City of Raqqa, before and after the Syrian Civil War and the Rise and Fall of ISIS.
In the last segment, we laid out the main players in the Kurdish, Syrian, Turkey conflict theatre and discussed each of the player’s interested in chaos or stability in the region. Bear in mind that we are actually discussing a narrow, 20 mile long strip of land along the Northeast Syrian Border that is bordered to the North by Turkey. This land is shown below as the Safe Zone that Turkey is demanding to be cleared of Kurdish and Syrian Influence.
In the past 3 days, President Trump has been able to negotiate a ceasefire between Turkey, Syria and the Kurds. Sporadic fighting continues and will continue between various subgroups but so far no major air strikes have occurred. In about 3 more days, the parties involved, including the Kurds, must agree to clearing the “Safe Zone” and cease hostilities indefinitely. Turkey would then be responsible for “peace” in the “Safe Zone”.
Will the ceasefire hold? Maybe. The Kurds will have to withdraw to the south and east into other parts of Syria or even Iraq. Without US financial and arms support, it will be difficult for the Kurds to wage any real incursions into Turkey claimed territory or into Turkey itself. If you look at the red dots on the map, these are areas where there are ISIS supporters. These cities are surrounded by Turkish, Kurdish, Syrian, and SDF forces that will pretty much insure that the odds of a rise in ISIS strength in the Northeastern region of Syria is slim to none. (Iraq is a different story and will be dealt with in a subsequent post.) So, the question is whether Turkey and the Syrian-Kurds can coexist in this region without hostilities. My bet is that there will be periodic skirmishes but no major offensive by either side. The Kurds can’t afford it and Turkey has the US watching it closely.
What is Next?
NATO: The NATO nations must meet with Turkey and reinforce their insistence on peace in the “Safe Zone” with assurances that the NATO members will work to insure that the Kurds remain non-combative and that “terror” attacks by them on Turkish targets be stopped. The NATO nations must step up and take responsibility for their citizens who left Europe to join ISIS are brought back into their home countries and kept incarcerated. Same for the US. Turkey should maintain custody for those of Middle Eastern descent who joined ISIS whose return to their home country would only insure their release.
Syrian Civil War Aftermath: The Syrians who are aligned against the Syrian Assad regime have a choice to keep up their insurgency or accept that they were unable to topple Assad. My money is on some type of truce being formed between Assad and the rebel forces. Assad is a brutal dictator and this outcome may be something of a humanitarian crisis without some form of international intervention that does NOT have to involve direct military force.
This “civil war” has left much of Syria in rubble and their population decimated with a high number of expatriated refugees. Estimates of deaths due to this civil war range from 220,000 to 500,000 men, women and children. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Europe, Jordan and other countries. Unless the infrastructure of Syria is somehow rebuilt, it will be impossible for these refugees to return. The picture at the top of this article of the city of Raqqa is a small example of the devastation that the civil war has inflicted on a once beautiful and well developed nation.
Syrian Refugees leaving Syria
Rebuilding Syria: The World Bank has estimated that it would cost US$180 Billion to rebuild the infrastructure in Syria. Many believe that this estimate is low by a factor of 3 or 4! With oil prices hovering around $50.00 per barrel, Syrian revenues could not begin to fund this rebuilding effort. In 2014, Syria’s GDP was only US$24.6 Billion! Other nations in the Middle East are also somewhat squeezed by lower oil prices so their ability, or desire, to help in rebuilding Syria is not all that great.
Who Gets Stuck With the Bill: One of the best features of President Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is that Assad, Russia, and Iran are now faced with either paying for the rebuilding of Syria or dealing with a nation in shambles whose citizens are living in abject poverty and have literally nothing to lose. One not too bright so-called expert on TV stated that President Trump’s withdrawal from Syria meant that Syria is now in the hands of the RUSSIANS. Really! Syria has been in the hands of the Russians since the Cold War and when Assad’s father ruled Syria. Russia wants NOTHING to do with funding the cost to rebuild Syria. Russia’s GDP is only US$1.5 trillion and they do not want to use over 20% of their GDP on Syria! President Trump has squeezed every red cent out of Iran with his sanctions so they have little or nothing to contribute to the rebuilding of Syria, nor do they really care about the citizenry of Syria. After all, whatever little the Ayatollahs have left they have to use to fund Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen. All the while the Ayatollahs are facing an increasing level of hostilities from their own citizens at home!
Syria and Iranian Crap Shoot: President Trump has laid the foundation to force Assad to cave in and give up much of his autonomy at home in favor of international cooperation to rebuild his country. Assad is like a stockholder holding all of the shares of a company that is worth ZERO. He has no bargaining chips; Russia has its own financial problems; and Iran is not too far behind Syria in terms of financial ruin. Assad could do something really stupid and launch a barrage of humanitarian crisis but I doubt it. It would be short lived and he would not survive it. Iran could do likewise but they would face retribution from 80% of the other Middle Eastern countries, Israel, the US and hopefully NATO.
My Prediction? (As good as anyone’s on CNN or MSNBC)
So, my prediction is that within 1-3 years Syria will be under some type of “Marshall Plan” and that Assad will be all but gone or be a titular head only. (Remember, Assad may be Shia but the majority of Syrians are Sunni) President Trump will make sure that Syria is not subjected to a US enforced regime change but be allowed to transition into some form of local control monitored by regional nations. The plan will be administered by a coalition of other Middle Eastern countries that are led by Saudi Arabia. This is the main platform of Trump’s Middle East Foreign Policy.
Iran will be or have been immersed in civil unrest that will lead to the Ayatollahs losing a grip on the country. Their ability to wage proxy wars would have been eliminated by US sanctions. Iran would have lost the support of China as China needs a stable Iran from which to buy oil. (Oh yea, and Little President Macron would be in the same boat.) The EU and China would join the US in backing anti-Ayatollah factions in Iran to stabilize their economy and remove the crippling US sanctions.
Pipedream? Maybe. But unless someone does something really dumb like use a nuclear weapon, Russia, Iran and Syria are not capable of any further prolonged conflicts; nor is Russia capable of investing in Syria’s or Iran’s pipedreams of regional or world dominance. The EU would back our play only because it is in their interest. Turkey will be delighted as their age old adversaries, Iran and Syria, were forced to bite the dust. The Middle East transformation where the predominant Sunni nations take the lead in stabilizing the region would be complete.
You should hope I am right!