Syrian Conundrum and Evolution of World System

By IndepthAfrica
In Middle East
Aug 13th, 2012

We are witnessing the shaping of polycentric, «post-American» world that is «broadcast» live. The process is non-linear. In the middle of the 1990s Charles Kindleberger, a world- renowned economist, suggested in his «World Economic Primacy» that the coming of a new world order would inevitably materialize through the conflicts of various levels of intensity (1) At present the Eastern Mediterranean has become a region of highest-intensity strife. The most dramatic events there have been triggered off by evolution of some contradictions, that had been kind of hidden before under the «lid» of authoritarian regimes, and are coming into the open now as a result of «Arab revolutions» that started in 2011. These are the issues that require comprehensive approach; they can be solved only on the basis of unity and territorial integrity of the states situated in the region. Otherwise, once open, the «Pandora’s Box» will never close and the chaos will break through beyond Syria and spread further.

The Syria’s crisis makes remember that some participants of the ongoing events are pursuing their own narrow interests (like the weakening of Iran, that has become stronger as a result of «Arab revolutions», the dissemination of «neo-Ottoman» ideology in the neighboring countries, the strive to guarantee one’s own security by dismembering Syria). These «actors» don’t fully realize what the overall picture looks like. It leaves them totally unprepared for possible unfavorable turn of events. The probable situation changes may lead to serious challenges and threats: either for the territorial integrity of Turkey or stability of Persian Gulf «oil monarchies», first of all Saudi Arabia. These are only the most obvious implications of the situation unfolding in and around Syria. It is beyond my humble capacity to understand how one could count exclusively on favorable turn of events while the outcome of the Syrian conflict is «unpredictable» and the «Libyan scenario», that had been worked out for this country, has conspicuously failed? Unlike the political regime in Libya, that was based on personal power interrelationships, the Syrian political structures have been designed for tackling concrete social problems, and this fact, strange as it may seem, is quite known in the West. Antonio Giustozzi of the London School of Economics, for example, notes emphatically: “An alternative strategy which eliminates the risk of excessive fraternisation between army and society involves increasing non-military support for the ruler by cultivating social, economic and religious groups, keeping the army aside. This is for example the case of Asad of Syria’s controlled liberalisation after 1970, but it could only work because Asad had significant support within the army itself” (2). Let me add to it that Syria has no viable alternative to the model created by father of the incumbent President; no way could the country’s problems be solved under the gun even more so if it’s radical Islam that serves as a basis to rely on.

The USA is trying to use the Syrian crisis to preserve its global clout and to weaken China, its main geopolitical opponent (and chief creditor at the same time). In its turn Beijing realizes that striking Damascus means undermining the position of Teheran, a Syrian strategic ally, and it will ultimately jeopardize oil flows to the Celestial Empire from the Gulf and facilitate the «containment of China» in Asia and the Pacific.

America is compelled to act along a number of directions simultaneously. One of them is countering the China’s non-military offensive in the Asia-Pacific. The US «anti-terror» mission in Afghanistan is far from being completed. Some Western analysts go as far as to say that the US involvement in toppling the Muammar Gaddafi’s regime implies there is a new area of US activities – «a fight for Africa», supposedly against China again. Financial, economic and even physical «overstretching» is imminent. The US experts warn the present administration: direct involvement in the Syrian conflict may be a too heavy burden, especially taking into account its long duration. Here it’s propitious to come up with pertinent comparisons. According to the estimates of Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winner in economic sciences ,the US military expeditions in Afghanistan and Iraq spurred the growth of the country’s state debt up to $1, 2trillion. Though Anatole Kaletsky, a well-known financial analyst, holds an opinion that the state debt denominated in national currency (the US dollars – A.V.) doesn’t jeopardize the US economic security. (3) But the debt accumulation indirectly provokes protective measures on the part of creditors, that is de-dollarization of external payments, and it’s not only China, Russia and Iran who are consciously and actively involved in the process but the US strategic allies as well, for instance: Japan, South Korea and even Saudi Arabia.

The continuing Syrian crisis spurs apprehensions in the West. On and off the concern for the whole Euro-Atlantic civilization is voiced. A part of US establishment raises the question: what is the administration doing in the « so far away region»? What will the search for the US’ new place in the world- system lead to? For instance, Henry Kissinger suggests that the US come out with a new stategy in the Arab world instead of frantic desire to topple the Bashar Assad regime. The maître of US diplomacy kindly requestss his less experienced colleagues not to forget the «mission unaccomplished» in Afghanistan and the fact that economy is the backbone of the overall US foreign policy strategy.

Demilitarization of foreign policy is the most effective way to make the global system acquire new polycentric quality. Here we see external and internal development factors interacted and intertwined. The political revolutions in the Arab East (the «Arab spring» is a journalistic cliché that intentionally confuses the «world public» that has lost orientation even without it) are of accelerated nature, they «jump the gun» (as eminent Russian scholar Acad. N. Simonya used to write as far back as in the 1970s) in comparison with the slow pace social development of the traditional societies under investigation.

The second phase of Arab political revolutions is inevitable; this time the Persian Gulf «oil monarchies» will be the targets. The process could be slowed down but it cannot be prevented. The involvement of some Persian Gulf states leaders into the Syrian conflict just speeds up the denouement – the «regime change» in the Gulf countries, dismantling other state structures in the «Greater Middle East» drawn on US maps and (political) fading away of a number of leaders (Western clients ) that are in power now…

One more important factor defining the way the Middle East segment of world- system evolves has come into focus recently – Egypt, a new regional leader, has come out of self-isolation (after the turmoil of 2011-2012). The presidential elections there demonstrated convincingly that this «country-civilization» returns to active foreign policy under the banner of pan-Arabism. The Arab Republic of Egypt will hardly accept the leading role of neo-Ottomanism and of the forces of «Greater Middle East» tacitly or explicitly supportive of it in the new system of international relations.

We also see two conflict management policies tested in the East Mediterranean, that are related to contemporary global system. Let’s conditionally call them – historic (Russia and China) and the one based on political science (the USA, Great Britain, France). One can suppose that the «historic» policy approach, that takes into account the most complex ethno-social, cultural-religious, social and political fabrics of Syrian (or any other traditional) society, counts on gradual transformation of authoritative regime into what Fareed Zakaria calls «illiberal democracy» . Opposed to it is the «political science» policy approach that is imposed from outside (as a rule it’s done by force, quite often under the bombing). It presupposes the reconstruction of institutions («the change of regime»). The reconstruction has failed miserably in Afghanistan and Iraq, the same way as in Libya, where the destruction of state power institutions led to paralysis of governance – along with the dismemberment of the country imminent in the near perspective. The two policies or approaches are opposite and it’s the main reason why the USA and its allies (other NATO states, the «oil monarchies» of the Persian Gulf) exert pressure on Russia and China to make the latter give way and make possible the emulation of «Libyan scenario».

The prospects of «Syrian conundrum» are uncertain, some historic parallels unwillingly come to mind, and it all cannot but influence the US behavior. Back then taking US citizens as hostages in Teheran and the following failure of rescue operation were among the factors that enhanced the chances of Republicans in the 1980 elections (Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States). Naturally a question pops up – what would it be like this time in case the USA directly intervenes in the Syrian crisis? Anyone understands: sudden, ill-conceived steps taken by the West could strengthen Iran (and Egypt reasserting itself geopolitically after the revolutionary turmoil). It may not even be based on the anti-Western stand. Let’s not forget the experience of the year 2003. Obsessed by the idea of eliminating the Iraqi «weapons of mass destruction» that were non- existent George Bush, Jr, made Iran gain fabulously having solved for it the problem of «hated» Saddam Hussein. Now there is another Hamlet kind of a question emerging: how significantly will the strengthening of Iran caused by inevitable «regime change» in the Persian Gulf affect the US’ interests and will it be acceptable in general? It goes without saying Henry Kissinger and Brent Scowcroft are pondering this prospect. It would be illuminating to know what Barack Obama and Mitt Romney think about it. John Kenneth Galbraith once said: “Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable”. I presume the West is weighing the very same option.

Today the main problem for the West is not a change of this or that regime in the Middle East or anywhere else, but rather resumption of economic growth in America and West Europe. Not an easy problem. Radiantly promising ideas like the «pact of economic growth» require concentration of efforts; economic growth is mainly spurred by internal factors. The development of Europe cannot be based on «subventions» rendered by Germany, the most powerful EU economy. United efforts aimed at economic restoration of Western Europe will make the Syrian crisis pale in significance for the countries involved; to the contrary the more tension is instigated in Western Mediterranean in order to divert the public attention from the impotence of EU ruling elites failing to tackle the economic and financial crisis, the more uncompromised it will make the sudden sobering of European public.

Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan suggested that the political will and civil courage of Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama are decisive for finding the settlement of «Syrian conundrum» . Not opposing it in substance, I’d just like to make one thing precise. The settlement of the «conundrum» presupposes strict adherence to two preliminary « conceptual» conditions by the participants. First, the recognition of the Syria’s unity and territorial integrity by all (without exemptions and exceptions!). Second, the peoples and nations should no more be divided into «small» and «big», «chosen» and «rogues» ones. Only then the ways to solve contemporary super complex regional and local conflicts could be found. Only in this case the transition of world system to new, polycentric pattern (that is of «unity in diversity») will produce a real hope that one day the values of Peace and Development will be enrooted in our world.


(1) Kindleberger Ch.P. World Economic Primacy: 1500- 1990. N.Y.- Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996, p.228.

(2) Giustozzi A. The Art of Coercion. The Primitive Accumulation and Management of Coercive Power. N.Y. : Columbia University Press, 2011, p. 54.

(3) Kaletsky A. Capitalism 4.0 : The Birth of a New Economy. L.- N.Y. : Bloomsbury, 2011.

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