December 2, 2011

Untangling U.S.-Russia Collusion In Syria

As reported throughout November, the Arab League has orchestrated a seemingly counterintuitive political scheme to preserve Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. This plan first entailed a favorable resolution to salvage al-Assad’s regime and, when he refused to comply, raised the specter of sanctions to cover the League’s tracks. Seeking to exploit Arab “pressure” in order to de-Westernize an international response, the U.S. and EU have been lured into the League’s hollow support for Syria’s opposition movement.

Yedioth Ahronoth (YNet) is the latest source to speculate on the potential collaboration between West and East. According the Israeli daily, a reputable source on U.S. and Russian activities, “the United States and Russia have been working on a plan to end the Syrian crisis.” This proposal includes “the transfer of authorities by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad... in return for ‘a comfortable exile’ in Russia,” and would tap “an acceptable figure” to Washington and Moscow as al-Assad’s replacement.

The deal literally bases itself on “the Yemeni model.” Negotiated by Western and Gulf diplomats at the behest of Ali Abdullah Saleh and Yemen’s oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) intiative has left Saleh in power to oversee Yemen’s one-man “election.” His party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), just “re-received” the country’s Defense and Foreign Ministries in a “unity” government with the JMP, freezing out Yemen’s revolutionaries in the process.

U.S. media has unsurprisingly passed on YNet’s story. Afraid of everything Yemen and confused by the Obama administration’s response in Syria, Washington’s establishment isn’t eager to publicly cross Syria and Yemen’s wires. Although many analysts suspect that the administration privately viewed al-Assad as a source of stability in Israel’s buffer zone, the White House wishes to be perceived as a tough opponent. Press Secretary Jay Carney welcomed yesterday’s “announcement by the European Union of new economic sanctions and other measures against both Iran and Syria.”

Meanwhile Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the UN, affirmed the Security Council's support for the Arab League’s proposal.

“The decision of the Arab League was a really remarkable if not historic decision,” he told reporters. “It was a reaction to the brutal crackdown — and the message of course is clear. If Assad doesn’t heed the call, then there will be biting sanctions.”

The West and Arab League’s ambiguous reactions have generated competing narratives over their intentions. Some observers believe that the Arab League is setting the stage for an eventual military intervention. Mouin Rabbani, a contributing editor of the Middle East Report, told IPS Regional Director Thalif Deen that the Arab League has failed diplomatically, but added that the League’s proposal is envisioned as a “precursor to intervention.” While the League could be seeding the legal conditions to validate Western “just war” theory, the opposite scenario of regime alteration appears to be equally plausible.

Russia’s public signals also cast doubt over its hostile interaction with the West and Arab League. On Tuesday Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned both powers to “stop using ultimatums” against Damascus, instead advocating a “dialogue” with Syria’s opposition. Yet this resistance actually clarifies Moscow’s position with West and Gulf capitals. After slamming the Arab League’s decision to suspend Syria and impose sanctions, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem explicitly stated, "The Arab League's position is clear: they want a dialogue in Cairo, a national unity government... and this is rejected.”

By al-Assad’s regime and the majority of Syria’s opposition alike.

“Real dialogue must lead to national reconciliation,” Muallem cautioned as he welcomed Russian mediation. However Moscow’s proposal for Syria is only diverges superficially from the Arab League’s. According to James Brooke, Voice of America’s (VOA) Moscow bureau chief, Russia is “making a stand” in Syria “after being on the losing sides in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.” Russia hasn’t lost in Yemen though; on the contrary, Moscow is visibly pleased with Yemen’s results and approved the GCC’s initiative. Russian officials are so pleased that they hope to copy the GCC’s “unity” government onto Syria, a plan touted by Lavrov throughout last month.

"All these countries,” he repeated on Tuesday, “including those who are now demanding measures to be undertaken against Syria, had a very different stance toward Yemen, where negotiations about a peaceful solution, proposed by the Cooperation Council for the States of the Gulf, lasted for months."

These types of statements lend great credence to rumors of a U.S.-Russian deal over al-Assad. Not only does Russia’s rhetoric expose Yemen’s foreign manipulation - Moscow’s applause for U.S. policy speaks for itself - counter-revolutionary forces are similarly aligned in Syria. Although West, East and Gulf states appear to rub against each other, they often find themselves operating on the same side of the counter-revolutionary network.

Shadowy actions speak louder than shadowy words.

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