; to the Gulf Region and Yemen where Iran is interfering and
fomenting sectarian tensions, while virtually 'occupying' most of the 'Fertile
Crescent' (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon) with international blessings. Hence, more
than ever, realistic approaches are needed towards the global political,
economic and security realities.
One early landmark along this route has been the '2030 Vision' announced in
Saudi Arabia. It, perhaps, constitutes the most important and comprehensive
futuristic plans that prepare for all possible positive and negative
eventualities, underpinned on realism away from the costly 'comfort zone'
mentality that plagued many Arab countries during the last half century.
Logically countries do not choose their natural resources or their neighbors,
but can and must decide the economic, developmental, political and security
priorities in the light of their perceptions of what they have and what they
owe, who is the friend and who is the enemy, and which neighbor can be
neutralized, befriended or warned against.
A lot has been said during the last few years in attempting to interpret the
Obama administration's policies towards the Arabs and the middle East,
notably, Washington's opening up to Iran. Then came its positions towards the
Syrian Uprising, the Sunni-Shi'i friction fuelled and exploited by Iran since
1979, and 'co-existence' with Russia's ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean.
Among the interpretations provided the dwindling importance of the Middle
Eastern oil as a result of the discoveries of alternative sources of energy,
the increasing economic and security importance of East Asia led by China, and
the changing mood of the American public which has grown skeptical of military
All these interpretations are true, so the question must be how to deal with
them wisely? For a start, a wise approach should include; a- openness and
frankness, and b- self reliance. This is exactly what took place recently when
President Obama attended the GCC summit in the Saudi capital Riyadh, which has
been playing pivotal roles in tackling the two hot issues of Yemen and Syria.
Obviously the positive 'tone' of the official statement about Obama's meeting
with the GCC leader was expected, however, both the GCC and American sides
realize fully that any kind of 'friendship; or 'alliance' requires
'maintenance' from time to time. What has emerged from Washington during the
last two years, culminating in what we know today as the 'Obama Doctrine', was
neither accidental nor ephemeral, but rather a reflection of President Obama's
deep intellectual convictions that has contributed to a comprehensive 'value
system' transcending polite diplomatic talk.
On the other hand, it would be naïve for Washington to imagine that the Arabs,
including those in the GCC and their leaders, are unable to read and
comprehend the changing realities. In fact, the Arabs, especially the Gulf
Arabs living just across the Gulf waters from Iran, possess very strong
political memories and instincts, bettered only by decorum and patience.
Thus, until next November when a new American president is elected, there is
no alternative to realism and self-reliance; and as far as 'comfort zones' are
concerned, they now do more harm than good.
Eyad Abu Shakra is the managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. He has been with
the newspaper since 1978.