A year to the day after the United States struck at a Syrian airbase to punish Bashar al Assad for a chemical weapons attack, the regime has suspectedly carried out another devastating chemical atrocity. Signs are that the United States will, again, respond with force, attempting to rescue some part of the fraying international taboo against the use of poison gas. The larger question remains how Assad has gotten away with this for so long—and why murder only with certain categories of munitions prompts retaliation. Continue reading
This week marks the seventh anniversary of the Syrian revolution. A movement that began with peaceful street protests calling for reform and—after the government responded with lethal violence—the downfall of the dictator, descended into war that has to this point cost the lives of at least 500,000 people and displaced nearly twelve million others—more than half of Syria’s pre-war population.
In any strategic sense the rebellion has been defeated—it is not able to overthrow Bashar al-Assad by force on its own—and its political cause is increasingly strained as the remnants of the armed opposition are increasingly co-opted by external actors, state and non-state. Continue reading
The international community tried to impose a ceasefire in Syria on 24 February, passing resolution 2401 through the United Nations Security Council. The ceasefire never took hold and it is now clear it will not. This was inevitable.
Bashar al Assad’s regime, and the governments that support him in Iran and Russia, have repeatedly made use of ceasefires to sequence their war, taking advantage of the calm on some fronts to concentrate firepower on other areas. The only question is why Western diplomats gambled that this time would be any different. Continue reading
The Astana track of Syrian “peace” negotiations began on 23 January 2017, under Russian guidance in the Kazakh capital, with Iran and Turkey also invited as “guarantor countries” of the various sides in Syria. The process, initiated in the shadow of the savage conquest of Aleppo city in December 2016 that signalled the total strategic defeat of the insurrection against the Bashar al-Asad regime, was an attempt by Moscow to convert the military gains it had enabled by Asad and Iran on the ground into political facts that could then be imported into the internationally-recognized Geneva process. This “Astana-isation of Geneva” was Russia’s bid to take control of the political process and redefine it: rather than having Asad’s removal as its end-goal, it would set the terms of reintegration into the Asad state. Abetted by a purblind Western campaign against the Islamic State (IS) and a strategic reorientation in Turkey, the pro-Asad coalition has more or less had its way for the last year. But there are now signs that this approach is beginning to unravel. Continue reading
Originally published at The International Business Times
Relations between Turkey and the United States hit a new low on Sunday 8 October. The U.S. State Department suspended “all non-immigrant visa services at all U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey”.
The Turkish government retaliated—citing concerns about the “commitment of the government of the United States to the security of the Turkish Mission facilities and personnel”—by “suspend[ing] all non-immigrant visa service[s] at all Turkish diplomatic facilities in the U.S..” Continue reading
Libya, which has been wracked by instability and violence since 2011, is re-emerging as a geopolitical hotspot. With opposing forces fighting for control of the war-torn country—the main two being the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Libyan National Army (LNA)—foreign powers have begun taking sides, internationalizing the conflict. For Western observers, the growing involvement of Russia, a major ally of LNA commander Khalifa Haftar, represents a particular concern.
Coming on the heels of the Russian military intervention in Syria, Moscow’s role in Libya’s civil war may seem, at first glance, like déjà vu. Once again, it appears that the Kremlin is working to consolidate the power of a pro-Russian regional strongman and establish a “crescent of Russian influence” across the Middle East. And given the similarities between Haftar and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, some degree of anxiety is understandable. Like Assad, who has long appealed to foreign governments by referring to Syrian rebels as terrorists, Haftar often frames himself as a bulwark against violent extremism in Libya, where the Islamic State remains active and Islamists have formed powerful militias and entered mainstream politics. Continue reading