An 18-month revolution in Syria is poised to bring about a new era for the Middle East—and recast the power players of the entire globe.
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“Should we step in?” This has been the chief question in every national conflict since World War II.
In each instance, the West has had to decide whether to intervene or allow the sovereign state in question to sort out its own issues. The answer has varied over the decades: Kuwait, Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan got a “yes.” Cambodia, Rwanda, Burma and Sudan a “no.”
For now, the jury is out on Syria, which has been embroiled in violence since early 2011. Most nations seem to be straddling the fence with, “We will not go in…not yet, anyway.”
Still, tragic stories continue to pour out from the Middle Eastern country: children killed in crossfire, fathers tortured, whole neighborhoods laid to waste, violent protests morphing into all-out civil war.
What was first lumped in with other Arab Spring uprisings (think Tunisia and Egypt) has morphed into an Islamic sectarian clash. BBC News summarized the worsening crisis: “Thousands of Syrians have lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to [Syrian] President al-Assad and those opposed to his rule. The bloody internal battle has forced tens of thousands to flee across the country’s borders and is now threatening to tear the nation apart.”
“The uprising has its roots in protests that erupted in March 2011 in the southern city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of some teenagers who painted revolutionary slogans on a school wall. After security forces opened fire on demonstrators, killing several, more took to the streets.”
Continuing, BBC stated, “The unrest triggered nationwide protests demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s resignation…By July 2011, hundreds of thousands were taking to the streets in towns and cities across the country.”
Over the intervening months, Western concern has grown. Some fear Mr. Assad will dip into his stockpile of chemical weapons and use them on the rebels, or that these weapons of mass destruction will fall into terrorists’ hands. Others worry about radical Islamic forces taking over the nation.
The New York Times wrote, “As the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s government grinds on with no resolution in sight, Syrians involved in the armed struggle say it is becoming more radicalized: homegrown Muslim jihadists, as well as small groups of fighters from Al Qaeda, are taking a more prominent role and demanding a say in running the resistance.”
Foreign Policy dissected the brimming hostility in an article titled “Syria Is More Violent than Iraq at Its Worst.” Using numbers from the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, an activist website that monitors the conflict’s death toll, the publication marked 5,037 Syrian deaths in August 2012—making it the bloodiest month of the war.
FP continued, “How do those numbers compare with the Iraqi casualties during the height of the civil war? According to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index…34,500 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2006, and 2,091 Iraqi military and police also lost their lives—a total of 3,049 Iraqis per month.”
“The bloodshed in Iraq is not any more tolerable because Syria is in the midst of its own tragedy; Syrians, meanwhile, don’t need such statistics to know the extent of their suffering. However, it is a stark reminder of the human cost of the Syrian revolt, which promises to define the next era of Middle East politics in the same way that Iraq defined the last.”
So, at what point do other nations step in as NATO troops did in Libya and Afghanistan? Or form a “coalition of the willing,” such as in Iraq?
Undoubtedly, the world cannot utterly ignore an event that is set to “define the next era of Middle East politics.” Add to this that historically whoever takes a sure hand in the Mideast generally also takes a lead position on the global stage. Alexander the Great is an example of this, Europe eyed the region during the Crusades, and Napoleon pushed in that direction when taking Egypt.
And in the past four decades this trend has continued with U.S. intervention in Kuwait and Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This means events in Syria, and all other Arab Spring nations, will define not only the next era of Middle East politics—but also that of the entire world.
Complicating matters in the Middle East is a cash-strapped and distracted United States. Decades of operating as a self-styled world policeman and the annual price tag that goes with it—the Department of Defense budgeted $707 billion for 2012—has left the nation’s politicians and citizens weary.
Washington still has forces actively fighting in Afghanistan and is dedicated to assisting Iraqi soldiers. It has thousands of military personnel stationed across the globe—in Europe, patrolling the East Pacific, and scattered throughout the Middle East.
Business Insider noted this “weariness” among leading liberal and conservative political leaders on September 5: “Mitt Romney was the first Republican candidate for president since 1952 to make no mention of war in his convention acceptance speech. (He didn’t even mention the tens of thousands of U.S. troops currently in harm’s way.) And Barack Obama’s approach to the Middle East is mainly to ignore it and hope that the next catastrophe, whatever it may be, erupts no sooner than Nov. 7. To some extent, this desire to be rid of the nation’s commitments in the region reflects a strain of isolationism that dates back to America’s founding. Recent trends, too, have made the Mideast seem less relevant to the U.S.’s national security: The boom in domestic energy production and the prospect of the U.S.’s weaning itself from foreign oil [less than 13 percent now comes from the Middle East]; the killing of bin Laden and the apparent decline of al-Qaeda; and the argument that the U.S.’s attentions and resources would be far better spent dealing with a rising China in the Pacific.”
Due to this, the White House has ordered a strategic “pivot” of military resources to Asia.
Yet the “next catastrophe” in the Middle East struck only days after the Business Insider article was published. Libyan protesters attacked the U.S. embassy—killing the American ambassador and three others. Militants also overran the U.S. consulate in Egypt, and the same thing happened in Yemen the next day.
In response, the White House condemned the violence and vowed to work with Libyan officials to bring the murderers to justice.
The events herald in a new age of the Middle East. Despite outright attacks on United States embassies, the nation remains tepid toward retaking a heavy hand in the region.
This is especially true of Syria. If the U.S. deposes Mr. Assad, radical Islamists may be next in line to take the governmental reins. If Washington remains out of the picture, thousands more will die each month. If it were to declare war, it would have to deal with formidable Syrian forces and WMDs. America is still supporting Iraq and at war in Afghanistan—and it is unlikely that it will add a third front.
Washington Post contributing editor Jim Hoagland wrote, “Syria’s civil war is the decisive event in the remaking of the Middle East that began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian fruit vendor 21 months ago. The battle for Damascus has become the fulcrum of a now fully visible Sunni-Shiite struggle over the creation and control of an Islamic political order throughout the region.
“The Pax Americana [American Peace] that has prevailed in the region since 1973—the last time a major Arab-Israeli war erupted—is rapidly eroding. American power, friendship or enmity will no longer be decisive for Egyptians, Syrians or even Saudis in the ways they have been for nearly four decades.”
Think back over the last half century. Almost every time the West—primarily meaning America—decided to intervene, the nation generally held the make-or-break vote.
With Washington being forced to turn inward to address its numerous domestic problems over the last few years, other nations have become more assertive. Despite the U.S.’s continued and undisputed military dominance, other nations have begun to act on their own.
While most Western nations, and the new government in Egypt, are calling for President Assad to step down—China and Russia see things differently.
Government-funded Russia Today outlined the Sino-Russian viewpoint, “In Syria, for example, rebels have been engaged in a protracted campaign to overthrow the government of President Bashar al-Assad. In an effort to quell the violence, Russia and China are pushing for the Kofi Annan plan, which demands that both sides enter into a ceasefire and head to the negotiating table.”
The Telegraph quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin: “The most important task today is ending the violence…We must urge all the warring parties, including the government and the so-called rebels, the armed opposition, to sit down at the negotiating table and decide on a future that would guarantee security for all of the stakeholders within Syria.”
Beijing has walked in lockstep with Moscow on this issue (and many others). The two nations used their seats on the United Nations Security Council to shoot down sanctions against Syria’s political elites in mid-July.
Mr. Putin summarized how his country would act in this “new era” in Russia Today: “A new Russia, a modern Russia behaves and will behave differently.”
The same case can be made for China, with its rapidly increasing political clout.
While no direct intervention is currently in place, individual governments have stepped forward to push their own plans for peace. The International wrote: “Earlier this month [September 2012] France, Syria’s old colonial master, became the first EU state to directly funnel aid to the Syrian opposition, pledging to equip rebel-held parts of the country with basic supplies such as humanitarian goods and building materials.
“To date, the EU Commission has provided around a half of all aid to Syria, on September 7 announcing a further €60 million ($76 million) to supplement the €200 million ($253 million) already given. The majority of this has been sent to aid groups.”
UPI reported that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU must take a stronger role in the Middle East to ensure a democratic Syria emerges from the conflict.
Summarizing part of his state of the EU address, the news organization continued, “More than ever…a ‘new world order’ needs an active and engaged Europe. Human rights and European values are principles that extend beyond the borders of the European Union.”
On the religious front, Pope Benedict XVI has been increasingly vocal about pursuing Middle East peace and recently visited Lebanon.
Ahead of a three-day pontifical visit, Gulf News wrote, “Joseph Bahout, a French professor of political science and Middle East expert, said the ‘pope arrives to a different Lebanese and regional context that is completely new, very different from that of the past.’”
The Associated Press reported on an open-air mass in Beirut, where the pontiff lamented the Syrian conflict, “which generates so much suffering.”
“Why so much horror? Why so many dead?” he said. He called on Middle East Christians to do their part to end the region’s “grim trail of death and destruction.”
“I appeal to you all to be peacemakers,” the pope stated.
The West is not the only power bloc that wants Mr. Assad deposed. A newly formed Islamic quartet of nations has another agenda. AP wrote, “Diplomats from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Egypt [gathered for a meeting as] a quartet of regional heavyweights aiming to work out a resolution for Syria’s civil war.
“The quartet is an initiative put forward by Egypt’s new president aiming to bring together key supporters of the Syrian rebellion—Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as Egypt itself—with Iran, the biggest regional ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.”
Yet this Islamic group of four may quickly become a trio due to sectarian differences.
“The new quartet may also have trouble reaching common ground. Sunni-led Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have called on Assad to step down; Shiite Iran has firmly stood by Assad,” AP continued. “Saudi Arabia and Iran are also bitter rivals with longstanding disagreements over Gulf security issues.”
“Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi appears to be hoping that bringing Iran into the quartet can eventually sway it to accept an alternative to Assad and put its weight behind a peace initiative. Last month, he went to Tehran for an international conference and gave a full-throated call for the world to back the Syrian opposition, startling his Iranian hosts.”
“Egypt is hoping the group can find consensus on an initiative calling for an immediate end to violence, maintaining the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Syria, supporting Brahimi’s mission and launching a political process with various spectrums of Syrian society, the ministry said in a statement.”
Cairo’s main goal seems to be ousting Mr. Assad and adding another nation to its growing ranks of Arab Spring allies—no doubt hoping to reshape Syria as another Islamic democracy.
As the West continues its slow bow from the world stage, other nations will continue to rise in prominence. These events will accelerate. Unknown to almost all, this new era of the Middle East—and the rising alliances across the globe—was detailed long ago.
The Bible (though dismissed by many as a collection of Hebrew fables and pseudo history) speaks of three power blocs in this modern age that will vie for influence. Two are symbolically known as the “king of the north” and the “king of the south” (Dan. 11).
A third power is described in the New Testament book of Revelation as “the kings of the east” (16:12). This will be a confederation of Asian nations, with China and Russia working together.
Amid these compass directions—north, south and east—one is conspicuously missing, west. The U.S. and Western European nations will continue their steady decline from prominence until they cease to be global powers.
Events in Syria—and the world—will continue to play out exactly as scripted in Bible prophecy. The Real Truth Editor-in-Chief David C. Pack wrote in his book The Bible’s Greatest Prophecies Unlocked! – A Voice Cries Out, “Turmoil, fear and confusion now grip all nations of the world. Terrorism, economic upheaval and resultant widespread uncertainty are everywhere. Many sense that the differences between and within nations are intensifying and are threatening to spin out of control. New and different power blocs are forming, with traditional alliances wavering, waning or disappearing.
“Ominous signs of grave difficulty in resolving humanity’s most fundamental problems abound. Many sense that the world is hurtling toward trouble, even possibly terrible calamity. Disease, famine and war sweep the planet as never before. New diseases are continually emerging and old ones are re-emerging worse than ever. Famine now decimates entire segments of local populations. Weapons of mass destruction, so incomprehensibly lethal and devastating that they boggle the mind, now threaten humanity—also as never before. Many nations are learning to live ‘on alert’ to terrorist cells, which can strike anywhere without notice.
“World conditions, events and trends speak daily in frightening terms about how things could quickly turn in the wrong direction. The future of nations, including the greatest nations, hangs in the balance. History shows that all the great civilizations eventually crashed, having become decadent, awash in material prosperity and greed—and educated in wrong knowledge. This can happen again!”