Why did Russia and peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi promote a “political solution” to the crisis in Syria before causing its failure themselves through their deliberate bad management? And why didn’t the international and Arab envoy use his own tactics rather than using Lavrov’s way? There is an understanding between the Americans and Russians, or an agreement between Hilary Clinton and Sergei Lavrov reached in Dublin on Dec. 7 2012.
The Americans are clear about their willingness to dismantle any situation that might drag them later into direct intervention. Even the “red line” warning against chemical weapons use doesn’t seem to be serious. Although Barack Obama warned the regime many times against these weapons, it seems that even if they are used, neither the U.S. nor NATO will interfere. The regime got the message that it’s free to use the chemical weapons within specified geographical limitations, otherwise, the U.S. and the NATO will count on Israeli intervention.
It seems now that the promises of the U.S. to the Syrian opposition, that it can count on U.S. financial and armed support, both before establishing the opposition coalition in Doha and after this, were merely words.
And what the U.S. doesn’t want to give, we see other “Friends of Syria” refrain from giving; the proof being that all opposition sources confirm that the financial and military support slowed since August 2012 before stopping completely since the announcement of the opposition coalition.
Washington had always looked for a political solution, with an ideal scenario consisting of keeping the “acceptable” part of the regime and the immediate departure of Bashar Al-Assad, as it just cannot deal with him.
But Moscow challenged this scenario saying that it cannot work on any solution unless Assad is part of it or is accepting it especially that restructuring the army and the security forces is one of the most pressing priorities. After long hesitation, the U.S. commissioned the Russians with the assignment, so they can deal with their favorable regime. The Russians insisted on operating within the framework of the “Geneva agreement” which doesn’t mention, neither directly nor indirectly, that president Assad needs to step down, and they agreed on a “slight” amendment on the implementation phase, and from outside of the set agreement. This amendment mentioned “a transitional government with full powers”, which means that Assad will give up his powers, and “transfer the powers” to a prime minister which might be his deputy Farouq Al-Sharaa. If this is true, then it looks like an advanced formula and even a breakthrough, even if it means that Assad will remain on the scene for a while. Be it a reality or a mirage, it gives at least the priority to stopping the killing and destruction and allows the relief of the victims and opens the path towards the change of the regime. But it postpones bringing murderers and criminals to trial.
What has been achieved? It’s the same scenario: Brahimi came. He met with Assad. He handed him “the proposal”. He was asked to wait for an answer. And meanwhile he used the waiting time to meet some personalities from the “internal opposition” although he knows that they will not make any change in his mission. Then he knew that Faisal Al-Mekdad flew to Moscow, which means that Assad chose to discuss his response with Russia. So, Brahimi was called to there as well to learn that the head of the regime refuses to give up his powers, and that he’s determined to stay until the end of his presidential mandate in 2014, as well as to run for the next elections. And as the international and Arab envoy visited him in his capacity as Head of State, he doesn’t have the right to interfere in his powers, as the president is the one who will designate the prime minister and define his role. Surprisingly, Moscow, while it receives Al-Mekdad, sends an invitation to the opposition coalition to visit the Russian city for dialogue. What dialogue? With who? How will it be discussed? According to which agenda and upon which conditions?
As Moscow didn’t seem to have succeeded in promoting “the solution” to the regime, it attempts to sell it to the coalition. This undiplomatic gesture was met with an undiplomatic response from the head of the coalition. He didn’t content himself by saying that Moscow which is supporting the regime is not a suitable place to visit, but he asked Moscow to apologize for what it committed against the Syrian people, although he didn’t refuse the concept of dialogue, which was met directly by Michael Bogdanof who said that the dialogue can be held in any other city. Of course, the opposition witnessed some tense discussions about the response of Mouaz Al-khateeb, mainly around the issue of “apology” and going this far in the adversity against Russia, but “coalition” felt that Russia and Brahimi marginalized them on purpose and that they are not offering them more than a chair at the negotiation table with a regime that refuses it in advance.
It is another round executed by Russia, amid a complete silence from the American side, and ended with clear threats from Lavrov addressing both sides, although he seems to target the Opposition. Brahimi did his share as well, saying Syria will be heading to “hell,” although he knows that the regime doesn’t care and that the opposition cannot withdraw. While the Russians and the Americans are getting ready to resume talks soon to assess the situation in light of a reality that proved that none of the parties is ready for a compromise, which will result in letting them kill each other for a while.
What does this mean? It means that on the political front, as the U.S. gave Moscow the freedom to operate, the latter will ask the U.S. to pressurize the opposition and control its “friends,” especially Turkey which didn’t seem to be aware of what were Moscow and Brahimi are doing. The worst part will still be on the military side, which could read Russia’s actions as a green light to set the fire in “hell,” irrespective of the international or Arab condemnation, which fell silent after the massacres of Halfaya and Deir Baalba (where the Iranian Al-Fateh missiles were used, but NATO didn’t mention them although they are more powerful than scud missiles.)
In the imminent days, the regime will battle with Russia, which supports its reliance on Iran’s and Hezbollah’s experience, because Russia aims to have a new status quo on the ground when it will mediate for the political solution again in a few weeks. And while the opposition was waiting to be supplied with advanced weapons, it seems that the regime will be getting them. Moscow wants the regime to show its capabilities to the ultimate extent, that’s why the regime feels that it is gaining the international silence which allowed it, 30 years ago, to conduct the massacres of Hama, with its sources speaking out about thousands of people killed in Damascus suburbs as “horrible surprises;”
Washington wasn’t silent alone during this diplomatic week between Damascus and Moscow, did it leave the Russians and Brahimi an attempt to do something before it says its word? No, most probably Washington said what it wants on Dec. 11h 2012, the night after the “Friends of Syria” conference in Marrakech, when it added “Al-Nusra front” to the list of terrorist states and organizations.
This stance revealed the reality of the American position more than its endorsement of the opposition coalition the next day. In the end, Washington cannot approach the situation in Syria without taking into consideration its harsh experience in Iraq. The abnormal silence isn’t after all more than a pause between two positions and two faces, and it isn’t unlikely to see the U.S. beginning 2013 by announcing that it backs Russian efforts of supporting Brahimi’s mission, and that it believes that the suggested solution is suitable, taking into consideration the chaos that embraces Syria. And, in case the opposition noticed in the past weeks a relapse in the support of its “friends” then… Cherchez l’Amerique (Look to the U.S.)!
*This article was first published in Al Hayat newspaper on Jan. 3, 2013. Link: http://alhayat.com/OpinionsDetails/468522
Abdul Wahab Badrakhan is a Lebanese journalist, who writes weekly in London's Al-Hayat newspaper among other Arab publications. Badrakhan was a journalist in 'Annahar' (Beirut) until 1979, in 'Annahar Arabic & international' magazine (Paris) up to 1989, in 'Al Hayat' (London) as managing editor then deputy editor in chief until 2006. At present, Badrakhan is working on two books. The first book is on the roots of the experiences that have motivated young Arab men to go to Afghanistan. The second is devoted to Arab policies to counterterrorism, starting with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and covering the ensuing wars.