What I'm thinking is that as part of an Assad/Russia deal with the "non-Islamic rebels" (label is arbitrary and largely inaccurate) is this current battle between generally (this is a VERY fluid and fuzzy dividing line) the foreign fighters versus the local fighters. This deal (if it exists) is very nebulous, involves a lot of ifs and its desired outcome is a big Goat Rodeo. Just the sort of stuff they live on in this area (both geographic and on the foreign policy level).Now my naturally pessimistic inclinations usually make me doubt any hypothesis in which a previously irrational party suddenly begins to act in a rational way. In this case, that previously irrational party would be both the FSA and the USA. However, this skepticism of mine is counter-balanced by the fact that the G8 agreement reached in Lough Erne had something very similar unambiguously spelled out. I quoted the text of the agreement on my blog, with the key words in red and my comments in blue:
As part of coming in from the cold, the local based fighters are told to clean their house (get rid of the foreign nut job extremists) and then a deal can be done. Amnesties, changes to the constitution (damn if I know what their constitution states or even if they have one), perhaps some kind of political structure akin to Lebanon, power sharing (probably limited and local considering the Kurds would have to be part of this) and to be capped off with elections for various and all positions would be on the table. This would be supervised by say Russia, China and the West in the form of say Germany and/or even the US.
Obama gets a capstone for his presidency (already in tatters, so he needs something). Russia gets prestige and some roll back of extremism on it's southern flank. China gets business. Europe gets business and pipelines. Assad get's some peace, some rehabilitation with whatever PR he wants or needs, depending on how he plays it. Saudi gets the stick up its ass.
What to watch over the next couple of months will be Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi. Turkey will have to come visibly into line on this since I foresee some kind of federated Syria with a large amount of autonomy for the Kurds (very thorny problem). Turkey also has to deal with the foreign fighters on their soil, those running from Syria and the high horse they have climbed onto when they changed their foreign policy 2 to 3 years back. Jordan has kept a relatively low profile but has similar problems. Iraq will have to deal with the extremists (call them whatever you wish, they're certifiable) coming back and raising Hell. Some of this is already manifesting itself (visibly to the western media at least) in Fallujah with the Tribes splitting overtly with AQI. Saudi (and Israel) will scream, pout and make threats. It remains to be seen how far they will push it.
We are deeply concerned by the growing threat from terrorism and extremism in Syria,and also by the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict. Syria must belong to all Syrians, including its minorities and all religious groups. We call on the Syrian authorities and opposition at the Geneva Conference jointly to commit to destroying and expelling from Syria all organisations and individuals affiliated to Al Qaeda, and any other non-state actors linked to terrorism (amazing sentence! The insurgency and the government of Syria are called upon to JOINTLY *destroy* the very forces which the USA wants to arm? That the government would be more than happy to destroy or expel al-Nusra is clear, but the FSA? Is the G8 really calling for a civil war inside the insurgency!?).At the time nobody paid attention to these words, but the fact is that this text was signed by the G8 and that it seemed to suggest exactly what we see taking place today. Of course, what is taking place today might not be the result of the G8 agreement at all, but simply the inevitable outcome of a conflict whose dynamics are pretty much pre-ordained. If we assume that not all anti-Assad forces are composed of Takfiri reptiles and if we assume that Assad is willing to work with anybody sane (and I think that both of these assumptions are reasonable), then the logical thing would be for all non-Takfiri forces to join their efforts against the crazies. What is certain is that the Takfiri infection has now reached Fallujah in Iraq which, in turn, is putting in motion some kind of US/Iraqi/Iranian reaction as nobody can afford yielding a strategic city to a horde of crazed Wahabis. Objectively, the US, Iran and Syria should be working together against the Takfiri crazies throughout the region. The big "IF" is whether there is anybody with the brains and the balls in the White House to understand that and act on it.
Still, the notion is tempting, to say the least. I think of how often the Russians say "every Wahabi which Assad kills is one that we won't have to kill in the Caucasus" and I wonder if somebody in Washington DC can come to terms with the notion that "every Wahabi which Assad kills is one that we won't have to kill in Iraq/Afghanistan/Somalia/Yemen/etc.".
I think that John is totally correct when he says that the impact of this change in dynamics (assuming it continues) on the neighboring countries will be crucial. Honestly, I think that the Turks acted with a mind-boggling stupidity and now they have to come to terms that there will be a price to pay for their arrogance. Their options are bad: either deal with the Kurds or deal with the Takfiri liver-eaters. I think that the better deal is obvious: deal with the Kurds. First, the Kurds are *rational* and then even have a common enemy (the Wahabi crazies). Second, it is about time for the Turks to finally begin seeking a long-term agreement with the Kurds or risk loosing it all. If the Turks really believe that they can "control" the Kurds by pure force they are kidding themselves and from a negotiating point of view they are much better off negotiating with the Kurds now, when the Kurds are also in a difficult situation, than later when the Kurds might find themselves in a strong position both in Iraq and in Syria (both of these regimes have indicated that are willing to work out a deal with the Kurds).
Anyway - am want to throw out this hypothesis: could it be that what we are seeing in Syria is a strategic shift in alliances and that the next phase of the war will be one of the KSA, the Gulf monarchies and the various al-Qaeda franchises will end up fighting against the USA, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and the Kurds?
If not - what do you think is going on?