As Egypt marks the fifth anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution under the watchful eye of another autocrat, it is important to remember that the Syrian war was initially part of the same Arab Spring uprising.
If not from the outset, the uprising in Syria was gradually subverted by foreign intelligence services playing the decades-old destructive game of using Islamist proxies to sow chaos. Now, five years later, the result is beyond the wildest of expectations. Not only is the Sykes-Picot Middle East coming unraveled, so too is the European Union. The unsinkable Angela Merkel (see Alison Smale's "Stance on Migrants Leaves Merkel Isolated at Home and in Europe") is confronted within her own party by opponents demanding that she restrict the influx of immigrants from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Many countries in Europe have already scrapped the Schengen Agreement that allows for free travel within Europe without border restrictions. Dan Bilefsky and Alison Smale have a helpful if limited summary of some of the European nations that have unilaterally done away with Schengen in "Dozens of Migrants Drown as European Refugee Crisis Continues":
Over the summer, Hungary erected a razor-wire fence on its border with Croatia. This month, Sweden, once one of the most welcoming of nations for refugees, introduced identity checks for travelers arriving from Denmark in an effort to curb their numbers. Austria announced this week that it would limit the number of refugees it takes in this year to 37,500, down from 90,000 in 2015.France, still operating under an emergency from last November's terror attack, has border restrictions, as, in some form, does Slovenia and Macedonia. Poland has refused to accept any refugees.
Merkel and the EU are banking on Turkey solving the refugee problem. According to Bilefsky and Smale,
Ms. Merkel met on Friday with Turkey’s prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, the latest in a series of discussions between the countries about what more Turkey could do to keep the refugees pouring over its border with Syria from traveling on to Western Europe. Ms. Merkel again promised that the European Union would find 3 billion euros, about $3.2 billion, to assist Turkey in offering work and schooling to more than two million Syrians who have fled there.
Mr. Davutoglu made no concrete promises in return, making clear that Ankara believes it has leverage in negotiations on the issue with Europeans — like Ms. Merkel — who dragged out European Union membership talks with Turkey in the past, in part because of concern over human rights abuses in Turkey.
“We are not begging for the E.U. money,” Mr. Davutoglu told the German news agency DPA. “The 3 billion euros are only there to show the political will to share the burden.”European leaders are fretful because the refugee influx continues this winter. "Almost 37,000 migrants are reported to have arrived in Greece and Italy by sea and land this month, according to the International Organization for Migration, 10 times the number in the same period last year." The concern is that the EU grandees have two months to set up some form of refugee warehousing system in Turkey. By then an overwhelming spring influx will commence.
Peace talks on the war in Syria set to begin today in Geneva have been postponed as expected. Russia and the Syrian Arab Army have been making gains on the ground, retaking territory from the U.S.-Saudi-backed jihadists. Even though the U.S. has softened its position that Assad has to agree to step down as a precondition of the peace talks, the Saudis have not. So war will rage on. And Angela Merkel is praying that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can get those refugee warehouses built quickly.
A primer on the deep, longstanding ties between the permanent government of the United States and the House of Saud is explored in a story by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, "U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels." It states what we already know, that al-Saud is the ideological twin of the Sunni jihadists against whom we are in a global war. But it is always nice to read it in "the newspaper of record":
And yet the alliance persists, kept afloat on a sea of Saudi money and a recognition of mutual self-interest. In addition to Saudi Arabia’s vast oil reserves and role as the spiritual anchor of the Sunni Muslim world, the long intelligence relationship helps explain why the United States has been reluctant to openly criticize Saudi Arabia for its human rights abuses, its treatment of women and its support for the extreme strain of Islam, Wahhabism, that has inspired many of the very terrorist groups the United States is fighting. The Obama administration did not publicly condemn Saudi Arabia’s beheading this month of a dissident Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who had challenged the royal family.
Although the Saudis have been public about their help arming rebel groups in Syria, the extent of their partnership with the C.I.A.’s covert action campaign and their direct financial support had not been disclosed. Details were pieced together in interviews with a half-dozen current and former American officials and sources from several Persian Gulf countries. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the program.
From the moment the C.I.A. operation was started, Saudi money supported it.
While the intelligence alliance is central to the Syria fight and has been important in the war against Al Qaeda, a constant irritant in American-Saudi relations is just how much Saudi citizens continue to support terrorist groups, analysts said.
“The more that the argument becomes, ‘We need them as a counterterrorism partner,’ the less persuasive it is,” said William McCants, a former State Department counterterrorism adviser and the author of a book on the Islamic State. “If this is purely a conversation about counterterrorism cooperation, and if the Saudis are a big part of the problem in creating terrorism in the first place, then how persuasive of an argument is it?”An interesting passage in the Mazzetti-Apuzzo piece is the linkage of the special Saudi-U.S. relationship to the circumvention of the post-Watergate, post-"family jewels" crackdown on the intelligence agencies:
The roots of the relationship run deep. In the late 1970s, the Saudis organized what was known as the “Safari Club” — a coalition of nations including Morocco, Egypt and France — that ran covert operations around Africa at a time when Congress had clipped the C.I.A.’s wings over years of abuses.
“And so the kingdom, with these countries, helped in some way, I believe, to keep the world safe at a time when the United States was not able to do that,” Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence, recalled in a speech at Georgetown University in 2002.The U.S. deep state, the permanent government that remains regardless of whether the administration is Republican or Democrat, is intimately linked with a despotic, religiously fundamentalist monarchy. That is why there is no hope for peace. Because the only way that the aspirations of the Arab Spring can be rolled back is with force.