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Can the slide to war with Syria be stopped?

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According to the public account the US and allies would very much like to take a more active role (i.e. start a war) against Syria and the only thing holding them back is the opposition of Russia and China in the UN security council. This has led Russia to put pressure on Syria which has in turn led the Syrian government to agree to a ceasefire which few people expect to last. Meanwhile Turkey is mobilizing its army in case the Syrian civil war spills further into their territory. There have already been shots fired across the border with Turkey and Lebanon and three people are dead as a result.

Now consider an alternative explanation of the same facts. Let us assume that the last thing Obama wants right now is to become involved in a new war at the start of a general election campaign. It was not Obama's idea to take action Libya, that was the work of Cameron and Sarkozy. Nor has the liberation of Libya been an unqualified strategic success for the US. It is certainly good for the war on terror, Gadaffi supplied bullets and bombs to terrorists while Bin Laden was still wearing diapers. But as with the fall of East Germany, the loss of a strategic enemy is always a disaster for the military-industrial complex: how can they justify their existence if peace were to accidentally break out?

The fall of Syria is certainly an unqualified lose-lose proposition for Iran, Israel and Russia. Iran would lose their principle regional ally and their post Iraq war claim to being the emerging regional super power. While this part would be good for Israel, the regime that replaces Assad is almost certain to be more hostile to Israel. Either it will be a democratic regime and the people will demand that it takes a hostile position or it will be a dictatorship and picking fights with Israel will be the likely method of distracting those discontented with the regime.

Russia would lose as the wave of governments being toppled by popular discontent spreads northwards towards the corrupt ex-Soviet satellites surrounding the Caspian Sea. Also the Russia faces the embarrassing position of having been on the losing side of every major international engagement they have been involved in since the defeat in Afghanistan. Since then they lost control of Western Europe, watched the breakup of the Soviet empire and picked the losing side in the Bosnian war and in Libya.

A war in Syria is the last thing any party would want right now. The outcome can only damage the interests of every party other than Turkey which is re-emerging as the real regional super power in the wake of the Arab Spring. But even in Turkey the civilian government cannot exactly be sure of the loyalty of the military which not so long ago was running the country as a dictatorship.

So another explanation of what we can observe is this: The Russian veto currently allows the US and allies to be vocal in their support of the Syrian opposition without the need to take any action against it. The government of Turkey is looking for excuses to avoid being dragged into the war and has agreed to overlook the insult to their territory in return for the current temporary ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered into Homs.

The situation is a house of cards and there are numerous triggers that could bring it down. China is already disengaged and Russia is getting visibly tired of its role. The incursions into Turkey are becoming more frequent and at some point the Turkish government is going to find it hard to persuade the army to ignore the insult. If we get to that point, Turkey is almost certain to invoke the NATO charter under article 4 (consultation). But they may have the right to invoke article 5 (an attack on one is an attack on all) which would render the UN discussion moot.

We appear to be facing a long, slow slide into war against the will of almost every government concerned and it is very hard to see how it can be stopped. The one positive note is that it is highly unlikely that Russia would engage to protect the Assad regime but it will be yet another blow to their dignity.

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