Putin Giving Up on Assad, Says Erdogan

by Eric Zuesse


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. Pablo 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 suppy 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.


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Sep 26, 2015 2:39 AM

Mr Zeuss please research your facts correctly when commenting on Islam, its fundamentals and its adherents. With regard to Shia Islam and Sunni Sunni please do not generalise your assumptions to be factual, as it is far from the truth. As a follower of Ahle Sunnah wal Jamaah(Sunni) which means the followers of the community that follows the Prophet of Islam and his companions, I need you to understand this distinction and that is the only group that can claim orthodoxy as this by reality the largest group representing Islam, then there is other other subgroups made up of militants and pacifists, both following an extremists point of view and publicly claims to be Sunni. This is where the non Muslim gets confused as these groups use the term Sunni to misguide others. In the Muslim world we refer to groups as Takfiri, salafi, wahabi, deobandi, rationalist or modernist to… Read more »

Jennifer Hor
Jennifer Hor
Aug 10, 2015 11:27 PM

Didn’t President Putin call the Turkish ambassador to his office and tell him to tell his boss Recep Tayyip Erdogan that Russia would cut diplomatic ties with Turkey unless Erdogan stopped supporting ISIS in Syria, just after Erdogan publicly said that Russia would no longer support Syria? Here’s what The Moscow Times (no lover of Putin) had to say: “The Moscow Times– The Russian president Vladimir Putin broke the accepted diplomatic protocols and has personally summoned the Turkish ambassador to Moscow, Mr Ümit Yardim, and warned him that the Russian Federation shall sever the diplomatic relations immediately unless the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stops supporting ISIS rebels in Syria, where Russia holds its last navy base in the Mediterranean sea. The Russian president purportedly went into a long diatribe criticizing the Turkish foreign policy and its malevolent role in Syria, Iraq and Yemen by supporting Saudi-backed al-Qaeda terrorists, reported… Read more »

Aug 10, 2015 3:18 PM

This writer Eric Zuesse has put a lot of “stuff” in an article that makes no real sense.

Like the other commentators I agree Erdogan is not the best source to quote.

Since when has he been a confidant of Putin?
They can’t even agree on a pipeline!

Seamus Padraig
Seamus Padraig
Aug 10, 2015 3:01 PM

Here’s another, even better, question that just occurred to me: Has Iran just sold out the Axis of Resistance for an end to sanctions? If so, that may be a good deal for Iran, but I would worry about the fate of the Levantine Arabs: Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. And it might not be such a good deal for the Kurds either–witness Obama’s shameful sell-out of the Kurds in exchange for the use Incirlik.

Seamus Padraig
Seamus Padraig
Aug 10, 2015 2:51 PM

Normally I like Zuesse’s articles, but I have to give this one a FAIL. I don’t feel like writing a comment longer than the original post in order to point out all of its factual inaccuracies and misleading half-truths. Suffice it to say that most of the body of the article is largely irrelevant to answering the question raised by the title: Will Putin dump Syria? It’s a vitally important question, and one that I have been wondering about for a while now. On the other hand, I know very well not to trust something just because Erdogan–a compulsive liar if there ever was one–says so.

Like I said, this is an important topic. I hope Off-Graun can find a better source on it than this one.

Aug 10, 2015 1:37 PM

If Putin does ‘give up’ Assad, then Russia will lose the use of Tartus as a naval base in the Mediterranean. This strikes me as a very poor deal for Russia.