If the US, Britain and France persist in the policy to prevent a settlement of the Syrian civil war, they may directly clash with the Syro-Iranian-Russian alliance.
It is commonplace for scholars to compare some of today’s strategic conundrums with the dilemma described by the Greek historian Thucydides in his masterwork on the long war that took place between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century BCE. In one sentence, the rise of a competing power pushes the hegemonic one to fight it in order to preserve its dominance, although a war could be avoided.
Even though comparisons may be odious, we can still make some with today’s heating conflict between the United States and Russia if, for the sake of argument, we see the former as today’s Athens and the latter as a sort of Sparta.
Like Athens at the helm of its vast Delian League, the US is a business-based polity which proclaims and promotes its democratic system, even though it is ruled by a plutocratic minority, the main beneficiary of a far-flung maritime empire euphemistically defined as a grand alliance (NATO and other confederates). Like Sparta on the other hand, the Russian Federation harks back to an ancient aristocratic land-based, comparatively poor military state, both feared and admired by its neighbours.
Athens achieved dominance among the Hellenic states and garnered great wealth after its victory on the Persian invaders, but its empire became overextended at its heyday under the personal rule of Pericles.
Sparta never accepted the upstart republic’s supremacy and sought to undermine it, together with a number of other cities resentful of Athenian arrogance and greed. Various peace settlements were reached between the contenders but the conflict resumed each time. Athens, prodded by the flamboyant and narcissistic demagogue Alcibiades sent a large fleet to conquer another prosperous competitor, Syracuse and suffered a catastrophic defeat under the walls of the Sicilian city.
That reverse on distant shore brought about Athens’ eventual downfall and occupation by Sparta and its allies, some being rebellious vassals of the defeated metropolis. The latter never recovered and shrunk to the size of a provincial town ruled by successive Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman conquerors.
Back to our very imperfect analogy, we see a mighty but monstrously over-indebted American superpower, represented by some 150,000 soldiers spread in 800 bases and “lillypads” scattered across the oceans and studded on all continents, spending more than a trillion dollars a year on “defence”, locked in a conflict with the new Russia, which spends only some 56 billion annually in dollar equivalent but has entered into a series of agreements and pacts with China, the second economic power in today’s world. That may remind us of Sparta’s historic relations with the Persian empire.
The contest between the rival Athenian and Spartan coalitions took place in Attica, the Peloponnesus and the Aegean Sea. The arena for the main clash between the two global rivals today is in Syria and adjacent territories, not so far from Greece. As Sparta had an understanding with Persia, so is Russia aligned with Iran, whereas the US is locked in a tight embrace with Israel, which pushed it to undermine and attack Syria after Iraq, just as Athens locked itself into an alliance with the small town of Corcyra and was thereby dragged it into an unnecessary conflict with Corinth, Corcyra’s historic overlord.
Athens squandered its forces and dented its prestige in far-off Syracuse; the US has wasted much of its treasury, reputation and military strength in Iraq. China now plays a role akin to that of the Achaemenid empire, which contributed through its Greek allies and with its gold currency to the ruin of its old Athenian enemy, paving the way for Greece’s subjection to the Macedonian kings.
The analogy should not be pushed too far as history does not repeat itself but some concrete factors should be kept in mind:
* The growing cooperation between Russia, China and Iran, with ramifications in ASEAN, the Koreas, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the Persian Gulf region creates the pan-Asian bloc that the Tsars envisioned since the reign of Peter the Great and which Britain fought to prevent for almost as long.
* The economic power of China expresses itself on the seas, in space and in cyberspace, while Russia is now equipped with an array of conventional, nuclear, laser and electromagnetic weapons that can break through America’s defence systems and inflict terminal damage on critical installations. Moscow and Beijing have tested their abilities to blind and knock out US military spy satellites while developing domestic infrastructures less vulnerable to American intercontinental and space-based weapons and US-created cyber-viruses, many of the latter having been stolen by hackers. Expert Donald W. Miller, Jr has discussed in a long article entitled The Day The US Military Supremacy Publicly Ended (LewRockwell.com, 3 September 2018) the technical breakthroughs revealed by Vladimir Putin in his State of the Federation speech in March of this year.
Trump, aware of the danger has repeatedly sought to improve relations with Russia, in the hope of drawing the Kremlin back into Washington’s orbit or at least ensuring the Kremlin’s neutrality in the intensifying confrontation between China and the US. However, the American establishment is hell-bent on pushing Moscow against the wall, but reluctant to hinder the lucrative trade with the Red Giant, so accommodating Russia is not on the cards while the Dragon remains a “friendemy”.
* With the relative exceptions of France and Britain—given that Turkey is unlikely to fight on the side of the West—no NATO-member has a substantial military capable of taking on the Russian forces, much less if they are backed by China.
* If the US, Britain and France persist in the policy to prevent a settlement of the Syrian civil war, they may directly clash with the Syro-Iranian-Russian alliance. Some senior Russian strategic advisers have evoked the possibility of sinking some NATO warships off the Syrian coast or in the Persian Gulf if the threatened western missile strikes inflict damage on their assets in Syria, given that any attack unauthorised by the UN Security Council on a sovereign country not involved in extra-territorial aggression is a war crime which calls for self-defence.
Washington D.C., London and Paris, well aware that they have no legal locus standi have repeatedly resorted to the claim that the Syrian government uses chemical weapons and US National Security Adviser John Bolton has asserted that it is enough for Assad to have allegedly authorised their use to justify renewed “preventive” NATO attacks. In fact the Americans are now threatening to intervene militarily anyway if the Syrian government merely moves to regain control of the rebel enclave.
Israel has acted as a spoiler from the beginning as it sees benefit in keeping the region in turmoil and it has used its long-standing connections with certain Sunni terrorist organisations to foster the civil war. A peace accord mediated between the Syrian, Russian, Iranian and Turkish parties is anathema to the Zionist state intent on asserting its own US-backed supremacy on the region by undermining and breaking up its neighbours.
If attacked by the western coalition the Red Army might launch in self-defence the hypersonic (MACH 10) Kinzhal missiles from fighter aircraft based in Southern Russia, the ship-borne Kalibr used very effectively against Syrian rebel positions and the Poseidon underwater drones which can travel 5,000 miles at speeds of up to 80 knots and at a depth of 3,000 feet. The western vessels are not adequately protected against such weapons.
Following the recent shooting down of the Russian IL-20 maritime patrol aircraft near Latakia, the Kremlin is said to be taking belated measures to interdict Syrian airspace to Israeli jets, to prevent further backstabbing from Tel Aviv , reminiscent of the devastating IDF attack on the USS Liberty during the 1967 six-day war.
Beyond Idlib lies the larger issue of America’s continued occupation of North Eastern Syria which President Donald Trump, contrary to his purported earlier intentions, has agreed to extend indefinitely at the Pentagon’s prompting.
Long-term US policy, irrespective of Trump’s personal views, is to foster a mini-state there, connected to Iraqi Kurdistan to break up Syria, maintain the separatist threat over Turkey and reassure Israel by driving a wedge in the “Shia crescent” extending from Tehran to Beirut.
The Syrians, Russians and Iranians allege that the CIA and certain US and European special forces have long been using ISIS/Daesh and other radical Sunni mercenary militias to fight the “Shia Iranian enemy” and the Baathist state. Although claims from any side in the conflict should logically be suspected of amounting to propaganda it is clear that the aforesaid NATO powers have provided training, arms, money and other assistance to several rebel Takfiri Jihadist groups which pose “for the birds” as democratic freedom-loving opponents of the Assad regime.
America’s struggle to regain its dominance, increasingly challenged by Russia and China, is affected by the internal conflict raging between two major ideological factions. Trump, an unpredictable egomaniac is seen as a “blunt instrument” by the Christian fundamentalist coalition, represented in the White House by Vice-President Mike Pence. The evangelical party is quietly working to recast the national polity into a Biblical dispensation whose newly conservative Supreme Court would gradually abrogate the liberal laws passed in the last half a century and revive the old puritanical vision of America as a “New Israel”.
On the other side, the Globalist Liberals are fighting for the increasingly radical ideas they have acted upon since the Clinton years at least, producing an unsettling combination of bloated government, galloping debt, mass immigration, multi-culturalism, hyper-capitalism, intrusive surveillance, political correctness, partisan human rights activism, moral relativism, mobilisation of ethnic and sexual minorities and an imperialistic “gunboat” diplomacy invoking the principle of responsibility to protect. Christian fundamentalists broadly endorse the military aggressiveness displayed by the “Liberal Neo-Conservatives”, although they justify foreign wars theologically and for self-interest rather than on humanitarian grounds.
Whether Trump can last until or beyond the end of his first term or not, the two sides will continue their struggle to shape America’s future, but a divided house tends to fall sooner or later and both the contending ideologies are doomed by their excesses.