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Itar-Tass, Russia

Syrian Gambit: Is US Starting and Losing It?

By Denis Dubrovin & Dmitry Zelenin

How beneficial is a military campaign against Syria to the U.S. and other supporters of military intervention, and who will receive the core dividends from such an intervention?

Translated By Joanna Swirszcz

9 September 2013

Edited by Bora Mici

Russia - Itar-Tass - Original Article (Russian)

A new situation has emerged in the global diplomatic arena surrounding the problem of Syrian chemical weapons. Russia's initiative to bring Syrian weapons under international control has created the preconditions for a way out of this crisis, one that does not resort to a Western military initiative not authorized by the United Nations Security Council.

The decision of the United States to go the way of a small sacrifice — a congressional vote on military action in Syria has been set aside for two weeks — is evidence that the White House has not yet received a definitive political resolution “to bomb at all costs” and is ready to continue its search for a peaceful path. There is no hidden meaning behind this delay — the U.S. took a time out in order to assess the feasibility of the Russian initiative and how quickly and seriously it will be implemented in Damascus.

Now the ball is in Syria’s court. Through its actions, Damascus must convince the U.S. and other members of the U.N. Security Council that it is seriously and verifiably ready to give up its use of chemical weapons and subsequently, possibly, their very existence. That would only be good for the region and entire world, insofar as the regime would be contributing to strengthening the ban of one of the most dangerous weapons of mass destruction.

If implemented, this decision will give Washington a chance to save face without resorting to military action. The U.S. cannot claim with any foundation that pressure and the threat of military intervention will lead to the creation of conditions for a final solution to the problem of Syrian chemical weapons — Washington has achieved a more important diplomatic victory without war.

However, precisely at this moment, it is very important to answer the following question: How beneficial is a military campaign against Syria to the U.S. and other supporters of military intervention, and who will receive the core dividends from such an intervention?

The Threat to U.S. National Security

It is no exaggeration to say that strikes against Syria would create a real threat to U.S. national security. According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, there are approximately 1,000 tons of various chemical warfare agents stockpiled in Syria. "Most of that is in the form of unmixed binary components, probably stored mostly in tanks,” said the secretary of state. This means sarin and mustard gas. Syria has also amassed other warheads, namely artillery shells, bombs and probably warheads of tactical missiles.

The U.S. cannot destroy these storehouses — not with airplanes, cruise missiles or any kind of precision weaponry; technically, it can, but never in any kind of circumstance has there been a decision to attack a target suspected of containing chemical weapons. Everything would go into the atmosphere, and in comparison, the chemical attack near Damascus on Aug. 21 would become a trivial episode.

All the U.S. can do is strike at commanders' military infrastructure, aerodromes and rocket parts. This would decrease Syria’s chances of having its chemical weapons reach their targets, but it would not deprive Damascus of the chance to use them. However, it could give the Syrian rebels a significant advantage in the war and possibly lead to the fall of Bashar al-Assad, as in the Libyan scenario.

However, in this scenario, the stymied Syrian regime, in a gesture of despair, may just launch a chemical attack with its remaining funds; possible targets could be the unfailing U.S. ally Israel and NATO partner Turkey.

The media’s argument that the fall of Syria will lead to the strengthening of the U.S. position in the Middle East does not stand in the face of critics. Yes, Assad's "unfriendly-to-Washington" regime will disappear, but will the new regime be friendly? If there is no future regime in the country, the U.S. alone will create yet another favorable zone for the development of terrorist organizations — yet another zone it will have to avoid subsequently, a complete analogy to what occurred in Afghanistan during the mid-1990s under the power of the corrupt Taliban mujahedeen, whom the U.S. had armed, trained and supported during battles against the Soviets for a decade.

Europe in the Red — and with Refugees

In Europe, the only real U.S. allies on Syria are France and the United Kingdom. Only these two countries were initially willing to participate in military strikes against Syria. From other countries, including NATO allies, Washington was only able to achieve a common political declaration of support. However, the U.K. has already distanced itself after its parliament blocked military action. It is even possible that this move caused some relief on Downing Street. The principled position was observed, and they will not participate in a war.

As for France, from both an economic and a foreign policy standpoint, the country will not receive any bonuses from a war in Syria. Francois Hollande’s reasons are especially and exclusively domestic. The country remains in a difficult economic situation; a short, successful war would distract the population from urgent problems, and possibly pull up the president’s ratings. Apart from that, France has traditionally continued to see itself as a metropolis for its former North African colonies and has considered it its moral duty to be an arbitrator for issues arising in the region on this basis. Here is an “active position,” a bonus in the eyes of a large portion of the voters, and not alien imperial ambitions, which are in the given moment called “support for the democratic aspirations of the Arab Spring.” And finally, one cannot ignore the personal competition between Hollande and his predecessor Sarkozy, who held a “successful” war in Libya. It is true that the French media prefer not to analyze the long-term effects of the war in Libya and during the course of almost two years have completely “forgotten” that Libya — or what’s left of the country — even existed.

As for the other European countries, there is one very big problem that would inevitably escalate in case of foreign intervention in Syria: refugees and migrants. According to experts, European Union countries have already taken in more than half a million Syrian refugees; that flow is expanding as spillover from refugee camps in neighboring Lebanon and Turkey continues. As a result, Europe, already crisscrossed by Arab ghettos, may receive an additional 2 to 2.5 million Syrian workers who, having been granted asylum, will be able to obtain a residence permit and stay there forever. That is more than the population of the EU “capital,” Brussels.

The Disunity of the Arab World

In the Arab political arena, Saudi Arabia and Qatar — the leading sponsors of the Syrian armed opposition — mainly share the idea of “severely punishing” Assad. However, the recent meeting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League in Cairo showed that not all Arabs support the aggressive attitude of Riyadh and Doha regarding Damascus. Egypt, Iraq and Algeria are all against U.S. intervention. It is noteworthy that Nabil Fahmy, the Egyptian foreign minister, repeated his position while in Paris during a meeting with John Kerry and his Arab colleagues from 10 governments in the region, which have agreed to a strategic partnership with Washington.

One country decisively against military intervention in the Syrian crisis is Iraq — which the U.S. not very recently “liberated.” In response to Baghdad receiving notification of an impending strike on Syria, the country’s prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, sent an angry letter to Vice President Joe Biden, curator of the Iraq dossier. Al-Maliki has put forward a settlement plan that calls for "an immediate and comprehensive ceasefire throughout all Syrian territory; the cessation of operations providing money and arms to any party of the conflict."

Washington ignored Cairo and Baghdad, however. Historic Washington ally Riyadh's point of view was presented as a “pan-Arab position” and a “green light” for intervention.

Israel’s Silence

Israel's strange silence has not gone unnoticed. Ruling circles there are obviously seriously thinking about the ecological effects of a bombing. Jerusalem is just a stone’s throw from Damascus; one can only guess if an autumn wind will blow from Syria. After all, Israel remains formally at war with Syria and could be a potential target for a desperate Syrian retaliation.

And if Hezbollah makes rocket fireworks from the northern border, then the situation will turn out completely different from any possibly successful ending to the Arab-Israeli war.

Turkey’s Dissenting Opinion

Turkey, a longtime former ally of Syria, has become increasingly supportive of the rebels since the beginning of the war. There are a tangle of reasons, including the active Islamization of Turkey in recent years and the effect of the various agencies that fund radical Islamist organizations operating in the country’s territory. Some of these agencies have funded anti-government forces in Syria. Turkey has supported the possibility of U.S. military intervention, but Ankara is not rushing to declare its readiness to directly participate in battle. What would a military campaign give the country? In the first, second and third place, tens, if not hundreds of thousands of new refugees.

In addition, Turkey is the second major candidate after Israel for chemical attacks on its territory if the bombed Syrian regime decides to retaliate.

The Turkish government also hopes that in the event of an opposition victory the defeated borders of Syria will come under the control of Ankara-friendly groups.

Analyzing the above, it is possible to come to a clear conclusion: The war in Syria could become politically advantageous for the participating Western leaders. However, from the point of view of the long-term interests of these governments, even short action will bring only losses. As it turns out, those who would benefit most from strikes in Syria are the most radical forces in the region, represented in the ranks of the Syrian opposition and monarchies of the Persian Gulf, not to mention open terrorist groups. For this reason, the main question now is the following: Are two weeks enough for the U.S. to realize they risk another present from al-Qaida, which committed terrorist acts using passenger aircraft in New York and Washington exactly 12 years ago?



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