By an amazing coincidence, I have been reading a book on “Munich” while the current crisis in Syria has been building up.
At Munich in 1938, Hitler and Chamberlain met to discuss Hitler’s claims on German Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain famously gave in to his demands. The former British PM described Nazi Germany’s annexation of the area of German-speaking Czechoslovakia in 1938 as “a quarrel in a faraway country between people of which we know nothing.”
Similar words could be spoken today about Syria.
At the time of writing this article, President Trump is deciding on how to react to Syria’s use of chemical weapons on its own people. If the US does nothing, nobody else will. In 1938 Neville Chamberlain, as British Prime Minister, was the leader of the western world; today it’s President Trump. Less than a year after Chamberlain’s famous appeasement toward Hitler, Britain and Germany were at war. It had become all too clear, even to Chamberlain, that Hitler was intent on global conquest.
There’s been plenty of evidence that Russia has similar territorial designs. The Russians took control of part of Georgia a few years ago; this was followed by the conquest of Crimea and of eastern Ukraine. Domination of Syria makes them the most powerful voice in the Middle East. This role is growing – last month, Putin met with the leaders of Iran and Turkey in Ankara. These three are now in a de facto alliance while Turkey remains officially in NATO.
Geoffrey Wawro, a professor at the University of North Texas, wrote a book called “Quicksand” (2010), on “America’s pursuit of power in the Middle East.” Reviewer Rick Atkinson sums the book up well, writing that Wawro reveals “how an extraordinary tale of idealism, politics, force and miscalculation began and unfolded over the last century.”
The more the US got involved, the more the US was sucked in; hence the title “Quicksand.” Why should we expect any other outcome following action in Syria? Could US intervention lead to war with Russia?
“There was no reason for war in 1914, beyond the murder of an archduke in Bosnia. As AJP Taylor said of 1914: “Nowhere was there a conscious determination to provoke a war. Statesmen miscalculated [and] became prisoners of their own weapons. The great armies, accumulated to provide security and preserve the peace, carried the nations to war by their own weight.” I wonder what Taylor would have said of Trump’s “Get ready, Russia” tweet.” (“Look at Syria and you can see all the elements that have led to world wars,” Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, April 12th.)
A miscalculation now could be fatal for the US, Russia and Syria.
Syria is a perfect illustration of the complexity of modern warfare and the geopolitics that complicate everything.
Syria was established after World War One and the fall of the Ottoman Empire. After “the war to end all wars,” the Treaty of Paris carved out a number of new countries from the ruins of the Turkish ruled empire. The treaty was aptly described as “the peace to end all peace” by a British general who saw a future of never-ending conflict in the region. A century later nothing has improved.
Before World War One, Mesopotamia was a sleepy backwater of no interest to anyone. The same could be said of Syria. Bible students know that this had to change to fulfill apocalyptic prophecies about Israel (the Jews) and its neighbors. The prophesied Jewish national homeland was established exactly seventy years ago, in May 1948.
Syria was a Mandated territory of the League of Nations. France was given the mandate; Britain was given Iraq and Jordan to administer, again under a Mandate from the League. Palestine was also a League of Nations mandated territory, given to the British.
After World War Two, the French left Syria. It soon fell under the Soviet sphere of influence. From 1970 Syria has been the home of a Russian naval base, the only one Russia has on the Mediterranean. The Russians are not going to give it up. And they will support President Assad as long as it is in their interest to do so.
The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 helped Russia to gain further influence in the region. By removing Saddam Hussein from power and arranging an election in Iraq, the majority Shi’ites came to power, altering the balance of religious and political power in the Middle East. Iran is the leading nation of Shia Islam. An arc of Shia Islam now exists, from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, roughly the same territory of the ancient biblical King of the North. Russia is heavily involved with the Iranians and Syria. Turkey is now also with them, wanting to stop its Kurdish minority from breaking away. The Turks are not Arabs, so this does not present a conflict for them.
Syria is not majority Shia. Assad’s support comes mostly from his Alawite clan, a branch of Shia Islam, which amounts to only 11% of the population. The Sunnis do not want to be ruled by Assad. Neither do the Sunnis in Iraq want a Shia government over them. This is why ISIS formed, to “protect” Sunnis from Shi’ites.
It’s all very complicated.
No wonder the president is taking his time.
If he does nothing, he will be seen as weak against Syria and the Russians. If he does something, innocent lives will be lost, but Assad will remain in power and Russia will continue as its benefactor.
A further complication came today when the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced that Moscow has “evidence” the video of the gas attack was performed by actors. How does the West prove the film was real?
It seems like a no-win situation for the United States.
European Immigration: Nuns Out, Terrorists In by Douglas Murray, April 13, 2018 (Gatestone Institute)
- When the same Home Office that forbade Sister Ban even to enter the country discovered that the young male Iraqi was in Britain, he explained clearly that he had been trained by ISIS. He told the Home Office officials that the group had trained him to kill. The Home Office promptly found him a place to live and study, and treated him as the minor he said he was but most likely was not. He subsequently told a teacher that he had “a duty to hate Britain.”
- Last year the Institute of St. Anselm (a Catholic training institute for priests and nuns, based in Kent) closed its doors because of problems it had getting the Home Office to grant visa applications for foreign students. One nun last year was apparently denied entry to the UK because she did not have a personal bank account.
- So, those who flee ISIS are turned away, while those who are trained by ISIS are welcome.