Archive for the ‘License to kill in Syria’ Category

Syria’s history and geography has determined to a large degree its alliances. As a former colony subjected to French imperialism, and a country lacking rich energy resources of its Middle East neighbors, Syria always needed to use whatever diplomatic leverage it had at its disposal to retain as much of its national sovereignty as possible. The question has always been what political system best expresses its national interests and retains its national sovereignty. The situation today is that the US and EU are interested in using Syria as a satellite to counterbalance Iran and gain immense foothold in the Middle East. This explains the reason for the Western-backed uprising that started in spring 2011 and it continues with more than 16,000 casualties, countless refugees, and a broader geopolitical instability that stretches from Turkey and Iran to Lebanon and Israel.


Syrian President Bashar  al-Assad would be under a lot more pressure without the diplomatic and  military support he’s getting, in varying doses, from Iran, Russia and China.

It’s easy to see why the Russians might support their longtime friend, who’s  spent billions of dollars importing Russian weapons and who provides a useful  port for the Russian navy in a strategic part of the world.

It’s even easier to see why Iran would stand by its only real ally in the Middle East,  given that Assad has apparently been quick to share technology with the nascent  nuclear nation and to provide a convenient and geographically direct path for  Iranian weapons being sent to Iran’s proxies, Hezbollah  in Lebanon.

But what does China have to gain from standing by an international pariah in  a region of the world far removed from the Far East?

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First of all, it’s worth noting that the “Friends of the Syrian People” is an organization replete with some of the world’s most egregious human rights offenders. Its membership includes countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain countries, which recently teemed up to violently suppress a pro-democracy uprising by Bahrain’s Shiite majority, and countries like  Quatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait which according to internationally accepted democracy indices are significantly more authoritarian than Russia (indeed are some of the most repressive political systems in the world). Is it any wonder the Russians cannot take such an organization seriously as a vehicle for it stated purpose of spreading democracy to Syria? I would humbly suggest that any organization which, like the Friends of the Syrian People, is actively supported and funded by an absolute dictatorship like Saudi Arabia* cannot possibly be a serious vehicle for democratization and that its goal is pretty clearly not pro-democracy but anti-Iranian in character.

As casualties mount before the brutal onslaught of Bashar al-Assad’s forces against Syria’s pro-democracy protesters, the Russians are being unhelpful again. In Washington and Brussels, even habitually cool diplomats have been showing frustration.
On Jan. 31, Russia joined with China to block a plan presented to the U.N. Security Council by Morocco and supported by the Arab League that called on Assad to hand power to his deputy, who would then call a general election. If Assad did not comply within 15 days, the resolution threatened undisclosed “further measures.”

Moscow already had vetoed one resolution denouncing Assad’s use of force in October. As Western leaders sought to pry the Syrian dictator from power, his old friends in Moscow sent an aircraft-carrying missile cruiser to Syrian waters in a show of support last month and shipped his troops a consignment of Yakhont cruise missiles.

Such actions are just the latest in a litany of obstructionist maneuvers and spoiler ploys whose goal often appears merely to undermine Western international objectives. From Washington, Moscow has seemed determined to soften or delay sanctions on Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, to stall in talks with North Korea over its nuclear weapons, to intimidate pro-democracy movements in neighboring states and to egg on anti-American dictators such as Hugo Chavez.

Western commentators typically attribute such behavior to Putin’s personal paranoia or to attempts to rekindle the nation’s wounded pride and assert Russia’s superpower status. Look a little closer, however, and Russia’s actions seem motivated more by calculated — albeit sometimes miscalculated — realpolitik than by psychological impulses.

First, strategic interests are at stake. In Tartus, Syria hosts the sole remaining Russian naval base on the Mediterranean, currently being refurbished by 600 Russian technicians after long disuse. To have to give up this Middle Eastern beachhead would be a shame, as far as the Russians are concerned.
Second, although limited, Russia has real commercial interests in Syria. Contracts to sell arms to Damascus — both those signed and under negotiation — total $5 billion. Having lost $13 billion due to international sanctions on Iran and $4.5 billion in canceled contracts to Libya, Russia’s defense industry is already reeling. Besides arms exports, Russian companies have major investments in Syria’s infrastructure, energy and tourism sectors, worth $19.4 billion in 2009.

The massacre of more than 100 men, women and children at Houla has buried the peace plan for Syriapromoted by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Soon, the regime and its opponents will get to fight out their civil war unobstructed.

When that happens, Syria will present the U.S. and Russia with choices that have implications far beyond the fate of a single Middle Eastern dictator, including stronger Russia-Chinacooperation to counter U.S. foreign policies.

It’s a defining aspect of the Syrian conflict that it has split the international community, especially the U.S. and Russia, making it difficult to force any solution on the warring parties. Americans see Russia as supporting a last, fellow authoritarian ally in the Middle East. Russians retort that U.S. policy toward Syria is all about changing the regime in Damascus, because it’s allied with Tehran, and that the U.S. never tried to make Annan’s peace initiative work.

Each accuses the other of allowing violence in pursuit of larger geopolitical goals, regardless of the human cost. The atrocities at Houla merely raised the temperature of that dispute.

A Russian ship carrying refurbished attack helicopters destined for Syria has weighed anchor from its Arctic port for a second time after failing to deliver the cargo last month.

The Alaed’s previous attempt to convey the Mi-25 gunships to the regime of of   President Bashar al-Assad under a Curaçao flag caused anger in London and   Washington. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the aircraft would be   used to kill innocent civilians.