Both in Kosovo and Libya, US presidents bypassed Congress although their declared aims were far more ambitious than in Syria. In Kosovo, the Clinton administration sought to “seriously diminish his [Milosevic’s] military capacity” and push the Serbs out of Kosovo; in Libya, the Obama administration’s goal was regime change. And yet, in Syria where administration officials have repeatedly stressed that the US’ aims are neither regime change nor even “changing the balance of forces on the ground”, Obama has announced his intent to seek Congressional authorization, although Congress might not convene for another 10 days, giving skeptics and opponents of the war plenty of time to present their case, hence Obama’s assertion that a military strike was not “time sensitive” and could take weeks. At the risk of sounding prematurely triumphalist, the fact that Obama is taking a major gamble in calling for a Congressional vote, right on the heels of the British parliament’s no vote, despite the professedly “limited scope” of the intended strike, can only be explained as a climb-down. So ironic that a power which supposedly enjoys the “writ of the international community” behind it and which is facing an “isolated Syria” is forced to take such precautions. Irrespective of whether a strike is launched, the deterrent power of the Resistance Axis and Russia can no longer be denied.
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 WednesdayNBC 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.
Absolutely brilliant. Russia turns the tables and issues an annual report on the US’ human rights violations, using identical language to Washington’s. It denounces it for not meeting its “international obligations” and invokes the concerns of the “international community” (i.e. 2/3 of the world who aren’t part of the West’s elite UNSC club). Link to full report here.
The principal motivation behind Russia’s Syria policy isn’t merely dictated by national interests or even geo-strategic ones but by the need to prevent a new American imperial world order with its accompanying modus operandi:
“We believe this issue attracts so much attention not only because of the scale of the bloodshed, which worries all of us, but also because the outcome of the crisis will significantly influence the patterns for conflict settlement – either everything will fall in accordance with laws, that is according to the UN Charter, or ‘bomb democracy’ will prevail,” Lavrov said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
Yes I know Russia’s Syria policy is motivated by geostrategic interests but their officials make such gutsy statements like Vitaly Churkin here: "The problem is the dialogue has not started yet. The opposition groups refuse to enter into dialogue with the Syrian government, which says it is prepared for dialogue. They should try that offer of the Syrian government to enter into dialogue… And we know those greatest humanists in the world – US and UK – intervened in Iraq, for instance, citing all sorts of noble pretexts, in that particular case – non-existent weapons of mass destruction. What it caused – 150 thousand civilian deaths alone, to say nothing about millions of refugees, displaced persons and the whole dislocation in the country. So, don’t be duped by humanitarian rhetoric. There is much more geopolitics in their policy in Syria than humanism… I would not rule out that then they would move on to Iran, but I was not referring to that. In my remarks at the [Security] Council of the United Nations earlier today I was referring to their clear interest. And this is a major motivation of their policy and their effort to topple President Assad -in curbing Iranian influence in the Middle East and that entire region. And it is also a major motivation of the other Middle Eastern fighters for democracy – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – who are concerned about what they see as Iranian interest; in Bahrain as well. They claim the Shia protests there is sort of Iranian-sponsored even though some observers – including your colleagues and journalists who have experience on the ground – believe that it happens to be genuine protests against the system which is not entirely democratic, to put it mildly. So, a clear geopolitical dimension is there in the policies of a number of countries, who are extremely aggressive vis-a-vis Syria. And it has nothing to do with the interests of the Syrian people…. And about vetoes – if I am not mistaken, the US has cast 60 vetoes on the Palestinian issue alone. So, why don’t you question my American colleagues about the impact of the image of the US in the Middle East of those continuous vetoes?
Very interesting precedent that other countries should consider following. Story from the BBC here :
Russia’s lower house of parliament has adopted a controversial bill that labels foreign-funded non-governmental organisations as “foreign agents”.
The upper house and President Vladimir Putin are now expected to turn the bill into law.
Approval in the largely pro-Putin Duma (lower house) was overwhelming.
Human rights activists have condemned the bill, seeing it as a tool to crush dissent. The Duma also voted to impose big fines for libel or slander.
Journalists from some leading Russian news outlets demonstrated outside the Duma against the new libel law, which envisages fines of up to 5m rubles (£99,000; $153,000) for offenders. They warned that it would bring extra pressure on the media.
The NGO bill requires all the relevant NGOs’ materials to include the phrase “foreign agents”. The term carries a Soviet-era negative taint in Russia, suggesting spying, correspondents say.
The Kremlin says the bill is needed to protect Russia from outside attempts to influence internal politics.
Some NGOs complain that they have to seek funding from abroad because they cannot get it from the Russian state. There are also fears that the bill could be used to restrict independent election monitoring.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said state funding would be increased for NGOs whose activity “as a whole is deemed useful and positive for our country”.
Under the bill, foreign-funded NGOs involved in politics will also have to undergo financial audits and issue twice-yearly reports on their activities.
Failure to comply will be punishable by heavy fines or even a two-year prison sentence.
MOSCOW, June 28 (Reuters) - Multilateral talks on U.N. envoy Kofi Annan’s Syrian mediation plan should seek to secure a ceasefire but not determine in advance the shape of a possible government of national unity, Russia said on Thursday.
"The meeting in Geneva was intended to support Kofi Annan’s plan and it must set the conditions for the end of violence and the start of an all-Syrian national dialogue, and not predetermine the contents of this dialogue," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a briefing.
Lavrov is expected to discuss Annan’s proposal, aimed at ending the 16-month conflict in Syria, with the other four permanent U.N. Security Council members and key players in the Middle East in Geneva on Saturday.
Russia and other big powers have told Annan that they support his idea of a Syrian national unity cabinet that could include government and opposition members but would exclude those whose participation would undermine it.
The idea of excluding certain people was seen by diplomats as referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, although Annan’s proposal did not explicitly say the Syrian leader could not serve in a national unity government.
Moscow has backed Annan’s peace plan, insisting it is the only way to end the bloodshed in Syria and arguing firmly against any kind of military intervention.
Speaking in Moscow, Lavrov said that the Annan plan was not, however, a final document and he expressed dismay that it had been leaked to the media ahead of the Geneva talks.
Lavrov reiterated Russian warnings against a Libyan-style intervention in Syria, warning the consequences would be “more catastrophic”.
He also criticised the exclusion of regional power Iran from the negotiations. Annan has said that Iran should attend the Geneva talks but diplomats say that the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries objected. (Reporting By Nastassia Astrasheuskaya; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Jon Boyle)
So Russia appears to have denied reports which appeared in Fars News today, about a joint military exercise with China, Iran and Syria. Voice of Russia, the Russian government’s international radio broadcasting service, reported today:
“Russia has denied reports in media that it allegedly planned joint military exercises with China and Iran on Syrian territory.
‘This is absurd’, Mr. Igor Dygalo, aide to Russia’s Navy commander said.
Earlier this week the Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV channel reported that Russia, China and Iran were planning joint exercises, the largest in the Middle East, comprising some 90,000 ground, naval and air forces, as well as 400 aircrafts, 1,000 tanks and Russian submarines, destroyers and an aircraft carrier.
The report said that Egypt had allowed 12 Chinese navy ships to go through the Suez Canal to arrive in Syria.
This false report also claimed that Syria was going to test its anti-ship missiles and air defense system.”
Syria has also denied the reports: “This information is out of synch with reality,” said Buseina Shaaban, political advisor to the Syrian president”.
But it’s no coincidence that this denial comes on the heels of another denial about yet another report which first appeared last week in the non-governmental Russian news agency , Interfax. As reported by the Guardian:
”The Interfax news agency quoted an unidentified Russian navy official as saying two amphibious landing vessels, Nikolai Filchenkov and Caesar Kunikov, would be heading shortly to the Syrian port of Tartus, but gave no precise date.
The official said the ships would carry an unspecified number of marines to protect Russians in Syria and evacuate some equipment from Tartus if necessary.
Interfax said each of the ships was capable of carrying 150 marines and a dozen tanks. It quoted a deputy Russian air force chief as saying Russia would give the necessary protection to its citizens in Syria.
"We must protect our citizens," Major-General Vladimir Gradusov told Interfax. "We won’t abandon the Russians and [we will] evacuate them from the conflict zone if necessary."
State owned, Russian International News Agency, RIA Novosti, denied the story, despite the deputy Russian air force chief’s remarks. Since it is unlikely that Interfax would fabricate a quote or that an air force general would dare reveal or invent such plans without official cover, both this story and today’s reports about the joint military drill can be viewed as Russian-Iranian-Syrian psych-ops. What lends further credence to this assumption is this story here . A Russian cargo vessel, the MV Alaed, allegedly carrying refurbished Russian-made attack helicopters and other munitions was stopped 80 km off Scotland’s coast. Apparently, the ship was en route to Russia after having completed the shipment. Particularly suspicious is why the Russians would risk interception on British territory only days after having been warned by the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to halt all defence shipments to Syria.
A very plausible explanation for this flurry of reports followed by coordinated denials, is that the Russians and their allies are engaged in psychological warfare with the United States and NATO/GCC, particularly in the context of the Obama-Putin talks on Syria among other issues. These reports also come in the context of the Iranian-6 power faltering negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, and the possibility of an Israeli/US strike on Iran should the latter talks fail. As such, these psych-ops may well be a direct response to Washington’s repeated threats of military intervention in Syria, which include Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey’s, recent threat to resort to force in Syria. What shape or form Russian intervention would assume if Syria were attacked, remains to be seen though one can expect, at the very least, an increase in covert and overt military assistance to the Syrian government.
Let the war games begin. Hopefully this will serve as a deterrent to a real war launched by NATO et al against Syria and/or an Israeli or US strike on Iran. Original story appeared in the semi-official Iranian news agency, Fars News here, but has since been reproduced by mainstream Israeli media such as the Jerusalem Post here, Haaretz here and Ynet News here. It has also appeared in Arab and other media. It is worth noting here that this story was announced by an Iranian news agency in the midst of faltering talks over Iran’s nuclear program. But it clearly signals a shift from “soft” balancing to “hard” balancing, as comrade Hosam Mattar argues in this piece written days before the military drill: http://www.al-akhbar.com/node/95597. Such a shift to hard balancing is indeed a rarity in a unipolar world order.
Here is the full Fars story:
Iran, Russia, China, Syria to Stage Biggest Joint Wargames in Middle-East
TEHRAN (FNA)- The Iranian, Russian, Chinese and Syrian armies are due to stage joint amphibious exercises along the Syrian costs in coming weeks, informed sources revealed on Monday.
According to informed sources, 90,000 forces from the four countries will take part in the land and sea wargames due to be held in Syria.
Ground, air and sea forces as well as air defense and missile units of the four countries will take part in the exercises.
Sources also said that Egypt has acceded to grant passage to 12 Chinese warships to sail through the Suez Canal, adding that the military convoy is due to dock at the Syrian harbors in the next two weeks.
Russian atomic submarines and warships, aircraft carriers and mine-clearing destroyers as well as Iranian battleships and submarines will also arrive in Syria at around the same date.
Syria plans to test its coast-to-sea and air defense missiles in the wargames.
A sum of 400 warplanes and 1,000 tanks will also be used in the exercises.
A Syrian official, who asked to remain anonymous, had informed two weeks ago that the drills would be conducted in Syria soon.
Unofficial sources also said the four countries are now busy with taking swift preparatory measures for these biggest-ever wargames in the Middle-East.
Sham Life reported that the maneuvers will be stage in less than one month from now, that is early June.
Not sure what to make of Russia’s latest position, except that the Houla massacre has really pushed it into a corner, for now anyway. Only yesterday, its deputy U.N. ambassador Alexander Pankin’s had accused “a third force” operating in Syria — terrorists or external forces who want intervention and an opposition victory.” Lavrov on the other hand, laid the blame squarely on the Syrian government, after his meeting with the British Foreign Secretary William Hague: "The government bears the main responsibility for what is going on. Any government in any country bears responsibility for the security of its citizens…Both sides have obviously had a hand in the deaths of innocent people, including several dozen women and children. This area is controlled by the rebels, but it is also surrounded by the government troops."
And there you have it, a motive for the massacre, force Russia to accept a Yemen-like deal :
“In a strongly worded statement condemning the attack – which left more 90 dead including 32 children – Clinton accused Assad and his cronies of ruling by “murder and fear” adding that the regime must “come to an end”….Russia, as one of Assad’s few remaining allies, has long blocked tough sanctions against the regime proposed by the United Nations, claiming that it could lead to the bloody ouster of Assad.
But the breakdown of the already fragile Syrian peace process amid horrific scenes could push Moscow towards using its influence in the strife-torn country to assist a transition of power.”