Saturday 18 November 2017

The bottom line is Russian bombs impressed more than US words

Evacuees from a rebel-held area of Aleppo carry mattresses they received as aid in al-Kamouneh camp, Idlib province, Syria. Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters
Evacuees from a rebel-held area of Aleppo carry mattresses they received as aid in al-Kamouneh camp, Idlib province, Syria. Photo: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters

Tony Brenton

It is easy to be sceptical about yesterday's Syrian ceasefire. Half a dozen previous ones all speedily collapsed. There are disagreements about crucial details. If the mighty United States was not able to end the fighting, why should we expect more of yesterday's ill-matched trio of power brokers; Russia, Turkey and Iran?

That may be the point. The US may be mighty but its credibility in the region is at rock bottom. After Obama's "Red Line" fiasco, Western involvement against Assad has been little more than rhetorical.

The Islamisation of the Syrian opposition has left our objectives hopelessly confused. The US, by using the Kurds as its ground army, has alienated the Turks, who are pivotal and who have now joined with the Russians. The Russians have shown no such muddle-headedness. Their aim from the beginning has been to sustain Assad in order to block the Islamist alternative. They have been ruthless - as in the Aleppo bloodbath. It may have worked.

The bottom line is the parties on the ground are more impressed by Russian bombs than US words.

2017, bringing Brexit and President Trump, already looked like an earthquake year. But if this ceasefire holds, then the familiar picture of global politics will have taken another big shock. We all knew that America's post-Cold War dominance was fading - notably with the rising self-assertion of Russia and China. But this felt comfortably slow and manageable.

Now, suddenly, the new world may be upon us. In politics, the appearance of power is as important as substance - and US pretensions in a crucial region will have been exposed as hollow.

The consequences could be drastic. In the Middle East itself,the Iranians would be riding high. The Saudis and Egyptians would be seeking reinsurance for a US guarantee they no longer trusted. Turkey, as a key regional powerbroker, would be even less attentive to the concerns of EU and Nato nations who it increasingly sees as hostile critics.

Then there is Russia; another nation which, after initially looking for cooperation with the West, is now utterly alienated. If the ceasefire sticks, it will surely conclude that there must be other places where an enfeebled West will have to learn to listen. The key lesson is that the only way to earn real respect is readiness to use force.

Enter President Trump, with his repeated emphasis on US national interests supplanting its role as global sheriff. If Mr Trump follows through on this, we in western Europe will have to think more carefully about the extent to which we can hope to isolate and coerce our Russian neighbour.

Indeed, the moment may finally have come when Europe has to face up to its own security responsibilities. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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