The new year 2013 begins the third calendar year of the Syrian Civil War, and it is increasingly useful to compare the present chaos with the Spanish Civil War, 1936-39, in order to see through the fog of war. Syria is a surrogate battlefield for the Great Powers as they compete for advantage in the Middle East; however there are surprising twists in the roles. Moscow, supporting the Syrian status quo, looks to be in the London and Paris role of 1936: Moscow aims to stabilize the battlefield and reach an accommodation with the least damage to the region. Hence Moscow resupplies the Assad regime while at the same time seeking a compromise coalition that maintains the Allawites as well as the other minorities (Druze, Ismailists, Christians, Jews) in a region threatened by the Islamist revolutionaries and their cut-throat Jihadist allies. Tehran, supporting the Assad regime, is clearly in the Berlin role with the critical detail that Tehran is far, far superior to Berlin in duplicity. Tehran deceives as easily as breathing, and it deceives one hundred percent of the time. Washington is surprisingly in the role of the Kremlin, 1936, supporting the revolutionaries against the fascists in pursuit of a righteous outcome that once was called Peace & Disarmament and today is called R2P, or Responsibility to Protect. The Obama White House backs the Islamists and their sponsors, the alliance of Cairo, Ankara and Doha. However: this is where the Syria model gets trickier than the Spanish model. The Triple Alliance in the region is actually Cairo, Ankara and Tehran. Correct. Tehran both backs the Assad regime (the Fascists) and the Cairo-Ankara-Doha sponsor of the Islamists. It hurts the mind if you think about it too hard. You must accept that Tehran's skill at duplicity, after a thousand years of battling the Sunni supremacists, is such that Tehran can back both sides of a civil war and do it convincingly. Tehran is ready to win and lose on any given day. Why? How is this possible? Tehran is the master of deception for all, including for itself. The Supreme Leader and his Twelvers embrace this illogic as a predicate for the chaos of their theology of the last days.
What Can Go Wrong and Why? The Law of Unintended Consequences
Just now, POTUS Obama is entreating Tehran to agree to a Grand Bargain on its nuclear weapons program: Washington accept that Tehran's nukes are non-military; Tehran accepts that Washington will lift the sanctions. (My information is that Tehran will string out the Obama pursuit of the Grand Bargain into the indefinite future, extracting concessions as "confidence building steps."). Understanding that Tehran is stalling, POTUS Obama plans to force Tehran to the Grand Bargain table on its suspect nukes by threatening to unleash Ankara's military on the Syrian northern border. Tehran understands the threat is real, however Tehran also knows that Ankara does not take orders from Washington. Ankara has dreams of Neo-Ottoman Empire. At the same time, the Neo-Ottomanists (such as Erdogan) recognize that Tehran has dreams of regional hegemony. This is the basis for the paradoxical Triple Alliance of Cairo-Ankara-Tehran. What the three have in common is that they live in the same neighborhood and reject the West, especially Washington. What can go wrong is that one way for the Triple Alliance to show its contempt for Washington is to provoke Israel in order to trigger a regional missile exchange. There are worse outcomes. Rather than list them, I am told that what can and will most go wrong is a product of the well known Law of Unintended Consequences: "The actions of people - and especially of government - always have adverse effects that are unanticipated or unintended." This law is most dangerous when it is triggered in an unstable region such as Europe in the Fascist revolution of the 1930s and in the Middle East in the Islamist revolution of the present day.
What to Watch For.
Moscow is unambiguous that Assad will not leave. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov commented on December 29, 2012: “He has repeatedly said, both publicly and privately, including during his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi not long ago, that he has no plans to go anywhere, that he will stay in his post until the end, that he will, as he says, protect the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth,” Mr. Lavrov said. “There is no possibility of changing this position.” Washington is adamant that Assad must go. Tehran, through surrogates, supports both positions. What to watch for is if Moscow switches sides (highly improbable) or if Washington switches sides (not impossible) or if one of the minor states (such as Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kurdistan) collapses. Everyone has missiles, including the gangsters of Sinai, Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq. In the original Spanish model, Berlin and the Fascists won on the battlefield and then tried the same bullying gambit on Poland, figuring that London and Paris would back off and accept defeat again. Within hours, the Law of Unintended Consequences ignited when, to Berlin's surprise, London and Paris issued an ultimatum, September 1939. Begin the Second World War.