Does US intransigence on European missile defense, increasing chaos in Syria and a lack of progress in resolving the Iranian standoff point to the eventual outbreak of full-blown violence across the Middle East?
But first, before jumping headlong into the Middle East, a little background from Russia’s perspective is required.
With the arrival of Barack Obama to the White House four years ago, many in Moscow genuinely believed there would be a normalization of relations between the two former Cold War opponents. There is no crime in dreaming, right?
After all, George W. Bush’s almost-eight-year “War on Terror” kept Russia, as well as the entire world, in constant suspense as to what kind of stunt Washington would pull next. They were rarely disappointed. Not only did the Bush administration walk away from the 40-year-old ABM Treaty with Russia, it announced the creation of a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe.
Shortly after Obama was elected president, he announced that he had "shelved" the Bush plan for missile defense. Suddenly, the clouds in the Russian-US relationship were dispelled, but briefly. Then it was announced that the US would build a sea-based version instead; Moscow was duly informed that it need not apply to participate in the project. Now, Russian generals are sounding the alarm that the system – still in its earliest stages – may eventually compromise the nation’s nuclear deterrent.
Today, it does not seem too far-fetched to suggest that Barack Obama was foisted upon the world stage to rebrand America’s foreign policy, which had lost most of its credibility and legitimacy under Bush. Ironically, however, with the benefit of hindsight, Obama has turned out to be far more dangerous than his reckless predecessor.
Let’s face it, nobody had any false expectations about Bush; he was, as they say, the real deal. Obama, on the other hand, was marketed as the very embodiment of change. The marketing campaign was a huge success, and America's first black president even went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize while US troops were hunkered down on two fronts.
Fast forward to 2012: Obama has failed to see through a single campaign promise in the realm of foreign affairs. The Guantanamo Bay detention facility remains open for business, drone missile attacks are killing at a deadlier rate than under Bush, while even the simple promise of “sitting down and talking with America’s enemies” has failed to materialize. Although the Iraq War was declared finished last year, tensions remain high across the Middle East where US naval forces are on high alert.
Meanwhile, to all intents and purposes, the fabled reset with Russia appears to be on life support. US and Russian leaders still go through the diplomatic motions, but Washington is behaving as if it does not want a serious, fully-fledged relationship with Moscow. Little surprise, then, that so many observers in Moscow are speculating that the “reset” was nothing more than a stage-managed event designed to make Russia believe that Washington was serious about a partnership. As the missile defense system gets bolted down in former Warsaw Pact real estate, Washington refuses to provide any sort of legal guarantees.
The United States will never give legally binding guarantees that its missile defense system is not aimed against Russia, said Maj. Gen. Vladimir Dvorkin, former head of the Fourth Central Research Institute of the Russian Defense Ministry.
"The question of creating the European missile defense system at any stage, be it the first one or fourth, lies in the sphere of political differences,” the expert said. "The Americans and NATO will never provide legally-binding guarantees that the US missile defense system is not aimed against Russia, including the technical specifications of counter missiles, because that would slow down the development of their missile defense system.”
America’s hyperactive impetuousness when it comes to getting military invested around the world, combined with its determination to build a European missile defense shield, lends itself to the theory that something sinister is afoot.
Reminiscent of the US attack on Iraq in 2003, America seems to be gearing up for a military move on Syria, especially after reports of a massacre in Houla, where 108 civilians, many of them women and children, were murdered. Undeniably, the event was horrific in its sheer brutality, but the question has yet to be answered: who were the killers? The Syrian government blames “professional terrorists” for the massacre. But as was the case prior to the “preemptive strike” on Iraq, the US does not seem interested in hearing both sides of the story in Syria.
"Those who triggered this and ignited this massacre were seeking to ignite a confessional and sectarian confrontation between the populations in that area,” Bashar Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters following a meeting of the Security Council. “So, those who did it are professional criminals, professional terrorists.”
According to Jaafari, these “terrorists” seek to “instigate a sectarian confrontation in the area,” which could lead to developments “more dangerous than what you have seen so far." The goal of these individuals, he said, is to undermine a peace plan set forth by special envoy Kofi Annan.
Iran’s Press TV conducted an interview with Syed Ali Wasif, from the Society for International Reforms and Research. Wasif argued it was unlikely that Syrian forces would attack innocent civilians in a region that has shown strong support for the government.
“This was a premeditated, pre-orchestrated component of NATO foreign policy…with regard to this premeditated action and this murder, killing a hundred people there,” Wasif argued. “How could the Syrian government kill its own people when [those killed in the massacre] represent the Alawites…and all other pro-Syrian people?”
Meanwhile, Susan Rice, US Ambassador to the United Nations, spoke of “consequences” for Syria for failing to live up to its commitments, even before the identity of the killers could be established.
"The Syrian government has made commitments. It's blatantly violated those commitments, and, I think it's quite clear, as we have said for many weeks if they continue to do so there should be consequences,” Rice said, without offering any advice on how Syria should move forward while terrorists are sabotaging the process. Rice’s comments suggest that the United States is selectively viewing the turmoil in Syria from the perspective of the opposition forces, which amounts to taking sides with their objectives.
America’s behavior seems inconsistent with that of an impartial, objective observer; it is behaving like a third party to the turmoil with a lot to gain should the Syrian government fall. Instead of waiting for an official investigation to determine the identity of the culprits in the Houla massacre, the US is instigating the situation by tossing rhetorical grenades, needlessly provoking the situation. After all, there are many actors in the region who stand to gain in the event that Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad is removed from power. Israel, a strong ally of the United States, would certainly benefit from such a scenario. Presently, the Israeli government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks to be on a collision course with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. Tehran says it is developing a nuclear energy program for its civilian sector, but Israel and the United States suspect the Islamic Republic of attempting to build a nuclear weapon.
In the event that Israel decides to go to war with Iran, there is the strong possibility that Syria will come to the aid of the Iranians one way or another. A war with Syria now, with the assistance of the United States, would dramatically reduce such a possibility and protect Israel’s flank in the event of war.
Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense Minister, expressed his opinion on military involvement in Syria just this week.
"The events in Syria mean the world must take action, not only by talking, but by acting,” Barak, said on Thursday. “These are crimes against humanity, and it is impossible that the international community stand aloof.”
Ali Laridjani, speaker of the Iranian parliament, warned that an attack on Syria would have dire consequences that would most likely extend to the “Zionist regime.”
“US military officials probably have a poor understanding of themselves and regional issues because Syria is in no way similar to Libya, and [the effects of] creating another Benghazi in Syria would spread to Palestine, and ash rising from the flames would definitely envelop the Zionist regime,” Laridjani stated.
“It seems that the United States and the West are seeking to pave the way for a new crisis,” the Iranian official added.
In conclusion, when the Middle East situation is viewed according to the sum of its parts, which include the US missile defense shield over the fence from Russia’s backyard, it looks as if the US, Israel and NATO may be pushing hard for a broad military offensive in the Middle East. After all, in the event of a war in Iran, for example, there is no telling what the results will be.
There is a high possibility of not only Syria, but also Hezbollah in Lebanon getting involved, not to mention the Palestinians. Although it would be impossible to predict the domino effect that would follow in the event of such an altercation in the already troubled Middle East, it may go far at explaining Uncle Sam’s tremendous obsession with installing a missile defense system in Europe.
Why the United States, in direct opposition to the spirit of the much-trumpeted “reset”, does not want to enlist Russia’s valuable assistance in such an ambitious project, however, is an altogether different question that Russia is certainly pondering. Meanwhile, the Russia-US reset wobbles on.