Saturday, April 28, 2012

The West must match Russia’s strategic clarity in Syria

From NOWLebanon, April 26, 2012, by Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies:
A picture of the Syrian president splattered with fake blood next to a Russian flag ahead of an anti-Assad protest in Beirut. Russia wants Assad’s Alawite-led regime to continue as its only foothold in the region. (AFP photo)
Russian foreign policy scored another victory last week with the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2043, which established a supervision mission in Syria for an initial 90-day period. In other words, Russia bought three more months for the Assad regime to go on killing with impunity.
...Moscow has been steadily pursuing a clear objective in Syria: preserving the core Alawite rule and its current strategic alignment. The Kremlin’s policy, then, is the reflection of something that’s been sorely lacking in the White House: strategic clarity.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, summarized Moscow’s rationale in an interview last month with Kommersant FM:
 “The struggle is going on in the entire region, and if the current regime in Syria were to fall, there will be a strong desire, and massive pressure, on the part of some countries in the region to establish a Sunni regime in Syria. I have no doubt about that.”
...  Russia wants Assad’s Alawite-led regime to continue as its only foothold in the region.
... as far as the Saudis and the Turks were concerned, Russia’s support for Assad meant protecting the pro-Iranian regional axis to which they are opposed.
Naturally, these allies and clients of the US look to Washington to counterbalance the Russian push, especially since the breaking of the Iranian axis is an obvious shared interest. However, to their dismay, what they’ve seen is the opposite of what they expected. The Obama administration’s policy has been to not only widen the Russian margin of maneuver, but also to effectively empower the Kremlin’s position.
What should be the US objective in Syria?
In strategic terms, the answer always was obvious – to deal a crippling blow to the Iranian network in the region by hastening a transfer of power away from Assad and his Alawite clique to a government that empowers the Sunni majority. That’s certainly how Washington’s allies view it. It’s certainly what the Russians know, and are actively seeking to thwart.
...The Obama administration has been reassuring its regional allies that it will contain Iranian influence. However, Washington’s credibility has taken a serious blow in Syria. When presented with the opportunity to roll back Iran’s reach in the Levant, the White House is balking. Worse still, by working in concert with Russia and endorsing its preferred initiatives, it is effectively, if unwittingly, shielding Iran’s assets.
...Russia and Iran see in continued Alawite rule a continuity of policy and alignments. The US, therefore, must ensure the end of this rule and the establishment of an order that empowers Syria’s Sunnis. It must pursue this aim as assertively and as explicitly as Russia (and Iran) pursues its diametrically opposed objective.
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