US interests (yes, especially the dreaded oil interests) in Central Asia and the Caucasus will most surely be affected should US involvement in the region become less direct, thanks to the Iranian, Turkish and Saudi connections as well as Islamists activities. Moreover, and thanks to the likes of Hugo Chavez and other populist leaders in the world, the ramifications will not stop at the border of the so-called Muslim World.
Indeed, and finger-pointing aside for now, the US has no real choice but to stay the distance and manage the conflict. This is a necessary corollary of the War on Terror, I guess.
The good thing is, there are certain rules indeed to conflict management, even in an area known for breaking all rules such as the Middle East, or the Broader Middle East, or still the Broader Middle East and North Africa Region. Knowing these rules, in their local variety of course, is the key to successful management. And though I don’t pretend to be an expert on these rules or to know all of them, I can at least name one with relative certainty: identify the various players involved, and then proceed to assess their relative strength.
The application of this rule is not easy of course. For the number of players increases depending on that part of the puzzle one is examining. The Turcomen and Assyrians may not appear as major players within the overall picture, but in Kirkuk they are. And an implosion in Kirkuk will have wider ramification for the entire Kurdish areas in Iraq, which in turn will have major repercussions for the Kurdish areas in Iran, Turkey and Syria, not to mention the rest of Iraq. As such, the relevance of Turcomen and Assyrians far outstrip their actual size. As such, they are indeed important players. And so on. Identifying the players is, in effect, a continuous process, and not something that can be done at a specific point in time and then relegated to the back of one’s mind.
Yet, identifying the major players is still nothing in comparison to the necessary assessment of their relative strength. By one account, the Kurds might appear as the weakest of all players, after all, if they appear to have the upper hand in Iraq now, one concerted effort on part of the Turks and/or Iranians can effectively destroy all of their hopes.
And yet, one can make similar cases for Lebanon, Hamas, Hezbollah and/or the Assad regime, among other players, showing them to occupy that unenvied position of being the weakest link.
Be that as it may, what the US needs to do vis-à-vis the weakest link at this stage, once one is identified, is to try to take it out of the game by transferring it from a chip/card/pawn in somebody else’s hand to ally in his own camp.
If this should be the initial goal of the US, then, this by default excludes Hezbollah, who, judging by its current stands, not to mention its avowed ideology, cannot be expected to negotiate with the Americans. Hamas might conceivably be maneuvered into a negotiating stance, but, for this, the current administration needs to show a bit more gumption in its talks with its Israeli allies.
Meanwhile, the Mullahs of Iran, the recent offer of Ahmadinejad notwithstanding, are simply not ready for negotiating, because they tend to think too highly of themselves at the current juncture. Still, and in my humble opinion, the entire US strategy in the region at this stage, should be aimed at maneuvering the Iranian mullahs into a more reasonable negotiating stance, which means that Iran’s hand needs to be considerably weakened first.
This brings us back to the Assad regime, my favorite antagonists in the whole wide world. Theoretically speaking, the Assads of Syria would make ideal allies for the US at this stage. Indeed, such an alliance could have been worked out had Hafiz al-Assad still been alive. But, the passing of Assad Sr. brought out the inner contradictions of the regime, exposed the Sunni/Alawites divide and served to empower a group of “pure” thugs with poor statesmanship skills putting them in charge of the decision-making process in the country. The Assads of Syria are currently running the country as a personal fiefdom without any sense of strategy or vision, or the ability to develop one in due course of time. This is why previous efforts at communicating with them had failed, and this is why the current US administration seems to have washed its hands of them. And rightly so.
But this transfers the Assads into a legitimate near-future target for the US, something that I have elaborated about previously (more recently, here, here and here).
This is not a comprehensive review of the entire situation of course. But since, I cannot, by any means, claim to be an expert on US-Turkish relations, or on US involvement in Central Asia, the Caucasus, Latin American and elsewhere, I prefer to conclude my little survey with this unabashed, unashamed, unwavering and relentless Take the Assads Out argument.