Massenbach-Letter. NEWS 29.9.17 – corr.

Massenbach-Letter. News

  • Wall Street Journal: German Results Reflect European Unease Over Identity, Economy.
  • What Merkel’s Election Win Means for Germany – Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

  • Buchempfehlung – Recommendation: “KRIEG UND CHAOS IN NAHOST: EINE ARABISCHE SICHTvon Aktham Suliman
  • GPF: Syria’s Shattered Future
  • Chatham House: Examining How the South Caucasus Is Responding to Trump
  • President Donald Trump is tearing down a central pillar of his administration’s infrastructure plan.

Massenbach-Letter-NEWS (blog): ( )

Massenbach* Wall Street Journal: German Results Reflect European Unease Over Identity, Economy.

  • Rise of Alternative for Germany party comes at cost to Germany’s long-established parties –

Sept. 24, 2017 5:35 p.m. ET

BERLIN—Germany’s election result confirms the overriding trend of European politics in the past year: the crumbling of the Continent’s established parties in the face of voter anxiety over economics and identity.

Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats were projected to come in first Sunday with around 33% of the vote, their lowest share of the post-World War II era. The center-left Social Democrats were projected to win just under 21%, their worst result since the prewar era. Germany’s two long-dominant parties, which have governed together in a “grand coalition” since 2013, lost support to an array of opposition groups including the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany.

The fragmented vote mirrors this year’s elections in other Continental European countries including France and the Netherlands. Established parties have suffered steep losses, especially on the center left, and voters have turned to upstarts on the nationalist right, the anticapitalist left or the liberal center.

The upheavals partly reflect the fallout of a decade marked by economic, security and immigration crises that have tested the cohesion of the European Union. The future direction of the EU and its major nations is now up for grabs in a fluid contest between internationalists and nationalists, incumbents and insurgents.

The outcome makes it likely that Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, will become more difficult to govern. Long and difficult negotiations are now expected between Ms. Merkel, the left-leaning Greens, and the pro-business Free Democrats. An unwieldy coalition may struggle to agree on the major challenges facing the European Union’s most populous nation, from immigration to its scandal-hit auto industry to how to stabilize the euro currency zone.

Ms. Merkel has governed for 12 years as a pragmatic centrist. She is likely to come under pressure from many in her conservative party to shift to the right, to address concerns about immigration and security that helped drive support for the Alternative for Germany, known by its German initials AfD.

Conservative leaders elsewhere in Europe, including the Netherlands, Austria and the U.K., have adopted tougher policies and rhetoric on immigration to fend off populist challengers to their right. Ms. Merkel didn’t do that during the German election campaign, and she conceded Sunday night that she had paid a price. “We didn’t manage to fully assuage the concerns that people have” about illegal immigration and the security of external borders, she said in a post-election televised debate with other German party leaders.

The AfD, which won close to 13% nationwide, thrived particularly in Germany’s economically disadvantaged east, where it was the most popular party among male voters. “That’s consistent with a broader trend of radical-right parties connecting with those groups in many countries,” says Matthew Goodwin, professor of politics at the University of Kent, U.K.

The election showed that Germany is becoming more like other European countries, where nationalist, antiestablishment parties are often significantly stronger than the AfD.

For decades, Germany’s taboos against nationalist rhetoric have kept far-right parties out of the national parliament. Support for the AfD rose during the campaign despite its controversial views on history. Leading candidate Alexander Gauland said Germans “have the right to be proud of the achievements of German soldiers in two world wars.”


· Merkel Wins but Loses Ground

· Vote Puts Merkel in a Tough Spot

· German Nationalists Gain a New Voice

· Recap: German Election

· See the Latest Results

The party’s program calls for less guilt about Germany’s past, including toning down Germany’s focus on remembering the Holocaust, a position that drew condemnation from Jewish groups. “The election result is a sign that old social norms against perceived extremism in Germany are weakening,” said Mr. Goodwin.

Most AfD voters appear to have backed the party as a reaction against what is widely viewed as stifling consensus of the grand coalition. Only 31% of AfD voters backed the party out of “conviction,” while 60% voted for it out of “disappointment” with other parties, according to an exit poll for state broadcaster ARD.

The AfD reached a peak of around 15% support in opinion polls last year, boosted by the migration crisis of 2015-16 in which around a million refugees and other migrants from the Middle East and South Asia came to Germany. But the party’s support fell to around 8% this year as the migration crisis faded. The AfD’s popularity rose again during recent weeks’ election campaign, however, in part a reflection of the lack of apparent disagreement between established parties.

The Social Democrats’ failed candidate for chancellor, Martin Schulz, denounced Ms. Merkel on state TV for erasing all policy differences between them. The consensus-seeking chancellor’s “systematic refusal of politics” alienated voters and boosted the AfD, Mr. Schulz said. Ms. Merkel denied the charge.

Rising support for fringe parties was widely predicted in Germany four years ago after Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats formed their second grand coalition with the Social Democrats. That bipartisan government, critics warned, would give voters who strongly oppose Ms. Merkel nowhere to turn to but the extremes.

Ms. Merkel remains personally popular with about two-thirds of German voters, even though her party’s share of the vote declined. She has no clear successor. That suggests that the Christian Democrats, one of the parties that has shaped modern Europe, may suffer further erosion after her fourth and what is expected to be her final term.


From our Russian News Desk. (The views expressed are the author‘s own.)

  • Turkey and Germany: Souring Relations between Strategic Allies
  • How China and India Can Keep the Peace in Ukraine
  • Integrating Migrants in the Interests of Security and Development
  • What Awaits Syria?
  • Is Iraq’s Kurdistan Facing Economic Isolation Post-Independence Referendum?
  • How Is Iran’s Rouhani Government Trying to Strengthen the Nuclear Deal?


Policy= res publica

Freudenberg-Pilster* What Merkel’s Election Win Means for Germany – Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg

Bloomberg ******************************************************************************************************************
Politics: From Vision to Action

Barandat*President Donald Trump is tearing down a central pillar of his administration’s infrastructure plan.

The president told a bipartisan group of lawmakers that he doesn’t favor public-private partnerships to finance public works, the WSJ’s Ted Mann and Siobhan Hughes report, throwing talks over new federal spending on highways, ports and other infrastructure into a new light. One lawmaker says the president pointed to one signature example of private investment, the Indiana toll road, as an example of a failed public-private partnership. Lawmakers say Trump told them he believes such partnerships are “more trouble than they’re worth.” The administration has been pressing such investment as a way to leverage federal spending—and to help turn management of infrastructure over to states and private companies. Mr. Trump’s new view may upend the administration’s strategy, but it also may make it easier to strike a deal with congressional Democrats who are leery of privatization.

General Electric Co.’s efforts to take its locomotive production local may be running off the rails.

GE is in danger of losing a $2.5 billion deal to sell diesel locomotives to Indian Railways, one of its company’s largest industrial contracts ever and a linchpin of GE’s hopes to win business in far-flung markets by investing heavily in local operations. The WSJ’s Thomas Gryta, Ted Mann and Rajesh Roy report the jolt to the contract, and GE’s broader strategy of localized manufacturing, follows a political shake-up in India that brought in a new railways minister who apparently decided to have the railroad turn entirely to electric locomotives. Executives at GE have met with the minister to try to keep the deal together. Terminating the deal would be a bitter result for GE, which has already started building a factory 600 miles from Delhi. It also signals the hurdles for India as officials talk about improving dilapidated infrastructure in a country where changing political winds can derail progress.


Middle East

Chatham House: Examining How the South Caucasus Is Responding to Trump


Anahit Shirinyan

As the world tries to decipher what Trump presidency means for the global world order and security in Europe, the same questions are asked in Armenia. The US continues not to have a clear-cut policy towards the South Caucasus, and Trump’s tenure is unlikely to change this. Instead, Washington’s relations with Yerevan, Tbilisi and Baku are likely to remain an undertone to the larger dynamics of US relations with Russia, Turkey and Iran, as well as developments in the Middle East. In this context, some potential pitfalls might affect the overall geopolitical environment in which Armenia operates with implications for Armenian foreign policy.

Neighbourhood collisions

While in theory Yerevan would benefit from improved Washington-Moscow ties, this argument does not hold if that improvement were a result of a transaction where Russia’s power projection in its ‘near abroad’ limits the sovereignty of the post-Soviet states. Conversely, further deterioration of US-Russia (and Western-Russia) relations would continue to constrain the manoeuvring space for Armenia’s foreign policy. As Russia’s economy declines as a result of sanctions, the oil price and a failure to reform, Armenia’s economic performance will slide with it……


Zaur Shiriyev

Despite the Azerbaijani elites’ preference for Hillary Clinton due to her first-hand experience in the South Caucasus region, the Azerbaijani government was not overly worried by a Republican win. US–Azerbaijan relations had been more prosperous under the Bush administration, and it was perceived that Republicans had a better understanding of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict because Washington re-energized the resolution process. The main question mark over Trump was his anti-Muslim rhetoric, and the unpredictability of his approach towards Iran, Russia and the other post-Soviet countries.

Baku’s attitude towards the new administration has grown more positive as US–Azerbaijan tensions have gradually decreased since Trump’s inauguration. Previously human rights issues had cast a shadow over the relationship, culminating in a bipartisan sanctions bill that would make Azerbaijan accountable on human rights issues. While the Azerbaijan Democracy Act of 2015 was never passed, it created concern among political elites…..


George Mchedlishvili

Georgia is the only truly pro-Western and democratic country of the South Caucasus three. In some aspects of democratization, such as transparency and corruption, Georgia ranks better than some new EU member states. Its pro-Western foreign policy orientation endears Georgia to the US and Europe, but also renders it a target of Moscow’s wrath, since Putin’s Russia is committed to derailing any of its neighboring states from a western quest.

Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election sent Georgia into disquiet. For Tbilisi, Washington is the main counterbalance to Russia and decisive American engagement is the most efficient guarantor (more even than NATO) of Georgia’s very existence.

Trump’s lack of international policy experience, rendered him a distinctly second-best choice from Georgia’s standpoint (although the same was said of Barack Obama against John McCain in 2008)…..

Continue reading:,54JWB,NUT9SM,JNZQK,1#


*Massenbach’s Recommendation*

Syria’s Shattered Future

Editor’s Note: This Deep Dive was adapted from a piece originally produced for the Valdai Discussion Club, an institute devoted to analyzing Russia’s place in the world. The full version can be accessed here.


It’s useful to look at the past to predict the future. Little that happens in the world is truly new, and lessons can be learned from the way things transpired before. So, in trying to picture Syria’s future, observing the events that shaped present-day Lebanon is a useful exercise. Lebanon is much smaller than Syria, and its ethnic groups were more evenly proportioned before its civil war. Even so, in 1975, it went to war – and at war it stayed for 15 years. We expect Syria’s civil war – which is already midway through its sixth year – to last at least as long.

Lebanon’s post-war years haven’t exactly been peaceful either. Syria’s will be worse. The U.S. and Russia are working under the public supposition that Syria can be put back together once the fighting stops. They want a lot of the same things: to defeat the Islamic State and al-Qaida, then to build a new political system in the country. But Russia also wants to destroy any other rebel group fighting the Syrian regime, which Russia maintains is the legitimate government in the country, while the U.S. wants to form a new political system that is democratic and that excludes President Bashar Assad. They’re both likely to be disappointed. Syria is a broken country, and no amount of diplomatic handwringing or bombing is going to put it back together.

Demographic Chaos

The reason is simple: ethnic and sectarian chaos. The single-largest population group within the country is Sunni Arabs, whose main political forces are the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the Free Syrian Army (not counting the large number of Sunnis who still support the Assad regime). The U.S. and Russia will not accept a political system built around either of the first two forces, and the Free Syrian Army is too weak to defeat the radical Islamists or the Assad regime.

It is impossible to know the exact demographic breakdown of the country today because of the fighting and migration, but before the war, roughly 68 percent of Syria was Sunni. Of that, 10 percent was Kurdish and the rest was Arab. Alawites made up another 11 percent of the total population. We can assume that the country remains divided between three groups: Alawites, Syrian Kurds and Sunni Arabs. The Alawites are loyal to Assad; the Syrian Kurds are loyal to the People’s Protection Units, or YPG; and the Arabs are divided – some Islamist, some champions of Assad, and all competing for influence.

(click to enlarge)

The Assad regime, the Alawites and other minorities that Assad protects will never consent to democracy in Syria. To do so would open those communities to certain reprisal by Sunni Arab forces should they come to power. The same is true of the Syrian Kurds, who, despite being the smallest and newest Kurdish population in a Middle Eastern country, have secured a de facto state for themselves and are taking as much territory as they can to try to lend strategic depth to their indefensible position on the border with Turkey. Even if an agreement emerged that all sides agreed to, the system would collapse just as the U.S.-backed political system in Iraq collapsed.

Many of the areas dominated by Sunni Arabs are in the desert, in cities hugging the Euphrates River. Attacking these cities is difficult: It requires long supply lines through the desert, which invites the kind of guerrilla tactics at which IS excels. Similarly, the Alawite stronghold on the coast is mountainous and thus very defensible. Little suggests that these dynamics will change soon.

The most likely scenario is that Syria will eventually be divided into three main areas. The first area will be controlled by the remnants of the Assad regime, which will maintain authority over the major cities and the coastal strongholds that are the Alawites’ core territories. The second area will be the Syrian Kurdish territories. There are two main pockets of Syrian Kurds: an isolated and small group in Afrin canton and a larger group in northeastern Syria, which before the breakout of war had significant natural resources and decent farmland. The Syrian Kurdish territories are on a relatively flat plain and are vulnerable to attack, both from IS and from Turkey, which has thus far not attacked the Syrian Kurds besides the occasional artillery shelling.

(click to enlarge)

The third area will be a lawless swath of Sunni Arab territory. The precise names of the groups and the ideologies they employ are almost impossible to track, but they will be fighting each other for supremacy in these areas, as well as launching opportunistic attacks against Assad forces and Syrian Kurdish forces. Fighters will continue to move across the porous Iraq-Syria border and will increasingly put pressure on neighboring countries.

IS, al-Qaida and the Power of Ideas

This Sunni Arab territory deserves a closer look, specifically at the future of jihadist forces not just in Syria but throughout the region. The Islamic State and al-Qaida are the most substantial of these forces today, but this will not always be the case. Eventually, IS and al-Qaida will lose their strongholds. They will melt back into the civilian population until foreign forces leave. Another group may arise in their place, or they may regenerate their fiefs and even try to grab more land to the south, greatly straining two Sunni Arab countries that have thus far stayed out of the fray: Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They will not be able to stay on the sidelines forever.

At its height of IS expansion, the lands it controlled amounted to roughly 50,000 square kilometers (19,500 square miles), roughly the size of Croatia. Taking into account the sparsely populated deserts and other areas where IS can operate with relative freedom, even though it is not directly in control, this territory expands to approximately 250,000 square kilometers, roughly the size of Great Britain.

The U.S. State Department boasts on its website that U.S. coalition partners have recaptured 62 percent of IS territory in Iraq and 30 percent in Syria. In war, such statistics are meaningless. What matters is not the size of the territory but whether that territory is strategically important. So far, anti-IS forces in Syria and Iraq have not conquered enough territory from the Islamic State to cripple its ability to operate.

The Islamic State’s core territory is the stretch of land from Raqqa to Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria. The most recent Syrian census, done in 2004, estimated that close to half a million people lived in these two cities alone. In recent weeks, this territory has come under serious threat. Syrian Kurdish forces have closed in on Raqqa, and despite the Islamic State’s diversionary attacks, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have advanced methodically on the city. Meanwhile, the Russia-backed Syrian army has been making gains of its own. Syrian government forces crossed into Raqqa province at the beginning of June, and more important, they have begun an offensive into eastern Syria targeting Deir el-Zour and al-Mayadin.

(click to enlarge)

All evidence seems to indicate that the Islamic State has chosen to retreat from Raqqa to reinforce its position in Deir el-Zour and al-Mayadin. The SDF has made progress in Raqqa, but notably, it left the main highway heading east out of the city open. For months, reports have said IS fighters were leaving the city. When IS convoys have attempted to head west, Russia has made a point of targeting them, but there seems to be a coordinated effort between U.S. and Russian allies on the ground to push IS into a smaller area in eastern Syria that will eventually be attacked head on.

This would all seem to suggest that the defeat of the Islamic State is nigh. That would be a premature judgment. The hallmark of the Islamic State’s military capabilities has been its ability to avoid costly defeats. IS routinely retreats from positions it knows it cannot defend, regroups and then launches new attacks where its enemies are unprepared for them. If it turns out IS cannot protect its territory against the approaching forces, the most likely course of action is that IS fighters will withdraw or blend into the civilian population and give up the city without a fight. For all of the Islamic State’s religious bravado, it has shown itself to be pragmatic in its approach to war, and it would be out of character for it to make a suicidal stand against incoming forces. IS uses suicide bombs for offensive purposes; it does not view suicide in defense as any more noble than defeat.

Even if the physical caliphate is destroyed, the Islamic State’s ideology will persist in a region that is ripe for recruitment. The attacking armies are united in their opposition to IS but will find little in the way of a common cause if the Islamic State’s territorial integrity is broken. They will instead take to fighting among themselves, opening up new spaces for IS to capitalize on and return. The forces will eventually have to withdraw from formerly IS-held territories to attack al-Qaida and other targets in Syria as well, which will mean IS can bide its time. The Islamic State is playing a long game, and its religious ideology can and will preach patience to the faithful. It will not conceded defeat.

Al-Qaida’s position in Syria is more tenuous than the Islamic State’s, and as a result, al-Qaida is not seen as an equal threat and has been able to fly much more under the radar than its territorially focused offshoot. In Syria, the group has changed its name several times (the latest incarnation is Tahrir al-Sham), but it would be a mistake to call it anything but what it is: al-Qaida in Syria. Al-Qaida in Syria has tried to forge connections with other Syrian rebel groups and has captured fiefdoms of its own outside of Aleppo and Idlib. It has fewer fighters than IS, but like the IS fighters, they are extremely capable and have proved much more successful on the battlefield than any of the moderate Syrian rebel groups.

Al-Qaida is surrounded, however, by Syrian government forces. It is only a matter of time before the regime turns its attention to the group. The U.S. has said repeatedly that it plans to solve the IS problem before targeting al-Qaida, and one reason it can afford that approach is that it knows Assad and Russia view al-Qaida, which is closer to the heartland of the regime, as their more pressing problem. Once the Assad regime focuses the bulk of its forces on al-Qaida’s territories in and around Idlib, al-Qaida will gradually have to retreat and blend into the civilian population. The operation to retake these areas will come with mass executions and purges of all suspected al-Qaida sympathizers and collaborators.

The result is that likely in the next one to three years, the entities in Syria currently known as the Islamic State and al-Qaida will be dislodged from full control of their possessions. But the problem is not defeating these groups or taking their lands; with sufficient manpower and foreign support, these groups’ grip over their territories can be loosened if not broken entirely for a time. The problem is that unless a foreign force occupies these territories, the groups will reconstitute themselves and recapture the land they lost. And there is no country in the world whose strategic interests are served by holding territory in the middle of the Syrian and Iraqi deserts indefinitely.

Fighting groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaida takes place on two levels. The first is the military level. Tactical difficulties stand in the way of victory, but they can be overcome. The second level, however, is the realm of ideas. That radical Islamist ideology has a force of its own is indisputable at this point. For whatever reason – the lack of economic opportunity, the history of colonial oppression, whatever – this ideology has given meaning and organization to a generation of people.

In this sense, then, the Islamic State, al-Qaida and the myriad other groups that have sprouted up out of the power vacuum left by the civil war are unbeatable, because it is impossible to defeat an idea. This is a civil war between Muslims in the Middle East. The religious wars of Europe around the time of the Enlightenment each took decades if not centuries to play out before a somewhat stable system of political entities emerged. (And even this system eventually became so unbalanced that in the 20th century it twice brought the entire world into war.) There is no reason to expect that the Muslim wars will take less time than that, nor is there reason to believe that the U.S. or Russia or any outside power will be able to subdue these forces with the right combination of coalition fighters.

The best that can be achieved is containing these forces where they are. For the U.S., preventing their spread south into countries it counts among its allies is of prime importance. For Russia, preventing their spread north into the Caucasus is the bigger priority. Either way, the two sides share an interest in keeping these religious wars confined, as much as possible, to the deserts of the Middle East, rather than the streets of Manhattan or the subway stations of St. Petersburg.

Smoke billows in the embattled northern Syrian city of Raqqa on Sept. 3, 2017, as Syrian Democratic Forces battle to retake the city from the Islamic State

When it comes to Syria, then, the U.S. and Russia are already working together even if they don’t include each other in their coalitions. The tacit coordination in the Raqqa and Deir el-Zour offensives is evidence enough of that. Neither wants to see radical Islamism spread into its spheres of influence. Neither wants or has the forces available to commit to conquering radical Islamism in Syria and Iraq – and policing the territories after the fact. The U.S. and Russia do not see eye to eye on the legitimacy of the Assad regime, but the U.S. does not have the luxury of pushing for Assad’s downfall; what would arise in his place might be far worse. The U.S. will continue to search for partners to keep IS in a cage, and Russia will continue to prop up Assad as he eventually moves on to targeting al-Qaida. And while Russia and the U.S. continue to butt heads in other parts of the world, in this part of the world, they will quietly work, perhaps not quite together, but still in pursuit of a similar goal.

Great Power Politics

But the Syrian civil war will not stay contained in Syria. Even if the U.S. and Russia succeed in keeping radical Islamism bottled up in the country, Syria has become a battleground for proxies supported by countries around the Middle East. Here, too, Russia and the U.S. share an overarching goal, but occasional disagreements may arise. The only way this could be derailed is if both sides fail to put their Cold War rivalry behind them.

The balance of power in the Middle East mattered during the Cold War – when the region was responsible for a much greater share of global oil production than it is today, and when the balance of power in all regions mattered. The region’s wars were not just local; they were between the U.S. and the USSR. But those days are over. Now, Russia is back to Soviet-era levels of oil production. The U.S. has become one of the top oil producers in the world and no longer depends as much on the Middle East. And despite U.S.-Russia tensions since the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, there is no current conflict between the two that has the same weight as the Cold War.

Russia in 2017 is smaller, weaker and less ideological than its Soviet predecessor. This does not mean Russia has given up its position as a global power, but it does mean that a region like the Middle East is less important than it once was. Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia – all former Soviet lands – are far more important for Russia’s continued power. What the Middle East offers, however, is a chance to distract the U.S. from interfering in the regions where Russia cannot afford to lose influence, as well as the potential to inflate the price of oil – Russia’s top export – by hampering Middle East producers.

The U.S., meanwhile, has been desperately searching for a way out of the Middle East since 2007. The Bush administration tried to end the Iraq War with the overwhelming force of the troop surge, which had no lasting effect. The Obama administration tried to do as little as possible, and when it did act, its policy was largely incoherent. The Trump administration now seems to be contemplating a kind of surge of its own, which is sure to be ineffective. If Russia wanted to take over management of the Middle East and its crises, the U.S. would welcome it. The point is that the Middle East is no longer a battleground for world power. It is an annoyance that neither Russia nor the U.S. particularly wants to face.

The main threat for the U.S. is that a country or group of countries will come to dominate the entire region. Besides the threat of Islamist terrorism, the U.S. views IS and its sister groups as potential unifiers of the Sunni Arab world against the United States. It also views these groups as a direct threat to the countries the U.S. depends on to maintain a balance of power in the region, particularly Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Egypt is an economic basket case with an active IS insurgency of its own in Sinai. That Jordan has gone this long unscathed is a minor miracle. According to the U.N. refugee agency, Jordan has received over 650,000 Syrian refugees since 2011 – and those are just the registered ones. Syrian nationals now make up more than 20 percent of Jordan’s population. Saudi Arabia has built the legitimacy of its political system on all the generous services that petrodollars can buy. The decline in oil prices and the kingdom’s diminished share of global production have already manifested in significant cuts to social services and to the privileges of the royal family. Saudi Arabia is a breeding ground for the types of Islamist ideologies that have broken Syria and Iraq apart, and the Islamist groups want little more than to control the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

The U.S. upended the regional balance of power in 2003, and in recent years it has tried to re-establish it on the backs of four states: Turkey, Iran, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Israel is too small to balance against Turkey and Iran, which makes Saudi Arabia a crucial part of the equation. Without the Saudis, the region devolves into a contest between the Turks and the Iranians, and Turkey has the edge in military strength, economic heft and geography. It would win out in the long term. The U.S. and Turkey have been allies for many decades, and Turkey is a NATO member, but Turkey is strong and growing stronger, and more and more it is disagreeing with Washington on major issues of national interest. Turkey is not yet strong enough to challenge the U.S. on these issues, but that time is coming. When it does, the U.S. will want to be sure that the Turks cannot dominate the Middle East unimpeded.

This is another area where the interests of Russia and the U.S. converge. Turkey and Russia have a long history of war between them. The most recent major incident between them was in 2015, when Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft over northern Syria. They have since resolved the dispute, but relations remain uneasy and complicated. As Russia weakens and Turkey rises, Turkey will start to challenge Russian influence in the Caucasus and the Balkans, areas that for Russia hold greater strategic significance than any country in the Middle East.

This is why Russia and the U.S. have both, to varying degrees, reached out to Syria’s Kurds. In March, the Syrian Kurds said Russia had agreed to build a base in northern Syria and to send military personnel to train the YPG. Russia’s Ministry of Defense disputed this depiction, saying it was setting up a “reconciliation center.” Whatever it is called, the construction is a symbol of closer relations.

The U.S., for its part, has come to rely on the Syrian Kurds as the largest ground force in Syria that is both able and willing to take on the Islamic State directly. The Obama administration tacitly supported the Syrian Kurds, but the Trump administration went a step further in May when it announced that it would supply them with weapons to fight the Islamic State.

Russian and U.S. support has not gone unnoticed in Turkey’s capital. In the same way that Ukraine is of fundamental importance to Russia, or that Cuba is to the U.S., the Kurdish issue is crucial for Turkey. It is also the one issue that could significantly complicate Turkey’s rise to power. The Kurds in Syria are not the problem – at least, they are not the only problem. The issue is that Kurds, with all their separatist ambitions, make up about 18 percent of Turkey’s population – about 14 million people – and most of them live in the southeastern part of the country near Syria. The Kurds are not a monolithic group; the roughly 29 million to 35 million Kurds in the Middle East speak different languages, have different tribal and national loyalties, and even have different religious faiths. But Syria’s Kurds are closely related to Turkey’s Kurds. In Turkey’s eyes, the YPG is the same level of strategic threat as IS or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party militant group, or PKK.

Both the U.S. and Russia have an interest, then, in preventing Turkey from intervening in Syria in any capacity beyond fighting the Islamic State. For one thing, Turkey is anti-Assad, and the rebel groups with which it is closest are ideologically incompatible with the U.S. and Russia. For another, Turkey would try to destroy the Syrian Kurdish statelet that has popped up during the war for fear that the spirit of independence might spread into Turkey’s own Kurdish region in the southeast, which has seen more and more clashes in the past two years between the PKK and Turkish security forces. The stronger both the Syrian Kurds and the Assad regime are, the harder it will be for Turkey to extend its power into the Levant, and the greater the balance against Turkey in the region will be as its strength grows over the next two decades.

Iran is another part of the equation, and here the intersection of U.S. and Russian interests is more complicated. The U.S. signed the nuclear deal with Iran because it needed Iran’s help to contain Islamic State forces in Iraq, but the U.S. also does not want to see Baghdad and the Shiite parts of Iraq become de facto provinces of Iran. The Americans need Iran’s help – and over the long term need Iran as a counterweight to Turkish power – but they will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon. They will block any attempt by Iran to establish regional dominance, just as they would stop Turkey from forming a unified Sunni Arab force.

Russian relations with Iran have historically been fraught, but at the moment they are positive. This is in part because Iran supports the Assad regime and views every group in the region that is not Sunni as a potential proxy group. Iran’s Shiite proxies, such as Hezbollah, are also important for keeping up the fight against the Islamic State. Unlike the U.S., Russia is not too concerned with Iran’s westward expansion. It would not, however, tolerate Persian influence in the Caucasus any more than it would accept Turkish influence there.

The U.S. and Russia are not in total agreement in the Middle East, but their disagreements are not close to reaching the scale of the Cold War. And they both share a desire to limit the spread of Islamist ideology and to prevent any country or group in the Middle East from rising to challenge their interests. They will continue to compete in some ways – supporting groups in Syria that are fighting groups the other supports, for instance – but they ultimately want the same thing: for the Middle East’s problems to stay in the Middle East.

Syria’s immediate future, then, is bleak and will be marred by more years of war and Islamist insurgency. IS and al-Qaida will suffer defeats but will not be defeated. Turkey will rise. Saudi Arabia will fall. Iran will scheme. The Kurds will fight. And neither the U.S. nor Russia will be able to wash their hands of the region as this chaos unfolds.

The U.S. and Russia took different routes to Syria – the U.S. through the war on terror and a botched invasion of Iraq, Russia through a revolution in Ukraine and an unexpected drop in oil prices – but both are there to stay. They are at odds in many parts of the world, especially in Eastern Europe. But in the Middle East, they will work side by side – if not together – to eliminate IS and al-Qaida and prevent the emergence of any dominant regional power. The U.S. and Russia face different challenges from an unstable Middle East and will disagree over many of the particulars, but at the broadest level they will be working toward the same goal: a predictable balance of power. The Cold War is over, but for great powers, the world is a small place. The U.S. and Russia cannot help but run into each other.

· My comment: “A Line in the Sand: Britain, France and the Struggle That Shaped the Middle East” a book worth reading.


Buchempfehlung -Recommendation: “KRIEG UND CHAOS IN NAHOST: EINE ARABISCHE SICHTvon Aktham Suliman



»Weder wüstengelb, noch himmelblau: Blutrot war die eigentliche Farbe von Bagdad im Jahr 2003, denn das Zeitalter des gesichtslosen Todes war angebrochen«

Aktham Suliman

Millionen Menschen auf der Flucht, auch zu uns nach Europa. Blinde Gewalt überall, auch bei uns in Europa. Krieg, Flucht und Terror drohen überhandzunehmen. Was ist nur zwischen dem Westen und dem Nahen Osten in den letzten Jahren passiert? Dieses Buch ist ein Aufschrei gegen Befreiungs-, Demokratisierungs-, Präventiv-, Schutz-, Anti-Terror-, Pro-Frühlings- und Wie-Auch-Immer-Kriege in Nahost. kurzum: gegen den Dritten Weltkrieg. Mit viel Sachverstand, Gefühl und Ironie richtet der ehemalige Al-Dschasira-Korrespondent einen speziellen, arabischen Blick auf die Entwicklungen der letzten 25 Jahre im Orient. Der Autor zeichnet die unsichtbare Verbindungslinie zwischen dem Islamischen Staat, dem Arabischen Frühling, dem Irakkrieg, den Angriffen vom 11. September 2001 und dem Zweiten Golfkrieg. Er versucht das Muster hinter den „Dingen“ zu erkennen und nimmt dabei seine Leser mit auf eine spannende analytische, journalistische und biografische Reise; von Berlin bis nach Damaskus, Bagdad und Kairo mit – auch für den Autor selbst – überraschenden Ergebnissen.
>> Bestellung: Nomen Verlag

Aktham Suliman, Jahrgang 1970, ist ein deutsch-syrischer Nahostexperte und Journalist. Als er im Sommer 2012 aus Protest gegen zunehmend tendenziöse Berichterstattung seinen Job beim weltbekannten arabischen Nachrichtensender Al-Dschasira nach über 10 Jahren kündigte, schrieb der Focus: »Mr. Al-Dschasira geht.« Einem breiten deutschen Publikum wurde er durch seine Teilnahme an TV-Diskussionsrunden und Talkshows zu Nahost-Themen bekannt. Er studierte Publizistik, Politologie und Islamwissenschaft und lebt als freier Autor in Berlin.



see our letter on:

*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*



09-26-17 Turkey_Germany,China_India_Peace_Ukraine, Migrants,Syria,Kurdistan,Iran.pdf

08-2017 Shapiro_GPF_Valdai-Valdai Paper -No_73 – Russia-US Relations and the Future of Syria .pdf

08-24-17 Examining How the South Caucasus Is Responding to Trump _ Chatham House.pdf