In the latest escalation of rhetoric over the situation in Syria, Obama administration officials have indicated a willingness to use airstrikes against Bashar Al-Assad’s forces in Aleppo to prevent them from taking control of the strategically important city. Last Thursday Russian Major General Igor Konashenkov responded by warning that Russia would shoot down any coalition jets carrying out airstrikes against Syrian government forces in Aleppo. This is the clearest indication from the Russians that they will directly use force against America and its allies to protect the Syrian regime.
These alarming developments lead to a very troubling question. Is Obama, the first sitting President to receive a Nobel Peace Prize, starting a war with Russia in the Middle East?
President Obama has indicated a willingness to use force to remove President Assad since his famous ‘red line’ speech over the Syrian chemical weapons program in 2012. Approximately half a million Syrians have died since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war during the Arab Spring movement in 2011, and further escalation of the conflict between the great powers will have devastating consequences for the region and beyond.
The consequences of the war have already been felt keenly as far away as Europe, where the influx of Syrian refugees as well as illegal immigrants from other Middle Eastern countries is creating a humanitarian and political crisis. Escalation of the war in Syria will stretch the European Union to breaking point.
These are the foreseeable consequences of intensifying the conflict in Syria. The unforeseeable consequences of a shooting war erupting between the United States and Russia are far, far worse.
Is continued nation-building in the Middle East worth such staggering costs?
Alongside the tragic consequences of the Syrian civil war has been a development which may be far more dangerous in the long run. The rise of ISIS in the Middle East has not only brought to our screens savagery and brutality that is hard for us to comprehend. It has also brought the idea of a Caliphate to unite all Islamic believers in a political union into the minds of millions in the Islamic world.
Islamic prophecy has its own version of end times events, and key to these is a conflict with Western powers in Syria. Increasing intervention by foreign powers in the Syrian conflict is feeding this belief among Muslims. Although most Muslims do not recognise the leader of ISIS as a true Caliph, continued turmoil and conflict in the region will only serve to embolden new leaders to declare themselves the ruler of the faithful. Should any leader succeed in being recognised as having authority over all Islamic believers, he will then have a mandate to avenge foreign interference in Islamic lands. The terrorism we are already witnessing in Western countries will become far worse.
Western media portrayals of Vladimir Putin have created a dangerously anti-Russian attitude among decision-makers in the West. At a time when the United States and Russia are closer to conflict than since the darkest hours of the Cold War, this is highly irresponsible. It is also difficult to understand given that it was Russia’s air campaign which finally stopped the spread of ISIS.
Anti-Putin bias in the media has been clearly evident. The Washington Post has published an opinion piece by a senior fellow from the Council on Foreign Relations asserting that Putin intends a “widespread massacre of civilians in Syria.” CNBC has a headline quoting billionaire George Soros that Putin is guilty of “heinous crimes against humanity,” and the Atlantic recently made the bold claim that “Putin and Assad are outdoing ISIS at mass murder.”
None of this is accurate. Putin is protecting a key strategic ally in the region. Any great power would do the same. Would the United States permit Russian airstrikes on Israel or Japan?
Should a shooting war begin in Syria between Russia and the United States, it is not difficult to see how it could quickly spread outside the region. Russian and NATO-supported local forces are already engaged in the Ukraine. Eastern Europe has also recently seen the largest build-up of NATO forces in 25 years, which Russia of course views as a provocation on its doorstep. Russians have learned painfully over two devastating wars in the twentieth century to take any military threat from the European peninsula extremely seriously.
On the other end of the Eurasian landmass, tensions in the South China Sea have been brewing for several years now. There are many wild cards in such a scenario, including the very wild President Duterte of the Philippines who has said that he will “break up with the US” and side with China. Should war with Russia spread outside the Middle East and into Europe, it is not difficult to see the conflict spreading into the Pacific theatre as well.
Although many in America are still unaware of the rising danger of a global conflict beginning in the Middle East, the Russians are taking the situation extremely seriously. In a sign that Russia is preparing for the worst, the Russian government this week authorized a massive civil defense training exercise involving 40 million people.
It is the United States, not Russia, which is seeking to change the status quo in Syria. The continued policy of interference in the region under the slogan of nation-building has been a costly and painful failure.
Should Obama trigger a war with Russia in Syria, he will join a long tradition of Democratic Presidents starting major conflicts. Democrats took America into both world wars as well as Vietnam. Later many of the pretexts for these conflicts were revealed to have been falsehoods. Although the information used to justify wars may be fake, the blood of innocents and tears of widows will be real. The men and women who lived through the horrors of the twentieth century warned us constantly to avoid the savagery and futility of war. Are these lessons going to have to be learned all over again?
Moses Apostaticus is a PhD student with a background in classics, history and literature. His years in education have made him a lifelong enemy of leftism. He blogs at http://follyofreason.org.