Russia’s recent involvement in Syria led to a telephone conversation between the defence ministers of the US and Russia. During their discussion, they considered how they might avoid an accidental encounter.
Both sides are open to future discussion. This is a new development in the convergence of US-Russian relations, concerning peace and development in the Middle East region. The direct dialogue between the US and Russia on the ISIS issue in Syria contrasts with the more reserved negotiations between the two countries over Ukraine.
Both have strongly converged in the Middle East. Peace and long term stability in the West Asia/North Africa region would be to their mutual interest. However, in the West, there is clear divergence: the US wants the removal of Bashar al-Assad but Russia strongly supports the recovery for the Assad regime. Perhaps one underlying reasons for Russia’s policy here is that it wants to retain the Tartusa naval facility base in Syria.
The fundamental threat to peace in the Middle East is the disagreements between the Shia and Sunni. Thereafter, this disagreement was followed by invasion, authoritarian rule, sectarian war, refugee crisis along with the present ISIS. To outsiders, the Middle East then appeared to be a very unstable place, threatening world peace. In this instability there has been little cooperation between Arabs; this can be particularly seen in the divergences between Saudi Arabia and Iran. This vulnerability invited unwanted friends and enemies from outside, making the situation more complex. God blessed the region with the abundant oil but the region has been divided by this black gold. Thus, there is no peaceful co-existence at present. Will they realise this in the near future?
Another important point to note is that there is not sufficient clarity over the US policy in the Middle East, since the George W. Bush administration. Obama has not meaningfully engaged with countries in this region, with the exception of Iran. An excellent example is the irresponsible statement released by the former deputy spokesperson of the US state department, Marie Harf. She said that the ISIS beheaded Christians because they did not have any decent job. This statement received wide criticism across the US and she has been now transferred to another department. The lack of clarity over the US’s policy in the Middle East was also exemplified by its role in Iraq. Having pursued its original objectives in the country, it eventually accepted a duty to stabilise the Iraq and the region as a whole. However, the US should not try to avoid responsibility for its decision to withdraw its troops from Iraq, whatever its reasons. The US withdrew from Iraq and misery has since unfolded there. This clearly exposed the lack of policy input in the US state department. Mubarak, Sadham and Gadhafi were all close friends of the West at one point. Yet, the West decided that in order to ensure a more stable distribution of Gulf oil to a thriving world, this friendship could no longer exist. At the moment, Middle East is in a more pathetic state than it was during the authoritarian regimes. Today, Egypt, Iraq and Libya are completely devastated. Instead, the regimes should have been allowed to continue. The West would have then gradually demonstrated their strategy effectively by quietly planning the downfall of these authoritarian regimes. It would have at least avoided the catastrophic number of human deaths. However, the daily suffering of innocent civilians in the respective countries is incalculable. Is there an unwritten rule that anyone born as an ordinary civilian must necessarily suffer?
Moreover, what is the most suitable solution in this present complexity? The West desires that Assad be removed from power and their strategy reflects this. Should this come to fruition, will there be peace and stability in the Middle East? There is no scientific answer to this question, especially when one considers past experience in Egypt, Iraq and Libya. If the Assad regime falls, Syria will be another country to join a growing list of devastated countries, along with Egypt, Iraq and Libya. These countries are warning signs of what can happen in a post-authoritarian state. If the current situation prevails for the next decade the impact will also be felt in near neighbourhood. This is because many expatriates reside and work in the Middle East, especially from the Indian subcontinent. Many scholars have already described the Syrian refugee crisis as a future cultural issue, which EU leaders are struggling to resolve.
Russia’s involvement in Syria brings a renewed chance for a consensus between the US and Russia in striving towards a more West Asia stable region. The Divine Poet Thiruvalluvar wrote long ago that “It is ruin if man do an unbefitting thing; Fit thing to leave undone will equal ruin bring” (Couplet 466). Ideological terrorism is more dangerous than the Assad regime. A wise strategic trajectory would be to enable the Assad regime to continue for a shorttime. This strategy would allow the US and Russia to eventually form a strong alliance, along with other EU partners, to prevent the fall of Syrian territories into ISIS expansion. This would definitely strengthen Assad’s position, without weakening the US interest in the region. The US should not perceive this as a setback because the mutual enemy is ISIS. Instead, the US should perceive this coalition as a win-win strategy. If the US diverges itself from Russia, ISIS will be strengthened. If the US engages with Russia on the Syrian issue, more dialogue with the Chinese will follow. This, in turn, will open up an opportunity for the US to tackle the equally harmful behaviour of North Korea.