Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst…
Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, has been cooperating with Russia in Syria against Washington’s interests since last year and has recently placed an order for the Russian-made S-400 missile system.
Similarly, the Saudi King Salman, who was recently on a landmark state visit to Moscow, has signed several cooperation agreements with Kremlin and has also expressed his willingness to buy S-400 missile system.
Another traditional ally of Washington in the region, Pakistan, has agreed to build a 600 mega-watt power project with Moscow’s assistance, has bought Russian helicopters and defense equipment and has held joint military exercises with Moscow.
All three countries have been traditional US allies since the times of the Cold War, or rather, to put it bluntly, the political establishments of these countries have acted as virtual surrogates of Washington in the region and had played an important role in the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
In order to understand the significance of relationship between Washington and Ankara, which is a NATO member, it bears mentioning that the United States has been conducting air strikes against targets in Syria from the Incirlik airbase and around fifty American B-61 hydrogen bombs have also been deployed there, the safety of which rang alarm bells in the Western capitals during the failed July 2016 coup attempt against the Erdogan administration.
Similarly, in order to grasp the nature of principal-agent relationship between the United States on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan on the other, bear in mind that Washington used Gulf’s petro-dollars and Islamabad’s intelligence agencies to nurture Afghan jihadists against the former Soviet Union during the Cold War.
It is an irrefutable fact that the United States sponsors militants, but only for a limited period of time in order to achieve certain policy objectives. For instance: the United States nurtured the Afghan jihadists during the Cold War against the former Soviet Union from 1979 to 1988, but after the signing of the Geneva Accords and consequent withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, the United States withdrew its support to the Afghan jihadists.
Similarly, the United States lent its support to the militants during the Libyan and Syrian civil wars, but after achieving the policy objectives of toppling the Arab nationalist Gaddafi regime in Libya and weakening the anti-Israel Assad regime in Syria, the United States relinquished its blanket support to the militants and eventually declared a war against a faction of Sunni militants battling the Syrian government, the Islamic State, when the latter transgressed its mandate in Syria and dared to occupy Mosul and Anbar in Iraq in June 2014 from where the US had withdrawn its troops only a couple of years ago in December 2011.
More to the point, since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in August 2011 to June 2014, an informal pact existed between the Western powers, their regional allies and Sunni militants of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis. In accordance with the pact, Sunni militants were trained and armed in the training camps located in the border regions of Turkey and Jordan to battle the Shi’a-led Syrian government.
This arrangement of an informal pact between the Western powers and the Sunni jihadists of the Middle East against the Shi’a Iranian axis worked well up to August 2014, when the Obama Administration made a volte-face on its previous regime change policy in Syria and began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State.
After this reversal of policy in Syria by the Western powers and the subsequent Russian military intervention on the side of the Syrian government in September 2015, the momentum of Sunni militants’ expansion in Syria and Iraq has stalled, and they now feel that their Western patrons have committed a treachery against the Sunni jihadists’ cause, that’s why they are infuriated and once again up in arms to exact revenge for this betrayal.
If we look at the chain of events, the timing of the recent spate of terror attacks in Europe has been critical: the Islamic State overran Mosul in June 2014, Washington began conducting air strikes against the Islamic State’s targets in Iraq and Syria in August 2014, and after a lull of almost a decade since the Madrid and London bombings in 2004 and 2005, respectively, the first such incident of terrorism took place on the Western soil at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, and then the Islamic State carried out the audacious November 2015 Paris attacks, the March 2016 Brussels bombings, the June 2016 truck-ramming incident in Nice, and this year, three horrific terror attacks took place in the United Kingdom within a span of less than three months, and after that the Islamic State carried out the gruesome Barcelona atrocity in August.
Regarding the argument that how Washington’s policy reversal in Syria has been responsible for alienating its regional Sunni allies, remember that Saudi Arabia which has been vying for power as the leader of Sunni bloc against the Shi’a-led Iran in the regional geopolitics was staunchly against the invasion of Iraq by the Bush Administration in 2003.
The Baathist regime of Saddam Hussein constituted a Sunni bulwark against Iran’s meddling in the Arab World. But after Saddam was ousted from power in 2003 and subsequently when elections were held in Iraq which were swept by the Shi’a-dominated parties, Iraq has now been led by a Shi’a-majority government that has become a steadfast regional ally of Iran. Consequently, Iran’s sphere of influence now extends all the way from territorially-contiguous Iraq and Syria to Lebanon and the northern border of Israel.
The Saudi royal family was resentful of Iranian encroachment on traditional Arab heartland. Therefore, when protests broke out against the Assad regime in Syria in the wake of Arab Spring uprisings of 2011, the Gulf Arab States along with their regional Sunni allies, Turkey and Jordan, and the Western patrons gradually militarized the protests to dismantle the Shi’a Iranian axis comprised of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.
Finally, although the Sunni states of the Middle East and their jihadist proxies still toe Washington’s line in the region publicly, but behind the scenes, there is bitter resentment that the US betrayed the Sunni cause by making an about-face on the previous regime change policy in Syria and the subsequent declaration of war against the Islamic State. Due to this reason, Washington’s traditional allies in the Middle East are now pivoting to Kremlin which is regarded as a relatively honest and reliable power broker compared to Washington.