The mere fact that talks on the Syrian crisis, between the main contending regional and international actors involved, are taking place in Vienna at all constitutes a triumph for Russia’s intervention. They come, indeed, as tacit acknowledgement that the Syrian government will not be toppled or forced from power by military action, and that the inviolability of Syria’s national sovereignty remains non-negotiable after four and a half years during which its government, armed forces, and people have stood alone against an onslaught the like of which no country has endured in modern history and survived.
The chaos and conflict that has engulfed the country cannot be divorced from the regional, geopolitical, or historical context in which it has taken place. Its seeds were contained in the infamous Project for a New American Century (PNAC) strategy that was formulated by US neoconservatives in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union. At its heart was a grand plan for the projection of US military power in the reshaping and recasting of the post Soviet world in Washington’s image, taking advantage of US unipolarity in order to do so. A key priority in this regard was the solidification of US hegemony across the oil-rich and therefore strategically vital Middle East.
The opportunity to roll out this imperialist strategy arrived in the shape of 9/11.
When he finally emerged from his bunker three days after the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York and the attack on the Pentagon by al-Qaeda, US President George W Bush did so as the modern incarnation of the ancient Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus, proclaiming that you are either with us or against us.
Under the rubric of the ‘War on Terror’ first Afghanistan then Iraq were came under attack by the most powerful and technologically advanced military force the world has ever known. Despite Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama Bin Laden, being based in Afghanistan, Iraq was considered more of a priority, even though it had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 and the war unleashed on it was illegal under international law.
Suddenly, international law had become the gift of Washington, its protection bestowed and withdrawn upon its whim and say-so.
Iraq’s neo-colonisation was to be followed by the toppling of the Assad government in Syria, on the way to toppling the main bastion of resistance to US and Israeli hegemony in the region – Iran. However between the objective and its completion lay resistance in the form of the Iraqi people, who despite suffering thirteen years of the most extreme sanctions, followed by a military assault that gave new meaning to the word brutal, still possessed the courage and determination to resist the occupation of their country.
In the process the Project for a New American Century was defeated, though at the cost of the near destruction of the country and the eruption of an internecine sectarian civil conflict, one that continues to this day with the concomitant trauma and deep scars it has left on Iraqi society.
The cost in treasure, manpower, and credibility to Washington cost the Republicans their hold on the White House, when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Entering the White House in January of 2009, the nation’s first black president did so pledging a new era of multilateralism and diplomacy as the fulcrum of US foreign policy.
Obama soon provided proof that though he may have occupied the office of president he did not carry its power – and certainly not as the CEO of a US Empire exercising military, cultural, and economic sway. In turn he was faced down and defeated by the Netanyahu government in Israel and its Saudi equivalent in Riyadh, both of which grew increasingly determined in pursuit their own regional agendas regardless of Obama. They were soon to be joined by Turkey in this regard.
By now the deep contradictions that lay at the heart of the Middle East had begun to rise to the surface. They exploded into prominence in the face of a global economic crisis that fanned the flames of long held resentment and discontent throughout the Arab street.
The result is what came to be know as the Arab Spring, which verily swept through Tunisia and Egypt like a tsunami in a bottom up revolutionary wave, which at the start of 2011 provided hope to millions who’d never known anything other than autocracy and dictatorship in their lives.
Reaching Libya, however, this revolutionary process ran out of steam. Here an uprising rather than a revolution occurred, turned into a counter revolutionary wave by the West using UN Security Council Resolution 1973 as a convenient cover for a strategy of regime change in Tripoli. The beneficiary of this undertaking was not the liberal democracy promised the Libyan people, but rather extremism and reaction on the way to the country being pushed into an abyss of the same sectarian bloodletting and societal collapse that previously engulfed Iraq.
Syria appeared certain to be next in line for regime change. By now the fate of the Assad regime seemed inevitable. Two factors prevented it going the way of Libya – i) Russia’s determination to draw a line in the sand against the crisis, chaos, and imperialist assault unleashed by Western intervention, and ii) the Syrian Arab Army, which despite receiving the kind of battering that no other Arab army in the region could possibly withstand, held the line against the forces of hell ranged against them.
Russia’s decision to move from political and diplomatic support to active military support for the Assad government came at a time when the country was moving perilously close to the same abyss as Libya before it. It has proved a game changer both on the ground in Syria and geopolitically – evidence of the birth of a multipolar world.
As for Washington and its allies, rather than a new golden age of Pax Americana, they merely succeeded in dragging the world into a swamp of unremitting chaos and conflict.
It is a legacy that ensures they will live forever in infamy.