Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was asked by an interviewer last week, “On the question of Syria, have you seen changes in the attitude of Russian President Putin?” and Erdogan replied: “As compared to the past, there is a much more positive attitude by Putin towards Syria. He is no longer approaching the matter like he used to. No longer is it, ‘We’ll stand with Assad till the end.’ I expect that he will abandon Assad.”
Erdogan is constantly in touch with both of the principals who will be determining the future of Syria, Barack Obama who wants Islamists to take the country over, and Vladimir Putin who wants the existing secular regime to stay in power. Obama supports and is supported by the Sunni Muslim Erdogan, and Putin supports and is supported by Shiite Muslim Iran.
Though Iran has been ruled by its Shiite clerics ever since the 1979 overthrow of the 1953 American-installed stooge there (the Shah), Shiia Islam is opposed to Islamic jihad, which is a strong component of Sunni Islam, including of the various Sunni sects that have been trying to overthrow the Shiia ruler of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, who is a member of the Alawite Shiia community.
Islamic jihad is based upon the Sunni emphasis on there being only one acceptable source of law, the Quran, and the Sunnah that’s based on the Quran (thus “Sunni”), and the Ulema that’s based on the Sunnah. Thus, Sunni Islam is itself based upon the conviction that there is no other valid basis for laws than Allah, or “God” as it’s called in the West. (The way the fundamentalist Roman Catholic Antonin Scalia put it is that “government, however you want to limit that concept, derives its moral authority from God.”)
With this as the foundation of Sunni Islamic nations, there is necessarily a conflict between the government and the clergy if a given Sunni nation, or actually its aristocracy (the people who hold the real power over the government), tries (unlike people such as Scalia) to base the given nation’s laws upon anything else than religious Scripture, such as upon a secular constitution, or upon some different religion’s holy Scripture or body of beliefs. (It’s one reason why many Sunnis have difficulty integrating into European or other non-Islamic-majority nations. Whereas Christian-majority nations tend to be secular, a Sunni-majority nation cannot be – that’s a profoundly different type of culture.) One result of this fact is that Sunni nations don’t merely require their own laws to comply with the Quran and its various traditions of clergy, but they also demand that other nations base their laws upon the Quran – thus, for example, the “Caliphate.”
This is the reason why Sunni Islam is often referred to as “the orthodox version of the religion.” Just as in fundamentalist (or “orthodox”) versions of Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, the fundamentalist version of Islam demands that the government derive all of its laws from its religion’s canonized Scripture, which is the Quran. (In a fundamentalist-Christian nation, it would be the Bible.)
By contrast, Shiia Islam is far more tolerant of non-sectarian (i.e. “secular”) bases for the laws, such as, in the United States, the U.S. Constitution. (“We, the People,” are sovereign here; no “God” is even so much as mentioned, notwithstanding Scalia’s particular theological conviction.)
Russia is (like the U.S.) a secular nation, one whose Constitution is no particular religious Scripture, but is instead, entirely and avowedly, “Man-made” or derived from humans, instead of from some supposedly inerrant “God” (or “Allah”) as embodied in that deity’s supposedly inerrant (and therefore non-amendable, unlike a constitutional republic) Scripture. The real basis for the laws in a Sunni Islamic republic is the Quran (and the Quran, of course, cannot be amended). A Shiite Islamic republic (such as Iran) is less extreme, even when a fundamentalist such as Khamenei is in charge, and the reason for this is that the sect itself is less fundamentalist: it doesn’t have the religious-imperialistic feature built-into it. The Sunni center, Saudi Arabia – specifically Mecca – is the center of all Islam, but only for Sunnis can it be also the center of global empire. For Shiias, it can only be the religious center, never the center of government. The Sauds have domain over the religious center; no other Islamic republic possibly can. That’s the basis for the difference. And the U.S. has allied itself with the Sauds. That started the Cold War. And, clearly after the end of communism, that alliance is now continuing as a war against Russia, which is the Sauds’, and the Thanis’ (Qatari royal family’s), main competitor in oil and gas.
Erdogan’s statement appeared on August 3rd in the Turkish newspaper, Haber Turk. The interviewer did not ask any follow-up question but instead went directly to the next question on his list; so, there is no further information as to how or why President Erdogan came to the conclusion that Assad will fall and that Syria’s government will be taken over and replaced by a Sunni Islamic state – one which is patterned in the way that Saudi Arabia (the leading Sunni state) is (with the aristocracy secretly funding Islamic jihad), not in the way that Iran (the leading Shiite state) is (which isn’t religiously quite so orthodox).
Brief though Erdogan’s statement there was, it is packed with meaning. If he is correct, then the only way that the Assad family will be able to remain alive will be in exile, perhaps in Iran, or else in Russia (since Russia is allied with Shiia Islam, whereas the United States is allied with Sunni Islam – including al-Qaeda, etc.: i.e., with the distinctively Sunni concept of the Caliphate).
The United States (because of its early dominance in the global oil business) has long been allied with Sunni Islam, such as when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the end of WW II, on 14 February 1945, met with the Saudi King, and solidified the alliance in which the U.S. would militarily protect the Sauds and their rule, if the Saud royals, in turn, provided oil to the U.S. This meeting might be said to have constituted the first step – on the U.S. side at least – along the road to the post-WW II Cold War with the Soviet Union. Then, in 1953, the U.S. (via Theodore Roosevelt’s far-right grandson Kermit or “Kim” Roosevelt) overthrew the democratically elected progressive secular Prime Minister Mosaddegh of Iran in 1953, and installed there (with Eisenhower’s blessing) the brutal dictator Shah, on behalf of U.S. and British oil companies; and, so, the U.S. has been despised, not favored, by Shiia Muslims (i.e., by the Shiia publics, if not also by many Shiia aristocrats), ever since.
Thus, too, for several decades, the U.S. was buying lots of its oil from both Sunni (such as Saudi) and Shiia (such as Iranian) Moslems.
Iran’s clerics did not like Mossadegh, because he was too secular, even for Shiia clerics to tolerate. Then, when the Shah was overthrown in 1979 by a very popular Islamic revolution, Iran became headed by the cleric Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni, who was sufficiently moderate to have supported the moderate Abolhassan Bani-Sadr as the first post-Shah President; Khomeni was originally opposed to the idea of direct clerical rule in Iran; Khomeni rejected the call by millions of Iranians to become the nation’s new political leader. Instead, he established himself as the nation’s “Supreme Leader,” the clerical first-among-equals, much as the Catholic Pope had been during the Holy Roman Empire. In that model, the clerics anoint the people who qualify to be chosen by the aristocrats, or else (as candidates) by the elections among the public, to become the given nation’s political leader and the Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces.
After Khomeni’s death, the clerics chose the more-fundamentalist Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to replace Khomeni. Bani-Sadr said recently in retirement, that Khamenei is “despotic.” He can say this, not only because Bani-Sadr no longer lives in Iran, but because Bani-Sadr was a personal friend of Khomeni and so there would be outrage within Iran if Bani-Sadr were to be attacked (much less assassinated) by the current regime in Iran. But, anyway, Bani-Sadr isn’t even nearly as much a fundamentalist as Khamenei is. Shiism is simply a more moderate Islamic sect. The U.S. (its arstocracy, certainly not its public) backs the extremists – and those are Sunni, not Shiia. The U.S. aristocracy wants to conquer Russia, above all; and Sunni oil-kingdoms are Russia’s major competitors.
Consequently, the U.S. aristocracy has essentially assisted in radicalizing both of the major sects of Islam. When FDR allied with King Saud in 1945, it was authentically an anti-communist, pro-Western, necessity. But when the Republican Kermit Roosevelt radicalized Shiia Islam in 1953, it was very different: theft of Iran’s oil by U.S. and British aristocrats. Those aristocrats said they had a right to it; Mosaddegh said they did not. Mosaddegh was no communist, but he said that a nation’s natural resources must fundamentally be the property of the government – he believed in a mixed economy, not privatization of everything (including natural resources).
Israel was part of FDR’s deal with Saud. FDR promised that the U.S. would be neutral on the question of the formation of a Jewish state and “would make no change in its basic policy in Palestine without full and prior consultation with both Jews and Arabs.” Harry S. Truman became President seven days later, and nixed that verbal agreement in favor of resettling Holocaust Jews on Islamic-majority land, though the anti-Semitism that drove Jews there was from Christian-majority lands, and though the Christian-majority U.S. itself was also rejecting millions of escaping Jews. Palestinians were driven out of Palestine by a combination of land-sales, forced land-sales, outright thefts of land, and brazen massacres of Arabs. It caused Einstein to condemn as “Fascists” the Jews there who were exterminating Palestinian towns; and he said, “The terrorists, far from being ashamed of their act, were proud of this massacre, publicized it widely and invited all the foreign correspondents present in the country to view the heaped corpses.” He said, in a separate communication, “I am not willing to see anybody associated with those misled and criminal people.” He also regretted “that a large segment of America supports Fascist elements in Israel.” The Palestinians were thus abandoned. But the Sauds nonetheless fulfilled on their part of the bargain, despite Truman’s reversal of FDR on it. The change in the U.S. President, just a week after the verbal agreement was reached (and Truman wasn’t present there), has affected history ever since.
If Putin has, indeed, given up on protecting Shiite control over the 74%-Sunni-majority nation of Syria, then the Saudi-U.S. (plus Qatari, and a few others) takeover of the nation will prevent Syria from becoming a major transport route for Russia’s gas, and also for Iran’s gas, but Iran is a major potential competitor to Russia as a supplier of gas into Europe; so, that might be a net wash for Russia: no change. Furthermore, the Sunni state of Qatar owns half of the massive gas field with Iran; it’s really the Iranian-Qatari field; it is called the “South Pars/North Dome” field. Both Iran and Qatar would thus benefit. (The proposed pipeline has even been called the “Qatar-Turkey Pipeline.”) But Qatar has been, along with Sauds and the U.S., one of the major funders of the overthrow-Assad movement. (Bashar al-Assad has blocked the Qatar-Turkey Pipeline.) Just at the same time when the rabidly anti-Russian Barack Obama is negotiating to reduce sanctions against Iran, Russia is giving up on Assad and allowing both pro-Russia Iran, and anti-Russia Qatar, to benefit. Pepe Escobar has appropriately headlined about this, “Syria’s Pipelineistan War.” The gas market is in Europe, and the war is between the aristocracies that are competing to supply it. In Obama’s TTIP negotiations, he has also been trying to get the EU to import fracked U.S. gas and to accept the fracking of EU nations; so, if Qatar and Iran move into that market, then both Russian and American suppliers will be set back, but, since Russia now dominates that market, Russia will be hurt worse, which is Obama’s real objective.
What seems to be shaping up, then, is Putin’s acceptance that Europe won’t necessarily continue in the future to be Russia’s biggest market. China and India will be.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.