While I worried for a couple of days about use of the chemical weapons red herring as a pretext for a US/NATO invasion, my fears dissipated today because of two factors that had escaped my mind or I hadn’t given attention to:
First is the very high probability of Russian and Iranian (and very likely Hizbullah along Lebanon’s border with occupied Palestine) direct military intervention in the event of US-NATO invasion of Syria. This has surely been one of the main obstacles thus far to a US led invasion. Like people, the behaviour of states, is guided by two main considerations: physical security and ontological security; that is, security of their identity. When a conflict threatens both, it becomes all the more existential. Make no mistake about it: If the US and/or NATO invade Syria this will not merely be construed as a threat to Iran’s and Russia’s strategic interests in Syria and the region, but as an existential battle. An attack on Syria will be construed as an attack on Iran and Hizbullah, and a grave threat to Russia’s security. The origins of both the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hizbullah lie in their resistance to imperialism and Israel and as such, their raison d’être would be called into question if they took a back seat and allowed the Empire to destroy Syria, empower Israel and control the region in one fell swoop.
Neither Russia nor Iran can countenance a US-led world order, with the Arab world entirely under its hegemony, or the idea that the West can pursue regime-change at will. Iran would be severely weakened by an invasion of Syria and would be seen as low-hanging fruit ripe for invasion and overthrow.
Russia would view an attack on Syria as potentially destabilizing for its own security due to the threat from Islamists in Chechnya and the Northern Caucasus who would be emboldened by an Islamist or jihadi take-over of Syria. It would also invite western meddling in Russia as it would for Iran, and is therefore an issue of national sovereignty for both.
It’s interesting to note here, that neither Russia nor Iran are hiding their involvement in Syria; while Iran has admitted to the presence of “advisors” in Syria, the Russians periodically leak then deny various stories implicating them in military involvement in Syria. While this is clearly psychological warfare, it is the kind that is grounded in reality.
Second, is the nature of the threats to invade. There seems to be deliberate indecision on the issue as revealed by NBC’s reports this week: “On Monday, US officials said the Syrian regime has ordered its Chemical Weapons Corps to “be prepared” which was interpreted to mean get all the precursors and pieces together to at least begin preparations for weaponization.”’ But then the same article reports that ” a senior defense official told NBC News on Tuesday” that “There is no evidence yet that the Syrian military has actually begun the process of mixing precursor chemicals to produce deadly Sarin nerve gas.”
And then on Wednesday NBC reported that: “As recently as Tuesday, officials had said there was as yet no evidence that the process of mixing the “precursor” chemicals had begun. But Wednesday, they said their worst fears had been confirmed: The nerve agents were locked and loaded inside the bombs.” In short, on Monday US officials accused the Syrian government of preparing the Sarin, then on Tuesday officials said no they weren’t and then on Wednesday they claimed they were pouring the chemicals into bombs. Coupled with news of talks on Syria between Clinton and Lavrov in Belfast today, such flip-flopping may well signal bargaining maneuvers. Viewed in this context, threats of impending invasion may well be a convenient ruse to raise the stakes for Russia and Iran so as to improve the US’ bargaining position in what could be the beginning of a lengthy grand bargain process.
In an unusually guarded tone Clinton reportedly said that while ” the U.S. believes any transition to a “democratic, unified” Syria “cannot possibly include Assad,” the U.S. intends to hold “every party to the same standard” of human rights and democratic values. “This is not just a one-sided dialogue” against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, she said.
The State Department’s plan to designate the al-Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization must be viewed against this backdrop. The insurrection in Syria may well be “constructive chaos” but it is chaos nonetheless. Attacks by Al-Qaeda-affiliated and jihadi groups have only increased in intensity and scope. Their readiness to turn their suicide bombs on western and US targets in a “liberated” Syria is surely a reality that at least some of US officials are increasingly wary of. Add to that the threat of a regional or even, an international, war breaking out in the event of an invasion, and the chemical weapons-invasion threat begins to sound increasingly hollow. When you are bargaining from a position of relative weakness or compromised strength, saber-rattling is not mere psych-ops but an effective policy tool.