SPEAKING FREELY Red-line rhetoric in Syria
By Shahab Jafry
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
The Syrian civil war has put a number of things in perspective. For one thing, if American, European and especially Israeli intelligence reports of chemical weapons use on part of the Syrian government had really been true, how long would it really have taken the US government to intervene military? This considering President Obama's red-line threat from last August, when he said Bashar al-Assad resorting to chemical weapons would "change the calculus" and invite US military action?
Why would Assad risk foreign intervention just when his forces
had broken through enemy lines, not only near Damascus but, more importantly, in long-held rebel enclaves, even Dera'a and Homs? The regime's strategy shift, focusing on erecting and deploying local militias to bolster mainstream military advances, has recently proved far more effective than rolling tanks into rebel-held areas, especially since the Saudis have increased "lethal" anti-tank aid to anti-government forces.
And why would Israel choose this particular moment to make its aerial presence felt? To think Tel Aviv would act independently of Washington one would have to seriously subscribe to viewpoints in the Western and, interestingly, the Gulf media, especially Al-Jazeera, that one-time vanguard of independent journalism that suddenly found it politic to toe the Qatari line.
Calls for "secular" and "democratic" change in Syria, coming from the heart of the Gulf Cooperation Council, nauseate surprisingly few in the international community, even as al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra makes the strongest advances on the ground, and Saudi Arabia and its wahhabbi friends fund the most significant military aid to the "rebels".
The Syrian problem has also marked clear lines in international reporting. You will rarely see a Reuters report focusing on public beheadings carried out by Islamist militants, or desecration of revered religious shrines, just as you'll be hard pressed to see a Press TV report about shabiha excesses that catapulted an initially peaceful uprising into a full scale, armed proxy war indulging practically all the world's noted power centers.
As far as media reporting and chemical weapons go, Assad's government was the first to report on banned weapons use, accusing rebel forces of limited deployment of a captured chemical arsenal a few months ago. And since subsequent direct Israeli intelligence accusations holding the Assad regime responsible, followed by strangely toned down confirmations by US and European agencies, Obama's "change my calculus" threats have failed to materialize. The only rational conclusion that can be drawn is that chemical agents were likely deployed, but not by the government.
Now that puts a spanner in the works as regards Riyadh and friends, doesn't it? Which might explain US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's recent line about "lethal aid to rebel factions not aligned with al Nusra".
Also, at least two times, Obama's caution has centered on alienating "international consensus" in case Washington commits itself too seriously too quickly. But, really, what international opinion is he talking about? The capitals that matter are already supplying rebel factions, including al-Qaeda, with very "lethal aid". And should Chuck's designs come true, the weapons will have to be routed through one, or more, of Syria's neighbors - Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, or Israel - and that is pretty much happening.
Realistically speaking, it seems that US and allies, after initially throwing their lot behind the uprising, have become more than a little alarmed by al-Nusra advances, which pose as big a threat to Israel as they do to Assad, and Iran, and Hezbollah.
Not having the luxury of backtracking so far into the uprising, the best bet they see is some form of direct occupation of Syria, which is why Israel might have been invited to intervene. Of course, any Syrian retaliation to Israeli air strikes will draw America to the conflict sooner than most parties realize, which means a far greater regional catastrophe than originally realized is in the offing.
Unlike the Lebanese civil war, which marked Beirut as the classical proxy battle field for bigger players, Syria will not remain contained. America and friends have learnt precious little from misadventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Pakistan's tribal frontier.
By continuing to rely on Saudi designs, in return for petro leverage, they have turned much of the Muslim world into practical civil war, with al-Qaeda the main protagonist. And as Syria disintegrates, they will be responsible for propping up a far greater threat to regional, especially Israeli, security than the traditional resistance - Iran, Syria and Hezbollah - could ever be.
Obama's red lines have proved self-defeating. The more he tries to back up his faulty rhetoric, the more he risks plunging the Middle East into another prolonged war. Not the best legacy for his second term.
Shahab Jafry is Middle East Correspondent for Pakistan Today and can be reached at email@example.com
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.