Syrian Crisis Shows an Increasingly Irrelevant UN
Published: September 5, 2013 (Issue # 1776)
On Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov acknowledged that the U.S. had submitted evidence that the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons but said the classified documents were "absolutely unconvincing." I would add that Russia will never be convinced because the Kremlin has already stated its position: It was the rebels who used chemical weapons near Damascus and suggesing otherwise is "utter nonsense."
Indeed, could Washington have produced anything "more convincing" than the results of laboratory analyses of chemical substances, the testimonies of doctors and victims affected by the substances, video material and intercepted conversations between Syrian generals saying they had overdone it with the chemicals and that they should bomb sites to eliminate the traces of deadly chemicals? Of course not. It would be physically impossible to provide any other evidence in such a situation.
Consequently, this boils down to a question of trust: "If I want to believe it, I will. If I don't want to, I won't." In September 2001, the Kremlin was much quicker to believe the United States' even scantier evidence of intercepted conversations indicating that al-Qaida was behind the attacks on the twin towers and Pentagon. And yet the Kremlin displayed far greater trust in Washington then, and far more importantly, greater interest in working with the U.S. to combat terrorism and end Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Obviously, statements about "believing" or "not believing" are only a cover for underlying political interests.
This episode confirms that, from now on, Moscow will work to ensure the survival of Assad's regime and has cast aside such earlier statements as, "We are not for Assad or for the opposition, but for the Syrian people." The Kremlin apparently fears that a U.S. missile attack will eventually succeed in toppling the Assad regime and Russia's policy of support along with it. Meanwhile, Obama has backed both himself and the U.S. into a corner by having threatened action if Syria were to cross a "red line." But both Washington and Moscow are hostages to the UN Charter that obligates the Security Council to take strong measures if weapons of mass destruction are used. Obama is attempting to take measures, but half-heartedly, trying to cover his rear from criticism by both the "peace-loving public" and congressional Republicans who accuse him of "diminishing America's leadership in the world." Obama is clearly taking a time-out in the hope that the situation will resolve itself or evaporate like the sarin gas Assad allegedly used against Syrian civilians.
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