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PV Vivekanand: Russian bear in US trap
February 06, 2012
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When the Tunisians ousted Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali and the Egyptians toppled Hosni Mubarak in early 2011, Washington had to do a quick rethink of its approach to the Arab World.

The answer was clear: the US is not exactly a darling of the Arab masses and, if anything, is viewed with hostility and suspicion by the Arabs on the street.

Acceptance of this reality prompted the administration of President Barack Obama to project itself as a strong supporter of pro-democracy movements in the Arab World. However, it did not have much success if only because of its record as partner of some of the autocratic regimes around the world and its “unbreakable” alliance with Israel.

Many in the Arab World also saw how the US tried to defend the Mubarak regime for the sake of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, and how it dealt with the crisis in Yemen with kid gloves with a view to maintaining its war against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula until it became clear that there was no other way other than regime change in Sanaa.

Therefore, Washington saw it as a great opportunity to support the movement for democracy in Syria. The US and Israel have nothing much to lose if the Syrian regime were to be toppled since the post-revolt country would see itself fragmented and no longer pose any challenge to the Jewish state. Furthermore, an ouster of the Alawite regime in Damascus will deprive Iran of its strongest ally in the Arab World, and weaken considerably Lebanon’s Hizbollah – two much sought-for US objectives.

Iran’s loss of Syria as an ally will count much for the US and Israel in the stand-off over the Iranian nuclear programme. It will also be a blessing for the Arab World, which has seen Iran meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries and trying to use Syria as a proxy in Arab deliberations over regional issues.

Of course, one of the fallouts of the ouster of the Syrian regime will be regional instability, but it is not something that the US and Israel could not handle, goes the thinking in Washington.

The Obama administration seized the opportunity that presented itself at the UN early this week in the wake of reports of a massacre of more than 260 people by Syrian security forces in the flashpoint city of Homs.

Washington had laid a cunningly diplomatic trap for Moscow even before the report of the massacre came. It had pretended to yield to pressure and allowed the ridiculous dilution of a draft resolution that condemned the violent Syrian crackdown on pro-democracy dissenters. The draft was effectively toothless since it set no direction towards solving the crisis in Syria and excluded an Arab League plan for a peaceful regime change in Damascus. It was not mandatory either since it did not base itself on Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.

References to economic sanctions and an arms embargo were also removed from the draft.

The Russians even wanted to scrap a clause calling on the Syrian regime to remove heavy weapons from populated areas, but the US and its allies resisted the demand.

However, the US did not protest against the other changes since the softening was purportedly aimed at accommodating Russia, but, in reality, it was a bait that was thrown to Moscow.

At the UN, Russia had tried to postpone a vote on the resolution, but the US was eager to use the opportunity at hand and pushed for a vote early on Saturday. Moscow, having failed to see the trap, had no option but to agree and it swiftly vetoed even the watered-down draft.

The Security Council vote showed that the US and its allies were firmly behind the democracy movement in Syria whereas Russia and China, which also vetoed the resolution, were exposed as allies of a regime that has been and is slaughtering its own people.

There were several reasons for the Russian veto. Syria buys Russian arms worth more than $4 billion a year and hosts the only Russian naval base outside Russian territory. Furthermore, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is seeking to return to the Kremlin as president, wanted to tell his own people he is determined to restore Russia’s status as a superpower having an influential say in any international issue.

But the real beneficiary was the US, which used the vote to show itself as a champion of people seeking political reform and democracy. US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice should be given credit for swiftly rising to the occasion.

“Let me begin by speaking directly to the Syrian people,” Rice said after the vote. “The United States stands with you, the Syrian people, and we will not rest until you and your bravery achieve your basic, universal human rights, to which all human beings are entitled.”

Applause, applause, applause.

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