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The 'Big Battle' Was Not There

The 'Big Battle' Was Not There

Monday, 7 January, 2019 - 12:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
Syria’s internal war or other proxy wars that were launched on its territory have stolen the world’s attention for years. This is not surprising. In fact, Syria is a key country in the region, and what happens in it concerns neighboring countries as well, and impacts the region’s balances and conflicts, including the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In addition, Syria has also been an arena for major states’ interference from conflicting and competing positions and for a broad battle against terrorist organizations. It is also true that the events in Syria were considered one of the episodes of the so-called “Arab Spring”. It is a cycle that gave birth to the plight of displaced people and refugees, especially after many Syrians crossed Europe.

The war in Syria was about a series of wars of different interests and objectives, sometimes divided and other times intertwined. The intensity of confrontations prompted many politicians and commentators to go far in their analyses and concerns.

There are those who thought that the “big battle” was going on in the land of Syria and that its results would determine the balance of international and regional powers in the next stage, especially after the Russian player turned the tables on others with direct military intervention.

There are also concerns that major interventions in Syria would trigger a crisis similar to the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960s when America and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear confrontation.

I never want to underestimate the size of the Syrian crisis and its tragedy. This crisis has not yet ended, although some outlines of its results have been clarified. It is undeniable that these results will leave their mark on Syria itself and on some relations in the region. Due to the dual –internal and regional - nature of the crisis, it is necessary to take a little time before preparing a complete list of losses and profits. The strongest side in a war is not necessarily the most capable of assuming reconstruction. The calculations of intervening powers are not always consistent with those of their local allies. Moreover, the logic that prevails in time of fear is not the same as that of normal days.

There are also those who believe that it is imprudent to celebrate the military presence of a side or another on Syrian soil; because the Syrian people are not known to accept tutelage nor they express the desire to coexist with many flags on their land.

It is undeniable that the Syrian crisis provided Vladimir Putin with an opportunity to inform the world that a new Russia was born internationally and that the West should forget vulnerable Russia in the wake of the Soviet collapse and the Afghan complex, similar to America’s former Vietnam knot. However, one should remember that Russia was present in Syria before it intervened there and that America, under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, considered that winning in Syria did not deserve spending billions of dollars and the blood of US soldiers. Washington acted on the grounds that the deployment of the Russian army in Syria did not constitute a coup against the balance of powers. It did not deal with the battle in Syria as the last or major battle.

In Washington, there are those who believed that Syria would become a burden on the victor because the latter would be practically responsible for the country’s reconstruction and profit sharing. The same can be said about regional players. Iran has contributed through its “advisers” and militias to prevent the overthrow of the Syrian regime, and now has a field presence on Syrian soil, and perhaps within the Syrian fabric itself. But it must be noted that pre-war Syria was a full ally of Iran. A question arises: Does the problem of the Iranian regime lie in Syria or inside the Iranian map? The problem is mainly economic, aggravated by the fortieth anniversary of the revolution, with the continued refusal of the decision-makers to turn their country into a natural or semi-natural state, on the path of similar revolutions that could survive only by embracing the logic of the state and institutions internally and abroad.

Turkey also expanded its field presence on Syrian soil, citing Kurdish threat to its national security. But is the problem of Turkey within the Syrian territory or is it a problem of options inside and outside the map? Does Turkey have an economy that can withstand a major regional role?

In London, diplomats and experts believe that the wars of strategic locations in the world have lost much of their previous importance. They believe that the open “big battle” will not be fought by fleets and military interventions. The world has changed. The big battle is going on in the heated economic race. The battle is fought in giant companies, universities and research centers… with the weapons of innovation, creativity and excellence. Battles are determined by sales figures, investments and competitiveness.

They talk about the initial results of the actual “big battle”, which will continue in the coming years among five influential economic blocs: China, America, India, Europe and Russia. They emphasize that this relentless race will be affected by a combination of factors: technology, population, economy as a whole and military capability. In this context, they point to a possible Japanese decline, under the weight of the aging society, and the lack of necessary elements for Brazil and South Africa to enter the club of Five, including the size of the population.

The “big battle” is going on between huge economies and giant corporations. That’s why observers depend on the China-US trade war and the battle of the fifth-generation Internet services.

This explains the US and western concerns about China’s Huawei - the second telecommunications company in the world. This type of company is capable of causing more damage to the competing state than any other army.

We are in a new world, whether we like it or not. What was happening on Syrian soil was important, but the “big battle” was not there.

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