Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Russian Standoff in Damascus

In this chess game The Russians are playing Chicken.

If it does nothing else, the recent Syria summit arranged by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry formally marked the re-emergence of Russia as a power in the Middle East, after a hiatus of more than 20 years. Yet Moscow’s objectives today are vastly different. Russia is out to raise the stakes for U.S. military intervention, which it sees as destabilizing for the world order; to minimize the impact of Islamist radicalism and extremism born out of the Arab Spring; and to try to find political solutions to a host of issues, from the civil war in Syria to Iran’s nuclear issue to post-American Afghanistan.

Dear Tablet Magazine: Your ideas are terrible and you should stop forming them into words.

The Russians have not played as large a roll int he middle east as they have during the cold war in the last 20 years, which is true, because Russians over the last 20 years have had bigger fish to fry. They have had their attempt to use oil and gas diplomacy to try to push their will on the good folks of the EU.

But where they see the play in Syria as a play of power, it is a play that comes from Weakness.

During the George W Bush Years The Moscow-Bejing Axis (called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization) began to form an alternative to the Washington Consensus on Foreign policy. The Washington Consensus didn't just form because the US was the cock of the walk after World War II (But that helped) it formed because a lot of the global interests of the NATO Powers and later the Asian Developed powers were very similar. Only during the 80s did we see Authoritarian Capitalist regimes crop up did we begin to see some friction against the Hypothesis.

This play came out in one of my best moments on twitter: Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter said that Susan Rice was going to get the UN Security Council to come down hard on Syria. I guffawed and bet her that would not happen (and I was right). Allowing Syria to deal with an internal issue was within the Conservative Westphalian wheelhouse of the SCO.

But China and Russia underestimated the Paradox of the Security Council. When the Communist Interests were united against western interests in a regional conflict it didn't stop the conflict: It just kept the major players out of the conflict until things begun to get out of hand (Bosnia and Vietnam are great examples, Korea happened because of the chaos involving China). The Western Powers have a domestic political interest that is influenced by the world they see on their cable news and on their Internets ( which is a series of tubes). This Pressure even in times of Austerity brings rise to the Western Consensus. Russia is not talking with John Kerry because they are a power in the Syria mess: They are at the table with John Kerry because this situation is getting out of control.

Russia and China are both Status Quo powers. They ally with those countries that promote their internal political status quos and allow them to move the ball a few yards forward. Unfortunately for Russia and China some times you end up on 3rd and 9 and your opposition forms a prevent defense. The only way for Russia and China to move the ball forward is either war, or to give up this drive and let Assad get what he deserves.

But the problem is if Assad gets what he deserves, what will happen in Iran if their regime gets whats coming to it? Its the same Paradox the US is in with Israel and Taiwan. If we let those countries fall it changes the expectations across the board with our allies. so we both get backed into a corner: and that's how wars start.

And if the Islamist "Rebels" win in Syria after winning in the Palestinian Territories, Tunisia, Egypt, and other places: Will these same elements within Russia become animated and think they can have their own Arab Spring?

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