Originally Published 2013-09-21 04:53:46 Published on Sep 21, 2013
The Syrian rebels are not back to square one, but to minus one. They have been outsmarted by the Assad regime, just as the Russians outsmarted the Americans.
Russia-US deal puts Syrian rebels back to "minus one"
"The sudden and unexpected twist to the Syrian chemical weapons (CW) controversy that ended "not with a bang but a whimper" could really hurt the rebels who had pinned such high hopes on American missiles hurtling down on Assad's palace in Damascus. It should come as no surprise that they promptly rejected the Kerry-Lavrov deal on Syria. Certainly, the rebels stand to gain nothing by either Syria joining the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or by President Assad agreeing to destroy his stockpile of CWs.

Their anger was matched only by the frustration of the American media commentators and several Republican senators, who having been cheated of a 'bloody good war', turned their bile away from their 'waffling' President to the former 'KGB boss', Russian President Putin now occupying the high moral ground. The fact that Putin was telling the Americans through the NY Times that he was acting 'not in the interest of President Assad but in the interest of protecting the international law' and worse still, he challenged 'American exceptionalism' riled them no end.

With the Kerry-Lavrov deal now holding Assad accountable to destroying his CWs in a swift and verifiable manner, the regime is almost ensured that its tenure will not end abruptly. The focus now shifts on to expecting responsible behavior from Assad to fulfill his assured commitments. Firstly, he is no longer a war criminal nor would he be punished for use of CWs. America was certainly getting no support for action on this count. Secondly, he will be held accountable to his new promise, not to his old actions. That is a minor victory of sorts for Assad.

From day one, Assad has been saying that he would never use CWs on his own people, but would do so only when attacked by a foreign country, clearly hinting at Turkey. He would probably have attacked either Israel or Turkey, even if the missiles had come from an American warship and let loose the dogs of war for an all round destruction.

Now by agreeing to hand over all his stocks of CWs to international supervision and destruction, Assad is clearly conveying that he does not need the CWs to take on the rebels and that he can take them on with all the conventional weapons at his disposal. And that includes his Air force, which has still not been subjected to a 'no-fly zone'. There lies the rub for the rebels. They are not back to square one, but to minus one. They have been outsmarted by the regime, just as the Russians outsmarted the Americans.

The rebel forces, particularly the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Jubhat ul-Nusra, which does all the heavy lifting in the battle has not only failed to create a 'Benghazi' in Syria, but also has suffered being labeled a Foreign Terrorist Organisation. Now, the Americans, the British and the French instead of doing a Gaddafi on Assad are sitting down with him to count all the chemical canisters and missiles that the regime has. And this may go on till the middle of 2014. Kerry-Lavrov deal talks of no cease-fire and Assad may continue to wage his war against the rebels. It may be physically impossible for the OPCW inspectors to visit the missile silos that carry the CWs in the middle of the raging war. That's just too bad for the rebels.

What about their sponsors? How mad must they be? Does America really expect Saudi Arabia and Qatar to go on funding a war that has no end in sight? President Obama has already let down the Saudi King once, when he told President Mubarak of Egypt to bow down to street protests and quit. Now he is doing at again, by not raining down missiles on Assad's palace as he did to Gaddafi in Libya. How can Saudi monarchy still count him as a friend?

Why does America take up such thankless jobs in a world where it does not know its friends from its foes? It supports Saudi Arabia that supports salafi jehadists who support Al-Qaeda that attacks America. Sounds too complicated for the simple minded Americans. They are killing Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, but are funding and supplying non-lethal weapons to 'moderate forces' in Syria who are selling them to Jubhat ul-Nusra.

Pray who are the 'moderate forces' in Syria? Those that are sitting in 5-star hotels in Turkey and are pretending to be guiding the rebel forces on ground, or those that are being slaughtered for not praying five times a day and for not being good Muslims. Don't the Americans know that the choice in Syria today is between President Assad and Jabhat ul-Nusra and not even the Muslim Brotherhood, which they had so warmly embraced in Egypt, as 'Political Islam' for being distinct from 'radical Islam'.

Having seen the Muslim Brotherhood in practice for a year, the Americans quickly revised their views and came back to accepting the much- despised Egyptian Army as a better guarantor of stability. But once Assad is overthrown, the Americans may not have the luxury of bringing back any such force of stability in Syria. The country will simply slide into chaos and anarchy as in the case of Libya. And here the ethnic divide and the fault lines are far too many, with its neighboring Iraq already facing a simmering war with the Shias v/s the Sunnis, the Iraqis v/s the Kurds and the Kurds v/s the rest.

Perhaps, there is some wisdom in Sarah Palin's words when she said "Let Allah sort it out", which meant 'America, please stay out, there is a mightier force than thou at work'.

(Ravi Joshi is a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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Anjali Birla

Anjali Birla

Anjali Birla is an Indian Civil Services Officer(Batch 2020) working in the Ministry of Railways and has done her graduation in Political Science from Delhi ...

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