Guest Column: Russian Peace Gambit?

Proposal to subject chem weapons to UN control
by Pepe Escobar writing in Russia Today

Russian_PeaceThe frantic spin of the millisecond is that the White House is taking a ‘hard look’ at the Russian proposal for Bashar Assad to place Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under UN control, thus at least postponing another US war in the Middle East.

Oh, the joys of the geopolitical chessboard; Russia throwing a lifeline to save US President Barack Obama from his self-spun ‘red line’.

True diplomats are supposed to prevent wars – not pose as warmongers. American exceptionalism is of course exempted. So just as Secretary of State John Kerry had the pedal on the metal selling yet another war in a London presser, his beat up Chevy was overtaken by a diplomatic Maserati: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

This was Kerry’s slip: “… [Assad] could turn over any single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over. All of it. And without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done obviously.”

It can be done, obviously, as Lavrov turned Kerry’s move against him – forwarding a two-step proposal to Damascus; Syria turns its chemical weapons to UN control and later agrees with their destruction, as well as joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Syrian Foreign Minister Moallem took no time to agree. The devil, of course, is in the fine print.

Somebody help me! What’s the message?

Predictably, all hell broke loose at the State Department. Dammit! Darn Russki peacenik! A Kerry spokeswoman characterized it as a “rhetorical argument”. It was just “talk”. Damascus and Moscow have a horrible track record. This was just a “stalling tactic.” Washington could not trust Assad. And even if there was a “serious” proposal that would not delay the White House’s push to sell its war in the US Congress.

Yet two hours later, closet future US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton saw it as… a serious proposal, “suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians.” And she made clear she was for it after meeting with Obama himself.

Meanwhile, the batshit crazy department kept the pedal on the metal, with National Security Adviser Susan ‘Wolfowitz’ Rice busy warning that chemical attacks in Syria are a “serious threat to our national security” including to “citizens at home.” What, no ‘mushroom cloud’?

Yet just as ‘on message’ was up in smoke, magically, deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf and Hillary herself started talking in unison (somebody forgot to brief Rice). And the White House decided to take its ‘hard look’. Sort of. Because expectations are not that high. And the push to war in the US Congress is bound to continue.

Not even hardcore Beltway junkies have been able to keep track in real time of the Obama administration’s ever-shifting ‘policy’. This is how it (theoretically) stands. “Assad is responsible for the gas attack.” Translation; he did not order it, directly (no one with half a brain, apart from the Return of the Living Dead neo-cons, believes the current White House “evidence” sticks). But he’s still “responsible”. And even if Al-Nusra Front did it – with ‘kitchen sarin’ imported from Iraq, as I proposed here, Assad is still “responsible”; after all he must protect Syrian citizens.

In his Monday TV Anschluss, Obama, clinging to the lifeline, was quick to steal Lavrov’s credit, saying he had “discussed” the broad outlook of what Russia announced directly with Putin at the G20 summit last week. This has not been corroborated by Moscow.

Obama told CNN this was a “potentially positive thought.” And he was keen to stress it only happened not because his Designated War Salesman slipped, but because of a “credible military threat.” To NBC, he kept peddling what Kerry defined as an “unbelievably small” attack; the US “can strike without provoking a counter-attack.” Yet to CNN he admitted, “the notion that Mr. Assad could significantly threaten the United States is just not the case.”

So why the need for the “unbelievably small” kinetic whatever? That’s too much of a metaphysical question for US journalism.

You have the right to remain inspected

Now for the fine print. Everybody knows what happened to Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi after they gave up their deterrence. Assuming both Washington and Damascus accept Lavrov’s proposal, this could easily be derailed into an Iraqi-style ultra-harsh inspection regime. At least in theory, no US Air Force will attack UN inspectors at Syrian chemical weapons depots. As for false flags, don’t underestimate Bandar Bush’s deep pockets.

Still, considering Washington won’t abandon its real agenda – regime change – Obama might eventually be re-presented with his full emperor hand to ‘supervise’ the chemical weapons handover and ‘punish’ any infringement, real or otherwise, by Damascus, facilitated by the usual spies infiltrated into the inspectors mechanism. As in, “if you complain, we bomb.”

The key point in all this, though, is that for Damascus chemical weapons are just a detail – they are worthless in the battlefield. What matters is the 250,000-strong Syrian Arab Army (SAA), as well as military support by Iran and especially Russia – as in badass missiles of the Yakhont variety or S-300 (even 400) systems. Destroying the weapons – assuming Damascus agrees – is a very long-term proposition, measured in years; even Russia and the US have not destroyed theirs. By then, the myriad gangs of the “Un-Free” Syrian Army may have been thoroughly defeated.

Obama may have read the writing on the (bloody) wall; forget about convincing the US Congress to bomb Damascus when there’s a real diplomatic way out on the table. Yet nothing changes in the long run. Those who are paying or cheering in the sidelines for this operation – from Bandar Bush to Tel Aviv – want by all means to smash Damascus, for the benefit of Israel in terms of strategic balance, and for the benefit of the House of Saud in terms of isolating Iran in the Middle East.

SunFLOWerSo Lavrov’s chess move is not a checkmate; it is a gambit, meant to prevent the United States from becoming Al-Qaeda’s Air Force, at least for now. The quagmire would then move to a negotiating table – which would include those chemical weapons inspections….

Full article by Pepe Escobar in Russia Today.

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.



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