Syria has weakened US appetite for war
Ever since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the US has believed that it is the sole superpower in the world, with the resources to wage war whenever and wherever it chooses. This was evident when it invaded Iraq in 1991 and followed it up with massive air attacks, on Serbia during the Bosnian Civil War and thereafter to engineer the secession of Kosovo. It then invaded Afghanistan (for once with genuine justification) and is now in the process of ending combat operations there.
Just after the Afghanistan war commenced, the US chose to invade Iraq on the dubious grounds that Saddam Hussein had developed and possessed “weapons of mass destruction”.
Around 1,33,000 Iraqi civilians perished in this conflict after having been virtually starved earlier by American economic sanctions following the 1991 invasion.
The Americans conveniently forgot that in 1987 President Reagan tacitly encouraged Hussein to use chemical weapons to pre-empt an Iranian attack on Iraqi defences, during the long-drawn-out Iran-Iraq war.
American involvement in the Libyan war has led to the emergence of rival warlords, with Libya coming under the increasing control of Salafi-oriented extremists linked to al-Qaeda.
In the meantime, Iraq, and indeed the entire Middle East, is afflicted by Shia-Sunni conflicts and the growing influence of radical Salafi-oriented outfits.
With a minority Sunni-dominated regime being replaced by a Shia majority government, Iraq is facing a vicious civil war and (with some tacit US encouragement) growing separatism in its Kurdish-dominated north.
American discomfiture is evident as Iraq now makes common cause with its Shia brethren in erstwhile enemy Iran, and Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar back Sunni extremists, confronting the minority Alawite (Shia)-dominated Bashar al-Assad government in Syria.
Thanks to Vladimir Putin and the war-weariness of the Americans, Obama is now being forced to back off from earlier threats to use military force, ostensibly to punish Syrian President Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons.
Apart from diehard allies like the British and the French, President Obama found he had few takers for his warlike rhetoric on Syria during the G-20 Summit in Saint Petersburg. Even Germany, a NATO ally, steered clear of backing US adventurism in Syria. Moreover, there was every sign that a war-weary American public was forcing its elected representatives to oppose any military adventure in Syria.
The Russians played their diplomacy skillfully and forced Secretary of State Kerry to agree to a diplomatic settlement laying down a framework for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons. These developments will have far-reaching implications.
Russia, backed discreetly by China, has now signalled that it will be very watchful and vigilant in preventing military adventures like those undertaken by the US in Iraq and Libya.
There is now growing aversion to western military intervention in the name of ‘human rights’ and R2P (Responsibility to Protect), thereby undermining territorial integrity and promoting ethnic and sectarian separatism in pluralistic countries. Despite this the Arab world is going to remain tormented by internal turmoil.
In Egypt and Tunisia, elections that followed the ‘Arab Spring’ led to turmoil, as they resulted in Islamists with little understanding of democratic values assuming power.
In the Arab Gulf States, Shia dissatisfaction periodically produces rumblings of discontent in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen.
There is no love lost between Iran and the Gulf States, where six million Indians reside and from whom we obtain the bulk of our oil.
But with a more moderate dispensation elected recently in Iran, there is some hope that, like in Syria, a diplomatic solution can be found to the nuclear impasse.
Tensions in the Gulf and a consequent rise in oil prices will severely exacerbate India’s tenuous balance of payments situation.