Poor Aylan and Galip, they never had a chance
There is a pointless blame-game going on over Syria, with each country accusing someone else for the way things have gone there. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan continued playing his part in an interview on CNN International last week, blaming the West again.
There are also those who accuse Turkey of pouring petrol on the fire by supporting radical Islamist groups in that country in the hope of toppling the Bashar al-Assad regime and replacing it with a Sunni-majority government led by the Muslim Brotherhood.
There is truth in this, but Turkey is not the only culprit. Al-Assad is, of course, the prime cause of the Syrian tragedy. But he is only the initial cause. Once international and regional powers got involved in the crises, based on their own strategic calculations, it became a sure bet that this war would go on indefinitely.
Assume for a moment that we live in a world where all the crocodile tears being shed by leaders for three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and his five-year-old brother Galip - who drowned in the Aegean with their mother as they were desperately trying to cross over to Greece like so many others - were genuine.
It would only take the permanent members of the Security Council, led by the U.S. and Russia, and regional powers like Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia to thrash out a solution to end the war and push for the political situation that all these countries claim to support.
But we do not live in such a world.
We live in a world where an ugly personality like Hungary’s Victor Orban is more likely to represent mainstream thinking in the West than Angela Merkel, who opened up Germany’s doors to the refugees, or Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila, who says he will host refugees in his own house. Even these moves smack of political farce given increasing racism across Europe.
Today, every country involved in Syria is contributing to the continuation of the war. We know Turkey’s role by now. It was based on miscalculations that backfired badly. Let’s look at the other players. Washington also wants al-Assad to go but it has a contradictory stance on Syria. It says only a political solution can address the crisis, but al-Assad cannot be part of it. But it has no answer to what happens when al-Assad goes and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) takes control of Damascus in the ensuing chaos. Despite initial hopes, the U.S. is also not prepared to work for a political solution with Russia, its global rival.
So Washington muddles through – while prioritizing the fight against ISIL and not the Syrian regime – and will continue to do so until it has answers to questions that really haunt it. Moscow is the other side of the coin. Its new Cold War with the West has made it a firm supporter of al-Assad, and if the news is to be believed it is preparing to establish a Russian military presence in Syria, which will undoubtedly make the equation even more intractable.
Moscow is saying now that al-Assad is ready to share power with the opposition, but this has been openly opposed by Saudi Arabia, which will also rest only after its sees al-Assad fall. Riyadh continues to support supposedly “moderate” Islamic groups to secure this, but also has no answer to the “what then” question.
If al-Assad goes, the authority vacuum will most likely be filled by the Muslim Brotherhood at best and ISIL at worst. It sees both as its arch-enemies. Riyadh’s real aim is to keep Iran, its main regional rival, out of Syria; the continuing war ensures, at least for the moment, that Tehran is kept at bay in this respect.
Invert the Saudi position and you have the Iranian position, which is based on ensuring that Sunni powers, starting with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, do not become key players in Syria, and therefore Tehran remains resolute in its support for Assad. Looking at all of this it is clear who is to blame for the continuation of the Syrian tragedy.
Poor Aylan and Galip, they never had a chance…