Saving Syria...or Something Else?
Western energy companies don't like Russia's increasing share of the natural gas market in the Middle East and Europe.
The US might also look on Syria’s natural gas fields as a prize, even more attractive than Iraq’s oil fields. Natural gas means clean energy, which is something that is becoming mandatory for members of the European Union, which has imposed an arms embargo on Syria. Russia’s Gazprom, which is now the biggest natural gas supplier to the EU and controls 25 per cent of the European market, is planning to increase its output by 12 per cent to 155 billion cubic metres. Turkey also depends on Gazprom for 40 per cent of its gas. No Western power or its regional supporter wants to see the planned $10-billion Syria-Iran-Iraq pipeline — agreed to in July 2011 — realized.Why the difference in the US treatment of Egypt vs Syria?
The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, or of parties that are well disposed to it, introduces another factor in regional politics. Those who are outraged by Assad’s conduct see no cause for concern in events in Egypt where the military arbitrarily removed the country’s first democratically elected president and massacred hundreds of his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Continued US aid to the tune of an annual $1.3 billion for Egypt’s military encourages speculation regarding the need for Egyptian air space and facilities in the event of strikes against Syria. Apart from the advantages of a pro-Western ruler in Damascus, a change of regime there might also help to exorcize Obama’s fear that Iran would interpret inaction as weakness.The comparisons are ominous:
...why now? There have been numerous other atrocities, many far worse, carried out across the Middle East in the past few years. For example, there is no doubt at all that the Egyptian military junta has shot dead more than 1,000 protesters, the vast majority unarmed civilians, since seizing power. Yet there has been no outraged condemnation. Indeed, the West, by continuing to supply arms to the Egyptian army, is quietly condoning this policy of mass murder.Are there worse things that could happen? With an attack by the US, yes.
Even if Bashar fails, Syria may not be out of the woods: an increasingly likely alternative to the current regime is a bloody civil war similar to what we saw in Lebanon, Bosnia, Congo, and most recently in Iraq. The horrors of such a war might even exceed the brutal reassertion of Asad’s control, and would cause spillover into Syria’s neighbors—Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel—that could be disastrous for them and for American interests in the Middle East.In order to support the Obama administration, at least one Senator is using the "I know more than you" defense (a la the TARP bailouts):
“Every day, I get a report on what the calls are, where the calls are coming from, what the nature of the argument is, and there’s no question, what’s coming in is overwhelmingly negative. There’s no question about that,” [Senator Dianne] Feinstein continued.
“But you see, then they don’t know what I know. They haven’t heard what I heard. And I like to believe now, after 20 years, that I have some skill in separating the wheat from the chaff in this thing, of knowing where we were when Iraq was considered and where we are with this. I don’t want to see nations using chemical weapons with abandon.”Cooler Senatorial heads exist, though. For example, this statement by Utah Senator Mike Lee:
The administration has indicated its goal is to use limited military action to significantly degrade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ability to use chemical weapons against his own people and to deter future attacks. After hearing from the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in a top-secret briefing, I do not believe that the range of options the president is considering will accomplish this military objective, and therefore I cannot now support intervention into the Syrian civil war.The number dead from the recent chemical attack is tiny compared to the overall number killed in the months-long Syrian war:
The latest episode is merely one more horrific event in a conflict that has increasingly taken on genocidal characteristics. The case for action at first glance is indisputable. The UN now confirms a death toll over 100,000 people, the vast majority of whom have been killed by Assad's troops. An estimated 4.5 million people have been displaced from their homes.For the past 6 years, the United States has engaged in clandestine operations to destabilize both Iran and Syria, with not so noble goals:
The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.
The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis...Syrians in the area of the chemical attack say that Saudi Arabia and al Qaeda had a hand in it. This article speaks with several different Syrian people in that area:
Interviews with people in Damascus and Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, where the humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders said at least 355 people had died last week from what it believed to be a neurotoxic agent, appear to indicate [that] from numerous interviews with doctors, Ghouta residents, rebel fighters and their families, a different picture emerges. Many believe that certain rebels received chemical weapons via the Saudi intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, and were responsible for carrying out the dealing gas attack.
More than a dozen rebels interviewed reported that their salaries came from the Saudi government.Some resistance forces are claiming that they themselves used chemical weapons attacks as retaliation for chemical weapons attacks against them.
Bashar al Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons against civilians once before, and that allegation was discovered to be wrong.
the governments of America and Britain have made up their minds. They have accepted without question that the Assad regime must be punished for what the Prime Minister called “the massive use of chemical weapons”. They are not interested in examining any contrary evidence.Is it okay when we use chemical weapons? Twenty thousand Iranians might not think so--but we can't ask them because they're dead.
...the British and American foreign policy, intelligence and military establishments have made a series of dreadful mistakes over the past 15 years...
While there seems to be little doubt that chemical weapons were used, there is doubt about who deployed them. It is important to remember that Assad has been accused of using poison gas against civilians before. But on that occasion, Carla del Ponte, a UN commissioner on Syria, concluded that the rebels, not Assad, were probably responsible.
The rush to judgment by Britain and the US looks premature, especially in view of the record of our intelligence agencies in providing misleading and fabricated evidence as a justification for war before 2003.
an article published in Foreign Policy magazine last week...provides documentary evidence that the US helped Saddam Hussein’s Iraq launch a series of chemical weapons attacks upon Iran in the late 1980s, an offensive that killed approximately 20,000 Iranian troops – which dwarfs the number of victims of the Syrian attack. Iran, of course, is Assad’s closest ally. Our moral indignation over chemical weapons looks selective.Secretary of State John Kerry told a Senate committee yesterday that "about 10" countries are willing to participate in an attack on Syria, but they so far refuse to list which countries those are:
As President Barack Obama cancels a two-day trip to Los Angeles to shore up congressional support for a military strike against Syria, the administration remains tight lipped about one thing that might convince some lawmakers to support the intervention: the names of countries that have made clear they would join the United States in an attack.Many members of the Congressional Black Caucus oppose an attack on Syria, but they are being encouraged to keep their dissent out of the public eye.
As an increasing number of African-American lawmakers voice dissent over the Obama administration's war plans in Syria, the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has asked members to "limit public comment" on the issue until they are briefed by senior administration officials. Despite the request, some CBC members have felt compelled to let constituents know where they stand on an issue consuming the public's attentions.In a chemical attack last April, the Obama administration made similar claims against Assad, but was unable to substantiate them.
Shortly after letters from the White House to U.S. senators leveling that initial charge against the Syrian government were made public in April, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Capitol Hill that there were two instances of chemical weapons use -- the one in Khan al-Assal and another near Damascus.
but the samples from Syria had passed through a number of different hands and as a result, American officials had only "low to moderate confidence" in their judgment.
Russia will likely use the contradiction between its own findings from Khan al-Assal and the assertions made by the Obama administration over the same incident to argue its case that no definitive conclusions can yet be drawn on culpability in the Ghouta attack [of a few days ago].
Stay tuned for more...