Russia: Syria’s Big Brother at the United Nations
by Arik Elman
Gruesome and utterly predictable bloody developments in Syria, despite their horror, serve one positive purpose. Anyone willing to consider a Ron Paul-like world where America had retired beyond the oceans and forfeited its preeminent dominance in international affairs in favor of the “multilateral” institutions needs only to look at the bloody streets of Syrian towns and then turn the gaze towards the dinky halls of the United Nations. That’s how the world will look after Pax Americana ends.
It’s nobody’s fault, really. The United Nations system was set by the victorious powers of the Second World War, one of which – the Communist dictatorship only marginally less brutal than the defeated Nazis – was determined to ensure that no liberal internationalist sentiment will be allowed to interfere with its control of its own population and of the satellite countries of the Eastern Europe. Once the puppet governments were set in place, they began claiming sovereignty each time the West tried to protest the systematic abuse of basic civic freedoms and human rights. Of course, the veto power has made any forceful intervention impossible even before the Iron Curtain became the nuclear one.
Today, when the imperial remnant of the former Soviet Union became a trenchant status quo power, it should come as absolutely no surprise that Moscow will oppose any “humanitarian intervention” tooth and nail and that it will be joined by Beijing. In fact, the very hope of the American foreign policy establishment that things can be different can serve as sufficient proof of the administration’s diplomatic incompetence.
To understand Syria, look at Russia. Since the very beginning of their term in office, President Obama and Secretary Clinton have stubbornly insisted that the fundamental differences of the national outlook between Washington and Moscow can be exclusively attributed to George W. Bush’s neglect. Feeling that the chill between two capitals is America’s fault, Obama took what he thought to be logical conciliatory steps – scrapping the ABM plans for Eastern Europe, downplaying the ties with Georgia, signing a new START and paving a way for Russia to enter the WTO. Yet while those policies made the Russians go easy on American supply routes to Afghanistan (after all, if the Americans are intent on wasting money and blood over this cursed land, Russians will be happy to oblige), the “reset” affected nothing in Russian worldview and the perception of Russian interests abroad.
If, instead of declaring a Cold War on the elected Israeli government, Obama and Clinton would tap into the Israeli experience of dealing with Russia, they would know that in the post-Yeltsin era, America has very few Russian friends and admirers left. The desire “to stick it” to Americans, the tendency to view the world as a zero-sum game where the weaker Russia is being constantly pushed over by the stronger America, persists inside and outside of the Kremlin walls. No gifts of ridiculous buttons with mangled labels could change the Russian conviction that the American foreign policy ideas are at best irrelevant and naÃ¯ve and at worst – a cynical ploy aimed to deny Russia even the last vestiges of its traditional sphere of influence.
Nowhere is this mindset clearer than in the Middle East. While in Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Republics Russia lost much of its political leverage in the roaring 90-s (to be replaced today with energy diplomacy and economic influence), in the Middle East all Moscow can see are sunk costs. Only a few years ago, Moscow forgave Libya billions of Soviet-era debts in exchange for new arms contracts, only to see those go up in smoke from the ruins of the Ghaddafi regime. Having abstained from vetoing the Security Council resolution 1973, only to see France and Britain drag America into a Libyan civil war, Russia feels being used. With presidential elections coming near, internal dissent and the rise of the nationalists, the Kremlin is determined not to be suckered again. The right of veto in the Security Council gives Moscow all the power it needs to prevent the Libyan scenario from repeating itself in Syria – at least not before somebody in the West (or the figureheads of the Syrian opposition) get around to addressing a small matter of billions in debt that Damascus owes to Moscow and the future of the Tartus naval installation – the only warm-water port of call for the Russian Black Sea fleet.
Until this happens, Russia will have no qualms whatsoever vetoing even the feeblest condemnation attempts and watching Syrians die. The spectacle of the American representative to the UN, Susan Rice, wriggling her hands and blaming Israel after vetoing the anti-settlements resolution, will not repeat itself with Russians, who know what they want – and especially what they don’t want. Having ignored Moscow’s wishes in Libya, Washington is now being made to pay the price in Syria, where all the dire predictions of mass slaughter had finally come true.
And while the rising specter of a civil war and bloodshed is fueling calls for intervention, one can’t glance back at the deeds of the Obama administration in the Middle East and not to be fearful for the future. Since Washington has outsourced the maintenance of the Syrian opposition to this personal friend of the President (and Hamas confidante), Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, it is not unreasonable to expect that, just as it happened in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Syria after Assad will be Islamized as well. Since Syria is much more like Iraq than Egypt, the inevitable reassertion of the Sunni Muslim majority will be fraught with sectarian violence. Unlike in Iraq, there will be no one on hand to police it. And while in the short term Israel can benefit from the disruption of the unholy alliance of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, it’s hard to believe that the armed anarchy and jihadist infiltration will not reach Israel’s northern borders.
Another unexpected effect from the Syrian breakdown is a growing legitimization of Hamas. Departure from the safe yet isolated Syrian refuge to greener pastures of the wider Arab world is already proving to be a blessing in disguise. Without giving up any of its genocidal ideas or renouncing its “military strategy” of killing as many peaceful Jewish civilians as possible, Hamas after Shalit and Assad is being positively welcomed into the mainstream by a growing chorus of well-wishers from Ankara to Brussels. Just a few days ago a Hamas delegation received a rapturous ovation in Geneva, where the members of the Inter-Parliamentary Union joined them in protest against Israeli incarceration of the elected representatives of the Islamofascist gang of Jew-killers. Not to be outdone, the European Commission issued a formal reprimand to Israel after the arrest of two Hamas activists in the Red Cross building in Eastern Jerusalem, calling this police action “unhelpful to the renewing of the peace negotiations”. The fact that those fine European minds were perfectly willing to make a connection between “peace” and “Hamas” proves just how deep a gulf there is between ideology and reality and just how ill-equipped Europe can be if left to handle the foreign relations on its own – even if only in its immediate neighborhood!
When in 1989 the Soviet system in Eastern Europe was collapsing, sometimes bloodily, the liberated nations of the continent could rely on robust and unapologetic American support, leading the West in a conscious effort to instill the new Europe with the democratic values of the “old”. Today, by refusing to embrace the same values-based approach to the Middle Eastern turmoil, by mouthing the slogans about “leaving the Arab revolutions to Arabs”, by letting others dictate the agenda, President Obama and his team made virtually certain that any outcome – in Syria and beyond – will be inimical to the long-term American and Israeli interests. The bloody insurrection in Syria will end one way or another. Time of troubles for the whole Middle East and for the Jewish state is just beginning.