By Paul Schmutz Schaller for The Saker Blog
In a complex situation like the actual one in north and northeast Syria, one has to clarify what is the principal contradiction. As far as I know, this concept is due to Mao Zedong (see “On Contradiction” (1937)). So, what is this principal contradiction? In my eyes, we have on the one hand the forces which defend the Western hegemony. They dream about reconquering the whole Middle East, utilizing Israel, Saudi-Arabia, Syria’s northeast, and parts of Iraq as military bases. On the other hand, there are the forces which defend the independence, the unity, and the territorial integrity of Syria: in the first place its government with President Assad and the Syrian Arab army, as well as their allies. They represent the dignity of all independent countries and governments, in particular those in the global South.
There are other contradictions, for example between USA and Russia, between USA and Turkey, between Turkey and Kurdish organizations in Syria, between Arabs and Kurds and other nationalities in Syria, and so on. These all are more or less important contradictions, but not the principal one.
In the light of the principal contradiction, what are the central events of the last weeks? These are the partial retreat of the American occupying army from north and north-east Syria as well as the return of the Syrian Arab army to important cities and regions such as Manbij, Ayn al-Arab (Kobane), al-Raqq`a, as well as the key highway in the northeast in direction of the Iraqi border, a return which was apparently very warmly welcomed by the local population.
The partial retreat of the American occupying troops is due to two main causes. These are the growing strength of the anti-hegemonic forces in the world and the weaknesses of the USA and the whole West on the one hand as well as the on-going internal struggle inside the USA on the other hand. Concerning the latter, Trump had won the elections in 2016 since he was – partly – opposed to the “pure” hegemonic forces, headed by Hillary Clinton. Apparently, Trump has decided that he must continue opposing these “pure” hegemonic forces in order to be re-elected in 2020. His decision of a partial retreat from Syria is – objectively speaking – an anti-hegemonic step. All political forces in the West, which criticise this step, are – objectively speaking – in favour of Western hegemony. They are furious since with this step, a (military) aggression against Iran becomes more or less impossible. The internal clashes concerning Syria are however not yet over in the USA. It remains to see to what extent Trump will retreat the American occupying army from Syria. There is in particular the question of the oil fields in the east of the country. They would permit Syria and its government to become autonomous in oil supply. This, of course, is a crucial issue.
The Syrian Arab army was able to return to important cities in the north and northeast since it is an independent and strong army with huge experiences, since it has kept or regained the confidence of the people, and since the government has always preserved important ties with the provinces in in the north and northeast, even when they were under the control of Kurdish organizations and the Western occupiers. Moreover, Russia played a major role in order to facilitate negotiations between the Syrian government and Kurdish organizations. But the latter remain ambiguous. They are still prepared to support the Western hegemonic forces – if the latter will be able to prolong the occupation of parts of Syria for some time.
Now, what is the position of Turkey with respect to the principal contradiction? President Erdogan intends to exploit this contradiction. He is opposed to the Western hegemony (while Turkey remains in the NATO). Neither does he respect Syria’s independence, unity, and territorial integrity. In fact, he would like to replace Western hegemony by Turkey’s predominance in Syria and he is utterly hostile to the Syrian government. This is of course inacceptable for Syria and its government. Russia and Iran try to convince Erdogan to change his position with respect to Syria. There are also important forces inside Turkey acting in the same direction. Moreover, the Western hegemonic forces do not support Turkey, preferring that Kurdish organizations remain in control of the northeast of Syria. Therefore, Erdogan is quite isolated.
What about the Kurdish question in Syria? First of all, one should make a difference between the Kurdish population and the leading Kurdish organizations. Concerning the latter, they have actively supported Western hegemony in Syria – for whatever reasons – and, from an anti-hegemonic point of view, this must be condemned. Concerning the Kurdish population, this is an internal problem of Syria and external forces should not interfere.
After having discussed Western, Turkish, and Kurdish positions with respect to Syria, we should have a look at the Russian position. We should understand that the Russian and the Syrian interests are not identical. Putin has to defend the national interests of Russia while Assad has to defend the national interests of Syria. Putin has made clear since four years that the primary aim of the Russian support for Syria and the Syrian government is the fight against terrorism. Aside from this evidence, Russia desires to have good relations to all countries in the region. For example, Putin has clearly and repeatedly condemned the attack – by Yemen’s Houthis – on Saudi Arabia’s oil installations, despite Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen. Putin’s position is in accordance with the position of UNO which still recognizes the former government of Yemen, the latter having fled to Saudi Arabia (abstractly speaking, the situation has similarities with Ukraine, with the difference that the UNO does not recognize the former government, which fled to Russia). As far as I know, the Syrian government has not at all condemned the attack against the oil installations in Saudi Arabia (by the way, Hezbollah openly supports the fight of the Houthis). This is just an example for the fact that Russian and Syrian interests are not identical – and cannot be identical.
The point is that inside the international, mainly Western based, support movement for the anti-hegemonic fight in Syria, there is a tendency to deny the different interests of Syria and Russia. As a consequence, Russian interests are – as a rule – given more weight than Syrian interests. For example, there is the idea that all the events in the north and northeast of Syria of the last two weeks follow a plan, elaborated by Russia (together with some, or all, of Syria, Turkey, Iran, USA). I certainly agree that Putin is a brilliant strategist and that he has largely deserved the Nobel peace prize for his role in the Middle East. Nevertheless, I am strongly opposed to this idea of a commonly elaborated strategy. First of all, in my eyes, such things do not exist; humans do not have this kind of divine wisdom. More importantly, I think that it is completely unrealistic that Syria and Turkey could agree to a common secret plan. The contradictions between them are miles to big. This idea of a common plan thus results in denying the different interests of Syria and Russia and in favouring the Russian interests. I do not say that the latter is illegitimate. But one should be honest. For my part, I would systematically favour Syrian interests since, at the end, it is their country; after all, the war has been won by the Syrian people, the Syrian government, and the Syrian Arab army. This being said, I think that it is altogether possible that Syria and Russia manage to harmonize and to put forward their common interests.
It cannot be an accident that today (October 22), President Assad, in his function as commander in chief, has inspected units of the Syrian Arab army on the front lines in southern Idlib. During this occasion, he sharply criticised the Turkey’s aggression against Syria. Assad also is a strategist and this was a clear hint to the today’s meeting between Putin and Erdogan in Sochi.
In my eyes, Syria is the present-day Vietnam. Syria has proven to be enormously tenacious and devoted. If the Western hegemonic forces can be defeated in Syria, they will probably not recover from this massive blow.