This is what we’ve come to: with a fast but predictable change in the political climate, the Tsar is now in charge of taking care of all of us. With the end of the Pax Americana and Atlanticism, the Mare Nostrum and the Middle East are now Putin’s fiefdom. His fighters have taken over the Syrian skies, his ships are watching the coasts, his troops are patrolling the borders together with Turkish ones.
His ally Assad, after many years, has managed to get a presence on the border. Turkey is grateful and buying Russian weapons and gas, Iran is managing to preserve its Shiite Crescent, and Israel—with the full approval of the US—is tightening its grip over the Golan Heights and is relying on the Russian surveillance of pro-Iranian militias.
There will not be another 1999 Kosovo, and there will not be another 2011 Libya—this slogan sums up the foreign policy of the Kremlin chief, and Putin has made good on his promise ever since he entered the Syrian conflict as an ally to Damascus on Sept. 30, 2015.
In his meeting in Sochi with Erdogan, Putin carved up the spoils for everyone, leaving a bitter consolation prize for the Kurds (Qamishli), who have lost Rojava after being betrayed by the US. The jihadists and ISIS, who have previously been used in the attempt to bring down Assad, might find a welcoming place among the pro-Turkish militias. The Arab world and the Gulf monarchies, who have been financing the jihadists, are nodding in approval. Trump approves: he wanted to get out from the Syrian cauldron and avoid a possible clash with a NATO army.
Even hypocritical Europe approves, despite peddling their usual tired refrain for years: “Assad must go. The solution is not military, but political.” The Europeans will try to shake their irrelevance at the next Berlin conference on Libya; the Russians are already on the field, supporting Haftar, the general of Cyrenaica, accompanied by Arab allies, while Italy and Turkey have sided with Sarraj in Tripoli. While Moscow has issues with Erdogan, Putin has proven that he knows how to handle him better than any of his NATO allies. As for our Foreign Minister, Di Maio, he’s playing another game entirely: for him, the urgent issue is not Libya, but the regional elections in Umbria.
The new Pax Putiniana leaves us in a world ruled by autocrats: from the Russian leader to Erdogan, Assad and the Iranian ayatollahs—all of them placed under sanctions, whether by the Americans or by the West. Regardless of the fact that the GDP of all these countries put together is lower than that of Germany, and Russia’s economy is smaller than Italy’s.
After the gaping void left behind by the Americans, instead of buying F-35s from them, we could be funding the Red Army instead, which in turn makes full use of expert mercenaries such as those of the Wagner Company: because no one, whether in the West or in the East, wants to see any more soldiers return home in caskets. The only ones who may die are the “others,” such as the Kurds, who have sacrificed 11,000 men and women fighting against the Caliphate in the role of foot soldiers of the United States. They are our real “heroes”—and how have we rewarded them? We had already delivered Afrin over to Erdogan in 2018, and now it’s only understandable that they’re throwing stones at the retreating US armored vehicles.
But who in this region—from Lebanon to Iraq—will ever trust the West again? This gift that Trump has given to Putin while trying to get himself out of harm’s way was also a gift to all the “sultans,” like Erdogan and Assad, as well as to populists and racists such as Orbán and Salvini. The very opposite of liberal democracy.
Ian Buruma writes about this in the New York Times, as he is about to publish a book on the end of the Anglo-American order and of the Atlantic Charter drafted in 1941 by Roosevelt and Churchill, even before the US entered the war against the Third Reich, which contained an outline of the post-war institutions: the UN, NATO, the IMF, the World Bank.
The disaster began with the uprising against the Assad regime, an internal conflict which became a proxy war against Iran—a major ally of Damascus—when, on July 6, 2011, US Ambassador Robert Ford walked among the insurgents in Hama, a signal that it was open season on Assad’s government. Then Turkey got involved, with thousands of Islamist fighters from around the Muslim world, also funded by the Gulf monarchies.
After having bankrolled murderers passed off as “moderates,” the United States and the Europeans intervened in Syria, not in order to overthrow the Assad regime, but to stop the rise of ISIS using the Kurds. And now, we have abandoned everyone. Our strategic and mental state of confusion has turned us into docile patients on the couch of Dr. Putin.