An Article by Alexander Orlov published at New Eastern Outlook on September 16, 2013
Much of the media, mostly the Russian media, is loudly banging a drum for the Russian diplomatic success in Geneva over the U.S. military line after the meeting of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, in which a deal was signed on Syria’s chemical weapons in exchange for the “suspension” of the American campaign against Damascus. Is it, however, too early to celebrate Moscow’s victory? Yes, the strikes were delayed. Yes, formally the Geneva agreement placing Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles and their means of production under international control was achieved on the basis of the Russian initiative. Yes, there is a peaceful respite. But what’s next? And who won and who lost? The question arises – did American diplomacy really give way so easy to Moscow and has the war against Syria been avoided?
And at this point, if you carefully analyze everything, the picture looks somewhat different. After all, in essence, all we have at the moment is an agreement on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. The Syrians have been given a week to the transfer full information on their stocks of chemical weapons and by mid-2014 they should all be destroyed. But these time periods are not realistic. Suffice it to recall the history of Iraq with its chemical weapons. The UN Special Commission together with the Iraqis took nearly five years to evaluate the amount of chemical weapons stockpiles and their potential, and then destroyed them. But even after that, the UN Security Council was not able to close the Baghdad chemical dossier. And in this case all we have is one week, and after that only a few more months. Syria will not succeed in time and this will be used to justify the accusation that Syria is unwilling to cooperate, that it is concealing stockpiles of chemical weapons. In the press, you can already read various conjectures about Syria starting to move chemical weapons to Lebanon and Iraq to conceal them. And this will be Washington’s justification to return to the option of military operations. And if the rebels commit another provocation using chemical weapons on Syrian territory or striking Israel with them from government-controlled territory? In this case there will be no doubt that the United States will carry out a military operation.
And importantly, Washington will have succeeded in destroying Syria’s chemical weapons potential without military action, without losing a single pilot, without firing a single rocket. What’s more, with the help of Russia. And even on the basis of Russia’s proposal. Without chemical weapons Syria is not a threat, because the country is deprived of the possibility to retaliate if the Americans launch military action against it. Its military potential would be undermined. In addition, Geneva has saved Obama’s reputation – also with the help of Russia. Of course, even a two-week respite is worth it, but only if the U.S. president does not use this face-saving time to mobilize allies in NATO and try to convince members of Congress once again. Now he can start his game concerning Syria one more time and almost with the image of a peacemaker.
This is very important – what did Moscow and Damascus receive in return? On the eve of the Geneva meeting, President Vladimir Putin made it very clear in his TV interview – Syria must place its chemical weapons under international control with Washington refraining from military operations in response. The Russian leader has clearly spoken out against unilateral concessions. But what happened in Geneva was just exactly that. If Syria was placed under a lot of stringent conditions and requirements, including strictly specified time frames, no one heard from the United States a commitment to abandon its military actions. Their postponement was discussed, but not a word was spoken of their cancellation and guarantees for Syria. Moreover, Obama almost immediately announced that a powerful naval and air forces group would remain in the region in case that there would be a return to the military option. And he, as did Kerry, did not say anything regarding stopping the provision of military aid to the rebels. The Syrian Free Army commanders, by the way, immediately criticized the Geneva deal. And in vain.
After all, the Geneva accords do not include a point on the cessation of hostilities by the rebels against government forces. And nothing is said about the beginning of an internal Syrian peace process. And how you can eliminate the chemical weapons if a war is continuing in the country, with many chemical weapons depots located in close proximity to the areas of operations? So an equal balance in the deal is not very obvious. And the threat of military action against Damascus has only been postponed for a while, but not eliminated. So it is in vain that there are those who are dissatisfied with Geneva in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. If they were able to evaluate everything, they would understand that the reality of the arrangements and that the reprise plays into the hands of the United States and its allies, and not Syria and Russia, who are now hostages of the American interpretation of whether the Syrian side meets the terms of the agreement (unless they are not aware of the essence of the “deal” and are just playing along with it for external consumption, being aided by Washington).
Meanwhile, the rebels were able to consolidate their forces with an influx of mercenaries from abroad, mainly from Arab countries that continue their training in Jordan with CIA instructors, and through the continued supply of arms from outside. This will give them the opportunity to prepare militant groups for ground attack on main areas – Damascus, Aleppo, near the Syrian-Lebanese border, Latakia, etc. And if the United States conducts air strikes, they will be supported from the ground by reinforced rebels. And under the conditions of September 9 and 11 this was not the case, and a missile attack against pinpoint targets would not have broken the balance of power between the regime and the opposition. Perhaps we should agree with those who say, let Obama make his mistake, then nothing would be achieved, except for protests around the world and in the United States. And he would have had no strength left for a second operation. In this case then, everything was done in a hurry, and now Washington and its allies and the rebels can safely and thoroughly prepare for such a strike from which the Assad regime could be really damaged.
And finally, most importantly, the point that was missed by almost all analysts and commentators: That the Geneva agreements will be confirmed with a future UN Security Council resolution. And it will be accepted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, that it will allow for the automatic use of force if the United States finds that Damascus violated the provisions of the resolution. And a second resolution separately authorizing the use of force is no longer necessary, as was demanded by Washington. There will be an international legitimization via the mechanism of the UN Security Council for possible U.S. aggression against sovereign Syria. And once the UN agrees, and what’s more automatically, then why ask the consent of Congress? After all, there is the primacy of international law over domestic law! Nor will Congress oppose Obama if there is a Security Council resolution, especially if it has been developed and adopted with the participation of Russia and China. There remains, however, hope that our diplomats have a good memory of such American tricks. After all, Russia once missed the chance to place a veto on the UN Security Council resolution 1441 in November, 2002, which was then used for the invasion and occupation of Iraq under the pretext that Baghdad was not cooperating with the UN inspectors involved in the destruction of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. Another more recent example is the UN Security Council resolution to impose a no-fly zone against Libya in March 2011, under the pretext that it should prevent Gaddafi’s air force bombing the rebels. Moscow also “missed” that resolution, not applying a veto. It believed the promises of the West and NATO. Did they ever find someone to believe in! Just a few hours after the resolution came into effect, the Western Wahhabi coalition systematically destroyed the air force, air defenses and armored forces of Libya. And the Tripoli regime fell in a few months’ time.
So we can only hope that Putin’s conditions for the deal on Syria’s chemical weapons should not be one-way, that this will be the main reference point for the Russian diplomats who will work on the text of a draft UN Security Council resolution. And this resolution needs to include a specific U.S. commitment not to strike Syria, or in the case that all members of the Security Council consider that Damascus really is cheating, a vote for another resolution allowing for the use of force.
And another point that is very important. Somehow it is very hard to believe that the United States, and especially Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, will allow Russia to win out on the Syrian issue. Not because they are bad or evil, with “imperialist” or “neo-colonialist ambitions”, imposing a Wahhabi Caliphate or the Ottoman Empire on the Arab world, etc. All of this ideology and propaganda. In this case, it is a purely pragmatic problem solving, which can be stated simply as “Assad must go”. Washington and Riyadh do not need the present-day Syria and its regime. In its current form the country is an obstacle to achieving the objectives of their strategic order – the elimination of the regime in Iran, which does not allow the United States and Saudi Arabia to implement their plans to establish total dominance over the energy resources of the Persian Gulf.
So Obama’s peaceful intentions are hard to believe. And Geneva, if we approach it without emotions, but with future prospects taken into account, is not a victory for Moscow, but rather a temporary concession by Washington to neutralize Russia in the near future. Therefore, while paying tribute to the Russian proposal concerning Syria’s chemical weapons and the hard work of Sergey Lavrov, we must pay tribute to the skill of U.S. diplomacy, which has given up nothing and not lost anything. Currently the score is a draw – 1:1. And it will all depend on whether Moscow will take into account the mistakes of the past, as in the case of Iraq and Libya.
So Syria remains under threat of U.S. military operations, and only a victory over the rebels would seriously hamper the implementation of the plans of Washington, Riyadh and its allies.
Alexander Orlov is a political analyst and an expert Orientalist. Exclusively for New Eastern Outlook.