I've been trying to ignore the beating of the war drums as the US, Britain and France attempt to build a pretext for attacking Syria (following the well trodden path they used to invade Iraq a decade ago), but the latest round of stories about chemical attacks in Damascus make it difficult to remain entirely silent.
In Iraq's case the motivation seemed to be a mix of a desire to control the oil, the seemingly insatiable appetite of the military industrial complex for new wars to keep the revenue flowing and pleasing the Israel lobby by keeping one of it's enemies in the middle east weak and under western control.
I've always held that the first of these was the dominant influence.
In Syria's case the country doesn't "float on a sea of oil" (as Paul Wolfowitz once accurately said of Iraq) so it's tempting to view the other 2 influences as the dominant ones in this case. Syria does, however, sit across some of the routes from the middle east to Europe that any potential gas pipelines could take if they wished to move gas from Iran and/or Iraq and/or Qatar to Europe, providing competition to Gazprom's dominant position in the European gas market.
It's this angle that some media reports are starting to look at, noting that Russia's support for Syria may have a strong economic basis (Ambrose Evans Pritchard recently came up with a story about the Saudi's trying to bribe Russia to abandon Assad).
The Guardian has an article looking at the gas pipeline angle - Syria intervention plan fueled by oil interests, not chemical weapon concern.
The 2011 uprisings, it would seem - triggered by a confluence of domestic energy shortages and climate-induced droughts which led to massive food price hikes - came at an opportune moment that was quickly exploited. Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials confirmed US-UK training of Syrian opposition forces since 2011 aimed at eliciting "collapse" of Assad's regime "from within."
So what was this unfolding strategy to undermine Syria and Iran all about? According to retired NATO Secretary General Wesley Clark, a memo from the Office of the US Secretary of Defense just a few weeks after 9/11 revealed plans to "attack and destroy the governments in 7 countries in five years", starting with Iraq and moving on to "Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran." In a subsequent interview, Clark argues that this strategy is fundamentally about control of the region's vast oil and gas resources.
Much of the strategy currently at play was candidly described in a 2008 US Army-funded RAND report, Unfolding the Future of the Long War (pdf). The report noted that "the economies of the industrialized states will continue to rely heavily on oil, thus making it a strategically important resource." ...
The report noted especially that Syria is among several "downstream countries that are becoming increasingly water scarce as their populations grow", increasing a risk of conflict. Thus, although the RAND document fell far short of recognising the prospect of an 'Arab Spring', it illustrates that three years before the 2011 uprisings, US defence officials were alive to the region's growing instabilities, and concerned by the potential consequences for stability of Gulf oil.
These strategic concerns, motivated by fear of expanding Iranian influence, impacted Syria primarily in relation to pipeline geopolitics. In 2009 - the same year former French foreign minister Dumas alleges the British began planning operations in Syria - Assad refused to sign a proposed agreement with Qatar that would run a pipeline from the latter's North field, contiguous with Iran's South Pars field, through Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and on to Turkey, with a view to supply European markets - albeit crucially bypassing Russia. Assad's rationale was "to protect the interests of [his] Russian ally, which is Europe's top supplier of natural gas."
Instead, the following year, Assad pursued negotiations for an alternative $10 billion pipeline plan with Iran, across Iraq to Syria, that would also potentially allow Iran to supply gas to Europe from its South Pars field shared with Qatar. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the project was signed in July 2012 - just as Syria's civil war was spreading to Damascus and Aleppo - and earlier this year Iraq signed a framework agreement for construction of the gas pipelines.
The Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline plan was a "direct slap in the face" to Qatar's plans. No wonder Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in a failed attempt to bribe Russia to switch sides, told President Vladmir Putin that "whatever regime comes after" Assad, it will be "completely" in Saudi Arabia's hands and will "not sign any agreement allowing any Gulf country to transport its gas across Syria to Europe and compete with Russian gas exports", according to diplomatic sources. When Putin refused, the Prince vowed military action.
It would seem that contradictory self-serving Saudi and Qatari oil interests are pulling the strings of an equally self-serving oil-focused US policy in Syria, if not the wider region. It is this - the problem of establishing a pliable opposition which the US and its oil allies feel confident will play ball, pipeline-style, in a post-Assad Syria - that will determine the nature of any prospective intervention: not concern for Syrian life.
Looking at a map of the region many of the proposed pipelines from Iran and/or Iraq go direct from Iraq to Turkey, bypassing Syria entirely, so its not clear how much of an advantage having passage across Syria would provide - other than perhaps being more economic as the route would avoid the mountainous regions and political instability in Kurdistan.