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Syria’s descent into civil war is accelerating, with reports of massacres coming in daily. But Russia and China are blocking a decisive response at the United Nations, just as they have since the middle of 2011. Moscow and Beijing insist that they are appalled by events in Syria, but that there has to be a diplomatic solution. They claim that they simply want to avoid a drawn-out war like that in Libya — although that’s a bit of a joke, as neither the U.S. nor its NATO allies have any desire to send planes or troops to Syria. For the Russians especially, this is all about prestige. The Syrian regime is their last ally in the Arab world. They cannot afford to lose it.
Moscow’s decision to stand up to the U.S. over the conflict is a chance to show the world that it still matters. But the Russians have made a fundamental mistake: However hard they try, they don’t have the power to save their ally Bashar Assad from falling in the end. The reality is that although Vladimir Putin can stop the UN from acting — and Russia has refused to stop shipping weapons to the Syrian army — the Kremlin can’t control the fighting on the ground. In recent weeks, rebel forces have started to score some much-needed victories against government forces.
While the Syrian army and pro-government militias have stepped up attacks on civilians, it now looks like they cannot win a decisive military victory. The rebels are getting more arms from allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar and will get stronger over time. They aren’t in a position to win big battles yet, but can mount an increasing number of guerrilla attacks that will slowly sap the army’s will to keep fighting. Although this conflict will drag on for months, it will eventually end with the fall of Assad. His reign may end violently, like Moammar Khadafy’s in Libya — just the outcome Russia and China say they want to avoid. Or Moscow and Beijing may decide to cut their losses and finally put pressure on Assad to stand down. It’s reported that the Russians are now preparing to offer him a nice home in exile.
The tragedy is that Russia could have cut a similar deal as long ago as last fall. The Obama administration, which has made its “reset” of relations with Moscow a priority, always wanted to deal with the Russians like adults over Syria. Washington understood the prestige issues involved and would have preferred to avoid ill-tempered diplomacy at the UN and come to some sort of deal in private. If Russian officials had been ready to make such an agreement, thousands of lives could likely have been saved. Unfortunately, Putin and his advisers were far too worried about looking weak to deal rationally.
So now Moscow faces a doubly bad situation. It has suffered a huge amount of reputational damage because of its decision to stand by Assad. And it will ultimately suffer the humiliation of having to let Assad fall. Even if the U.S. and UN try to soften the blow by letting Moscow play a continuing role in shaping Syria’s future, it’s hard to believe that any post-Assad government will want Russia’s friendship. If Russian policy-makers should worry about the damage to their leverage, so should China’s. China never had significant stakes in Syria and has largely played a supporting role to Russia at the UN. But its decision to do so has done severe damage to its relations with the Gulf Arabs, who sell Beijing a lot of oil.
In the U.S., critics accuse the Obama administration of having put too much trust in Russia and China in recent years. Yet there are a lot of good reasons for keeping decent relations with both of them. Moscow and Beijing have important roles to play in containing Iran and stabilizing Afghanistan after 2014. Despite what some on the right charge, the Obama administration doesn’t have illusions about Russian and Chinese decision-making. It knows that both countries are driven by a blunt calculation of their own narrow interests.
The problem is that the Russians have made a grim miscalculation over Syria, backing a regime that will eventually topple — and when it goes, a big chunk of Russia’s prestige will fall too. It is time for the Kremlin to rethink and back down.
This article first appeared in the New York Daily News
28th July 2012 at 08:07am
IRAN IS TRYING TO NUKE ISRAEL AND THE USA!!1 They are enriching unruiam to 20% which is beyond what they need for energy or medicine2 They continue to work on space missiles so they can make an ICBM to reach the USA3 They are ran by religious extremists4 Muslims believe that their reward for killing non believers is to go to heaven aka suicide bombers5 Most muslims hate the USA and Israel6 They burn US flag everyday in Tehran for last 30+ yearsNUKE IRAN BEFORE THEY NUKE THE USA
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