Washington comes to crossroads in deciding future of Middle East

By Li Weijian Source:Global Times Published: 2015-10-27 23:58:01

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad paid his first foreign visit to Kremlin last week since the start of Syrian civil war in 2011. The two leaders talked about the joint military operations against the Islamic State (IS) and a political transition in Damascus. Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry made a trip to the Middle East, seeking the way to calm Israel-Palestine conflicts as well as the Syrian crisis.

While the US has been holding a dominant position in the Middle East since the end of the Cold War, its clout is now decreasing in the region. The White House is facing a dilemma. On the one hand, it hopes the Assad government will collapse as much as it wants to eradicate the IS. On the other, following years of ineffective fighting, Washington is unwilling to deploy more resources to this turbulent area.

Kremlin seized the initiative over Damascus by launching air strikes against the IS since last month. Moscow's influence in the Middle East is increasing and will continue to rise in the short term. Although Washington is still holding the dominant position at present, the multipolar trend in the region is becoming increasingly evident.

In 2003, the US insisted on launching the war against Iraq regardless of many other countries' opposition. Then secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan, said of the invasion, "I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN Charter. From our point of view, from the Charter point of view, it was illegal." The situation in the Middle East would have been much better now if the US had followed the advice of others after launching the war.

In addition, Washington is adept at adopting double standards in addressing regional conflicts. For example, before the emergence of the IS, Israel-Palestine conflicts had been the core problem in the Middle East. The main reason, which has to be pointed out, is that Washington follows double standards and lacks a balanced attitude toward the two parties. The US always stands on the side that it has closer ties with.

Besides, it is the habitual practice of the White House to impose its values over other regions, regardless of different cultural backgrounds. The Arab Spring, originally an internal social movement in the region, was oversimplified into a Western-style democratic revolution against autocratic governments because of US intervention. Washington ignored the huge gulf between itself and the Middle East in culture, history, religion and many other fields.

Finding it hard to strike the IS by itself, the US is still reluctant to cooperate with Russia, arguing that Kremlin's real intention is to support the Assad regime instead of fighting terrorism.

While Russia's military operations have dealt a heavy blow to the IS, they will help protect the Assad government on the side. The US will have to make a choice - whether to prioritize attacking the IS over toppling the Assad regime, or the other way round. The IS will become more powerful if Washington, in the hope of toppling the current Syrian government, counters Moscow.

The rise of terrorism is attributed to the crises in Iraq and Syria. The IS can only be uprooted after the thorny political problems are settled. The future of the Assad regime should be determined by the Syrian people rather than exterior forces. Syrian citizens have the justifiable rights to dominate the political transition of their own country.

The Kremlin's cooperation with Assad will help secure a political dialogue between the current Syrian government and the opposition. It is the US rather than Russia that is at a crossroads at the current stage - whether to leave the locals to determine the future of their country or to stir up further troubles in the region by intervening crudely.

The author is a professor of West Asian and African studies at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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