is anxious about maintaining its national honor. It almost seems to be trying
to recreate the confrontation lines of the Cold War. … To its credit: it has
been very successful in this. And as the Americans say - as Moscow succeeds, it
will soon find Iranian nuclear missiles arrayed on its borders and a jihadist
civil war in Syria. Such Russian success is rather sadomasochistic.”
This week, Washington and Moscow cut short their elusive
masquerade. No more statements implying that they need to work together,
emphasizing the consensus around the “Annan Plan” for peace in Syria and noble calls
for regional stability. This week the U.S. decided to fire a warning shot over
the head of the Kremlin.
Hillary Clinton exultingly entered the scene of battle.
This will be her last term as secretary of state, and a confrontation with
Putin’s Russia could only enhance her growing popularity. But her message, as
much as she wanted to verbalize it anyway, could not have been articulated without
President Obama’s approval. [see photo box, upper right]
“We are concerned,” the secretary of state said, “about the latest
information that we have, that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia
to Syria.” The sentence already
accuses Russia of hypocrisy. While Clinton was talking, whether it was coordinated
or not, the head of the U.N. Observer Mission to Syria announced for the first
time that a civil war was indeed raging in Syria. Those words inflicted particular harm on the
regime in Damascus, as they are a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a
rhetorical definition with political significance. It is easy to suspect that the
U.N. declaration was the direct result of a new tactic by the Assad regime: Shoot
at U.N. observers when they approach areas marked out for “cleansing.”
It was, perhaps, an attempt by the U.N. to clarify that while
it cannot hurt the Syrians with live rounds, it could certainly hurt – did hurt
– Damascus, with public allegations. The combination of Clinton’s attack on the
Russians with a determination by the United Nations on civil war creates a
strong foundation for taking political action. The Russians could not ignore
such a bold and blatant turn by the West: Less than a day later,
[Russian Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov, on a visit
to Iran, stated that 1) One couldn’t blame Russians for arming the Syrians,
particularly not the U.S., which (according to him) is arming the other parties
to the conflict, and 2) the Russians are not sending attack helicopters to
Narrowly speaking, Lavrov is
probably right: Moscow signed an agreement to repair and refurbish Syrian
helicopters that had been supplied in the days of the Soviet Union. Even
American officials admit these are not new weapons. But in the midst of the
fighting in Syria, and considering the absolute air superiority of the Syrian
Air Force, such a transaction is very significant given the internal conflict.
Of course, the point here is not an agreement on attack helicopters.
The Americans are using it to create international political capital to use against
Russia’s position, and make clear to the Kremlin that its actions are transparent.
After months of trying to persuade Moscow and Beijing to act, more and more
voices in Washington are pushing for more aggressive diplomatic and military
Last weekend for the first time, a senior U.S. official proposed
the use of Chapter
VII of the U.N. Charter (it was actually Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, speaking in the context of sanctions). Chapter VII
is the part of the Charter that gives the Security Council significant authority
to impose sanctions or military action to restore peace and regional security.
France, probably in concert with the White House, announced that it would
a formal proposal at the Security Council to adopt the “Annan Plan” within the
context of Chapter VII. This is a complex political trap for the Chinese and Russians:
they had accepted the “Annan Plan” when they believed nothing would come of it.
Now the West is telling them: let’s give the plan the backing of the Security
Denial, avoidance and prevention will again be exposed as
the fundamental lie of the Chinese and the Russians. This diplomatic tussle is
more disturbing than it looks. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West
and Russia (and China) have succeeded in reaching specific understandings on
action in times of crisis. When they have not, Russia was in any case weakened,
and its tool box limited.
In the 1990s, Russia despised NATO intervention in Bosnia,
as it was an assault on their traditional allies in Serbia, but they had no choice.
Well, that reality is no more. Putin’s Moscow is anxious about maintaining its
national honor. It almost seems to be trying to recreate the confrontation lines
of the Cold War.
To its credit: it has been very successful in this. And as
the Americans say – as Moscow succeeds, it will soon find Iranian nuclear
missiles arrayed on its borders and a jihadist civil war in Syria. Such Russian
success is rather sadomasochistic.
The Old Middle East
In less than a week, world leaders will gather in Rio de
Janeiro to discuss a most pressing issue that has been eclipsed because of the
economic crisis – the environment. Twenty years after the historic summit that
established the first international treaty on global warming, representatives of
hundreds of countries will return to Rio.
The conference will focus on creating green economic growth,
or sustainable development; this true purpose of the formula is a Western attempt
to restrain the Far East’s relatively-young industrial revolution.
It is no coincidence that we ate hearing less of the
environmental agenda. The Western world lacks the money and political capital
to worry about the future; its leaders are focused on rescuing the economies of
America and Europe. And it is bad politics for them to try and impose stricter regulation
on industry; domestic opposition would spring immediately into action claiming
job losses and fewer new jobs thanks to green regulations.
The reality is very different of course; a sustainable
economy created more jobs forms new types of industry. Here of course, we will
hear little about the Rio Summit. That’s pretty sad, because we have no excuse account
for it, say, such as, say, an economic crisis.
In the hopeful 90s, the situation was quite different. In
1994, representatives throughout the Middle East,
including Israel, met and signed a document, which alone is a rare achievement.
It was part of a long, multilateral process that actually began at the Madrid Conference
of 1991, and ended with an agreement of the principles for a regional environmental
Bahrain Environmental Code of Conduct for the Middle East.” Forty four countries
The code defines the right of countries to exploit their
resources, but obliges them to ensure their policies cause no harm to their
neighbors. The code also recognizes a list of tasks to be acted on jointly by countries
in the region. Like many other documents from the 90s, this agreement and its
promise have been pushed aside; recently, an online petition has been
circulated - Israeli and Arabic – calling on Binyamin Netanyahu, Abu Mazen [MahmoudAbbas] and King Abdullah to at least implement that
forgotten paper. The environment has no borders, wrote the signatories.
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