“The draft resolution will have no impact whatsoever. It is a piece of theater,” he added.
Ambassador Ja’afari is defending his government’s indefensible actions, but he is right about the General Assembly resolution. It is a meaningless gesture that does nothing to address Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s warning in remarks to the General Assembly before the vote that the “conflict in Syria is a test of everything this Organization stands for. I do not want today’s United Nations to fail that test.”
The fact is that the United Nations can do no more with respect to the civil war engulfing Syria than the League of Nations was able to do regarding the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s. They are both proxy wars, with regional and international players arming one side or the other. In the case of Syria, there are at least four inter-related layers of geo-political-religious elements at work beyond the fighting among the Syrians themselves.
First, there is the religious and political battle being played out between Shiite Iran and the Sunni Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Iran is eager to maintain its sphere of influence in Syria through its alliance with Assad (who is affiliated with a Shite-minority sect known as the Alawites ruling Syria). Saudi Arabia and Qatar aim to roll back Iran’s ambitions for hegemony in the region and are supporting the Sunni majority in Syria in their revolt against Assad and the Alawites. Hence, Iran is beefing up Assad’s regime with arms and the support of its Revolutionary Guard. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funding and providing arms for the opposition.
Second, al Qaeda is using the chaos in Syria to establish another Islamic jihadist beachhead. As the New York Times recently reported, “Al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists are doing their best to hijack the Syrian revolution…The evidence is mounting that Syria has become a magnet for Sunni extremists, including those operating under the banner of Al Qaeda.”
Third, Turkey, under the Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is serving as a transit point for the flow of arms to the opposition, including shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles known as MANPADs. Erdoğan is evidently trying to revive Turkey’s Ottoman caliphate heritage by offering a seemingly “moderate” alternative to al Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups in leading the regional Sunni battle against the increasingly isolated Assad regime.
Fourth, there is the revival of U.S.-Russian Cold War-like rivalries. President Obama’s policy of trying to push a re-set button in the relationship between the two countries has backfired. As evidenced by its intransigence at the United Nations, Russia is protecting the Assad regime to thwart the West and its NATO ally Turkey in their efforts to extend their reach through regime change in a region where Russia believes it has vital strategic interests.
Where does all this leave the Obama administration in its attempt to forge a coherent foreign policy vis-à-vis Syria? Once again, it is taking its cue from France, the United Kingdom, Turkey and the Arab League, with little regard for the larger strategic picture.
Just a few days ago, it was reported that President Obama had signed a secret order authorizing U.S. support for rebels seeking to get rid of Assad. Apparently, the United States has been collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies. All of this is being done without any real idea as to whom we are supporting. In fact, our money and equipment could well end up in the hands of our sworn enemy, al Qaeda. And Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan, whom the Obama administration appears to be counting on to channel the opposition in a more “moderate” direction and to counter Iran’s growing influence in the region, has proven to be an unreliable ally. Most notably, Erdoğan has tilted in a decidedly anti-Israel, pro-Iran direction.
Hopefully, after the protracted deadlock at the Security Council, the Obama administration is starting to come to grips with the futility of relying on the United Nations to confer some sort of international legitimacy on its foreign policies. We’ll have to wait and see. However, the administration still has to learn how to pursue the right policies in the first place to protect our vital strategic interests. Whether Assad stays or goes is less relevant to us than making sure that his stockpiled chemical weapons do not get into the hands of al Qaeda or other Islamist jihadists and that al Qaeda does not end up with a base in the heart of the Middle East.
Sometimes it makes sense to stay on the sidelines in a civil war and not risk the unintended consequences of actions that will cause more harm than good.This advice holds whether such actions are blessed by the United Nations or not.
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