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Echoes of Sykes Picot as Syrian Conflict Deepens

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As the Syrian conflict moves up a gear in intensity with the assassination of key members of the regime in a bomb attack in Damascus, it would be a mistake to consider events in Syria in isolation from the rest of the region.

For what we are seeing unfold are two concentric struggles taking place at the same time. The wider of the two is the geopolitical struggle for continued domination of the region and its abundant natural resources by the US and the West against Russian and Chinese resistance, supported by Iran and the Assad regime in Syria as it hangs on desperately in the face of a growing insurgency.

The other struggle taking place is the one unleashed by the Arab Spring at the beginning of 2011, which began as a spontaneous outburst of revolutionary ferment from below comprising millions of people throughout the region rising up to claim the political and civil rights denied them over decades of dictatorship, many of which were backed by the same western powers now calling for democracy.

The Arab Spring succeeded in exposing the contradictions that have defined the political map of the Middle East since the West first enshrined its domination with the Sykes Picot Agreement of 1916, which redrew the map of the region to suit the interests of the colonial powers involved - France, Britain, and Russia (with the US emerging as the dominant force after the Second World War) - and not those of the people living there.

The hypocrisy of Hilary Clinton in lambasting Russia for blocking the determined attempt by the US and its allies to legitimise the toppling of the Syrian regime via the United Nations, while continuing to support both the Saudi and Bahraini regimes, responsible for massacring thousands of pro democracy demonstrators themselves, should not be lost amid the focus currently being placed on events in Syria. The Russian foreign minister, Segei Lavrov, has proved a voice of reason in comparison to his US counterpart in consistently drawing attention to the need for both sides in the conflict to agree to a ceasefire. This he has done mindful of what took place in Libya, when a UN resolution agreed by Russia to protect civilians was used to sanction western military intervention to topple Gaddafi. The ensuing chaos in the country in the aftermath of Gaddafi's demise is a matter of record, as has been the chaos in Iraq, another country treated to regime change courtesy of the West.

That said, there is no doubt that a critical mass of opposition to the Assad regime has grown significantly over recent weeks to the point where it appears it will be unable to survive. Moreover, the extent of the violence that has taken place suggests that all talk of a ceasefire is unrealistic in the face of what has turned into a full blown civil war.

For the western powers the Arab Spring began as a dangerous assertion by the Arab masses of their rights and freedom. It took them by surprise when it first flared up in Tunisia and Egypt, going on to topple both pro-western regimes. By the time it spread to Libya the West had regrouped and was able to direct its course via the UN resolution previously mentioned. Gaddafi was sacrificed in the interests of protecting the lucrative oil and gas exploration contracts that had been agreed by western oil corporations and the Colonel previously. As history reveals, the priority of the West when it comes to the Middle East is not to promote freedom and democracy but to put in place and/or support those regimes that are willing and able to protect their interests. This is the sole measure by which the West judges the validity of any regime in this oil-rich region of the world, despite the rhetoric we hear constantly to the contrary.

Another aspect of the Syrian crisis driving Washington and the West's rhetoric and actions is the opportunity to get rid of a regime that has resisted its writ for decades and that of its major strategic ally Israel. Syria's fall will increase pressure on Hezbollah and Iran as the remaining poles of resistance to the West's hegemony

No one should be under any illusion that a wave of sectarian violence is likely to consume Syria if and when the present regime tumbles. The sectarian and tribal fissures which are opening up by the day in the country are a relic of Sykes Picot, a tawdry imperialist treaty which when publicised by Lenin and the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution of 1917 laid bare the real nature of the West's attitude and intent towards the region. Anybody who believes that this nature has changed in the intervening years is deluding themselves.

Assad like Gaddafi before him and Saddam before them is merely the latest in a line of Arab leaders caught between the anvil of internal dissent and the hammer of western hegemony. Given the chaos which exploded in Iraq and Libya as a result of western intervention the Syrian leader knew from the outset that his only chance of survival lay in crushing the rebellion as quickly as possible before the West could intervene, while the rebels from the same examples were aware that if they could hold out long enough the West would eventually come to their aid, either covertly or overtly. This has defined the brutal nature of these conflicts.

The zero sum game that has taken place across the region on the back of the Arab Spring traces its roots all the way back to 1916, when the western powers first laid out their plans for the region.

History will record their presence as a curse.