The London terror attack has overshadowed the US-led anti-IS coalition’s meeting in Washington. In light of the attack, certain statements now appear almost prophetic. But a clear vision is lacking, writes Miodrag Soric.
Shortly before the London terror attack, in a statement that now seems almost prophetic, the US secretary of state called on the world to unite against the war on terror in all its forms – not only in Syria and Iraq. This was Rex Tillerson’s opening address at the international conference held in Washington discussing the war against terror. A short time later the terrorist attack in London took place.
Serious investment for rebuilding
For months, Islamic extremists in the Middle East have been on the retreat. At the same time, pressure is mounting on the international community to provide billions of dollars to rebuild the region. On the sidelines of the conference, the Americans have been applying the thumbscrews by calling on wealthy Arab states to donate more generously than they have so far.
In the end, billions of dollars will be provided for rebuilding. Should the US-led anti-IS coalition lose the battle for this region, it will not be due to a lack of funds.
A lack of common interests
What is lacking is an idea of what a fair system would look like after the fighting has finished. There are vastly differing concepts of how what direction this should take. Indeed, it is not just a military battle that is being fought in Syria and Iraq, but rather a geopolitical confrontation. Within this complex situation, there are opposing expectations, religious animosities and divided factions and clans all colliding with each other. In such an environment of conflict, it is a herculean task to try to find common interests, to exercise tolerance or even to think for the long-term.
Many unanswered questions
To give just a few examples, if the Islamists are defeated, will Turkey accept the continued rule of their enemy, President Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus? Will Sunni Muslims in Syria and Iraq be able to find a state system that safeguards their interests? Where is the boundary between the American and Russian spheres of influence in this region?
Russian representatives were not even invited to the Washington conference. Among Russia’s representatives, the most important questions could only be briefly answered, if at all. US Gen. David Petraeus, whose familiarity with the fight against Islamists in this region is unparalleled, holds a pessimistic view about how the region will fare after a military victory over the self-styled “Islamic State.” That is when the real struggle to achieve a permanent peace will begin.
New US administration without any clear direction
The political novices running the administration in Washington also make the situation difficult. Former reality TV star and current President Donald Trump is just discovering how complicated it is to reform the American health care system. Former Exxon head, Tillerson, has a sense that the path toward peace in the Middle East will be long and rocky.
Tillerson’s address before the assembled delegates was partly contradictory. On the one hand, he explained that the United States would like to create a safe zone for refugees along the Turkish border. This seemed to be heralding a long and robust US engagement in Syria. But at the same time, Tillerson said the Americans and its allies did not consider it their task to help with rebuilding the region.
So which is it?
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