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Syria: Assad’s obstinacy and the power play in Capitol Hill

By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor

Before August 25 when President Barack Obama declared that the US was going to respond militarily to the use of chemical weapon by the Syrian regime to attack its own near the capital Damascus, the hawks in America were strident and irritably loud in demanding the Washington must intervene to end the brutality of the Bashar Al-Assad’s government.

Notable among those leading the charge  is Arizona  Senator John McCain who Obama defeated in the 2008 presidential election and Madam Sarah Palin, who was McCain running mate then.

Senator McCain has never stopped to give Americans the impression that he was better than Obama in foreign policy issues, while Madam Pallin who was not aware that Alaska where she was once the governor, was once owned by Russia and as such share boundary with the United States.

From Tunisia to Libya, from Egypt to Syria, from Bengazi to Bamako, the hawks in US political establishment, largely found in the Republican party have been trying to lure President Obama into another Afghanistan or Iraqi misadventure, in order to create another quagmire for America which  is yet to exit from the blunders of former president, George W. Bush, who took his country into two costly wars without congressional authorisation.

The War monger’s game

When Obama played their game by asking the Congress to decide the appropriate cause of action to take in response to Assad’s CW attack on his citizens on August 21, the same Republican hawks became ambivalent.

Some of them describe Obama as the Waffler-in-Chief, while the American public openly disapproved any military strike on Syria. The objective of such a strike was dubious as it was aimed at weakening Assad’s military capability and strengthen the hands of the rebels, some of whom have Al-Qaeda support.

Before the Russian proposal for  Damascus to surrender its CW, the Obama administration had insisted the the intelligence report  available to Washington shows that the strongest of the rebel groups in Syria are linked to Al-Qaeda.

The idea of a regime change was not attractive as the other rebel groups fighting in Syria could not be trusted to protect the interest of America or completely insulated from promoting Islamist agenda, all to the detriment of America and the rest of the secular world.

The  Congressional debate which was to have started on September 9, was seen as an opportunity to humiliate Obama and turn him into a lame duck president by voting against his request for authorisation to use military force against Assad.

Vestiges of the cold war

The Russians have carried on with the Cold War mentality of opposing whatever your your enemy supports regardless of the merit. Moscow has been trying to show that it is still a power to reckon with in the international arena and nobody could send this message better than Vladimir Putin, the former KGB boss who returned to Kremlin through a controversial election.

What is playing out in the Syrian conflict is a dangerous game that is built on ultra deception by those who claim to love Syria more.

The Assad regime is in was a no win situation just as the rebels lack the capacity to win the war on their own. This underscores the need for international support to deal with the conflict.

So far,  Russia and China have frustrated such international consensus in the past two years by voting against any resolution that was to bring pressure on the Assad regime.

Over three million Syrians have fled to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt to escape being butchered in Syria. About one million people have been killed in gruel some circumstances.

The Putin proposal to place Assad’s chemical weapons under international control seem to have averted the possibility of a military strike. Other analysts have argued that the proposal was a face saver for Obama’s humiliation in Congress, Russia and China would have been the first to block such initiative if it had come from the US or its Western allies.

We have stated it severally that Russia built Syria’s modern economy and it has a military base in Syria. Moscow’s role in Damascus is not based Santa Claus diplomacy as Putin would want the world to believe. this point, all signs indicate that the Syrian regime would cooperate with the international effort to rid the Middle East nation of its CW arsenal.

If the Russian initiative begins to work, Obama will be forced by domestic pressure to consider the diplomacy more seriously while hoping that Syria would at some point try to renege on its acceptance of surrendering the stockpiles of CW.

The idea that this imbroglio will somehow disappear is certainly one that Obama is considering. But the Russians will not want that to happen. Obama does not want to let Assad off the hook knowing that Iran also constitutes a threat with its nuclear weapons programme.

Strator analysts are of the view that “If the United States chooses to hit Syria, Russia can do nothing about it and will be made to look weak.”

According to their view, “the weakness of the Russian position is that it has no real weight while the constrain on Obama’s use of military action is purely coming from his reading of the domestic politics.”

The Chicken nodule approach

Whether Obama would have acted without Congressional approval is now a matter of conjecture, but the fact remains that the US  mobilisation of international support against Syria has sent clear message to Iran and of the readiness of an American president to respond to danger, real or imagined,

The issue has drifted into a U.S.-Russian confrontation.

The public statements from both sides are now meant to obscure real plans and intentions of the protagonists and the antagonists.

While America wants to use the strike on Syria to warn groups like Hzebollah in Lebanon and show Iran a yellow card at the same time, and re-assure Israel that it has nothing to worry about Teheran’s nuclear enrichment programme.

Apart from trying to protect its economic and military interest in Syria, Russia wants goal  to be seen as an equal of the United States in global politics.

In his much vilified letter to NYT, Putin tried to launched a diplomatic offensive that emphasizes to those Arab countries in the Persian Gulf that are  opposed to Bashar al Assad and the Iranians who are supporting him, that there is a solution and all should join hand to the US to abandon plans for a military action. The message is that Russia will solve the chemical weapons problem, and implicitly, collaborate with them to negotiate a settlement.

According to a Nigerian based In San Jose, Mr. Patrick Oduma, President Obama speech on September 10,”shows that it is for not lack of will or courage to confront Assad or Putin that made Obama to  accept the Russian proposal. Rather it is the reaction of American public opinion, especially that of Republicans who would accuse him of doing exactly what he criticised in GW Bush. Let us not  forget that all the battle against Obama is about how to rubbish his legacy as the first black President of the United States of America”.


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