Right wing opinion in the US with think tanks like Brookings in the Vanguard is now firm: Shia-Sunni conflict will define West Asian politics in the foreseeable future. The way the dice is loaded at the moment, the West sees its interests served best in alliance with the Sunnis. There is an unstated acceptance of Sunni terrorism as an asset.
At a recent seminar in New Delhi, Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state with President Bill Clinton, minced no words: Moscow will be made to pay by Sunni Muslims in Russia’s backyard for what Putin is doing in Syria.
The implication is that Russian intervention in Syria is decisively helping President Bashar al Assad to remain in power. In the altered vocabulary in West Asia, Assad is not a Baathist but an Alawite leader and Alawites are a variety of Shia who are mortal enemies of Sunnis.
What Talbott is implying is this: for the reverses being heaped on them, the Sunnis are going to take revenge on Russia. Muslim populations across the Caucasus would plague Putin with masterstrokes of terrorism.
When ex Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan turned up at the Kremlin on July 31, 2013, his conversation with Putin contained just the sort of threat Strobe Talbott’s response exuded. If only Putin would give him Assad’s head on a platter, Bandar would give him the moon. Sochi Winter Olympics would pass without a terrorist incident. Bandar claimed considerable control on terrorist groups in the region.
Americans are miffed that all their efforts at regime change in Damascus atleast since August 2011 have been in vain. How many times ex secretary of state and now Democratic front runner, Hillary Clinton, imperiously waved her hand: “Get out of the way Assad.”
Well, Assad is still in the Damascus Presidential Palace, exactly as this column had predicted in September 2011. The argument was straightforward. The US had occupied Iraq in April 2003. It had dismantled the Baath Party structure, the army, Presidential guards, the mukhabirat (intelligence), stayed in Iraq for over a decade and then left without any identifiable war aims achieved.
Yes, the Shias in the south oppressed, by Saddam Hussain, were thrilled. Naturally they co-operated – but only upto a point. So moved was Thomas Friedman of the New York Times that he recommended Ayatullah Sistani for the Nobel Peace Prize.
(A senior commentator on diplomatic and political affairs, Saeed Naqvi can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed are personal.)