June 13, 2012

Clinton's Syrian Propaganda Triggers Russian Counterattack

The alleged introduction of Russian helicopters into Syria's war zones marked the beginning of a new wave of international pressure. This acceleration is certain to come at a price, though, and may be so counterproductive that the Obama administration could regret its decision. According to The New York Times, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton intentionally exaggerated the redeployment of helicopters "that Syria had sent to Russia a few months ago for routine repairs and refurbishing."

“She put a little spin on it to put the Russians in a difficult position,” said one senior Defense Department official. 

Clinton's "little spin" immediately rippled throughout the international sphere, seemingly advancing an eventual Chapter 7 resolution that would legislate the use of force. At the same time, the reward of favorable action is balanced by the risk assumed through anti-Russian propaganda. The situation is likely to take one step forward and backwards as a result - and potentially escalate Syria's crisis. For starters, Moscow will make an ideological stand against any U.S. attempt to blackmail its position; Clinton's deception alone has presumably hardened Russia's line beyond its current state. Her message also left a large target for an accurate counterattack. While Russia's Sergey Lavrov is in no objective position to deny his government's military support for Bashar al-Assad, the Foreign Minister was perfectly set up by his American rival. 

In Tehran to talk Syria and other issues, Lavrov told a news conference that the "anti-air defense systems" sold to Damascus "in no way violates international laws... That contrasts with what the United States is doing with the opposition, which is providing arms to the Syrian opposition which are being used against the Syrian government." 

However Lavrov understands that many Arabs do support some form of militarized humanitarian intervention in Syria, and thus strikes out across the region in a savvy effort to undermine America's overall policy. Russia isn't shipping weapons "that can be used against peaceful demonstrators,” he told reporters, "unlike" Washington's "regular delivers... to the region." Although Lavrov was indirectly commenting on the recent weapons shipment to Bahrain, Egypt and Yemen's governments also relied heavily on U.S. arms and equipment to suppress each country's democratic uprising. 

"But for some reason," Lavrov wryly concludes, "the Americans treat this as par for the course." 

Moscow, of course, has backed Bahrain's monarchy as strongly as Washington, both of whom doubled down their cooperation in Yemen. The obvious difference is that Russia doesn't operate under the same internal or external democratic obligations that America faces. Equally important, Moscow will not tolerate open attempts to manipulate the Arab revolutions on a grand scale. Having watched Gaddafi's Libya fall in less than a year, Russian President Vladimir Putin is fuming over Washington's double-standard in Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, and will not forfeit Syria to Western control. Pointing out America's hypocrisy is more than a time-tested - Lavrov is convincingly demonstrating that Washington is primarily concerned with its own interests. 

Now the Obama administration will be forced to spend as much time defending its own reaction to the Arab revolutions as it will on Syria's. Instead of advancing the situation forward, the Obama administration's tactic stand a good chance of bogging down the Russian track that U.S. officials have pursued for months. 

This conflicting move suggests that Clinton's disinformation is attributed to a higher level of desperation than U.S. officials concede, and portends ominously for the situation in general.

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