President Obama has finally and most reluctantly agreed to arm the Syrian rebels. But he is still clinging to the Geneva 2 conference as the most preferred option. I agree with David Ignatius writing in the Washington Post Thursday June 20th "President Obama doesn't have a strategy and is still playing for a negotiated diplomatic transition".
I argue it is not the use of Sarin gas or chemical weapons that has led to the sudden change of strategy. It is the direct intervention by Iran and Hezbollah in the conflict on the Bashar al Assad's side and the routing of the rebels in Qusair was the catalyst for the decision to arm the rebels. The success in Qusair alarmed the US administration. If this success is repeated elsewhere that would be the end of the revolution and a major victory for the Moscow, Tehran and Damascus alliance.
Even after Obama's announcement that the United States would arm the rebels, Moscow, Washington and the EU have been discussing the mechanics of Geneva 2. The G8 leaders who met recently at Belfast Northern Ireland called for a peace conference to be held in Geneva as soon as possible. Most observers believe that the conference is unlikely to be held and even if it is held at some future date it is bound to fail. Russia will see to that.
I believe the US administration and the EU have welcomed Geneva 2 as a ploy to procrastinate and avoid making firm commitments to help the Syrian people.
The Russians are very keen on Geneva 2 as a mechanism to keep their man Bashar al Assad in power. It is a blatant delaying tactic to prevent the arming of the opposition and to prolong the life of the Damascus regime.
On the other side the opposition will not attend the conference unless the agenda includes the stepping down of Bashar al Assad, which Russia stubbornly refuses. To add insult to injury Reuters reported Wednesday June 19th that the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying Tuesday "That the upcoming peace conference in Geneva on the conflict in Syria should not imply any capitulation on the part of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad." This demonstrates Russia's adamant refusal to see Bashar al Assad goes.
If the opposition insists on Bashar Al Assad's removal, then we have deadlock. No conference, no negotiations. Therefore it is unlikely that the Geneve 2 will work.
Russia's obstructive role is not new
In 1999 Russia vetoed US efforts to secure a UN Security Council Resolution authorizing military action against Yugoslavia. In 2003 Russia used the same tactics to frustrate a resolution calling for military action against Iraq.
In January 2007 Russia and China vetoed a resolution against the Burmese military junta in Myanmar. In July 2008 both Russia and China rejected sanctions against the Robert Mugabe's odious regime in Zimbabwe. I was not surprised that Russia and China had vetoed a European-backed UN Security Council Resolution that threatened sanctions against the Syrian regime if it did not immediately halt its military crackdown against civilians. The resolution would have been the first such legally binding move adopted by the Security Council since the Syrian Regime began using its military machine against protesters in mid-March 2011 in the town of Deraa. Three times Russia and China vetoed a resolution intended to pressure the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave power. The Russian-led vetoes are proof of the country's influence, but have also served to render the entire international body impotent. What is the point of even having a United Nations in the first place?
In the 68-year history of the United Nations, Russia has cast 128 vetoes which account for nearly half of all vetoes in the council's history, more than the number cast by the United States and Great Britain combined.
Moscow stood behind the Syrian regime regardless of the consequences to its people. Putin's considerations were politically cynical and strategically narrow. The Russian president would do whatever it takes to block a repeat of the Libyan scenario in order to safeguard a client, and deny the West another foothold in the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile, Europe continued to stutter about while Obama dithered over the need for arming the opposition. A number of Senators think that the recent decision by the administration to arm the rebels is a hasty march to war and are opposed to arming the rebels. I totally disagree with those Senators. Two years ago President Obama demanded that Bashar al Assad steps down, but has done nothing about it. For two years President Obama has been dithering, making vague, and confusing statements regarding Syria. Obama's paralysis enabled al Qaeda to set up shop in Syria. To most people in the Middle East Obama proved to be indecisive, ambivalent, weak and totally unconvincing.
The Obama's message to Bashar al Assad was: "Hi Bashar, you have the green light to slaughter as many Syrians as you like providing you stick to the rules. You may use all sorts of conventional weapons, military jets, high explosives, Scud missiles, but please don't use gases or chemicals, because if you do, I am in trouble. I will be pressurised to act". If it wasn't for the good people like Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, Joe Lieberman and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee and a few others, the USA will have been reduced to an impotent spectator whilst tens of thousands are killed by the regime and its friends.
Questions to Obama:
Does the Obama administration seriously believe that it is in the US interest for Iran and Hezbollah, aided and abetted by Russia to determine the future of Syria? Does Obama want Iran and Hezbollah to control Syria as they do in Lebanon and Iraq? Does Washington want Tehran to call the shots in the wider Middle East? Is it not a strategic US interest to defeat this unholy alliance of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia? Does it surprise Obama that Iraq is backing this alliance with money, materials and men?
This is the last chance for Obama to support the rebels against the Mafia that rules the Syrian people. Does Washington want the Pro-Damascus alliance to dictate terms and endanger the security of its allies in the region?
I say forget about Geneva 2 and arm the rebels.